Spotlight: Hayley Jane and the Primates on Friendship, Loss and Laughter

Raffaela Kenny-Cincotta on January 30, 2018

When Hayley Jane and the Primates needed to borrow a snare drum for some upcoming shows in Colorado, they knew they could count on Dopapod drummer and fellow Berklee College of Music alum Neal Evans. “He just left it on his porch!” Hayley Jane laughs from the band’s greenroom in Denver. Along with Dopapod and Turkuaz, Hayley Jane and the Primates are part of the latest class of “Berklee bands” to emerge out of Boston’s artist-friendly neighborhood of Allston. A perfect storm of cheap rent and creative freedom led the bandmates to one another; as it turns out, they learned way more from the school’s network of friends and fellow musicians than they ever learned in a classroom. “I’ll be paying off my Berklee debt for the rest of my life, but I’m so glad I went there,” guitarist Justin Hancock says.

Following their most polished release to date, the crowd-funded sophomore LP We’re Here Now, the group looks back on their Berklee years fondly, and credits the school for imbuing the band with its core tenets of friendship and fun. The Primates’ joy is palpable—Hayley Jane captivates her audiences with the kind of theatrics usually reserved for Mick Jagger or Janis Joplin, and all five band members wear permanent smiles as they jam along genre lines, spinning together in uences from the ‘60s to the ‘90s. 

However, that doesn’t mean their story is devoid of tragedy.

In 2011, the unexpected passing of first bassist Devin “Dabbo” Caucci shook the band to their core. Hancock and Hayley Jane, who met through Dabbo, were particularly rattled, but their mutual loss brought them closer together, sparking a deep friendship and songwriting partnership. “After Dabbo passed away is when Hayley and I wrote our first song together,” Hancock recalls. “Things really changed when we started writing together,” Hayley Jane adds. “Things started to mature. He knew more about where to take a song and how to make it travel. I could tell a story with words, but I was missing the ability to tell it with music. And Justin definitely filled that in.”

With heavy hearts, the band pushed forward and recorded their first EP, Color Me, in 2012. And while several short- tenured bassists came in and out of their lives, it wasn’t until they met yet another member of their Berklee community, Josh Carter, that “Primates 2.0” began. “We found Josh, and he was the perfect fit,” Hayley Jane says. “It was a really big time of transition after [Dabbo]. When we got together with Josh, things started to gel and feel good again. That was an important time of growth for the band.”

Recently, Carter’s connection with the Primates even spilled over into his personal life. In October, before the band’s first headlining show at Brooklyn Bowl in New York, the bassist married former Relix staffer Kristen DeTroia onstage beneath a Grateful Dead-themed chuppah. A veteran of the Boston music scene in her own right, DeTroia was more than happy to spend her wedding day alongside the Primates. “My wife loves to talk about how she saw Hayley Jane and the Primates before I was in the band,” Carter laughs.

Since the wedding, the band hit the road hard, performing across the country in support of We’re Here Now. Whereas their debut record Gasoline had its fair share of growing pains, this LP feels cohesive and confident—a watershed moment for Hayley Jane and the Primates. Most of the album was recorded in a five-day sprint, and the band was glad to have Turkuaz’s Craig Brodhead behind the boards to ease any anxieties. “I feel like a veteran onstage and a complete novice in the studio,” Hayley Jane admits, adding how Brodhead provided overdubs. Hancock explains that for a live band so used to feeding off of an audience, “sometimes it’s hard to manifest that energy

in the studio.” However, the singer says, songs like the twangy “Mama” allowed the band to loosen up. “We were hootin’ and hollerin’ and having a great time.”

The ensemble’s main goal is to always be “a band that laughs.” Hancock continues, “If you’re not friends with the people you play music with, after a while, it just isn’t fun.” And with friendship comes respect. “I don’t feel a lot of pressure from anyone to play or sound a certain way, which I think is what makes this band so great,” Carter says. From the shredding guitar on album opener “More Interesting,” to the unrelenting rhythm section on funk-dance number “You Gotta Move,” to the jam power-ballad “Creatures,” We’re Here Now is Hayley Jane and the Primates’ sonic expression of their wide-spanning influences, from Phish to Ween to Erykah Badu.

“We’re a genre catastrophe,” says Hayley Jane. “It’s beautiful.” 

This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of Relix.