To the outside world, there are a lot of perceptions of what it’s like to grow up in New York City. For some, it’s the Gossip Girl vision of Upper East Siders spending their parents’ money in VIP clubs they’ve snuck into; for others, it’s something like Larry Clark’s Kids, in which teenagers traipse through the boroughs, causing trouble. For music fans, though, who grew up dreaming of being surrounded by an excess of live music outside their door, or perhaps romanticized the world of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, to be a teenager in NYC is to live within that indie-rock fantasy.
The alt-rock band Hello Mary, who are still in and just shy of their teenage years, very much grew up in that world once they started the band in 2019. The trio, featuring bassist Mikaela Oppenheimer, guitarist/vocalist Helena Straight, and drummer/vocalist Stella Wave, whose self-titled debut is out today, grew up going to shows from both bigger touring acts and within the youth DIY scene. “I loved going to shows, but I didn’t really think that we were going to be the people playing the shows, honestly. And then we just were one day,” Straight says.
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Oppenheimer and Straight became close friends when they were in middle school and met through a youth music program. It was when they were 15, releasing demos to SoundCloud, and in search of a drummer, that they connected with Wave, who was 18 and felt a “very intense gap” in age. “They were really shy, which makes sense because they were 15, so it was hard for me to break into their dynamic initially. But musically, I always felt like it was instant — the click was so instant,” Wave says.
[Photo by Nolan Zangas]
The three were each raised by ’90s alt-rock, grunge, and 2010s indie rock, which all inform the guitar-heavy sound they’ve created that’s full of reverb, nostalgia, a bit seedy, and retains a sense of mystery with lyrics about anxiety and shifting relationships that often require a second listen. They’re one of the coolest acts to come out of NYC in recent years — and will help to reaffirm that not only are the kids all right, but the state of rock is all right, too.
Wave was in another band and entrenched in the city’s DIY scene before Hello Mary came together, although she attests she “probably would have found [Oppenheimer and Straight] naturally because of the universe pulling me to them.” So when they united by their love for Radiohead and Nirvana, and eventually a very close friendship that led them to their first Big Thief shows together, jam sessions, and afternoons laughing over fries, Wave helped pull their band into that world, as well. Soon, they played as many shows as they could from Brooklyn apartments, homes, backyards, and all-ages DIY spaces. And now that they’ve been playing more again post-lockdown, and about to embark on their first headlining tour, it’s “been a return to what feels normal.”
Hello Mary begs to be heard live — ideally in a gritty, 250-cap DIY club where they immediately make the crowd go wild by opening their set with the guitarline and crashing drums of entrancing album opener “Stinge.” “It’s like, ‘We’re Hello Mary: It’s loud, it’s distorted, it’s awesome, it’s singular,'” Wave says.
That’s certainly a fair assessment. The album is like something you could imagine discovering while sifting through a record store in the ’90s, and instantly making your prized possession. It immortalizes their young adult trials and tribulations that once meant everything to them, but now, as Straight says, seem like “cute little struggles.” They’re elevated by harmonized vocals that contrast with the brash instrumentation, even as they bleed into each other (“Droopy Eyes”), and eerie poeticisms (“Rabbit”) — making those distant feelings all the more potent, like any great grunge band before them may have done.
The three have since become inseparable — calling their friendship very silly and nothing like the creepy vibes of their music videos (such as the gluttonous, horror-esque food fight that ensues in “Special Treat”). “I still think about how lucky we are that the three of us are best friends, and then we are also building a career together. Who the fuck else gets to do that?” Straight says.
Several summers ago, two local fans purchased Hello Mary T-shirts, and the band felt compelled to immediately deliver them in person. Despite being one of the hottest days of the year — the kind in the concrete jungle when everything feels as if the air radiates exhaustion — they got on bikes and traveled across the city to drop them off. Very much dehydrated and a little delirious from the heat, they had an awkward encounter coming across the two “young boys” jamming out in their basement who wanted the tees and didn’t much consider how “horrible” it would be to then have to bike home.
They laughed about it then, and they laugh about it even more now; simply too excited about sharing Hello Mary with a fan. Maybe they’ll get someone to help out a bit more with merch down the line, but it doesn’t seem like the energy of Hello Mary’s NYC DIY world will falter anytime soon.