Something is an unusual record. It’s atmospheric yet danceable, plaintive but poppy. Its sound sparkles with a lustrous coat of wax, but it’s unafraid to remain decidedly off-kilter if not a little weird.
Underneath the shimmering production aesthetic are Caroline Polachek’s startlingly well-performed vocals and a good handful of strongly-written songs. Chairlift has gone through a major shift since 2008’s Does You Inspire You, losing songwriter, key member, and Polachek’s now-ex-boyfriend, Aaron Pfenning.
Since then, bassist Patrick Wimberly has stepped further forward to sharing central duties with Polachek. He’s also helped craft the album’s memorable soundscape and is credited in the liner notes as a bassist, drummer, guitarist, sequencer and engineer. Wimberly set aside a few minutes while touring overseas to talk to us about their new release.
OK, let’s get the cliché stuff out of the way first: Pros and Cons of being in an iPod commercial. Go.
Pros: massive exposure worldwide, immediately.
Cons: none worth mentioning. still grateful. It seems rude to complain.
What strikes me most about “Bruises” [the song that Apple used to promote the iPod Nano], is that it’s not really too representative of the rest of your music. Has that ever been frustrating to you, your fans, or fans of that song in particular?
It’s true in a way that it’s not like a lot of our other tracks. However, the thing that ties it to the rest is our love for good pop songs. [I think that’s apparent] maybe even moreso on our new record. It’s poppier. Also maybe weirder…
What I do hear in your sound is a bit of an influence of pop recordings of the 80s. But it’s not full of the same 80s references we’ve heard so much of for the past few years. It’s as if these sounds come from later in the decade, a part of the 80s that hasn’t been over-exploited or rehashed to death yet.
We have a few 80s influences but not many. I think you hear it because of some of the sounds we choose, also their appropriation into pop songs. These sounds combined with these structures tend to remind people of some 80s music. Personally, I hear more 60s and 90s influence in our music. But maybe I’m just so used to our sounds, that that doesn’t factor in to me.
Speaking of sounds, you’ve produced and engineered a good portion of the Chairlift records yourself. Is it hard to work in a technical capacity on your own music? How do you maintain perspective and keep the music fresh when it comes time to play it live?
I like working on our music technically, closely, and from a producer’s angle at first. I’m not good at talking about what I want something to sound like. I need to be able to just do it myself. Then after some months (in this case, a whole year) of working like that, it’s nice to bring someone else in.
That’s why we brought Dan Carey on board. Fresh ears and mad skills and someone we can really trust. I tend to work with a very simple set-up which is so good for the writing process. Dan has every piece of gear that I want when making a record. It’s good to have options when recording. We tried some bizarre stuff…
I do like to bring in fresh ears after a few months of working.
Are there any old or unusual instruments or effects that you just had to have to create or recreate some the sounds you heard in your head, or were you able to do much of it with more modern tools?
I got really into using an MPC for this record. All the electronic beats were made with MPC 4000. I always program hi-hats and kick drums on it. Like many others have said before me, it really does have a feel that no other drum machine has.
My other prized possession is my Roland Space Echo. I run everything through it even if I’m not using the effects, just getting the tape sound. Mine is really dirty – It’s just got a gnarly sound.
Patrick, thanks for taking the time.
Chairlift’s Something was released January 24th on Columbia Records. Their tour returns to the U.S. on March 14th when they play SXSW in Austin, Texas.