Chairlift: TAS In Session
When one of Chairlift's founding members, Aaron Pfenning, left the Brooklyn band in 2010 to pursue his own solo career, it was a bruising blow for a young band that seemed to be doing well, thanks to a high-profile 2008 iPod commercial, a strong debut, Does You Inspire You, and a major label deal with Columbia Records.
Remaining members Caroline Polacheck and Patrick Wimberly didn't abandon Chairlift, but took the time they needed to write and record their second album, Something. That record, which still features Polacheck's wry, observant point of view but showcases a more polished, assured sound, will finally come out tomorrow, January 24. They launch an Australian tour this weekend, but will celebrate their record release tonight with a sold-out show at Bowery Ballroom.
Chairlift — which also includes touring members keyboardist Olga Bell, guitarist Jason McMahon and drummer Jamie Ingalls — recently dropped by for a session and performed several tracks from the new record, including the tongue twisting "Amanaemonesia" and "Frigid Spring" (which seems to describe this clement winter). Listen to the session this Friday, January 27, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE at 11 a.m. ET and streaming on The Alternate Side:
Alisa Ali: I love the concept of a “Sidewalk Safari.” I was telling you guys earlier when I was walking to work that there were some crazy dudes on the sidewalk. I often feel like I’m on a “Sidewalk Safari.” Did you write that song, Caroline?
Caroline Polacheck: Patrick and I did it together.
Alisa: Do you always write your songs together?
Patrick Wimberly: On this record we did.
Alisa: But not on the previous record.
Patrick: Not as much as we did on this one.
Alisa: What made you guys decide to be more collaborative in your songwriting?
Caroline: We just felt like it.
Alisa: What was the inspiration for “Sidewalk Safari?” Did you also have a weird experience walking down the street?
Caroline: Oh yeah, I did. I got hit by a car a couple of years ago. Not very severely, don’t worry, I didn’t really get hurt. But I was late to class and there were a bunch of cars parked at a red light. I kind of bolted between two of the cars that were parked and I didn’t realize that there was a car coming up from behind the other one, trying to scoot up to the front of the line. That car hit me as I was running through. I remember I was holding a PB&J that I was trying to eat for breakfast so the memory of the PB&J and getting hit by the car all kind of muddled up together. I think I did more damage to the car then it did to me. I knocked the rear view window off. Ever since then I have these graphic, gruesome views every time I cross in front of a car that it’s actually going to floor it and go right through my legs. So this song is written from the point of view of that driver who would illogically decide to run someone over. It’s a pretty gruesome P.O.V. but it’s cathartic to sing about that.
Alisa: Has that changed how you cross streets? You don’t jaywalk anymore?
Caroline: No, it probably should have but I’m always late for stuff and running.
Alisa: You got a couple of producers to work with you on this one?
Caroline: Just one.
Patrick: Dan Carey.
Alisa: Patrick you also do some producing as well.
Patrick: I do. Caroline and I co-produced this record with Dan Carey.
Alisa: Why did you decide to bring in an outside producer when you do that as well?
Caroline: There’s only so much we know how to do. We’re kind of using the tools that we have at hand that we demoed this record on, in pretty intense detail. Most of the picture that this album is, we did in advance. Patrick’s laptop with his really simple setup. We could have put the record out like that and no one would have batted an eyelash, but we wanted someone who really knew how to use outboard gear, a really nice mixing deck and tape. Tape was a really important part of this record.
Alisa: Did you pick up any tricks from Dan?
Caroline: They’re secrets. We can’t tell you.
Alisa: So for your next record do you think you’ll incorporate some of those tricks?
Patrick: We had been working on this record for so long, just the two of us, and at some point we’re so close to it, so deep into it, that it was nice to bring somebody in, later in the process. Who has a set of fresh ears. That’s important. So I think we’ll do something similar and probably with Dan again.
Alisa: You recorded in New York and also in London?
Caroline: Yes, we demoed the songs in New York and took all the demos to London and fleshed them out.
Alisa: What was a typical day?
Jason: Well, we had to walk to the studio. Uphill both ways. It was often very icy because we recorded in the winter. So we walked to the studio every morning at nine.
Alisa: You really took it as a day job.
Caroline: The whole record is very day job. Even writing we made it very regimented and showed up every day at noon and would write until 10 p.m.
Patrick: We had a studio that we rented out in the back of this antique shop in Brooklyn for a long time.
Alisa: How does the process [or writing] work? Did you bring in a theme and flesh it out?
Caroline: Most of the ideas were conceived in that room. There were only a couple of exceptions where I’d walk in and be like, “I want to write a song about running someone over with your car.” For the most part everything, melodically and lyrically, was conceived in that little room.
Alisa: Are you very sympatico and on the same wavelength? Patrick: We just don’t even talk. There’s a lot of face making.
Caroline: If the other person doesn’t like it, we usually just keep moving forward. We don’t really try to talk each other into each other’s ideas. That’s the good thing about being a two person band. There’s only one person who might disagree so if that person disagrees, that’s a be-all-end-all. If there’s two people, you have to deal with majority rules which always leaves someone feeling a little annoyed. Our whole stance with this one was to throw a ton of stuff at the wall. We wrote a lot and experimented a lot and that’s partially why the record took so long. So instead of being too proprietary and precious about our ideas, it [was about] let’s try something else and see if we can do it better.
Alisa: Were there more songs from the recording session that didn’t make it on the record?
Caroline: We didn’t take any other songs to London, but when we were writing, yes, there were quite a few more songs that we didn’t feel fit this particular group.
Alisa: The video [to 'Amenaemonesia"] features Caroline doing some really funky interperative dances. You tell me - how did you come up with that? You didn’t choreograph that yourself, did you?
Caroline: I did. It took a while because I’ve never choreographed anything in my life so I didn’t know how to go about doing it, but most of the dance came pretty directly out of the lyrics and synth sounds. The [character] in the song is half cheerleader, half sea monster.
Alisa: Did you know that you wanted it to be an interprative dance video?
Caroline: When I came up with the concept for it, it was actually supposed to be a headshot with hand dances, almost like sign language that didn’t exist, almost an instructional video. I put that idea away and much later, as we were mastering the record, my dad showed me this video from the 60s of this ballet piece called “Boléro” by a choreographer named Maurice Béjart and I’d never seen anything like it before. It was modern dance and ballet, but I’d never had any interest in formal dance in my life. When I saw it, I thought, “That’s exactly the feeling that I want to get through in this dance.” It’s formal, it’s elegant, but it’s really disorienting and alien. So I started taking ballet classes the next day because I wanted to learn how to organize my body a bit better.
Alisa: You looked like a trained dancer in that video.
Caroline: Well thank you! It was unnatural! I didn’t commit [to ballet] very much. I think I went to six classes total and learned that you have to point your toes and shift your weight from one foot to the other. That kind of stuff. A lot of the clips that we used in that video are from entire takes where we’d do the song from start to finish, so I actually did break a sweat with every take. I was using an iPhone to videotape myself in these empty dance studios that I rented, trying a bunch of stuff and then I knit them together afterwards. But while I was working on it, it kind of felt that each dance move was a hieroglyphic. I saw it very two-dimensionally. Like statues or hieroglyphics that got put into motion.
Alisa: Do you normally close with that song?
Patrick: You have to go to the show and stay until the end!