Last week a lovely band came through Vancouver, and I was able to steal a few minutes of their time and chat with them on their tour bus.
Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly are from a delightful synth-pop band called Chairlift, and their latest album, Moth, has been stuck in my playlist since it’s release.
If you haven’t heard of them yet, I highly recommend you check them out.
Now without any more delay, here is our chat.
Jamie Taylor: So your latest album, Moth, was just release a few months ago in January, how have you guys been seeing the reception of that out with the crowds and stuff?
Caroline Polachek: It’s been awesome.
Patrick Wimberly: The crowds have been great.
Jamie Taylor: Have you noticed since the album’s come out…like more people…like songs are being sung along or people sort of joining in with that.
Caroline Polachek: Yeah. Definitely. It’s funny seeing like which songs…I feel Polymorphing is definitely a favorite live song, people get really excited about that one. Umm, yeah…With the spirit of the music on this record people are generally more emotional just coming to the show. I think that on our last record people came with this sort of cooler mindset, whereas on this record people are sort of coming prepared to have an emotional experience. It’s self-manifesting, because it makes us feel that way, then makes them feel that way. It’s a feedback loop.
Patrick Wimberly: Very reciprocal.
Jamie Taylor: A sort of symbiotic situation.
Caroline Polachek: It’s funny the last interviewer used the word symbiotic too, but in a very different context. [laughter]
Jamie Taylor: [laughter] In the past you guys have done a lot of interesting collaborations. I think once…I mean one was with Das Racist. Have you guys ever done a sort of collaboration with somebody that just didn’t work out, and you just walked away from it? Or even had bad terms from it, or something.
Caroline Polachek: Those ones just don’t get finished but that also don’t get talked about in interviews [laughter], but you can say that’s bad still.
Patrick Wimberly: Yeah, it’s always best to just walk away.
Jamie Taylor: I always wondered that, because I would imagine people step in and say, “oh, you would be great with so and so”. Then you get there and it just doesn’t work.
Patrick Wimberly: It’s all about chemistry.
Caroline Polachek: Yeah, it’s all about musical chemistry. The weird thing is that I’ve had collaborations where it didn’t work well on a musical level, but we had this friendship chemistry. Then I’ve had people where we don’t have a friendship connection, but musically it works really well.
Patrick Wimberly: You really don’t know until you try it. So if it interests you at all you just try it.
Caroline Polachek: We’re both pretty explorative, so we are always trying stuff.
Jamie Taylor: So just try a lot, and whatever sticks and just works you commit to that. Cool.
Patrick Wimberly: I read an interview with Brian Eno recently that made me feel much better ‘cause he was talking about how ninety percent of the stuff that he works on in the studio doesn’t actually get released. It’s just like that ten percent.
Jamie Taylor: La crème de la crème.
Patrick Wimberly: Yeah, and that’s why I adopted the one new rule is that there’s no wasted time. As long as you’re…as long as you’re trying, and you’re experimenting. Even if it doesn’t work out.
Jamie Taylor: Very cool. So right now you are on the road, obviously because you’re here, and this tour ends in April but then you have this sort of one off date in London in June. Is that actually a lone date, like are you literally just going there for that, or?
Patrick Wimberly: We’re also playing Primavera Festival
Caroline Polachek: Which is two weekends.
Patrick Wimberly: Yeah, it’s a weekend in Spain, then in the middle of the week we’re in London, and then the next weekend we are in Portugal.
Jamie Taylor: Perfect! Then after that do you have free time to yourself, or do you guys know if you have any other plans?
Patrick Wimberly: Umm. No, I think we’ll probably book some more stuff.
Jamie Taylor: So for the summer festival season.
Patrick Wimberly: We have Lollapalooza, which was just announced yesterday. Then some others ones, but I don’t know if they’re announced yet.
