The band Self-Help hails from the mountain college town of Boone, North Carolina. Despite coming from wildly different musical backgrounds, Self-Help manages to successfully turn all the experiences, sounds and times of its members into one unique sound.
The band’s first project, ‘Adult Cartoons’, released in late 2018. The album showcased Self-Help’s variety of creative interests, creating lingering self-doubt in songs like “Joy in Crying”, inducing contemplation in instrumental tracks like “Nums Nums” or “Sick on a Saturday” and stumbling into chaos during poppy songs like “Prison Cell Delight” and “Not Shit”.
“Not Shit” is a song that does not feel like its actual runtime because of how unbelievably satisfying and catchy it is. Lead singer and guitarist John Stych’s trademark whimsical lyricism, supported by strong guitar hooks from fellow guitarist Edward Rojas, makes it a tune that’ll stay in your head long after you listen.
Their debut didn’t feel or sound like a nervous fresh start shivering on chords. Instead, it was a strong, catchy and thoughtful backbone for a band with a singular, yet branching sound.
Even having said that, Self-Help’s second album, ‘If I Left the Country…’, is still an evolution from ‘Adult Cartoons’. The album shows clear stylistic and technical improvements, with the band trying their hand at country with the thoughtfully written “Birds of a Feather”. They also ended up enlisting help from Attack Cat vocalist Veronika Cloutier on “So Long I Guess” and “Farewell or Whatever”.
A strong highlight comes from the track “Doodled Smile”, where the band tugs at the darkest corners of depression, especially with the lyric, “Spiral / Sad sack pile / Bathroom tile / Doodled smile”. This is then followed by a ballad to an adorable cat named Jack in “I Love You Jack”, which is one of the most wholesome moments you could possibly find in an album.
Dealing with such vast, contradictory emotions and genres, Self-Help exceeded any boundaries that could have impeded their second record. Several bands can experience a bit of an identity crisis at their formation, deciding which sound they best fit into and how to stick with it.
However, Self-Help takes on multiple musical identities head-on and flourishes. This is in part due to each individual member’s experience with the local Boone music scene. All four members of Self-Help dabbled in a wide variety of experimental styles, such as Moral Combat’s cowboy emo, Sentiments’s dreamy electronic pop and Tub’s instrumental improvisation.
When asking Stych about the versatility of the band, he explained, “We pretty much just never picked a genre to follow, and whatever we write just kind of flows out based on how we’re feeling when we write it or what’s been going on in our lives. […] We’ve all played in a bunch of different bands that have different styles, so sometimes we find ourselves hopping back into those sounds.”
In terms of any potential creative barriers, Stych agrees that the band’s distinct style helps prevent any problems.
“I think the biggest thing that helps us is not limiting ourselves to one specific genre, and from there you can really do anything with any idea,” said Stych.
The band tackles many human, relatable topics in their music, too. In addition to “Doodled Smile”, “Whippits”, the opening song on their second album, is another prime example.
“‘Whippits’ is definitely centered around living in a small town and living in a constant academic setting. Feeling constantly seen by the people you see daily and it being a somewhat competitive environment and not feeling like you’re necessarily ‘as good’ as everyone else,” said Stych.
Now based in New York City, Self-Help is currently recording their third album, as well as getting used to subways and crowded streets.To support the kind members of Self-Help, listen to and purchase their music on their Bandcamp page at self-helpguy.bandcamp.com, which also links to their Spotify page. You can also watch their many live performances on YouTube.