INTERVIEW: Bearstronaut on the 2013 BMAs, synth-pop, and their influences

bearstronautBoston “tank-top pop” band Bearstronaut is taking the New England dance scene by force. Known for their active, beach party-like performances, they’ve performed at the Boston Calling Music Festival and recently won electronic artist of the year at the Boston Music Awards (2013). They’ve described themselves at “part new-wave, part britpop, part electro, part r&b, but for the most part synth pop”. We asked guitarist David Martineau, keyboardist Paul Lamontagne, and bassist Nate Marsden a few questions about what it’s like to be a break out pop group.

AF: Some of the songs on Paradice are great party anthems – “A Better Hand” and “Moniker”, for example. Others, such as “Birds of Prey”, are more like love songs. Can you tell me a bit about the story or context behind the EP?

Paul – Our idea of “Paradice” was a great way for us to make these very bright and extravagant productions while leaving a tinge of darkness around the edge with a lot of the themes in the lyrics. I liked thinking of Paradice as the place you want to escape to, but when you’re still have to deal with all the same complicated life stuff as before. Kind of a “careful-what-you-wish-for” scenario.

Dave- We had some ideas for songs that we needed to reign in a bit in order to fit the concept we had for “Paradice.” We like the songs to have a contrast between the music and lyrics. Where either the song is bright and happy sounding but the lyrics deal with a darker concept, or vice versa. So “A Better Hand” is a dancier track, but the lyrics are about someone’s last days on death row.

Nate-  I tried to reflect the themes of the EP in the album art. We got the opportunity to use a photo taken by our friend, Emily Knudsen, from her recent trip to Peru. It’s an amazing photo of this beautiful desert scene at night, but there’s also this ominous looking shack in the foreground that draws you in. Her photos have this incredible juxtaposition of being beautiful but also sad, or dangerous at the same time and I think that works perfectly with our music.

AF: How about the musical inspiration? Do you all collaborate when writing?

Paul – It’s a collaborative thing. We have worked out  our individual roles a little bit so we each bring something new to a project. A lot of times we’ll work out sketches and demos of musical ideas and they get chewed around and mangled and shaped to support the context of what we’re trying to pull off. Designing the song idea is a pretty collaborative process.

Dave- I do my best to come up with a lyrical concept or story to apply to a demo or idea. Then present it to them in context I think is a good start. But they’re awesome at pointing me in a strong direction and helping me steer the focus of whatever I’m working on lyrically/melodically.

Nate- Living together definitely makes it easier to write. I love when someone knocks on my door and goes ‘Dude, you have to hear what I just did’ then a few hours later, we have the basis of a song.

AF: You self-released your first EP in 2009. How do you feel you’ve grown as a band since then?

Paul – Speaking for myself, I definitely felt like a novice putting that EP together. I learned a hell of a lot about making a record and what it takes to build a song. Songwriting has remained very challenging, mostly because I feel like we have no other option but to top ourselves. I barely knew anything about synths, samplers, production when we started, but the nature of those instruments is very exploratory. As we began to get creative with song ideas, it kind of unlocked new ideas from the instruments. It was very exciting to start from square one and have production skills and keyboard techniques come as a result of learning how to write songs.

Dave- That record was incredibly necessary for us as a group. We learned a lot about writing as a group and how to push ourselves creatively. At the same time, we figured out how to step back and listen critically at what we were doing as a whole. Now, we are trying to make themes more prevalent between songs and what will be on our album. The first ep will always sound like songs by 8 different bands in a way, but I think work ethic was what we took away from that experience the most. Nowadays, we’ve all gotten pretty good at being each other’s critics and knowing how to take that criticism as encouragement to keep working.

AF: The kind of music you write is made for dancing. I’ve heard and read great things about your live performances. Do you do anything special on stage to engage the audience?

Nate-  I just always try to look like I am having fun, no matter what. If it doesn’t look like we’re having a good time and dancing, how can we expect the audience to do the same? That’s my philosophy.

Paul – My hands are always stuck on a keyboard the whole show. I’m not exactly running around the stage but I do my bit.

