When Florida-born artists fly the coop, how much of home do they carry with them? It's a classic question that's informed the critical response to everyone from Tom Petty to Diplo and Lynyrd Skynyrd to Gloria Estefan. But in the case of Andrew Kerr, drummer for nervy post-punk trio B Boys, he doesn't bury his Sunshine State roots far below the surface.
B Boys' three releases – 2016 EP No Worry No Mind, 2017 full-length Dada, and this year's follow-up, Dudu – are undeniably tied both sonically and narratively to the chaotic streets of New York City, the band's adopted home. But Kerr stresses the fact that his South Florida upbringing factors into the acerbic mix.
"Most of the language I developed in my drumming is primarily based off of things I experienced in Florida," Kerr tells Orlando Weekly. "You can even hear the ocean and the beaches if you listen closely. Being surrounded by a melting pot of culture seeps into you like a sponge. I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of Haitian and Latin American culture, so whether it's compas, cumbia or bossa nova, I try to pull little hints of rhythm into the B Boys world that aren't from places anywhere near punk or rock."
Positive reviews of B Boys' work have emphasized Kerr's rhythmic complexity, which intertwines seamlessly with the rest of the band. From the frenetic bass lines of Brendon Avalos to the sarcastic sing-shout of frontman Britton Walker, who also handles the band's angular, high-pitched guitar work, lockstep concision is key, earning B Boys frequent comparisons to post-punk popes Wire and Gang of Four.
Of course, there's also the inevitable link to Parquet Courts, whose frontman, Andrew Savage, has at varying times over the last 15 years been a friend, roommate and bandmate of Kerr, Avalos and Walker. But closer listening, especially to Dudu, reveals deeper musical nuances. There's the metal-inspired backbeat of "Automation," the confrontational sneer of "Another Anthem," and the neck-breaking gallop of "Taste for Trash" and "I Want." Sixties psychedelia flashes its shit-eating paisley grin on "I Can't Stand It," while the melodic thrum of "On Repeat" hearkens back to the sun-drenched rock of Mr. Petty himself.
"I don't know if we really think about the lineage of the groups we get compared to," Kerr says. "So many of our musical references and influences are less political or less punky, but they're equally important in the foundation of our band." Citing Captain Beefheart drummer John "Drumbo" French along with other freakier forebears, Kerr believes B Boys get lumped too quickly into too many narrow boxes. "I don't know if the bands we've played with have had a direct influence on our music," he says. "But it is great being involved in a larger community of like-minded musicians and artists who have nurtured us and helped us grow our own musical palette."
That palette is indelibly influenced by the rawness of the Big Apple. "Living in New York, we all tend to write with a greater sense of urgency," Kerr says. "That's something New York instills in you: the quicker pace of things. You don't ponder too long on one idea – you just keep it flowing." Such thinking informed the recording process for Dudu, which was cut live to tape at an upstate studio. Critics hailed the album's organic sound, subtly implying that they expected B Boys to clean up their act. But Kerr says Dudu's tightly woven thrash is simply a product of the accumulated chemistry between the band.
"The formula for us has stayed consistent throughout," he says. "Once we heard the first recording of Dudu, it reflected the exact nature of the songs we had written so well that we didn't want to oversaturate it with extra polish or cool production techniques. It felt accurate and more demonstrative of the raw energy of seeing us live, and we liked that."
Given Kerr's rich Florida lineage, which includes a one-semester stint at UCF in 2004, it might come as a shock that Orlando fans have never had the chance to see B Boys play in town. But that's because Kerr, Avalos and Walker hustle hard with full-time jobs in between touring. Perhaps that adds extra fuel to the band's notorious zeal for bombastic live performances? "When we first get out there, it's a huge release," Kerr concurs. "Our internal dialogue of frustration and aggression comes through on stage – in a much more productive way than just being angry."
And even though B Boys continue to get lumped in with other sneering young punk prophets, Kerr swears they're enjoying the hell out of themselves. "We have fun on stage," he says. "If you've ever seen us live, we laugh at each other – a lot. As long as we don't take ourselves too seriously and keep things lighthearted, we're in a good place."
– This story appeared in the Oct. 2, 2019, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly Headlines newsletter.