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How Brooklyn's Nation of Language found fame without dropping an album

The band has toured Italy, but has only released five songs so far.

Nation of Language will play Brooklyn's Elsewhere next

Nation of Language will play Brooklyn's Elsewhere next month.  Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

In a city ripe with up-and-coming artists, Brooklyn-based Nation of Language has managed to maintain a steadily growing fanbase, helping the group sell out local venues and lock in a foreign tour — all before releasing a full-length album.

The trio, founded in 2014, channels an ’80s sound with bouncing synthesizers, beat-driven arpeggiators and drum machines. With just five songs released to date, the band has already garnered more than 400,000 streams on Spotify and has headlined shows at Bowery Electric, Union Pool and Elsewhere. 

“It’s really cool feeling at home in all these different [local] places,” vocalist Ian Devaney, 28, says one morning last month at Pel’s Pie Co. in Brooklyn, joined by the rest of the band.

The Flatbush resident is Nation of Language's frontman and primary songwriter; his wife Aidan Devaney, 26, plants herself behind the synthisizer, while friend Michael Sui-Poi, 32, lends his talents as the group’s bassist.

Looking back at what quickly became a whirlwind year for the indie band, Ian reflects on the group’s first headlining show at Bushwick’s Elsewhere in early 2018: He was astounded, he says, when he looked into a crowd peppered with people singing along to his songs.

According to the band, fan interactions have only increased since they had a 2018 opening slot on a string of east coast shows with English rock outfit The Wombats, whose albums have sold over a million copies worldwide.

“It’s definitely something that really started happening in the past 12 months," Ian says of the growing fanbase, sipping from his cup of black tea. "It’s really crazy after so many years of [audience members] being friends and friends of friends: to really feel like there are people liking your music in a vacuum – not because they know you – is an amazing feeling."

The growth surge from The Wombats tour was a pivotal point for the band, allowing the group to play larger venues and gain significant exposure while touring internationally. During a string of shows in Europe, an Italian band – also opening for The Wombats – asked them to play a show in Milan, which snowballed into a tour throughout Italy in the summer of 2018. “It’s unusual for a band to tour Italy twice before doing any other major touring,” says Aidan.

“We’ve played in Boston once, Milan twice,” Ian adds, laughing.

However, according to the synthesizer player, their most memorable show to date happened just a subway ride away from their home at a mid-size performance venue between Greenpoint and East Williamsburg. 

“The most surreal [show] was when we played Brooklyn Steel,” says Aidan of the January 2018 gig. “It’s the biggest show we played to date, a sold-out show with The Wombats. It was a sea of people and it was just a really good show. We were screen-printing T-shirts backstage to sell at the merch table … and then giving ones we had just made to fans after. It was like a whirlwind for sure.”

Ian and Aidan moved to Brooklyn in 2014 after deciding to seriously pursue music careers. While Aidan previously lived in Missouri and only had a small taste of Manhattan while pursuing an college internship, Ian’s proximity to the city atmosphere while growing up in New Jersey always left him wanting more.

“It always seemed to be the logical place to go,” Ian says. “Knowing I wanted to do music, this always felt like the place I had to be. It sparks creativity easily.”

The band credits Brooklyn with giving them access to a plethora of talented up-and-comers, all supporting each other by sharing band members and practice spaces, which they say helped them book gigs and grow a grassroots fanbase.

“I don’t think it matters as much, what sets us apart” from other NYC bands, Aidan says. “I like being a part of the community. I don’t really feel a competition … there are just so many bands that share members and it feels familial. It’s just a friendly thing [with bands], wanting to help each other out.”

Inspired by other bands they have – and will – share stages with, Nation of Language cites local groups including Hypoluxo and Peel Dream Magazine as creative muses. 

For now, the synth-inspired trio is refining songs for its debut record, which has yet to be recorded. While all five of their previously released singles will be on the new record, around five to seven new songs will fill out the album. Until then, Nation of Language’s first physical pressing — a vinyl of their single “Division St.” — will drop in March. 

If you go: Nation of Language will be performing March 8 at Elsewhere (Zone One) in Bushwick from 6 to 9:30 p.m. $12-15.

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