Dave- We try to give our audience a bit more than just playing the album live. With “Paradice,” we added some auxiliary percussion to our live set up in order provide a more engaging aesthetic. We streamlined some transitions between songs in order to keep the momentum up. As a front man, I do my best to try and make people feel comfortable with breaking out a bit at our shows. You have to walk the line between being annoying and encouraging. So I make an effort to try some new moves on stage to show them I’m ok with letting my guard down in front of them.

AF: What was it like to be nominated (and awarded) in a couple of categories at the 2013 Boston Music Awards?

Nate-  Being nominated is a great feeling. It’s a weird sort of verification for everything we’ve done in the last year. Once I found out we were up for a few awards, I immediately reflected back to figure out why we were nominated and it reminded me of some crazy milestones we reached as a band in 2013. It’s nice to see that other people take notice of the hard work we’ve put in as a band. As far as winning Best Electronic Act, that’s kind of mind-blowing. With crews like Zone Def, HNDMD, and M|O|D all in Boston, we are like nerdy kids in gym class. Overall, it was a crazy night. We got to see some of our best friends win awards, and we got drunk while wearing ties, which is what it’s really all about.

Paul – It was a great night and I got to see so many friends there. It does feel great to win an award but I felt very proud to be among a lot of people I respect. We won an award for Best Electronic Act and for that category in particular, there’s a lot of amazingly talented electronic artists in the area who are so fluent and skilled with electronic production that it does feel like we are a bit of mis-representation haha. We’ve got drums, bass, and guitars just like every other band. Shout out to Tone Ra, Soul Clap, GMGN, Tide Eye, Tanner Ross, Andre Obin,

Dave- It is such an honor to be a part of the BMA’s. We had such a good time partying with everyone that night, basically to celebrate everyone’s hard work from the past year. My favorite part was definitely playing our set right after we won. We were all so excited to play at that point, it was one of my favorite sets of ours this past year.

AF: How did your friends and folks at home react to the Awards?

Nate- I think since we are all so close to our families and friends, it felt like they won as well. At least I hope that’s how it felt, since we truly couldn’t have won without them.

Dave- Our friends and family are incredibly supportive; always have been. They knew how much it meant to us to win this year. It felt great to bring something home this time to show them the fruits of our labor in a way.

AF: Many reviews mention a “human” quality to your work. People have called it “grounding humanity” and, more simply, “honesty”. What part of your music lends this quality?

Paul – That’s the trick, making music the way we do, it is very easy to get carried away. There’s always got to be a way to connect with people. We always try and tether our songs with that human element. I heard someone talking about the Strokes and how they always tried to make their guitars sound like computers played them. I sort of want to do the opposite, make computers feel like humans are telling them what to do and making mistakes. At the end of the day though, it’s all about trying to express something that feels real, even in the unnatural environment we put it in.

Dave-  When it comes to lyrics or stories, I try to create a balance between vivid imagery with accessible hooks. Some songs take longer to get there than others. But we want the hooks to be accessible, and for our audience to want to hear them again.

Nate- A lot of the human element also comes from our live show. Since we are all actually playing instruments, we tend to make mistakes. We’re not just standing up there pretending to be doing stuff.

AF: What are your favorite synth-pop bands, from the 80s and today?

Nate- Bow Wow Wow and that song ‘Electric Avenue’ by Eddie Grant

Paul – The Tough Alliance, Talk Talk, Delorean, Blancmange, Hot Natured, Saint Etienne

Dave- From the 80s: ABC, Human League, Duran Duran. From today: Hot Chip, Cut Copy, Polica, Painted Palms

AF: How many of them are influences?

Nate- 6, to be exact

Paul – I’m generally more interested in the songwriting and how clever they are at using their instruments to capture a feeling. Synth-pop bands are lucky to not have to exist in an actual environment. What I mean is, they can be as stark or lavish as they want and be as personal or as larger than life as they want. That’s a pretty attractive advantage.

Dave- All of them for sure. It’s really interesting to see how many of them cross paths or borrow from each other. When we analyze influences, we like dissect what parts we like and dislike to see what we want to draw from.

AF: Do you come down to New York often for live performances? How do you like it here?