Jamie Taylor: So you can’t say anything. [laughter]
Caroline Polachek: Yeah. [laughter]
Jamie Taylor: Well, it seems like you guys have been touring forever, working your butts off for a long time. I mean touring non-stop with very small gaps in between. With all that stuff going on, and sort of talking about growth and stuff, have either of you sort of had some ah-ha moments? Something where maybe you are working with someone, or playing a show somewhere and it just kind of hits you how amazing it is to be there and achieve that moment?
Patrick Wimberly: I feel like I’ve had a bit of that with this guy right here [points to a member of the band playing video games], who’s playing guitar with us on stage and he came in and really helped us. He was with us when we started making this record and he did a tour [with us] at the very beginning and he had moved away for a couple of years and then we reunited with him, and I feel like getting back in with him was a great moment because there’s a special chemistry. So after, I think it was, the third show I was like, “Okay, now we’re at it, now we’re in a good place, and we have a good thing going here”. And it made me excited about touring again.
Jamie Taylor: Sometimes it needs to be that to revitalize yourself a little bit. I mean imagine that touring just has to be a toll on your body and spirit and its hard trying to make every night kind of unique.
Caroline Polachek: Oh, we have no problem making every night unique, it happens on its own atomically [laughter]. We just have to try to keep a good system.
Patrick Wimberly: We have troubles doing the same thing twice.
Caroline Polachek: In terms of ah-ha moments, I think for me it has been focusing on my vocals. I mean really taking them and focusing my energy fully on trying to become the best singer I can be. Once I could commit my attention, and not worry things like production and wardrobe and my hair, I mean there are so many distractions, and it really allows me to see how far I can push my voice.
Jamie Taylor: Very cool! I could imagine, pouring yourself into trying to really focus on your voice I bet it makes you stay away from other things. Like you’re more cognizant of what you’re drinking, what you’re eating, and you’re sleep patterns, if you can sleep.
Caroline Polachek: Definitely, but it’s mostly mental. I feel like it’s a lot of muscle memory…it’s a lot of tricking yourself into, sort of, working with or against your body…turning your brain off. For the first time in my life I’m just trying to see, “okay, what happens if I actually really dedicate myself to it”.
Jamie Taylor: I know you just said you’re focused on your voice, but I wondered if either of you have any other creative outlets? Like do you explore any other worlds of art, be it painting or drawing or photography or similar?
Caroline Polachek: It’s all one world. It’s all one world and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Jamie Taylor: I totally agree with that, it is all one world. They are all things you do to express a personal piece of yourself.
Caroline Polachek: And not just personal too. I mean it’s so easy to get inspired by something that is non-musical.
Patrick Wimberly: I like watercolors, but I haven’t been doing it much lately. There is something that is so liberating about making an art that’s not your job or your career.
Caroline Polachek: Mhmm.
Jamie Taylor: I completely side with that. I am a photographer by passion, and I try my best to keep it away from paying the bills. Which seems weird. So when it does start to get more on the career side, I have to delve into drawing or other things to get that untethered release.
Caroline Polachek: How do you feel about social media then, and like what Instagram has done for photographer?
Jamie Taylor: I enjoy it, to a point. I enjoy when it’s original and people are putting out original ideas that don’t have any restrictions on them. It’s just being creative, being truly creative. What I find is a lot of what happens is people are rehashing other people’s work though. They find somebody else’s body of work and start copying…I mean I get that copying or mimicking somebody else is the sincerest form of flattery but there are people that just go and find someone else’s Instagram feed and start cloning it exactly shot for shot. Or even just stealing the original content, and reposting it. But it is a great outlet, I think it gives a voice to those that wouldn’t have it otherwise. Some person in some tiny city out in the middle of nowhere with no outlet to show off these beautiful pictures, and now they have a following of a hundred thousand people, and they get to feel the love of that action and that expression.
So you mentioned before the sort of emotional charge in your songs, and how this new album kind of has people ready to experience emotion at your shows. I really noticed the sort of emotional energy in Moth…I mean I’ve noticed it before by in this album it is really prevalent, and it feels like it is almost theatrical. Not that you guys are being theatrical, but it would fit in a film or a soundtrack to something.
