The video for Sky Ferreira’s “Lost In My Bedroom” plays out like a synth-pop Cloverfield, with grainy VHS footage, flashing lights, and an epilepsy warning to boot. Over the strains of pulsing low-end synth, Ferreira despondently sits in dark corners and stares gloomily off into the distance while partygoers and random men filter in and out of the frame. Grant Singer, who teamed up with Ferreira on past videos like “Everything Is Embarrassing” and “Sad Dream,” is at the helm of this one as well. Check out the video below.
If you dig Sky Ferreira, check out OurStage artist Casey Desmond
Last year, Owl City was riding a huge wave of success, buoyed by a multi-album major label deal and collaborations with GRAMMY award“winning producers. It was hard to imagine that Adam Young’s star could rise any higher. Leave it to him to prove us wrong. Since we last spoke to the singer-songwriter, his electropop project has gotten even bigger. He recently teamed up with pop queen of the moment Carly Rae Jepsen to record “Good Time,” a chart“topping summer smash, and released his fourth studio album, The Midsummer Station in August. We caught up with Young to chat about the collaborative process with Jepsen, his love of Dutch DJs, and his literary inspirations.
OS: Good Time” was a huge hit this past summer. Did you go into the studio with that goal in mind, and how did the process of collaboration work?
AY: I definitely didn’t expect the reception the song has been getting. It is an honor when you see and hear such positive feedback. Carly was an absolute pleasure to work with. It turned out she was a fan of my music and our managers knew each other, so I asked her to be on the song, sent her the stems, and within a day she sent her parts back to me.
OS: Good Time has the lyric What’s up with this Prince song inside my head? Which song are you referring to? As a fellow Minnesotan, are you a Prince fan?
AY: “Purple Rain” and yes, massive fan. (more…)
Though many current synth pop artists attempt to recapture the vintage electronic sounds of the ’80s, OurStage act Go Periscope aims straight for the future and never looks back. With their new album Wasted Youth, Go Periscope’s Florin Merano and Joshua Frazier have released a dark and pulsating collection of songs that sound like the 21st century. While Go Periscope’s music does contain clear references to the ’80s synth sounds that inspired its members, the songs are more than just conduits for indulgent electro-nostalgia. In fact, Wasted Youth is unabashedly contemporary, with its obvious debts to EDM and dubstep on tracks like “Black Light Masquerade” and “Break Free.” The synth tones are expansive and thick, layering on top of each other to create rippling waves of sound that undergird Merano and Frazier’s heavily filtered vocals.
Yet, for all of its shine and polish, Wasted Youth speaks to the dark and increasingly unstable world around it. For a work that so heavily revolves around artificially engineered sounds, the album contains a significant number of lyrical references to nature. Fire, water, gold, and horses all appear as damaged or endangered elements in the wake of technology, which electronically manipulates the natural world described in the lyrics. Vocal lines are often sliced, rearranged, and panned until they sound like the inhuman sputterings of a dying computer. Clean vocals intertwine with computerized, bit-crunched harmonies that suggest the integration of human and machine to the point of indistinguishability. In the face of the mechanized depletion of the natural world around them, humans can only choose to “live in fantasy,” as the track “Make Believers” sadly emphasizes through the repeated line: “It was only a dream / But it was just like Heaven.” Ultimately, technology doesn’t just enable these escapist fantasies; it makes them necessary in the first place. At a time when people can’t let go of their smartphones and the world is becoming unyieldingly digitized, Go Periscope is making pop music for an uncertain future. Until then, the dance anthems on Wasted Youth implore listeners to party like it’s the end of the world.
You can buy Wasted Youth now at Go Periscope’s Bandcamp page!
More like this:
- Needle In The Haystack Artist Takeover: Go Periscope, Staying Afloat In A Sea Of Unsigned Bands
- Exclusive Q&A: Owl City’s Imagination Takes Flight
“For me it’s the machine that works best,” says Gary Numan of the synthesizer, the instrument whose use in rock he helped to revolutionize back in the late ’70s. It’s an axe that has certainly served him well over the decades, from the synth-punk experiments of his early recordings to the sleekly designed electronic speedway of his blockbuster breakthrough, “Cars,” all the way up to his latest album, Dead Son Rising.