Paul – I never know what to expect out of New York. We played Glasslands a couple weeks ago with the Hood Internet and Pictureplane and it was incredible. I loved it.

Dave- Yeah, we’ve definitely had a tough go of it in NYC. But the Converse show we did at Glasslands gave me some new found hope.

AF: What’s your favorite thing about Boston? What’s the best thing about Massachusetts?

Nate- Mo Vaughan and clam chowder.

Paul – The Greek Corner on Mass Ave. in Cambridge

Dave- The ability to escape the city fairly easy. All of our families are in CT, so it is nice to have home close by.

AF: It’s been freezing down here these past few weeks. It must be even worse up in Massachusetts. If you could live in one season forever what would it be?

Nate- Definitely Spring right before it becomes summer. We New Englanders work hard for that nice weather.

Paul – That first week in October is the sweet spot.

Dave- I’m all about the beginning of spring. Let me put on some shorts and bust these gams out already, please.

Check out Bearstronaut’s “Passenger Side”, off of their new Paradice EP:

LIVE REVIEW: Ed Schrader’s Music Beat / Future Islands @ Bowery Ballroom

edschraderdevinrice

The word of the night? Engaging. The instrument behind this captivation? Voice.

The Ballroom crowds always linger in the downstairs bar area throughout the opening acts. Such was the case for Guardian Angel, who filled in for Lonnie Walker in a last minute switch. But when Ed Schrader’s Music Beat took the stage people must have been intrigued by the rolling drums that shook the Sierra Nevada in their plastic cups. They flocked to the front of the floor with palpable excitement.

Ed Schrader was just a guy with a drum, until he joined forces with Devin Rice in 2009 and created the occasionally minimalist, almost animalistic, mostly energizing “Music Beat”. Their stage presence was forceful, but accessible. Ed Schrader stood in front of a floor tom with a t-shirt draped over the top, and Rice still with a bass in his hands. Schrader called for the lights to be turned off after making a few jokes. He stepped on a pedal that lit his drum from within, casting his upper body in a spooky yellow light, and making Rice just barely visible.

They started with a heavier punk sound – harsh drum beats, quick, steady plucks on the bass, and repetitive nasal vocals – before smoothly transitioning into softer, more focused melodies. Ed Schrader has a unique, lulling voice. Up on the stage with his shirt torn off and the light of his drumbeats bouncing off his face he appeared like a mystical Ian Curtis. One who makes a lot of jokes.

Future Islands

Future Islands, originally part of the Wham City scene (a group of artists who collaborate, or not, to make performance pieces, music, festivals, books, etc), became one of the most popular, influential synth bands around with their 2011 album On the Water. They’re currently on tour to promote their newest album (coming out March 2014), Singles. As fun as their recorded music is, seeing them live is the real pleasure.

Before Future Islands, when much of the band was part of Art Lord, they were all about theatricality. That charisma has carried over, infused with what can only be described as raw emotion, into a whirlwind of truly danceable tunes.

Samuel Herring has an incredible voice. It’s belting, cathartic, and registers as almost inhuman. The combination of this powerful tone and lyrics that center around anger and heartbreak can be a bit overwhelming. It rides the line between confessional and personal. I wonder how much confession is too much? Though the band is mesmerizing, the crowd may not always be able to enter this inviolate space.

The energy level of the band is out of this world. Herring is constantly dancing, twisting, and contorting himself around the microphone, making it nearly impossible to look away from him. Other band members are so still and expressionless that there’s somehow a balanced atmosphere. The keyboard builds a great sense of atmosphere and the beat is subtler than most dance music, but still manages to work its way into the body. Usually crowds are split between dancers and the too serious or too shy. But everyone seemed to brought together in the spirit of letting loose at the sound of Herring’s voice.

Check out Ed Schrader’s Music Beat’s album Jazz Mind and look out for Future Island’s Singles this March.

 

 

TRACK OF THE WEEK 12/23 : “Ambien”

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“Don’t wake me up,” howls Blank Paper‘s lead vocalist, Marie Kim, on their new track “Ambien.” It’s not a track that will put you to sleep in the least; instead, it’s more likely to hypnotize you with its sharp beats and bombastic percussion. You, too, won’t want to be woken up from this electronic dream of a song.

