Bay Area band the Y Axes talk new single, balancing music with professional life

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Almost a decade ago, at San Francisco State University, Alexi Belchere and Devin Nelson met in a Japanese class, became friends and discovered their birthdays were a day apart. Several years later, in 2011, they inaugurated their new band, the Y Axes, with a “Birthday Space Prom,” to celebrate. They’ve been writing and releasing their unique brand of indie pop rock with its blend of sci-fi and other futuristic elements ever since.

The band’s music is written primarily as a collaboration between Belchere and Nelson, while Jack Sundquist supplies the bass and visuals and Nick Schneider plays drums. Nelson, as guitarist, focuses primarily on building the chord structure and riffs of the songs. “One of my own motivations for writing music in this band has been trying to balance simplicity and complexity,” he explained. “I really like pop music, and I also really like crazy progressive metal. I want to bridge that gap. I want people who like pop music to appreciate more complex things and people who like more complex things to appreciate fun, pop hooks.”

Meanwhile, Belchere focuses more on the lyrical direction of the band, building on Nelson’s riffs to find the matching words, which for the Y Axes tend toward sci-fi and pop culture-oriented themes. “I can only put things in certain tangible terms that I can actually understand,” Belchere explained. “And that usually comes out in time travel and space and Game of Thrones.”

Nelson summed up that sentiment of authentic expression succinctly: “I think we’re just fucking nerds.”

That passion for knowledge is expressed in the band members’ school records. Nelson earned a degree in chemistry and completed two summer fellowships at NASA. Belchere, meanwhile, majored in English, and Sundquist studied music composition.

The band members also work full-time jobs in San Francisco, making their commitment to music production and performance all the more impressive. Nelson is a high school science teacher, while Belchere works for tech companies in San Francisco, and Sundquist waits tables during the day to keep his evenings free.

While everyone in the band admitted it can be frustrating trying to balance work and music, Nelson pointed out the silver lining:  “I think being stressed out and really busy is kind of a catalyst for wanting to make art,” he explained. “If you’re really burnt out by your job, you naturally want some sort of cathartic outlet.”

What the band has crafted in response is a poppy, layered sound that mixes upbeat chord progressions with darker lyrics. “I think my lyrics are sad but with an optimistic spin,” Belchere said. “It’s like, things are shitty but they’re gonna get better. I think “Patch Me Up” in a way can be anthemic for people who are going through issues and struggles,” she explained of the band’s newest single.  

The band has had its fair share of issues as well, cycling through several members before settling on the current lineup and spending a lot of time trying to get music recorded during the process. As they push more into touring and supporting their music, the pressures of balancing work become stronger as well. “I spend practically all my time not spent working on my job working on the band, and it’s exhausting,” Nelson said.

The band now faces somewhat of a turning point. The group has spent more time on music in the last year than ever before, and increasingly, the decision looms whether to continue with full time jobs while being limited in free time or to take the plunge and jump into music more fully. All expressed doubts about whether music alone can pay the bills but also showed excitement at the thought of having more time and energy to try to build momentum as a group.

It has its work cut out for it, but the group has the advantage of being extremely likeable. Far from the “cool-guy” attempted vibe, the band is genuinely just some goofy nerds, out of college and making music — as willing to discuss the pros and cons of privatized space travel as San Francisco’s music scene. As they move forward and try to build and interact with a fanbase, that quality is their greatest strength.

Imad Pasha covers music. Contact him at [email protected].