don’t do things like everyone else. Thrust into our collective consciousness in 2008 (with a little help from ol’ mate Apple
), the Brooklyn-based trio - now duo - built a fanbase on their abstract lyrics, down-to-earth personas and unwillingness to take themselves too seriously. Four long years later and they’re back, tongue-in-cheek style still intact, albeit with a stronger sound and more talk of guilt, love and revenge.
Despite touring second album Something
at this year’s Laneway Festival
, Chairlift will return to Australia in just a few months, this time as part of the Parklife bill. Captivating singer/keyboardist Caroline (aka the thinking man’s Beyonce) jumped on the phone from New York to give us the lowdown on just why they're in a world of their own.
I read that when you guys were first starting out you intended to create soundtracks for haunted houses?
It was kind of the very first way we started making music. We got a loop pedal, and we’re really big fans of David Lynch and the way that in his films, in the most horrific parts there’d be like a major chord hovering and there’d be big scary sad sounds… The contrast between the action and the music was so big that it was a lot scarier than the clichéd horror music, and it got us thinking, ‘oh, I wanna make music like that. But it wouldn’t make any sense to put it in a club, we should make music for haunted houses.’ And you know, you can add voices, and synthesisers and acoustic guitar, and you get these kind of droning loops that we wanted to make a compilation of. The idea was that all of them could be interlooped and played in this really cool haunted house. But the problem was we kept writing songs over it, and as soon as we had something we were into, we naturally start singing over it, so that became the basis of the first Chairlift songs.
Well it’s funny that you mention David Lynch, that was actually my next question. I understand that Chairlift was the first band to play at his club in Paris – what was that like?
That was amazing, we were so excited. We made a really special set that was half covers – some of them were in French – and half Chairlift songs. But we played as a two-piece, so Patrick was playing grand piano, and I was just singing. We’d been separated by the hurricane that blew through New York the prior week - I’d left town to get away from it, and that was the week that we were supposed to sit down and arrange our set. But because of the hurricane we didn’t see each other until we were at the airport, so we actually flew to France not having a clue what we were going to do.
We stayed up all night at the hotel room the night before the concert and made these very simple drum machine-style backing tracks that we played out of a boombox put on a pedestal right between us. In the tradition of David Lynch, towards the end of our set Patrick walked away… and the piano continued to play because we’d fused it in on the backing track. And I walked away and my vocals continued coming out of the boombox, and at the end of the show it was just a boombox taking over from both of us, which is a very direct nod to the name of the club [Silencio] and the scene in Mulholland Drive
where the singer drops dead and the voice just keeps going. It was amazing. The crowd was really with us, it was beautiful.
You’re described in a lot of articles as ‘super indie’ or ‘hipster’, but you’re essentially making pop music with a producer who’s worked with mainstream acts like Kylie Minogue and Lily Allen. Is there a side you identify with more?
It’s weird because I really think that we’re in a world of our own. I’m not very interested in trying to fit into the format of mainstream pop music, and yet I'm not very inspired by what’s normally called ‘indie’ either. Even though a lot of the stuff that I love like Cass McCombs or Tame Impala is classified under indie, I don’t really identify with that either. I really look up to bands like Prefab Sprout and the Cocteau Twins that kind of just made their own universe and didn’t feel like they had to answer to either side.
I actually think we’re living in a time that’s very post-genre, which is exciting. I think the internet has really eliminated genre boundaries, moreso than ever before. In a time where Rihanna, for example, is still considered a hip-hop artist, and gets played on rap, hip-hop and rnb stations, but yet a track is totally Euro-house… we’re clearly living in a time that’s beyond boundaries. And on the other hand you have artists like How to Dress Well, and… like, anyone who’s using auto-tune and hip-hop beats, but’s not making hip-hop. We’re just living in a time of, kind of, DJ-ing happening within songs. It’s really exciting.
Now, before making the ‘Amanaemonesia’ clip, I understand you took ballet and ‘Gaga’ classes. What exactly do Gaga classes involve?
I only took a couple of ballet classes just to learn how to point my toes properly, which I clearly did not learn very well, because in the video you can see that they’re not pointed. Gaga is amazing. Gaga is like an Israeli dance technique that’s all about directing energy. You’re actually not allowed to see yourself in the mirrors in Gaga. It’s all about learning how to channel energy from one part of your body to another and since I don’t have any dance experience other than, you know, dancing in clubs and stuff for pleasure, I thought that would be a really good way to learn how to develop a relationship with my body. Like, how to learn where I was in space. It sounds like a very new age idea, but it was something that I had to learn. It’s sort of like learning how to drive a car.