Caroline Polachek: Totally!
Jamie Taylor: Every song feels like I could just see it in a movie. This is the scene where something triumphant is happening, this is the scene where they are falling in love, it all just conveys so well.
Caroline Polachek: Yeah, it’s musical theatre. That is not an accident. That was very much the idea.
Jamie Taylor: Okay, I felt that. I don’t usually pick up on those kind of things, but I noticed that in there and I wondered are you movie buffs? Are you guys film buffs?
Caroline Polachek: We love films. We both…I mean, everyone grew up watching Disney movies, and I’m not trying to suggest we’re making music for children, it’s more that, that form of a song that is telling a story that something happens over the course of it, it so universal and I think, so right. I think for the last eight or so years of my life I’ve been more personally obsessed with music that is ambient and moody and like sort of texturally evocative. You know, stuff like the Cocteau Twins. But then while we were making this record, I started not just listening to but watching nineties Bollywood. And I got into it at first just because I love the vocals, but then what compelled me next was the films, because it’s so universally understandable. It’s a story, it’s working itself out. The character has a motivation. There’s a scene with something happening. And it made me remember how much I loved musical theatre as a kid. Like Singing In The Rain was one of my favorite movies growing up.
Jamie Taylor: It is a beautiful movie.
Caroline Polachek: And Carousel, and I loved operas as a kid too, like La Boheme and La Traviata and stuff like that for the same reason. I didn’t understand exactly what was going on in the story.
Jamie Taylor: You can feel it. It transcends the words.
Caroline Polachek: Yeah! You can see the motivations. Then a lot of my favorite eighties music like Kate Bush and Prefab Sprout had these stories that get acted out through them, and often they are not artist themselves. For example Kate Bush writes a song from the perspective of Houdini’s wife. You know, there is so much creativity in that, and so much…I don’t know…ripeness in the story that you can pull from. It’s nice having songs like that. You know, for example, once we knew the lyrics for Crying In Public were “Crying In Public” it informs all the decisions that we make. So it’s actually really nice to refer back to something literal, and also very creative because you are filtering through your own experiences. It’s not like you are defaulting to one objective reality. You’re defaulting to your objective reality which kind of keeps the record consistent.
Jamie Taylor: That’s very cool. Very much you can feel that. So do you think that you come up with the title or the theme of the song after it presents itself to you, saying this really fits with what we’ve done here?
Caroline Polachek: We generally sort of had a three step process. We improvise and setup a set of chords/beats/melodies, that was sort of level one. Level two, we get lyrics, we get a vocal take in there, and then level three we really get into detail with the production. Sometimes it was a little out of order, but that was generally how we did it. But actually the groove was actually the most centrally inspiring thing. So that was king of cool, because the groove would inspire what the lyrics were going to be about, and then the lyrics would inspire what the production was. So it was all coming from this one very soulful rhythm based place.
Jamie Taylor: Very interesting. And then once you get that title on the song does that become the exclamation point on the whole thing?
Caroline Polachek: The title is pretty arbitrary. Usually the exclamation point for us is something really small that no one else is going to notice. Like we’ll just put this one tiny sound where we go [guttural laughter]. You know, like maniacally cackling, and then we know that it’s done. Or often we will like mute something. We’ll mute a bunch of shit and then we’ll be like, “oh, now its done”. Then we’re like, “we didn’t need all that”.
Jamie Taylor: I only really have a couple more questions here. Are there any lesser-known artists that you guys listen to or are inspired by that you think people should checkout? Not necessarily music, it could be comedians or painters or whoever. Are there anybody that just truly inspire you that people should just checkout?
Patrick Wimberly: One artist comes to mind. Melissa Carroll, she’s a painter. She is a good friend of ours. We actually dedicated our record to her. She was a big inspiration for us.
Jamie Taylor: Perfect, and that was Mellissa Carroll?
Patrick Wimberly: Yeah. Carroll is spelt C-A-R-R-O-L.
Jamie Taylor: Very cool, thank you.
