The five-piece synth pop group Balloon Ride Fantasy is a breath of fresh air in a guitar-heavy town. Bethany Berkstresser (backup vocals), Chris Olszewski (lead vocals/guitar), Phil Conley (synth/guitar), Jordan Wood (keys/synth), and Brad Schneider (bass) are all from Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas. Their new single, "Easy," has been in rotation all month on the X part of Hometown for the Holidays.
They were the second band I interviewed for the Scene Unheard Podcast in 2018. We were backstage before a performance at the Funhouse at Mr. Smalls. I stuck around for the show, which was euphonious and visually stimulating - the effects are always vibrant, and it was an exciting performance. I look forward to seeing them again when I can, and I encourage you to do the same.
When I asked about the origin of the band name, Balloon Ride Fantasy, Bethany said, "What do you want it to be?" The name came upon happenstance, a spur of the moment idea from Phil after playing a show with Chris, both of whom previously played in a progressive rock band, Federali. Chris knew right away that if they formed a new band under Balloon Ride Fantasy, they would be able to get a little more experimental with their sound - and that the audience would almost expect it, with a name like that. Their logo, a psychadelic lion merged with a unicorn, is the Lioncorn, their band mascot, who only further solidifies the surreal and magical experience that is BRF.
Their sound has evolved across their EP and debut album from more alt-leaning music to a gradual synth pop with more EDM involvement.
On the podcast, I asked the band about their experience as a synth-heavy pop band in a town that has struggled to concentrate on cultivating a variety of sounds. So many rappers, pop singers, instrumentalists, and electronic artists are here, but - generally speaking - guitar-based bands get much of the focus, at least until very recently. BRF mentioned having nerves earlier on about being placed on festival lineups that largely consisted of rock bands, but have only ever felt welcomed and accepted here. Brad said, "We've always done our own thing, we fit in by not fitting in with the other bands. No one really sounds like Balloon Ride Fantasy, and we stand out. And that's how we fit in."
The band was reviewed by Michael Stover of Music Existence in 2018 after the release of their EP. He made sure to note that, " ... it would be criminal for any music enthusiast to not catch a glimpse of what this band is doing for pop right now, period."
Balloon Ride Fantasy's music is now also now available on Instagram stories. Add one of their songs to your next post and be sure to tag them @balloonridefantasy.
Thumbnail courtesy of Balloon Ride Fantasy