“It felt like magic the first time we all got together,” says Move Like Creatures frontwoman Nancy Bombard. “We were an instant family.”
Take a listen to Space Case, the Southern California four-piece’s exhilarating debut, and you’ll start to feel like part of the family, too. Recorded with producer/engineer Ethan Kaufmann (Ryan Cabrera, Avril Lavigne), the EP is deceptively bright, fueled by addictive hooks and an infectious charm that belies the collection’s often-weighty subject matter. Bombard’s lyrics are raw and vulnerable here, grappling openly with loss, insecurity, and mental health, and her bandmates—drummer Melissa Koziel, bassist Brian Bello, and guitarist Ryan Reynolds—deliver similarly confident, captivating performances, mixing pop sheen and rock and roll grit with immersive electronic flourishes and streaks of punk defiance. The result is a rich, raucous record that finds peace and comfort through acceptance and embrace of the self, a bold, bittersweet debut that hints at everything from Hayley Williams and Liz Phair to Gwen Stefani and Olivia Rodrigo as it reminds us that no matter how dark or desperate things may seem, we’re never truly alone in this world.
“I think that over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of people experiencing depression for the first time and struggling with how to manage those feelings without the usual distractions,” says Bombard. “We wanted our music to be something that could speak to those people and make sure they felt seen and included, too.”
It should come as little surprise that mental health is such a priority for the band: Bombard holds a degree in psychology, and Bello is actually a practicing psychiatrist.
“I grew up listening to Loveline and Dr. Drew,” Bello explains, “and I’m always looking for bigger platforms to reach people and new ways to help them. When I joined this band, it felt like the perfect intersection of my passion for making music and my passion for making meaningful connections.”
It was that desire for meaningful connection that brought Move Like Creatures together in the first place. Hungry to return to the studio and the road after the dissolution of her last band, Bombard (who’d opened for the likes of 311, Slightly Stoopid, Sublime with Rome, and Rebelution in previous projects) took her search for like-minded artists to Craigslist in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. With so much of the world shut down, she wasn’t sure who—if anyone—would respond, but something told her she needed to give it a shot.
“Within a day and a half, I’d heard from Ryan,” recalls Bombard, “and I was so excited about the prospect of collaborating with people again that I didn’t even stop to think that it might be dangerous to invite a stranger from the internet over to my house. I ended up hiding a knife under the couch cushion the first time we got together just to be safe.”
Fortunately for both of them, Bombard and Reynolds clicked instantly, and with the subsequent addition of Koziel and Bello to the lineup, it soon became apparent to all involved that they were on to something truly special.
“Brian and I had been in another band together,” explains Koziel, whose past groups had supported Fall Out Boy and Paramore in addition to performing on the Warped Tour, “and I’d played on some bills with Nancy over the years, so I knew she was a great singer, but I think we were all surprised by how quickly everything fell into place and how naturally the songs started coming together with this group.”
The writing process was an especially collaborative one for Space Case, with all four bandmates batting ideas back and forth and adding their distinctive fingerprints to the music. When it was time to head into the studio with Kaufmann, the group purposely left room for spontaneity and improvisation in the arrangements, surrendering to the moment and letting the energy of it all dictate where the recordings would go.
“We spent the whole first day in the studio mapping things out with Ethan,” says Reynolds, “but a lot of what ended up on the EP was actually done on the fly. Nancy was still finishing up lyrics on her way into the studio some days, and we were all just reacting to each other and chasing what felt right as it happened.”
That intuitive chemistry is palpable on Space Case, which opens with the towering “Ghost Me.” Fueled by larger-than-life drums and soaring vocals, the track wears its outsized ambitions on its sleeve, mixing the intimate and the anthemic to craft an arena-sized sound that still manages to feel profoundly honest and personal. Like much of the EP, the lyrics dig deep, wrestling with doubt and desperation before ultimately arriving at a place of hope and strength. The propulsive “All Hung Up” channels the dreamy synths and muscular drive of The Killers as it learns to let go of pain and live in the present; the buoyant “Pick Up What I Put Down” taps into the effortless cool of Rilo Kiley as it breaks free of a toxic past; and the swirling, hypnotic “Space Case” offers shades of P!nk as it leans into the power that comes with embracing our flaws and shortcomings. It’s perhaps the effervescent lead single “Mind Reader,” though, that best encapsulates the collection’s balance of energy and empathy. Inspired by an ill-fated therapy session, the track is a rallying cry for anyone who’s ever been misunderstood or misdiagnosed, for anyone who’s ever been told to toughen up or shake it off. “They’re always asking if I’m fine,” Bombard sings with an audible sneer. “They want to fix me all the time.”
“When you’re going through a physical or mental illness, you get offered a lot of unsolicited advice from people who don’t really understand,” she reflects. “If you’re at the end of your rope, you’re willing to try just about anything, but it’s important to always listen to your gut and trust your instincts.”
It was those instincts, after all, that brought Bombard and her bandmates together.
“I feel like the four of us are just these misfits with all these different traumas and struggles and creatures living inside of us, which is where the band’s name comes from,” she explains. “We’ve all been dragged through the mud at some point and gotten back up, but that just makes us value each other even more.”
It’s what makes them family.