The Brooklyn-based synth-pop foursome was formed last year by Taylor Bense (synth, keys, guitar), Chris Holdridge (drums, sampler pads), and Cory Sterling (bass, synth bass), along with Kim. Their new track, with its blustering and glittering ’80s sound, recalls contemporary favorites like the Gorillaz and The Knife—a compelling dance beat paired with fervent vocals that give off both a sweet and edgy feel. You can’t help getting lost in this track, which makes it ideal for the dance floor. 

The song even comes with a 30 second teaser that’s equally as slick, replete with vivid visuals of leather jackets, darkly contrasted facial close ups, and a retro-looking car.

Ambien Teaser from LGTR Productions on Vimeo.

Check out the track below, and keep your eyes peeled for Blank Paper’s new EP coming out in early 2014!
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TRACK REVIEW: “Give It Up”

htrk1I wouldn’t consider myself an especially devout David Lynch fan, but I love Twin Peaks rabidly and uncritically, and I watch the show in its entirety at least once every winter. Never when the weather’s warm. My theory is this: something to do with frigidness, and the overarching quiet that comes along with a thick blanket of snow, demands a Lynchian blend of detached dreaminess and surreality. So maybe the recent snowstorms and having Laura Palmer on the brain is to blame for the way I feel about this track–it’s otherworldly, it’s vaguely sinister, and it’s an utterly appropriate backdrop for the weather these days. 

Duo HTRK claim an affinity with Lynch’s aesthetics; you can hear a kinship in the hypnotic chilliness of the melody, the scratched-out echoing synthesizers that ripple outwards as if a pebble’s been dropped into the beat of the song. Church-organ reverberations in minor mode plod menacingly up and down in the periphery, like mystery men in black trench coats and low-brimmed hats. The repetitive, androgynous vocals add to the sense of uncanny that characterizes this track.

HTRK stir some real polish into this mix, too–with glitzy production and a beat that suggests driving fast on open roads late at night, in a deserted city or through an empty stretch of highway. The sultry and foreign landscape that the song creates provides a space in which to detach from the outside world, whether in the dubious isolation of a dream space or nestled into the warmth and stillness inside a fast-moving car. The group’s new LP, Psychic 9-5 Club, will be out in 2014 and promises an expansive and rich musical landscape. For now, listen to “Give It Up” below:

AF LIVE: Spike Hill 12/18

Live Music

Ooooh, we’re having a showcase! Please join us on 12/18 at Spike Hill in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and peep some local bands who we believe should be heard and seen. Doors are at 730 and the show is free. Below please find artist profiles of the talent we booked. We hope to see you there!

 

8PM: Wildcat Apollo

Wildcat Apollo

Formed in 2012 by Alex Margolin and brothers Taylor and Aaron Eichenseer, with lead singer Cat Tassini completing the indie rock/synthpop band a few months later, Wildcat Apollo released their debut full-length in October of this year. The 12-track eponymous record combines elements of garage rock and dancey shoegaze, full of catchy bass lines and innovative guitar hooks.

AF: We read that you guys are planning to make a permanent move to Austin, TX to join your bandmate Aaron. How do you anticipate that move influencing your sound, or inspiring each of you musically?

 Cat: Well, we’ll all be together, so we’ll be writing together and growing together musically and just feeling more like a unit.  I think Austin’s more relaxed vibe will definitely sink into our skin and come out in our music.  It’s Aaron, Taylor and Alex’s hometown, and even though it’s not mine, I love it there, and I think we’ll all feel really comfortable and confident.  And of course all the festivals and venues there will inspire us to be on top of our game.

AF: You all seem to share a lot of instrumental duties within the band (Cat and Alex both doing percussion and synth, Taylor and Aaron both on guitars). Do you also share songwriting duties? How do you generally go about collaborating as individual artists to create your music?