But Numan didn’t start out as a synthesizer whiz at all. “Originally I was a guitar player,” he recalls, “and when I was signed to Beggars Banquet we (Tubeway Army) were a guitar, bass and drums three-piece, a punk band, really. I had never played a keyboard before.” As fate would have it, a synth was laying around the studio during the recording of Numan’s first album, and he couldn’t help trying it out. “Soon after that, my parents bought an old upright [piano],” he says. “I started pretty much writing songs on piano from then on. I’ve written two songs on bass guitar in my life,” he adds. “One of those was ‘Cars.'”
But while Numan made new wave history at the end of the ’70s and the onset of the ’80s, his tenure at the top of the heap was fleeting. He confesses that his career “started to suffer somewhat in the early ’80s,” and by the ’90s his star had sputtered out. “I couldn’t give away albums, even in the UK,” he admits. “I couldn’t give away tickets to gigs. I was really, really in trouble, I had massive money problems, all sorts of personal problems at home, it was just a grim time, really…my situation was so poor that I didn’t have a record contract either. I just decided that I was really finished, and I didn’t know if I’d ever make any more albums again. So I went back to what I did before I’d ever done it for a living, and that was to write songs for the fun of it. It went back to being a hobby. And because I wasn’t thinking about career, or trying to please A&R departments, I just went back to writing songs for me, it was immediately different. I hadn’t realized it, but I think for several years before that, everything I’d been writing was desperate attempts to save the career and to try and get back on radio¦listening to advice and trying to keep people happy. That’s when I sold out, I think.”
For a multi-platinum artist currently in the middle of a massive world tour, Owl City had remarkably humble beginnings. Adam Young, the man behind the synth-pop phenomenon, began writing songs as Owl City during his off time as a Coca-Cola truck loader in Owatonna, Minnesota. After Universal Republic caught on to the growing speed of Young’s MySpace fan base, it reissued his first full-length album and offered him a multi-record deal. Four years later Young is still flying high, and this June he released his third full-length All Things Bright and Beautiful. We recently caught up with him to talk about the challenges of being a frontman, what it’s like to work with Jack Joseph Puig, and what advice he would give to unsigned artists.
OS: From Strawberry Avalanche to Hello Seattle, you’ve noted a lot of strange and interesting inspirations for songs in the past. What’s the inspiration behind this new batch of songs?
AY: Predominantly, my imagination. I enjoy writing songs purely from the imagination rather than pulling from my own personal experiences because the end result is so much more quirky and bizarre and dark. That’s always been way more interesting to me than writing about a lovestruck relationship or some specific personal scenario.
OS: Your song January 28, 1986 is a reference to the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, but you weren’t born until a few months after it happened. Why did you write a song about the event?
AY: I grew up hearing about it and it was something very dear to my heart as a kid. I wanted to pay respect to the disaster and honor the lives that were lost.
OS: Unlike many artists, you produced and engineered your two major label releases by yourself. Why have you remained in charge of those aspects of your music?
AY: I feel like creative integrity is something I couldn’t live without. If some A&R guy was always around telling me to recut vocals and make them more “passionate” or something, I’d go insane. I like being my own boss because my vision for music has always been so defined.
While there’s no denying the appeal of music that operates on an instant-gratification level, offering tricked-up tunes full of carefully baited hooks, in the end the albums that really stick with you will almost always be the ones that provide a truly immersive experience. That’s the way it is with The Blackout, the latest release from Tunnels. It’s a record that unfurls its sonic secrets slowly and purposefully, setting a darkly dreamy mood that feels perfectly suited to sweaty, sluggish summer nights, which is ironic, considering that it’s inspired chiefly by the emotionally chilly musical subgenre colloquially known as cold wave.
