After re-locating from San Francisco back to his hometown, Versus bandleader Richard Baluyut still hates New York. "I had lived in New York for almost two decades and I couldn't take it anymore," he says. "The band would have kept going had I not moved. Now I've been back for three years and that time away feels like nothing and I'm back where I started. How do I get out of New York?"
Nine years since he left Versus behind, Baluyut hasn't lost his endearing angst as a songwriter and frontman. Back in the big apple, he's re-teamed with fellow singer Fontaine Toups and his brother Edward to seamlessly bring Versus back with the bold effort, On the Ones and Threes, which picks up on the clever, quiet/loud pop rock dynamic they perfected in the '90s. With the new record, the band continues to glide between Zeppelin-esque heaviness and gentle pop in its songs but there seems to be a particular charge to those aspects of their work together here.
"We mostly just wanted to come from nowhere, a clean slate," Baluyut explains. "After many years of not putting anything out, I didn't feel like it had to be anything remotely related to the past. The idea was just to get together, have fun, and write songs. We didn't even plan on recording until it became more apparent that it'd be a shame not to. But there was no agenda or anything.
"I mean any band that works so hard becomes 'professional,' which in my opinion is a bad thing," he continues. "I think the less professional you can be, the more free you can be. You don't have to think, 'Well, this song is the single or this song will do well in Canada,' for example."
Despite feeling liberated, Baluyut still skews to sardonic, almost nihilistic impulses as a writer. His wit is cheerily sharp, but he also seems embittered, even grumpy. "I think that's true but I couldn't really tell you why that happens. I am back in New York so maybe that's part of it. After living in San Francisco, everything seems more menacing. Although this New York is nothing compared to the old New York. But the soul-crushing humanity is still here."
Versus already has half an album's worth of new songs to contemplate beyond On the Ones and Threes and, in many ways, Baluyut sounds thrilled to look to the future with his beloved band back in action. That said, his is definitely not an empire state of mind. "I came back for Katz's Deli and Lombardi's Pizza ― I came back for food but, as an adjunct, I'm happy to be playing in Versus," he chuckles. "Even though I hated it, I missed it and didn't wanna wonder if it was a mistake to leave. But I came back, and it was not a mistake and I'll probably be leaving again."