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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
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Histrionic voted ‘Best Local Band’ in The Pitt News survey

Local+band+Histrionic+performs+on+stage.
Courtesy of Histrionic
Local band Histrionic performs on stage.

Histrionic spawned from a basement in Highland Park in 2014. Brothers Simon and Jude Sweeney and their friend Isaac Winograd fiddled with instruments, plucking at guitars and banging on drums, their youthful cacophony melding into harmony with each year of practice. A decade later, their band Histrionic is a fixture in Oakland’s music scene — earning them the accolade “Best Local Band” in The Pitt News’ 2024 “Best Of” survey, as voted by readers. 

Winograd and Simon Sweeney’s friendship goes back to elementary school, when the two budding musicians jammed on their parents’ instruments. After a few name and lineup changes, Jude joined his older brother as a sixth grader, and they adopted the moniker Histrionic, first playing covers and then moving on to originals. With Simon Sweeney on guitar and vocals, Jude on bass and Winograd on drums, the trio has performed at venues around Pittsburgh. 

Histrionic’s energetic rock evokes a blend of the music they absorbed growing up, like the Beatles and Nirvana, and the gritty sound of local acts they heard in Oakland as they reached adulthood. Simon Sweeney said he found inspiration in underground concerts he attended in Oakland spaces like Rothko House and The Deli. They hosted acts like feeble little horse and Tough Cuffs, but like many other DIY venues, they came and went.

“The first thing I went to after things opened up a little bit … was a show at Rothko very early in junior year where feeble little horse opened … Tough Cuffs played at that show, and Water Trash,” Sweeney said. “I was just like, ‘I need to be playing music.’ It literally felt like you were in an oven in the center of that room — I would not have been surprised if it was 200 degrees. You couldn’t put your hand out, it was painful. I have a pair of shoes that was completely ruined by that. It was the best.”

Simon Sweeney, who graduated from Pitt last year, said the band has latched onto that DIY ethos and continued the underground tradition at venues like West Egg and the Black Lodge.

“I love playing the true basement show, the true DIY. The dirtier the basement, the better. The more packed, the more hot, the better,” Sweeney said. “We’re not making a ton of money, we’re not playing to a thousand people … we’d be playing if we were playing to five people — and we’ve done that, too.”

The young, low-budget crowd of Oakland’s DIY community makes it distinct from more formal scenes with longer-lasting musical institutions. Winograd, who attended Pitt for one year, said the DIY spaces where Histrionic flourishes, like the defunct Deli and contemporary basement venues, foster a sense of creative liberation.

“[The Deli] had a good balance of letting artists get weird if they wanted to, but not too far. And that’s a really fine line to walk,” Winograd said. “I remember one time I went to a show and there was a toilet as a prop, and I think it got destroyed. And I was like, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ That’s something that seems OK, as opposed to getting naked or something on stage.”

The bedrock of the band is their fraternal synergy. Winograd said the trio’s dynamic comes from a sense of mutual respect, years of jamming and Simon Sweeney’s creative direction. For Jude Sweeney, a junior English literature and film and media studies major, playing with his older brother and one of his oldest friends creates a fruitful shared context.

“I always say I’ve known him for 21 years now. It makes it pretty easy — we’ve had a rapport forever because we’re brothers, and we’ve been working on music together forever. We play with our dad,” Jude Sweeney said. “It really helps to have that connection, to be able to work together. I can kinda read his mind sometimes.”

Histrionic is a family affair — the fathers of the Sweeneys and Winograd are also musicians. Simon agreed with his brother, saying they owe their musicality to their dad’s encouragement. 

“Me and Jude have a lot of very similar instincts because so much of how we started playing music came from our dad, who is a very good guitar player … even when we were little kids and didn’t really play instruments, we would just be banging on the drums as he played Beatles songs on guitar,” Sweeney said. “We came away from that with a lot of the same baked-in way of thinking about how to make music.”

With scarce time and money, developing a band’s profile in the DIY community is an elaborate task. Though Histrionic got a head start from the knowledge and resources of their supportive musical upbringing, Winograd said growing the band means embracing its scene.

“A lot of that is networking — it depends who’s at your DIY show. We’ve been lucky enough to have a couple moments where we meet a guy from a different venue. There was someone who was involved with Bottle Rocket … they came and played at a show, and we got that connection. We had an old friend who we gigged with way back in the day who got us on at Mr. Smalls. A lot of it’s who you know, which can be hard at first,” Winograd said. “Push yourself to be social at these shows … you just gotta keep putting yourself out there, and eventually it gets easier.”

In their spare moments between shows, the band is recording its first album. Simon Sweeney said crafting the LP has proven arduous, but fans should expect it soon. 

“I was recording a little bit today, just this evening. We’re moving slowly but surely — me and Isaac work, and Jude’s in school still, so we can’t go in and spend two weeks just every day in the studio for eight hours, so it’s a little bit slow-going,” Sweeney said. “But it’ll be released — unless something goes horribly wrong — this year.”

As performers and listeners, Histrionic has witnessed DIY music in Pittsburgh evolve over the past decade. Simon Sweeney looks ahead to what Oakland music will look like after they’re gone. 

“We want three people to come to our shows a couple times and start a band, like I had when I went to that Tough Cuffs show and I said, ‘Wow, I need to be doing this,’” Sweeney said. “Even if it’s not our music specifically that makes it happen, just if we can get people to start bands, get venues started — those are the two things the scene needs, venues and bands, or it’s nothing.”

About the Contributor
Patrick Swain, Culture Editor
Patrick Swain is a junior economics major with a minor in Hispanic language and culture. He begrudgingly removes Oxford commas as the culture editor of The Pitt News. You can find him rooting for the Buffalo Bills, invoking the third amendment and remembering the Alamo.