Nicholas Bindeman is the man from whom all the sounds on The Blackout emerge. The multi-talented Oregonian is seemingly too young to have experienced cold wave’s heyday first-hand, when its perfect 1980s storm of synth pop and post punk blended into an effectively overcast vision of new wave’s dark underbelly. But that hasn’t stopped him from assimilating those sounds into his own music. Pressed for specifics, he rattles off a list of synth-toting ˜80s cult heroes that you just know is only the tip of his inspirational iceberg. Crash Course in Science, Charles de Goal, Martin Rev, Snowy Red, Tuxedomoon, Jeff and Jane Hudson, blah blah blah, it just goes on, he exclaims. I do truly love the music from that era, and while it’s not exactly an original influence these days, it is what it is, the collective unconscious has spoken.
The abject-but-accessible vibe that permeates many of the tracks on Bindeman’s album has as much to do with his own sensibility as his record collection, though. There’s a element of myself on there that can’t really be attributed to any specific influence, he asserts, something nocturnal, something slightly cold and melodramatic. And from the disembodied-sounding, electronically processed vocals on opening track Crystal Arms to the memorably misanthropic Gary Numanisms of How I Hate You and the deliciously creepy, Pornography-era Cure feel of the bass and guitar lines on Dead Ringers, The Blackout duly weaves its mournfully magical spell, pulling you effortlessly along in its eerie, electronic undertow.
Even if you have only a passing knowledge of ˜80s new wave, it’s likely that Thomas Dolby has a place in your heart for lending some class”not to mention the occasional touch of funk”to the burgeoning synth-pop movement with such hits as Hyperactive, Europa and the Pirate Twins, and of course, the ultimate ode to love in a lab coat, She Blinded Me With Science. But if your knowledge of Dolby’s career drops off after the ˜80s, it’s not because you’re uninformed. In fact, Dolby spent much of the ˜90s and ˜00s outside of the music biz, pursuing other electronic interests that we’ll get to presently. But now, he’s set to release his first album of new material, and we talked with him about that record, A Map of the Floating City, as well as his early output, and got the straight story on Dolby’s missing years too.
Back in the ˜70s, the electro-pop pioneer was actually a teenage prog fan, worshipping at the altar of arty epics and tricky time signatures. I think many punks were teenage prog rockers, says Dolby. I still remember the outrage that prog rockers felt when punk first came on the scene. When I was fifteen I was into Genesis and Yes and Little Feat and Steely Dan. [Pogues frontman] Shane McGowan, who I was at school with, came in one day and said ‘Well, I think The Beatles and the Stones is all shit,’ and I remember my sense of outrage. I said, ‘Well, Shane, what should we be listening to?’ And he said ‘Johnny Thunders, MC5, Iggy Pop.’ And we’d never heard of any of these people. Of course within a few months we’d all spiked our hair and torn our trousers, and were all down at the 100 club listening to Siouxsie & The Banshees or The Clash.”
Even after trading his bellbottoms for leather pants, though, Dolby still gravitated naturally towards the brainier end of the British new wave, idolizing XTC to an obsessive degree. I used to follow them around in the early punk days, he admits. XTC came along and they had the energy of punk, but they had a musical intelligence to go along with it, so obviously that was a revelation to me. I knew their songs inside out, and I remember being in front of the stage, in front of Barry Andrews, their keyboard player, hoping that he would get hit by a tram or something, and they’d have to go ˜Is there anyone in the house that knows our keyboard parts?’ and I could leap up on stage.
Before that opportunity arose, though, Dolby began making his own way in the music world, working with other artists at first, from Bruce Wooley & The Camera Club to Lene Lovich. He released his first single in 1981, and his 1982 debut album, The Golden Age of Wireless, made him a success straight out of the gate. The sophistication of Dolby’s songwriting put him at the forefront of artists working with the new musical toolkit the ˜80s brought along, and even today he’s often associated exclusively with an era when he recalls providing an alternative to a lot of hair bands and a lot of AOR, noting The irony of it is that if you listen to my first album¦a lot of the songs are a three-piece band with additional keyboards. I was a big fan of early Talking Heads, and a couple of songs have that kind of vibe to them.