You seem pretty natural in the video.
I kind of had to teach myself how to be - most of it was actually in rehearsal. The most exciting thing about doing any of that dance was spending time by myself in a dance studio. I'd book it out for three or four hours at a time and just turn on my iPhone, and record everything, and just move different parts of my body and try a million different things. Some things came about unconsciously, and some came about trying to move and let it morph into something else, and morph and morph and morph and then all of a sudden you end up with something that looks really alien, and feels really natural. Day after day I’d get little bits and string them together – some of it came straight out of the lyrics actually. Like ‘chasing the rabbit’ for example, is very literal.
You were only in Australia six months ago for Laneway. I actually saw your set there - it was great, but it was delayed because there was a drunk dude that wouldn’t get out of the tree near the stage…
Ohh, you were at that show!
I was! Have you had any other really weird experiences during sets?
We had a really crazy set during SXSW where our guitarist Jason didn’t show up. At the time he was playing bass in another band and he got stranded after a show and couldn’t get to ours on time. We waited for ages and he didn't show up so we just decided that we’d somehow play without him. And the show was TOTAL mayhem. We were yelling at eachother during the set ‘Let’s play this song next! No, let’s play this song next!’
Somehow something as simple as just one member missing made every single thing seem like the most punk, renegade, DIY, kind of college shit thing possible, and I think people really felt that. Like, we had a Q&A between songs. Some guy asked me to flash him and the crowd, and I just did. Someone else asked me to marry him, and I seriously considered it for a second. It was kind of like, you take away one piece of the puzzle and everything gets loose, but it was actually one of the most memorable and fun shows we’ve ever had. Of course, Jason arrived just in time for the last song, and we spent 10 minutes in front of everyone - while everyone’s just howling at us - getting him set up and plugging in his pedal board, and of course none of it ended up working and we launched into the song and none of it was even on… the guitar was just mute. It was a really funny experience.
It sounds crazy! So as I mentioned, you were in Australia earlier this year. What’s bringing you back so soon?
It’s just as simple as we were invited and we’re excited to go. Laneway was so fun that we’re really excited to go play again.
I read an interview where you said you want to make music that a 10-year-old might hear and think, ‘I love this!’ What sort of music were you into as a child?
When I was 10, I felt this kind of magic that came from certain sounds. It wasn’t genre-specific. There was certainly stuff I heard on the radio like TLC and that song ‘I Love You Always Forever’ that I’d hear and I’d just get that magic feeling from. That kind of blissed out and ‘cool teenage’ feeling from. And then of course there’s music my parents listened to that I loved, like ‘A Day in the Life’ by the Beatles – that song had intense magic for me. Or ‘Guinevere’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Something about those songs just felt like pure magic. So I think to myself sometimes: ‘what could I do to make this song have that kind of magic to a 10-year-old?’ It’s not intellectualised, it’s not technical, it’s not even cool – you know, cool with a capital ‘c’. It’s not referential to a cool, older genre, it’s just magic. I think a lot about making that open, inviting appeal in songs.
We’ve been talking a lot in our office lately about the first CDs and singles we bought – do you remember what yours was? Mine actually was TLC.
I think the first record I ever bought was Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill,
when I was in fifth grade.
A good one! I remember rollerblading around my backyard with that playing on my Walkman.
I actually went back and listened to it a year ago and I’m sorry to say it does not hold up. My memories hold up, but I found it absolutely unlistenable. I was really excited to have a big, nostalgic moment with it, and it’s funny because it’s very much the sort of stuff that I enjoy hollering with friends, but I cannot listen to the record.
I do have to ask the obligatory question – what’s next for Chairlift?
Well we’re already writing… I’ve been writing quite a lot recently. Unfortunately we’re not going to be able to stop touring for long enough to get into the studio, but I’m kind of okay with that because I really enjoy writing while touring actually. We’re doing another US tour, we’re going back to Europe for a couple of shows, then going back to Australia. We’re about to shoot a new music video, and we’re kind of re-working our live setup a little bit at the moment, so when we go back for Parklife it’s going to be a different show to what we had at Laneway. It’s a secret though. Hopefully there’ll be some new songs by that time too.
PARKLIFE TOUR DATES:
Saturday 29 September – City Botanic Gardens, Brisbane
Sunday 30 September – Centennial Park, Sydney
Monday 1 October – Wellington Square, Perth
Saturday 6 October – Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne
Sunday 7 October – Botanic Park, Adelaide