Blake Sennett and Jarrod Gorbel had no intention of being in a band together when they started writing the songs that evolved into Night Terrors of 1927. They were just trying something different. "I think we each had let go of the idea of being anything we'd ever been before," says Sennett, whose previous projects include The Elected and Rilo Kiley. "I had given up the band dream in a way that has been kind of reborn in me. I had put it in the ground and buried it and was like, 'Cool, I'll just write and produce and that's where I'll go."
"We were like two people with broken hearts that came out of bad relationships, in a way," says Gorbel, formerly of The Honorary Title. They met through mutual friends in 2010 and Sennett produced some of Gorbel's solo material. "Back then, we talked about writing together, but I wasn't open to that at the time," says Gorbel. "But I think I went through a year of turmoil and realizing that I wanted more help, more than just production. I wanted to create something with someone, not just on my own like I always had. When I moved to LA, I called Blake and was like, 'Hey, can we just get together and write a song. I don't know for what or why.' And that was that."
They started getting together casually to work on songs that fell out of their comfort zone. They tried to push themselves to explore their poppier creative instincts, to blend their styles without judgement. After all, they weren't trying to be a band, so why overthink it? But then something unexpected happened.
The pair met up in Todo Santos, Mexico for an impromptu songwriting retreat, to finish some songs they'd started, and to brainstorm some new ideas. It was a short trip -- just a few days -- but it was a revelation. "Todo Santos was such an easy-going atmosphere, and we had acoustic guitars and everything just flowed," says Gorbel. "We started writing a couple new songs and we were just excited about them in a way we hadn't been before." Adds Sennett: "There was just no noise and the only thing left was songs. We had a house on the water that was all tile, with very little furniture, so everything we played sounded so magical and reverb-y, bouncing around that cool beach house. Once it was just us and some guitars and my iPad serving as a drum machine, we were having fun and the songs were working and it suddenly became clear to me: This is actually very simple, when you strip away everything else. I felt like, 'Wow, I want to do this.'"
Back in LA, they set about building on the songs they started in Todo Santos, recording in Sennett's Echo Park studio and beginning to flesh out their vision for their new band. They decided to call themselves Night Terrors of 1927, after a phrase Gorbel had found scrawled in his grandfather's old journal and which had stuck with him ever since. "Everything we ever loved spills out into this band," says Sennett, citing things as diverse as 80s goth and 90s hip-hop, plus contemporary artists from Crystal Castles to The Weeknd to Lana Del Rey.
"Pop and indie are influencing each other more than ever, which is exciting because it opens up possibilities for the kind of music you can make," says Gorbel. "But no matter what, I've always loved anthems. Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi -- that's what I grew up on. Even though Night Terrors is on the darker side of that spectrum, I think the goal for me is trying to find a masculine way to express an anthem that's dark but still accessible."
Sennett says he thinks the strength of the duo lies in their opposite extremes. "Jarrod comes from a suburban upbringing and his parents are still together, and he loves these anthems rooted in the traditional everyman experience," he says. "And I'm this LA child of, like, five divorces and random New Age ideas and hip-hop and weird, cut-up sounds."
Without including any biographical details, they posted their first couple of finished tunes on Soundcloud last year, and the response was immediate. "Watch The World Go Dark" drew raves from the U.K.'s Guardian ("an impending apocalypse never sounded so good," and taste-making blogs including All Things Go ("The most polished songwriting and production we've heard from a relatively obscure group in a long time") and Neon Gold. Released a couple months later, their song "Dust & Bones" earned plays on powerhouse Los Angeles radio stations KROQ and ALT 98.7, as well as Sirius XM's influential Alt Nation. On the strength of those songs and their dynamic live performances, Atlantic Records signed Night Terrors of 1927 last summer, releasing their debut EP, Guilty Pleas, in November.
Gorbel and Sennett are currently working on a full-length album, teaming with producers Andrew Dawson (Kanye West, Fun.) and Ben H. Allen (Washed Out, Walk The Moon, Cut Copy). Though the early attention came quicker than they'd have expected, Gorbel and Sennett are settling in for whatever hard work it takes. "I feel like this is the project of my life," says Sennett. "I've never worked this hard on a project and I've never cared more."