Better Than This are a young Orlando indie band that collectively relocated from Miami barely six months ago, and the City Beautiful's music scene is so much the better for it.
Even though we're in the tail end of the "Songs of the Summer" hype season, please believe us: They're "Better Than" most everything. Though the lineup was drastically different back in 2019, save lead vocalist Nickolai Rushka, this is not to say that Rushka is sole proprietor of the project. Delightfully, it's the opposite.
The current lineup of Rushka (vocals), Kevin Lorenzo (bass), Joshua Wright (guitar), Karina Nemalceff (synths/vocal) and Nikolas Plant (drums) might be their strongest and most cohesive yet. The proof is in their newest, self-released single "Videotape Dropout," recorded at Dreamwalker Music Evolution in Gotha.
"For the longest, people viewed Better Than This as just me," laments Rushka, with another voice chiming in jokingly, "Nick and the Better Than Thises."
Rushka continues: "It made me feel like shit, because I wasn't the only one putting effort into it. With the current lineup it's been more like ... this is a band. Everyone knows that this is Better Than This."
Rushka takes pains to point out there is no shade toward previous bandmates. "They're all still my best friends and this is just another era of playing music with my best friends again."
The camaraderie is evident as the band excitedly talks over each other, fighting to recount when they each came to Orlando and how they got to know each other. It was through music, and then the band, that they found each other. "I knew Karina was a synth player and vocalist," says Rushka.
"You only thought I could scream," quips Nemalceff. "Anyway."
This Famous Five (with no apologies to Enid Blyton) fit so well together because of their wildly differing influences, all wading in singular waters. Their interest in music reaches far beyond the indie we know (and love) them to be. Each member has an interest in hardcore and scramz — the OG screamo genre which was humorously described in a Reddit post as "hardcore in fishnets" — but what they listen to individually is enlightening.
Lorenzo is busying himself with compilations delving into samba, bebop and Afro-Cuban music, "my little boost for the day." Rushka is brushing up on 1990s classics like Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins to break up the d-beat monotony. Nemalceff and Wright, too, seem to be the polar opposites of sound spectrum. Nemalceff is at one end, trying to make the perfect categorical playlists involving the inclusion of smaller projects pivotal to the genre, whereas Wright is completely happy listening to one band all year 'round: "Right now it's Wallows. Anyone who knows me, which is these people, knows," Wright offers. Pressed on how many Wallows shirts he owns, Nemalceff jokes that you would think it was a clothing brand. Plant, finally, has been listening to a variety of instrumental music with uniquely underlined drums, like Battles, Tall Black Guy and Badbadnotgood.
Better Than This plugged a laundry list of Florida bands they adore: Flowers for Emily, 0 Miles per Hour, bed bug guru, Mustard Service, Seagate, Novely, Graves, Pez, The Synthetics and Watts. On Mustard Service and the idea of making music your life and career, Plant is complimentary: "It gives you hope when you're in a band in Miami and you know who they are, and they tour America ... it makes it feel possible and that's needed." Some of the members are in school and pursuing dreams outside of music, but the only school Plant is attending is the School of Rock.
A passion for music and community radiates from the group, and we prodded them to comment on the current state of music — in this late-stage capitalist nightmare, how can we encourage people to make music for the right reasons, and how did we get so far away from the righteousness of rock?
"When it comes to new artists," says Plant, "it's like some people don't love it enough. I'm not going to school or anything. It's so scary if it doesn't work out, but I love it enough to take the risk."
Nemalceff came across some wisdom from her anthropology course in a journal about the gothic subculture — how the goth appearance and aesthetic has been gentrified and commodified. "There would have to be a radical change" in our society as a whole, she posits, because it really is shaped by capitalism. "There will always be people who do it to look cool or give off an image, and there will always be people with a passion for what they do. Real recognize real."
The members of the band care about making connections with people and building community. Rushka is resolute about "making more personal connections whether we're on or off stage" because "community will always have your back."
"Videotape Dropout" is a bold new vision of garage rock, with Stroke-y twangs and Metric-esque synth-lines that tickle the parts of our brain that were entombed in 2003, nostalgia hovering in the background of a sound that is so progressive for this band. "I think we're starting to dial [the indie rockness] back a little bit and have a little more of a variety pack," says Plant, "adding more to it and making it more dynamic."
The dreamy European indie sound is certainly on the backburner; Better Than This are serving us a fresh hot plate of infectious garage revival with daring leaps outside of predictable song formulas.
Once you give them a listen, you will understand how a young local band might just pack more fans into the Abbey than Black Midi.
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