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Since their formation, Tentative Decisions have made a name for themselves as Richmond’s rising post-punk darlings. Lead singer and guitarist Jack Sample, bassist Amanda McVey, and drummer Bernadette Lothamer have been dutifully gigging throughout the city and beyond, hitting the usual suspects like the Camel and Ipanema Cafe, as well as all manner of DIY venues. Suppose you’ve enjoyed seeing them play one of these gigs or listen to their 2023 EP, “Sensitive Conditions.” In that case, you’re probably familiar with their charmingly gritty sound and clever lyricism. You might not be familiar with the story of how the trio came together to create that sound – one that audiences have been enthusiastically tuning into.
On a rainy day, I visited the band’s practice space to chat about just that and record them playing a couple of songs. In true DIY fashion, the group hosts their jam sessions in their drummer’s apartment, where instrument cables snake between pieces of furniture and a drum set sits prominently near the mantle. As they ushered me into the living room of the eclectic walk-up, the first things that drew my eye were the critters that called the apartment home. Insects and reptiles in well-kept enclosures full of wood and greenery lined the walls of the space. While the trio huddled around my microphone to answer questions, I couldn’t help but feel like we had captive onlookers, like I was the host of a talk show with a riveted insectile live studio audience.
Each member of the trio forged unique paths to their instruments of choice. “I was a marching band kid all of high school,” explained Bernadette. Being in marching band allowed them to excel at flute and tuba and sowed the seeds of their current passion for percussion, “I had piddled around on the drums a little bit in high school, just sort of early morning when no one was around… when Jack and Amanda were looking around for a drummer for their little sitch, I thought that I would pick it up again.” Amanda also experimented with many instruments throughout school, having tackled the piano and the cello before exploring the fretboard on a bass guitar she had by happenstance. “I always had a gut feeling that I wanted to be in bands.” she said, “I just, like, learned [the bass] on the fly, and it’s opened so many fun doors… I’ve been able to meet so many of my closest friends through it.”
“I always had a gut feeling that I wanted to be in bands.” -Amanda McVey, Bassist
Similarly to his bandmates, Jack had a roundabout journey to his current musical focus: He played saxophone and percussion in his middle school’s band before taking an ill-fated detour, “I really thought I wanted to be a hip-hop producer, so I started making beats on my computer that were terrible – nobody ever used any of them… I never showed anybody,” he explained. “I guess that kind of drew me to guitar because I got really into punk music in high school… I wanted to play Clash songs, and I wanted to play Jeff Rosenstock songs.”
The three came together through a series of chance encounters and friends in common, many of whom were on VCU’s crew team. When one of Jack and Amanda’s mutual friends needed live music for a gallery opening, the pair jumped on the opportunity to perform some originals they had been working on. Enlisted swiftly, Bernadette rounded out the lineup; the rest is history.
There’s something delightfully off-kilter about the group’s iteration of post-punk. It harkens back to the likes of Talking Heads and the Ramones but is distinguished by a sense of charming awkwardness that only Tentative Decisions can pull off. The group’s rhythm section utilizes insistent, catchy, and often plodding beats to compliment Jack’s fierce yet warbly vocal delivery that cuts through the mix like a warm knife through butter. Their music explores themes of anxiety and coping with the absurd contradictions present in our late-stage capitalistic society. In the first song, the group wrote together, “Sensitive Conditions Theme,” Jack sings, “There’s a voice inside your head that’s speaking far too plain / From the North Side of the city pretends not to know your name / Who am I when I just feel content nauseous all the same/ I don’t know.” Strong imagery and cerebral queries abound in the group’s lyricism. If you listen to their songs superficially, you can dance to them. If you listen a little closer, you may find yourself chuckling at a clever turn of phrase nestled in the verses, and if you fully immerse yourself in the music, you may find yourself on the verge of an existential crisis.
“There’s a few different ways the songs come to be,” says Jack. “Usually, I’ll just bring something that I’ve thought of – it’s typically a half-fleshed-out idea – and we just kinda jam it for a while until we find something.” Bernadette chimes in, “We f*** around and find out.” While many bands do a lot of proverbial “f***ing around” at practice, it takes a remarkable dynamic to facilitate the “finding out” that Tentative Decisions does so well. “We’ve made a lot of songs in like, fifteen minutes,” explains Amanda. “We play really intuitively together,” Bernadette elaborates, “We just take cues well from each other and work well together during a jam.”
“We f*** around and find out… we just take cues well from each other and work well together during a jam.” – Bernadette Lothamer, Drummer
Richmond’s music scene has welcomed the band with open arms, and they’re very grateful for the culture that has allowed them to thrive as a growing band. “We have a lot of friends in other bands … that’s been a huge part of doing this – just meeting people.” Jack explained, “Richmond is a really cool city; it’s a really cool music scene.” They recorded their EP, “Sensitive Conditions”, at the Rabbit Hole, a Richmond venue and recording space. The band was grateful for the opportunity to make their EP in such a welcoming DIY environment, “I was really intimidated by the prospect of recording something… But, it felt natural, which was really nice.” said Bernadette.
“We have a lot of friends in other bands … that’s been a huge part of doing this – just meeting people.”- Jack Sample, Lead Vocalist and Guitarist
The band doesn’t plan to slow down any time soon and has continued developing its sound in new demos. They tend to their craft with the diligence and sincerity that it deserves. But refreshingly, the group doesn’t take themselves too seriously. As we closed our interview, I asked the trio if there was anything else they wanted Ink readers to know about them. After a quick pause, Jack said, “Uh… We’re really cool!” Amanda cheekily explained, “We’re only in it for the money and the babes and the drugs and the fame,” amidst a chorus of laughter from her bandmates. When it comes down to it, Tentative Decisions is a down-to-earth group of friends making music for the love of it and doing it with incredible skill and originality.
Follow Tentative Decisions on Instagram: @tentativedecisionsband
Photography: Elliot Crotteau