 Taylor: Everybody in our group contributes to the songwriting; there’s certainly no set process as to how we develop a new song.  It’s a mixed bag.  Sometimes there is an independent writing process going on, where one member will come to the group with a decently formed concept and everybody else is left to fill in the blanks.  Like when I was working at an after-school program and the fourth graders would take pink highlighters and glitter and brown and purple crayons to sketches I would do in my notebook.  Collaboration breeds magic.  You can’t be afraid to let your vision grow into something bigger.  But we also do a lot of jamming and recording of jamming with a loop pedal or on a computer.  This is great because it lets the music be the guide and you can turn your brain off and just let it flow and figure out what happened after the fact.  It’s how we express ourselves, by shutting up and playing.  Also, that everyone is artistically motivated in our group is a real blessing, because we hold each other accountable to be our absolute best.

AF: Where’s some of your current inspiration coming from?

 Cat:  I’ve been listening to Lorde, Miley Cyrus, and Sky Ferreira all week.  Taylor:  Brutally honest self-reflection.

AF: Cat, you’ve said you had no previous experience being in a band before you joined Wildcat Apollo last year. What are some of the things you’ve learned along the way, so far?

 Cat: The biggest lesson I’m learning is giving up control.  My artistic life before the band was dominated by directing.  I was doing performance and video projects where I would handle almost everything and I’d just work with a friend or two on it.  I came up with the idea, figured out all the details and made sure it all happened.  So I didn’t have to depend on anyone else.  But I missed the camaraderie of being a part of a cast and a crew.  And eventually I felt limited and wanted to work with more people, people who were better than me.  And in my the rest of my life, I was traveling and trying different jobs, floating around in the post-collegiate nebulous phase, just being totally free and independent, but also feeling confused and angsty.  And then I got drawn into the band, which sort of came out of nowhere, but gave me a great sense of belonging and gave my life a direction.  But I had to learn how to be a part of a team again and do it in a brand new context.  And that context was a group of guys who had been playing music together their whole lives, so that was intimidating.  Also I tend to have really strong artistic visions, so I had to learn to trust my bandmates and not just reject an idea because it’s different from the idea in my head.  It’s something that I’ll have to keep learning over and over again: how to disregard my perfectionist control freak instincts and just trust the process and the people around me.   Also, I recently co-directed one of our music videos and worked with Bull Moose Pictures on it, and it was a wonderful experience.  So I’m learning and I’m happy the band is giving me an opportunity to experience that.

AF: Since it’s the end of the year and all, what are each of your New Year’s resolutions?

Aaron:  To really push boundaries sonically and to embrace new technology in the song writing process.

Alex:  To find a job.

Cat:  Mine is always to be better with time and money.

Taylor:  To release another, better record by year’s end.

Wildcat Apollo wishes to thank you, Annie, and everyone at AudioFemme for the tremendous opportunity to take part in your monthly showcase, especially considering the abundance of great music in Brooklyn and on the internet at large.

*Aw, yr welcome, Wildcat Apollo. Can’t wait to hear you play tonight!

Listen to “Gotham”, here, via Bandcamp:

 

 

9PM: New Politicians

New Politicians

New Politicians have been building some great hype with their two EPs, Alpha Decay and Drag A City, both released earlier this year. Their self-described post-punk sound has a gritty and straight-forward aesthetic, paired with melancholic lyrics. The four piece band are set to accomplish a lot more in the coming year.

AF: How did you guys come together as a band? Are you all still based out of New Jersey?

Gian:  All four of us are currently based out of New Jersey. Around the time the band was formed though, I was living in Philadelphia attending college and Renal was working in Manhattan. We would share files via email and then come home to Centerville on the weekends to jam. As brothers, Renal and I have always connected over music and have been writing together since we were young. Winston and I went to school together and had been playing in a few projects before the idea for New Politicians was formed. When I tracked the demos for some of our first songs, I brought it to them and we decided to form a band around it.

Q: Your two EPs were released about 6 months apart. How do you think you developed as a band in that time and in what ways are the two releases unique from each other?

Gian: Well, since the release of Alpha Decay we’ve had a lot of opportunities to play live in New York and New Jersey which has given us plenty of experience playing together as a group. We recently recruited a new drummer, Chris, who allowed us to implement a pretty rigorous practice schedule that’s been refining our skills collectively and individually as well. From the song writing aspect I think there is a continuity between the songs on both EP’s. The only major difference is that Drag a City was self-produced at home in our apartment where we didn’t feel the restrictions of time and money during the process. That allowed us to take control of our sound for the first time and we ended up with a record that we’re really proud of.