Nevertheless, he still embraces his early recordings. I do feel very strongly connected to them. There’s very little that I would choose to redo or delete. I guess, like anyone else in the ˜80s, I fell prey to some trends and sounds of the moment. Some were of my own making, some were just the flavor du jour, but overall I think my early stuff still stands up fairly well because of the substance behind the songwriting. There are some artists that transcend the era that they’re from; I think of anyone from Steely Dan to Kraftwerk to Van Morrison or Joni Mitchell, all of whom have influenced me very strongly. You wouldn’t catch any of them going out on a ˜70s revival tour¦the contribution they made spanned a wider spectrum than that.
However, Dolby found himself sufficiently dissatisfied with the music industry in the ˜90s to pursue a different course. I thought, ˜I’ll take a little sabbatical and go to Silicon Valley and explore my interest in technology,’ he recalls. Eventually, he started his own company and created a revolutionary ringtone technology that made a huge splash in the cell phone world, and he created soundtrack music for video games. Dolby found himself a success once more, but in an entirely new context. He could never resist the pull of songwriting for long, though, and the seeds of his upcoming album, A Map Of The Floating City, began to bear fruit. I had some songs that I’d been unable to escape from, he remembers. I needed to get those done, and once I started, I wrote brand new songs. Much of the recording process took place in Dolby’s home studio, built inside a lifeboat from the 1930s, which he says looks out over the North Sea and is powered by the wind and the sun.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the songs he recorded in this idyllic setting turned out to be much more acoustic-oriented and balladic than the tunes Dolby is most famous for. The songs from the new album are very organic, he agrees, adding, I’m very influenced by my environment. The inclusion of Dire Straits axeman Mark Knopfler on the track 17 Hills helps lend a rootsy touch as well. I just felt that his style would be a very good complement for the song, explains Dolby. He’s a student of American roots music¦I love his lyrical guitar style.
So, with all this earthiness going on, does Dolby still have a soft spot in his heart for the technology of old? Quite frankly, he confesses, a $1.99 iPhone app with a picture of a Mellotron, that sounds pretty close to the real thing, is to me a huge improvement on something that goes out of tune and takes three guys to carry it. But I know purists would probably be outraged to hear me say that. Nevertheless, he can envision a future where even today’s cutting-edge digital gear is fetishized as vintage equipment. I think fetishism for the past will always exist, he speculates, but maybe the future will be [about] jacking into the matrix and imagining ourselves in front of our 64k Mac, playing with those old tools. Things go full circle, so it’s hard to know where we’ll end up.
For many the future of music is a topic up for debate” whether it’ll sink like a stone or be saved by those artists with raw, born-with-it talent. During the past decade, the music industry found salvation in pop and hip hop more so than they have in the past thanks to the Top 40 charts being man-handled by the likes of Lady Gaga, Nickelback, Drake, Flo Rida, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha and the like. Many people today think the true meaning behind music is lost in the waterfall of contracts, dollar signs and sponsorships.
However, now is the perfect time for the underground music scene to make their mark and give the people the raw talent that we were brought up on (remember the 90’s alt rock movement? I sure do). Luckily, I recently found a band that meshes the elements of synth pop and industrial music with the alternative rock sound that has been fading since the birth of autotune. Hailing from the city of angels in California is this week’s iRock artist, The Anix.
The Anix beautifully implements an electronic sound that not many can perfect (especially at this stage) while offering a rock edge jam-packed with strong, cutting vocals and crunchy guitar riffs. In September 2009, the group joined Apoptygma Berzerk on their tour through US, Canada and South America (shameless plug for label attention * cough cough *). With an industry-ready music video for “Half The World Away“ (embedded below) and write-ups on Absolute Punk and in both Billboard Magazine and Revolver Magazine, this unsigned trio shows potential to hit the rock scene harder than most”and with a polished sound like this, there’s no limit to how far they can go.
The Anix is fronted by Brandon Smith (vocals/guitar) who, along with drummer Logan Smith and keyboardist Greg Nabours, deliver solid performances on each track they put out. Building on influences from The Police, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Queen and Rush, the band proves there are still real musicians out there who can write solid songs with perfect hooks that will keep listeners on the edge of their seat. Check out the playlist below to hear “Resident One,” “The Ghost Of Me And You,” “Half The World Away” and “Bullets Without A Gun.”
Without further ado meet my new rock fix: The Anix.