Caroline Polachek: Umm. I’m an obsessive fan of this New York band that lays very low, they’re called Ice Choir. I found the now creator of Ice Choir on Myspace, through his previous project called The Depreciation Guild. I just reached out on Myspace in a hotel room in Germany at like three o’clock in the morning one night when I found the music, and I was like, “Holy shit! This is amazing. I am such a fan”. Then it turned out he was a fan of Chairlift, and the first time we ever met was when he showed up to play guitar on Sidewalk Safari. And, we’re almost more collaborators then friends more often when we are together in a room is because we are working on something. But I sang on an Ice Choir song, the last record we made a music video for them, but then the next Ice Choir record that is coming out, I’m not quite sure when it’s coming out, oh my god it is so good. So keep your ears out for that.
Jamie Taylor: So, Ice Choir’s there name.
Caroline Polachek: Yes. Ice Choir out of New York. They put out a beautiful record about two years ago called A Far, but the next album is amazing. Gosh, who else? Well, I’m going to shamelessly plug my husband, he makes beautiful music. His name is Ian Drennan. I was a fan of his before I ever met him, so I can vouch for my selection. And Ice Choir introduced me to his music, so I can thank Kurt for changing my life. And there is a music blog that’s amazing called ListenToThis.info
Jamie Taylor: So it’s called ListenToThis.info? And they just talk about music and such?
Caroline Polachek: It’s rare, rare records. A lot of new age world, experimental jazz records.
Patrick Wimberly: Oh, I want to say one more. This artist Kelsey Lu
Jamie Taylor: Kelsey Lu?
Patrick Wimberly: Yes, Kelsey Lu.
Jamie Taylor: I think she was just here.
Caroline Polachek: With Wet.
Jamie Taylor: Yes, I just saw her.
Patrick Wimberly: Oh, you saw her? Yeah, I just finished a record with her, we made…we recorded it in a church.
Jamie Taylor: Amazing!
Patrick Wimberly: True Panther’s putting it out soon.
Jamie Taylor: Her vocals are…
Patrick Wimberly: Pretty intense.
Jamie Taylor: Holy! Can she sing. She’s got some pipes on her.
Caroline Polachek: Oh also my other favorite band in New York, they just changed their name, now it’s Mr. Twin Sister.
Jamie Taylor: Mr. Twin Sister?
Caroline Polachek: Yeah, Mr. Twin Sister. To me in terms of under-appreciated, oh my god! There last record, which is self-titled, was my favorite release of last year, hands down.
Jamie Taylor: Cool, very cool. So the last thing I have to ask you guys, or for you, is…we work with an organization called Music Heals, and what they do is they help to get music therapy to those that need it.
Patrick Wimberly: My brother was a musical therapist!
Jamie Taylor: Oh, really?
Patrick Wimberly: Yeah, he used to be.
Jamie Taylor: So what Music Heals does is help bring music therapists to those that can really benefit from them. They help put them together with all sorts of people that can really use that help. One of the things they do to sort of get their name out there, they ask artists just to finish this sentence, which is “Music Makes Me…”, and then you fill in the rest.
Patrick Wimberly: Feel feelings.
Jamie Taylor: Perfect, that is very perfect.
Caroline Polachek: [begins tearing up]
Jamie Taylor: You don’t have to answer, it’s okay. Sometimes not saying anything is better when…
Caroline Polachek: [Tears up a little more] Sorry.
Jamie Taylor: It’s okay, it’s completely okay. I mean the amount of emotion just thinking about the history of what music and art in our lives, it is just overwhelming. So if you don’t want to say anything it is completely fine.
Caroline Polachek: Music makes me connected to everybody.
Jamie Taylor: That is perfect.
Patrick Wimberly: Yeah, that’s good.
Jamie Taylor: Just perfect. Well that is all that I have for you guys, and I really appreciate your time and hope you have a fantastic show tonight. I just truly appreciate you taking this time out of your schedule to talk me.
Caroline Polachek: You’re welcome.
Patrick Wimberly: Thank you.