by Joey Spehar
Boy Wonders are a jangly shoegaze band fronted by singer and guitarist Derek January. The three piece band recently released Happy Days Are Here Again featuring the song “Why Should I?” – which ponders the age of question of, “Will they love me back?”
Derek January recently spoke with WYEP’s Joey Spehar about
Boy Wonders are:
Derek January – vocals/guitar
Joe Praksti – bass
Del Weinberg – drums
This conversation may be lightly edited for content, clarity, or length.
What’s your musical history up to this point?
I’ve been playing in various projects since moving to the heart of the city in 2016. I’d say the previous one that had the most notoriety here was with Devin Moses & The Saved, in which I played rhythm guitar. We were playing lots of shows alongside fellow folk and country-rockers like Andre Costello and Chet Vincent. I started Boy Wonders during that time as a solo outlet and released an EP that I mainly sent along to friends and some blogs, but kept it to a bedroom project until 2020 when I was really inspired again and started writing material for a follow up. That’s when I brought in Joe to help with recording on his Zoom R16-track. We were already great friends and it was feeling very natural working together and became apparent that he should just join the band, and that’s when the ideas really started flooding in. We recorded the album in my attic studio throughout the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and then met Del afterwards who really brought in a lot of muscle and made me be like, ok, this is no longer a bedroom project, we gotta play these songs live! So I’d say we were out playing no longer than a month after he joined Boy Wonders.
How do you describe your sound?
Joe and I are really into a lot of 80s and 90s indie pop – post-punk, shoegaze, Britpop. We love bands like XTC, Echo & The Bunnymen, Suede, Ride. But we’re also huge into 60s jangle pop and power pop – Beatles, Byrds, Big Star. Our sound is a collision of those post-punk influences with 60s pop jangle. The album really bounces between those styles from song to song, sometimes even in one track.
Tell us more about the song “Why Should I?” What inspired you to write it?
So here’s a good example of those styles being contained in one track. It’s a really well layered song that I’m quite proud of, and I think we knew it was going to be both the single and the album opener from very early on. There’s some dense shoegaze-y guitar and a sort of hazy melody that gets paired in the post-chorus with a real jangly element. And it’s hard to deny what inspired it – it’s about falling in love and not knowing how exactly to express that, and feeling scared that it won’t be reciprocated. It’s very autobiographical, but its meaning to me is quite different now since that relationship has since ended. But I still think it’s a lovely song and I’m glad we released it the way we did.
What was the first album that really changed your life?
I’m going to go with the Smiths and their Best Of Vol 1 collection. The first time I heard the Smiths, I was in high school working at B&D Records (RIP) in my hometown of Springdale, PA. I worked upstairs in the used vinyl/VHS/CD department. Bobbie Wo from early 2000s local favorites Featherlight was a regular customer and a super nice guy. One day he came in and picked up that Smiths best of CD off the racks and was like “you know the Smiths?” and I was like um, nope! And I think he literally said something like “this band is going to change your life.” It was a total manifestation and he was dead-on. “This Charming Man” was track one and I was just totally smitten. That Johnny Marr chiming guitar sound was probably the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. From there I dug deep, got every album, and really fell in love with this band. Their music spoke to me on a profoundly personal level, and still does. And I feel like the Smiths were a gateway drug to so many amazing bands I’d learn of down the line – Stone Roses, The Jam, all those C86 bands, Paisley Underground stuff. So I’m very happy that they came into my life and they obviously influence Boy Wonders a hell of a lot. We even did a Halloween cover set as The Smiths, and I very much enjoyed getting my Morrissey impression on.
What’s the best part about making music in Pittsburgh?
I’d say the mutual support between local musicians. I had a big hand in getting live music going at the Government Center, and we’ve had just about every cool local band you can think of come through. When you go to a venue like the Gov Center that regularly hosts local music, that mutual support between the bands is very apparent. There are little scenes throughout but then you have some shows where the lineups are so wildly different that it’s bonkers, but it works, and it works because the people making it happen care to support their friends. And I don’t know if there is a single Pittsburgh musician who is only in one band! Our drummer has a solo project called Choice Words which myself and Joe are also in. Joe’s in what, like, four bands total? It’s crazy. But we do it because we love the creation and camaraderie that playing music with your friends brings.
Which Pittsburgh artist(s) do you wish more people knew about?
Chameleon Treat! It’s a solo project from my friend Andrew Kruske, who is probably one of the nicest people I have ever met. His music is very loop-based, with a lot of layered harmonies, hypnotic guitars and field recording samples. Big Animal Collective vibes with a motorik Krautrock rhythm. We got to play with Andrew when we supported shoegaze greats The Veldt in August. He took a little live hiatus for a bit, and I think that was his first show back in like a year. I’m very happy to see him playing out again, and hope he gets the recognition that I think his music deserves.
Any other super interesting things we should know about you?
We’re already at work on LP 2! Very excited to have Del around now for the writing and recording this time. The new material has me really excited and inspired, so it’s coming together quickly. We seem to really be leaning into that 12-string jangle pop side of what you hear on this last album on a song like “Hang Tight.” We’re experimenting a lot with three-part harmonies, real girl-group and Beach Boys type stuff. Keep your eyes and ears peeled.