chairlift talk karaoke, fetty wap and their new album
We catch up with ethereal NYC duo Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly ahead of their latest release, 'Moth.'
In London for the tail-end of a European tour, Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly of Chairlift have been busy. Since the release of their 2012 album Something, they wrote and produced Beyonce's No Angel before Patrick began working with Das Racist and Caroline put out a solo album under the alias Ramona Lisa. Now they're back with a brilliant new album, Moth, a far cry from the sweet sound of 2008's Bruises that brought an Apple advert to life. Obsessed with their powerful new videos for singles "Ch-Ching" and "Romeo," we leapt at the opportunity for a catch up.
The three of us sat in a friend's East London home, watching as her blue bird flew around the living room. Caroline loved it. She had a bird growing up and barely batted an eyelid when it landed on her mid-interview, cradling it to her face. We chatted to the sounds of obscure Japanese opera, with Patrick curled up on the sofa and Caroline cross-legged on the floor; her beautiful flowing top bunched up around her. Handmade by one of her friends, the sleeves, she told i-D, were intended to tie in with the album title.
Where did the moth theme come from?
Caroline: It started with the song on the record called "Moth to the Flame." It was actually added to the record way before anything else, actually years before. It was just hanging around. It makes so much sense for the music. For us, it's a very New York City record and the songs are very personal stories but they all share the sense of optimism and not over-thinking things, following instinct. And "moth" seemed to be the perfect word to describe that feeling because moths are such impulsive creatures; they fly towards things that will kill them. And it's not about stupidity; it's about persistence and vulnerability, and being a soft thing in a hard place.
And your new single "Romeo" is about Greek mythology?
Caroline: Inspired by, yeah. That song's an outlier, everything else is very personal. It's really just because working with that beat, it felt so obviously to be a running beat and we didn't have any personal stories to tell from our own lives about running and all the best stories are from Greek mythology anyway. So we looked around and found this one quite quickly which is amazing; we couldn't really get better than that.
Have you been running to it yet?
Caroline: No, I haven't! My secret goal for the song is that Taylor Swift will listen to it on a treadmill. I guess I just like the idea that people might listen to the song to get energized.
Are you a Tay-Tay fan?
Caroline: More and more actually. I really like her voice.
Patrick: I still really love "Trouble." It's hard to be in a bad mood when you're listening to her.
Caroline: A lot of her lyrics are so standalone. You could take a lyric out of context of the song and it's still a really clever hook. I like that kind of thing.
So I've not heard the full record yet, but what I have heard seems really poppy…
Caroline: I wouldn't say it's any more poppy than we've been before. But the first song that we rolled out, "Ch-Ching," is meant to be a sort of surprise… not exactly what people expected.
A great surprise! What film do you think that the album would soundtrack the best?
Patrick: Sleepless in Seattle!
I've not actually seen that…
Patrick: But you've gotta see all the Tom Hanks movies!
Sorry. I'm going to watch it, on mute, listening to your record.
Patrick: We actually have a DVD player in our studio that we always keep on while we're working. There's one movie in particular that we've probably watched about fifteen hundred times while making this record. It's called Zardoz.
Caroline: It's 70s psychedelic sci-fi.
Patrick: It's the film Sean Connery did after his last Bond film and it's pretty out there.
Caroline: No, but I feel like it would have to be a drama, and it would have to be current… I was trying to think of something in New York but actually the closest thing I could think of is Blue Is the Warmest Color. A film with playfulness, pain, and some very romantic moments.
And what would the ultimate first-listen situation be? On a treadmill next to Taylor Swift?
Caroline: Inside Taylor Swift's head…
Patrick: I would love it if everyone could come join us in the studio that we made this record in, so they could hear it on the speakers that we made it on.
Caroline: Actually, I know exactly what it would be for me! Just riding the subway in New York City.
Just watching the world around you…
Chairlift formed back in 2006. What are your thoughts on the state of pop music today?
Patrick: To me it's pretty exciting right now because I feel like more and more genres are blending together and you can get away with a lot of things. And you can put long songs on the radio! Like that Justin Timberlake single that was seven minutes long or something… that didn't happen so much before.
Caroline: But at the same time, I think it's difficult for newer, younger artists to do that because in order to break into the mainstream, you have to do something that is very by the book. If no one had ever heard of Justin Timberlake and he just now rolled out with a seven minute song, there's no way in hell that it would be played out on radio, you know what I mean? So I do think that we're in a situation right now where really established artists can play with the genre, but it doesn't allow for letting new ones in, unless there's already a viral video or something. I think it's a double standard actually. As much as I think it's open musically, I sometimes feel like it's not very open politically.
And which new artists are you into?
Patrick: I think my favorite artist on commercial radio right now is Fetty Wap. I love his voice, so much.
Would you want to collaborate?
Caroline: Oh my god, yes! He makes me feel how I felt when I first heard Busta Rhymes as a kid.
Talking of collaborations, you've both had your fair share with other artists… when you work with other people, writing or producing, is it as satisfying as when you work on your own stuff?
