The Neighbourhood are pretty tired of talking about what the deal is with their fixation on black and white. “We've answered this question like a gazillion times,” says frontman Jesse Rutherford. “Do you have any other questions?”
In all fairness, the Neighbourhood has been queried — interrogated, even — many times about their image since “Sweater Weather” blazed the charts in 2012. To the band, it's an endless discussion about something that just comes naturally: “It's kind of our DNA,” Rutherford says of the group's aesthetic.
But, to some on the outside, their dedication to monochromatism is perplexing — the L.A. Times even called it “silly” when the band requested to only be photographed in black and white at Coachella in 2013.
“God forbid a band has an image and doesn't look like they just got out of college and formed a band with each other to try to make some money,” Rutherford says in defense of the Neighbourhood's decision to have a theme. Despite the group's exhaustion with the subject, Rutherford admits, “Maybe that is something the people need to start discussing again, the image of a band.”
So we did.
From the act's beginning in 2011, when not all members had even graduated from high school, their image was important to them. Rutherford tells of a time when the group would sit around as friends recording music together: “We wrote some songs. We had a band name. We asked ourselves, 'What else do cool bands have? A theme.'”
Thus, the Neighbourhood came to be. “It was so simple. It was just visual and audio together. We used black and white rather than using our faces or our names.”
With that dark, moody audio and monochromatic visual combination, the band created a world that both encompasses and belongs to the Neighbourhood. Cool, gray and special, like a rainy day in Los Angeles.
“We're controlling ourselves,” Rutherford says about sticking to the image the band chose upon its formation. “It lets us know we have a world and we're keeping ourselves in check. It's our rules.”
In an outside world where color is the default, the band is often faced with pressure to fold. But they don't.
“We've done things on our own that have, quote-unquote, hurt our career,” says guitarist Zach Abels. “We've turned down television,” Rutherford adds. “We pissed off our label by not wanting to do Jay Leno or Letterman because they would only do it in color.”
“But Letterman came back a week later and said we could do it,” he follows. “And it turned out really fucking awesome.”
While Letterman eventually got on-board with black and white, the group has experienced some less-than-accommodating photographers. “We're not gonna go in there and be mean about it,” says Rutherford about photographers who ask to shoot them in color. But, when the group asks to be shot in black and white and the published photos are still in color, that's when it becomes an issue.
“It's like if KISS was gonna do a photo shoot back in the day and somebody took pictures of them without makeup on and put them all over the place,” he says. “It almost feels like they're trying to slight us.”
The group views themes as a lost art, particularly with bands. Rutherford says we've been in a “lame period of time for the band as we know it,” and he hopes other groups begin taking more control over their images. “It's not a selfish thing, it's honestly to show other people who want to make music, and to show ourselves, that you can stick to something.”
Critics may call the Neighbourhood stubborn for sticking to theirs, but Rutherford thinks a theme is something every band can and should have. It's about looking at musicianship as a package deal, with an image giving the artist more control over how they are represented than just their music alone.
“Look at the technology we have today, you can do it,” he says about maintaining a theme, even while on, say, Letterman. “They could either be the ocean or they could ride the wave.”