Substream Approved: The Obsessives

The Obsessives
photo: Michael Andrade

Nick Bairatchnyi and Jackson Mansfield are at the beach. Not together, but only a couple streets apart on coincidently similar family vacations. The two do everything together. Over the last few months, “everything” has included writing, recording and releasing their debut album as the Obsessives—they also found time to graduate high school.

The resulting full-length, Heck No, Nancy, flaunts twinkling guitars, dynamics that swell and crescendo, vocals that gently ponder then strain violently. Though live performances are limited to Bairatchnyi on vocals and guitar and Mansfield on drums, the two-piece format actually allows for increased collaboration between the band members.

“There isn’t one song one of us wrote all the way through,” says Bairatchnyi. Mansfield, a guitarist before picking up the drums, writes a significant portion of the music while Bairatchnyi takes full responsibility for the lyrics. Still, the two worked together to develop the themes of the album before Bairatchnyi put it into words. Prominent among those themes is the band members’ transitional period as they leave high school behind.


Written throughout the group’s senior year, snapshots of that time period litter the album. Bairatchnyi cites a line from “Nodding Off (Fucked Fine)” as one of the most blatant references: “High school sucks when you’re stuck on someone who’s given up.”

“The reason that at surface level we come off as a band that’s in high school is purely because that was the setting we were in. So my references to high school, they all serve a purpose,” he explains. “People are like, ‘Oh, tales of high school heartbreak’—that’s not what [“Nodding Off” is] about. That song’s about problems with me and my dad.”

A listener could mistakenly interpret Nancy as songs about girls and high school angst, but that’s not the case. The lyrics tell stories of a father that left the picture, friends you’ll never see again and the existential crisis of dissatisfaction all around you. “It’s like everyone wants to be something and they never quite meet their expectations,” summarizes Bairatchnyi.

At the same time, it would be wrong to forget that the Obsessives just graduated high school. These aren’t road-worn musicians that are hoping to avoid a 9-to-5 and hit it big; these are 18-year-old kids who chose touring over homecoming and graduation parties. These are young adults who still pack their lunches—for weeks at a time—to cut the cost of touring.

While many of their classmates go off to college or enter the traditional workforce, Bairatchnyi and Mansfield have chosen to take a gap year to see how far the band can go. “We are really looking forward to going to college and we’re very focused academically, but we really need to see what happens in this upcoming year,” says Bairatchnyi. “We let this band get in the way of all this normal stuff, so why not see it through?” S

A version of this piece was published in Substream #48.