Caroline: It's a very different sort of satisfaction. But also you never feel quite as vulnerable as when you're making your own work. So it's an interesting cross training to go back and forth.
Is it the same for you, Patrick?
Patrick: Yeah, the contrast of being able to do both feels liberating for different reasons. And I'm a little bit bipolar creatively, so it's nice to be able to satisfy urges in different areas with different projects.
What are you both listening to at the moment?
Caroline: I've been listening to this ensemble that goes by the name Bing & Ruth. We've been traveling and spending lots of time in vans this week and I like to listen to really soothing music when I'm traveling. They just put out a new record but actually I'm still stuck on their last one. It's called Tomorrow Was The Golden Age. It's really nice; kind of orchestral but it's done in such an audiophile way, really masterfully recorded.
How did you discover them?
Caroline: I actually performed with them on my solo project that I did last year, which was sort of a closed sort of capsule of a project; it had an end date when it would be done and that was about a year ago. They were releasing a record so opened for me on the final show for that project. It was kind of nice to have something else that was just beginning happening on the same night. I've since become a huge fan.
Will there be no more Ramona Lisa then?
Caroline: Maybe, in the future. I haven't decided yet. Right now it's all Chairlift.
Patrick: I've been listening to Celia Cruz on this last trip. Have you heard of her? She's a salsa artist. That's my airport jam.
Talking of "Ch-ching," the video doesn't have any karaoke subtitles. What's with that? Are you over karaoke?
Caroline: I know… Patrick has to explain that. I wanted them.
Patrick: It just didn't seem like it needed them. I didn't wanna take away from the dancing and the movement. Plus we couldn't really find a place to put them.
Do you both enjoy partaking in karaoke?
Patrick: I do more than she does I think.
Caroline: Yeah, I don't actually like doing karaoke.
No way! I thought you'd both be huge fans…
Caroline: I love the way the videos look. Maybe it's because I always end up going out and wrecking my voice — not from singing, just from talking over it. It has a very anti-musical effect on me actually.
And what's your karaoke song Patrick?
Patrick: "A Whole New World" from Aladdin.
Strong choice. But that's a duet…
Patrick: Exactly. Gotta find somebody who can keep up with you.
And, as it's often quite prevalent in your videos, what are your all-time favorite dance routines?
Patrick: Mine would probably be Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" dance.
Can you do it?
Patrick: The lean? No, but I know how they do it. They made a special shoe, they actually patented the design, and the shoe had a little clip in the heel that locks in to a thing on the stage. So everybody clips in and leans back.
Caroline: I know what mine is… let me find it… it's called the Moon Dance. It almost looks like the video has been edited, with the way she moves.
Wow, she's like a jellyfish.
Caroline: Like a mermaid.
How did you find this?
Caroline: Oh, just going down a k-hole of Chinese dance videos… as one does. It gets pretty psychedelic in there. I think it's fun when you have all these restrictions. They just got two color fields, one dancer, one shape. Go!
Do you always choreograph your own dances?
Caroline: I always have up until "Ch-Ching: actually.
How come you got a choreographer in for that?
Caroline: I just wanted to learn a new language. I had found a bunch of videos from this choreographer online and I just wanted to work with him so badly. Also I'd never tried working with a choreographer before and it's really difficult to memorize everything. I was about to say that it was a mental exercise but actually my thighs were in a lot of pain.
Which track are you the most proud of having made… of all time?
Patrick: I think it changes for me but right now I feel pretty proud of "Ch-Ching." It was a fun production to work on because it was quite different from stuff we've done in the past.
Caroline: For me it's the tracks that I can put on and sort of say, I don't know what happened. Where I feel like I didn't write it, you know what I mean? You sort of zone out for a second and wake back up and see that you created this thing. There's a song on the Ramona Lisa record, "Is It True What They Tell Me?" that actually started out with a very matter of fact and logical melody. I had just gotten out of a very messy breakup and it was winter, I was broke and I was subletting a room with a girl I didn't know that well. I didn't have any windows in my room and I was just sleeping on a mattress on the floor with a little suitcase next to me and it was kind of a lost time. So I'd sit on the bed with a glass of port on my own in this room with my headphones on working on this song. I had started it and then realized that hours and hours must have passed so I went back and all these melodies had just come out; piano melodies that are not logical at all, or even in the right key or time signature but they all sounded so good together and I couldn't really make sense of it. So it's nice when you can get a little glimpse of your animal brain — the life inside there. And I guess because production is newer for me than singing is, it seems more mysterious when that can happen with an entire production.
And if you had to recreate it you probably wouldn't know how…
Caroline: Yeah. "No Such Thing As Illusion" was kind of like that for Chairlift actually. That song was entirely improvised — we ended up with a bunch of friends at the studio and no one talked about what we were gonna do and we just started tweaking and people stopped talking and everyone just made this song that for me is the most emotionally moving song on the whole record. It just happened. And to me that's the most beautiful.
Text Francesca Dunn
Photography Eleanor Hardwick
Makeup and hair Holly Silius using Elizabeth Arden and Bumble & bumble