Ian Thompsen IS the drummer for a Brooklyn-based trio called Pregnant.
Playing a slightly tweaked take on the music of bands like The New York Dolls, Pregnant seems to embody the notion of the scrappy New York rock band, save for one detail: Thompsen splits his time between Bushwick and a small private island in New Jersey.
While Pregnant’s singer and guitarist Kevin Manion lives in Bushwick and bassist Stephanie Bridges lives in Clinton Hill, Thompsen rests his head, at least some of the time, on Barley Point, a 38acre island closest to the Monmouth County towns of Rumson and Red Bank. Mostly filled with summer bungalows, a small community of people lives on Barley Point year round, including the Thompsen family. It’s fitting, though, since the Garden State was integral to the forming of Pregnant.
Manion and Thompsen met going to punk shows during the late 1990s, when the Jersey scene revolved around aggressive hardcore bands like The Degenerics and Ensign. "I was 16 and he was 15," remembers Manion. "I was doing a show in my town and I booked Ian’s band, Down In Flames. I’ll never forget how happy he was, and such a nice dude."
Over time, Barley Point would become known to Jersey scenesters as "Ian’s Island," billed as such on flyers for the shows that Thompsen threw there. The island became a go-to stop for touring bands—including Crime In Stereo, The Ergs and Municipal Waste—that would play outside, in between the island’s bungalows. The shows featured Mohawked, patched-up youngsters gallivanting up and down the small island and smashing into one other while chanting along to their favorite songs. If you’re not picturing Lord of the Flies, you’re not imagining it right. The shows began in 1998 with Thompsen’s first band, Probable Cause, and ended in 2007 with one of Pregnant’s first gigs.
Manion and Thompsen first jammed in a band called Shapeshifter, and, according to Thompsen, "Shapeshifter, in a sense, was the start of Pregnant because Kevin and I got really kinetic playing together." Upon moving to Brooklyn, Thompsen and Manion met Stephanie Bridges, a raspyvoiced Buffalo native with a taste for black metal. The three ended up bumping into each other at parties and going to the same shows. Quickly, they clicked and Pregnant became a reality.
"We still don’t actually know what we want the band to sound like, but we all come from playing in punk bands and I was listening to The Dead Boys a lot when we recorded the first record," says Thompsen. The band’s first EP, Wanna See My Gun?, was released in February 2009 and is clearly marked by an early-’70s prepunk sound. Most bands that draw from the likes of The Dolls and The Damned cling to the glammed-up, druggedout aesthetic that imbued those bands.
Pregnant, on the other hand, couldn’t be less interested in this image, or any other for that matter. Referring to the artwork on the Gun EP, Manion says, "A lot of reviewers made fun of the cover art, but it’s just there because we couldn’t think of anything else. It’s just a picture of the three of us stoned on Steph’s bed." And regarding the band’s name, Thompsen admits that he was just looking for something that "sounded gross." He adds that he’s purposefully avoided any kind of pregnancy-related imagery in the group’s album art.
When the band released its self-titled full length in 2010, it received a number of good reviews from outlets, including Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll. The record is rife with the early-’70s, New York-rock sound that Pregnant does best, heavy on the driving, twangy guitar riffs and Iggy Pop-style growly vocals, but peppered with interesting, discordant notes. Certain songs have a new depth that sounds like a cross between Seattle grunge and the D.C. post-hardcore sound of bands like Embrace. The album’s third track, "Safe and Sound," goes in an entirely different direction, sporting a chorus with Bauhausstyle vocals.
On stage, Manion’s punk roots shine through in the way he pounds on his guitar and clenches his eyes shut as he shouts into the mic. Manion makes for an engaging frontman, speaking in a thick New Jersey accent and looking like a ginger Ewan McGregor. Bridges, with her short red hair and tomboy style, stays rather still, fingers streaming up and down the neck of her bass with tight control, head banging occasionally in a nod to her metal background. "I just like to party with these guys," says Bridges. "These are my guys." Thompsen looks almost entranced as he pounds away at the tomtom-heavy backbeat of Pregnant’s songs.
As a unit, the three are pretty charming, constantly cracking jokes and interrupting one another. What’s more is that the three, all pale-skinned and redheaded, look as if they could be siblings.
Indeed, the three share more than a look; they all express a disdain for the machinery of the local music scene.
"I really have no interest in entertaining anyone," Thompsen says before all three bandmates agree that Pregnant’s express purpose is to be an outlet for them to have fun with one another. When I mention things like gaining traction in the scene or creating buzz, the three show total scorn. Sure, plenty of bands act this way, but from Pregnant it seems especially genuine.
"Our friends come to our shows," says Manion. "If somebody we don’t know comes to a show, we make friends with them."
So perhaps Thompsen’s island refuge is more of a boon for Pregnant than its members realize, one that affords them a certain apathy. For most bands, finding and affording practice space or recording time make for some of biggest challenges of existence. Pregnant will always have a place to play, whether it makes it or not. When I ask why the band has yet to do a proper tour, Manion replies, "Because there’s really no reason to ever leave New York City."
"I think that the island is a great yin and yang type thing with Brooklyn," Thompsen adds. "The fact that I can go to the island and have peace and quiet and then go to the city, it’s a great contrast. It’s good for the band."
Cake Shop, 152 Ludlow St. (betw. Stanton & Rivington Sts.),
212-253- 0036; 8, $7.