 Q: Your most recent EP includes a song titled “Are We The Dining Dead?,” presumably a reference to the Eternal Sunshine line. What other non-musical sources do you draw inspiration from?

Renal: Why yes, it is a reference to Eternal Sunshine. At the time of writing the lyrics to that particular song I had finally gotten around to watching the movie from beginning to end. Lyrically, I tend to draw most of my inspiration from life experiences as well as books and movies. Finding connections between my life and what I am reading or watching helps me generate multiple perspectives. While we were writing for the Drag a City EP, I had just finished reading Tender Is the Night and “Winter Dreams”, both Fitzgerald stories that served as a catalyst for my ideas.

 Q: What’s the story with your band name?

Gian: Renal came up with the name New Politicians and when he brought it to the group we immediately liked the irony of calling a rock band “politicians.” It’s more tongue-in-cheek than it is a deep statement or anything. However, a lot of truth is said in jest.

 Q: What are your plans and goals for the upcoming year? A full-length release, perhaps?

Gian: We’re planning to play as many shows as we can in support of Drag a City as well as continue to promote the record with the goal of receiving some label attention.  So far there’s been a lot of positive feedback on our social media sites and we hope to continue to gain new fans throughout 2014. A full-length isn’t completely out of the question but we feel we don’t currently have access to the resources necessary to make a quality debut record. Regardless we will continue to write, record, and build our song catalog so who knows what the future holds for New Politicians.

Listen to “The Length Of Our Love” here, via Bandcamp

 

10 PM: Wild Leaves

Wild Leaves

This folksy five-piece and their “sun-drenched harmonies” sound like a far cry from Brooklyn’s cityscape, but the fresh local band is making waves with their debut EP, Wind & Rain. The 7-track release is a confident showcase of their wispy, nostalgic melodies, which are sure to bring some comfort and warmth to our showcase!

AF: How and when did you guys come together as a band?

 WL: Wild Leaves officially formed as band in January of 2011. But its roots run much deeper.  We had the pleasure of being friends in college, moving to Brooklyn together, and experiencing a similar struggle to find our respective places in the world. The band formed in the midst of that struggle as we began to articulate the challenges we experienced, through songs. Starting with intimate two-piece performances in our Crown Heights apartment, and growing into regular gigs, across the city, as a five-piece.

AF: What are you focusing on right now? Any plans in place for 2014?

 WL: We just recorded a new batch of songs a couple weeks ago so we are mixing them now. This is a fun part of the process because a lot of the pressure is off (temporarily) The songs are what they are at this point and we get to just focus on putting the whole presentation together.  We’re looking to do a release in early 2014 followed by massive amounts of touring.  We’ve got people to see all across this beautiful country.

AF: Seven tracks is a good amount for an EP. Why did you decide to go with an EP release and not a full-length album debut?

 WL: Ultimately it came down to releasing something that encapsulated a moment. We had a bunch of songs that didn’t make the cut because they felt ancillary to the place we were in.  Recording those seven songs was a turning point in our collective time together in this city. A lot of work had gone into our transition and the songs were a away of acknowledging the past, while still embracing the future.

AF: What are your long-term goals for the band? Where do you anticipate going from here?

WL: Our long-term goal as a band is to write songs powerful enough to change the world. One of the major driving forces in our creative process is the open conversation we maintain with the people we come across on the road.  Whether its through lyrics, a performance, or a conversation after the show, we view each experience as an opportunity to exchange ideas and hopefully make the world a better place.

AF: What are your New Year’s Eve plans this year? Any parties, shows, etc?

 WL: Our new years plans are to lay low and spend some quality time with our loved ones.  It’s been a wonderfully busy year. We played something like sixty shows, made new friends in many new places, but didn’t spend a lot of time at home.  Winter is the perfect time for reflection and recuperation.

Listen to “Everyone”, here, via Bandcamp:

 

After the live show, stick around for dancing, courtesy of the ever-wild, B-Tips, who’ll be spinning all your faves til late.

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