Q&A: Future Of What On "Electro Pop," Being Nitpicky, And Trying To Get On MTV Unplugged
At a Thanksgiving party in Brooklyn in 2011, singer-songwriter Blair Gimma met Sam Axelrod. The musicians immediately hit it off, as Sam (formerly of Chicago noise band The Narrator) was a fan of Blair's blissful 2010 LP, Die Young, which had garnered a bit of critical praise but then slipped through the cracks. Sam and Blair began to play music together, eventually adding two more members, and morphed into Future of What. The band's debut EP, Moonstruck, officially comes out Tuesday (although you can download and stream it below right now). The four songs operate in a cloudy, poppy space with a synthy foundation in solid song craft. A couple of weeks ago, Sound of the City caught up with Blair and Sam in the backyard of a Greenpoint bar and chatted about their sound, songwriting, and how being in a band is pretty much like being in a gang.
What's moving from a solo project to a band been like for you creatively?
Blair: I really like the collaborative process. I did a solo thing for awhile, and even then, when you play music with people it's collaborative. There might be someone like Michael Jackson or Prince who dictate every beat, but for me, I actually found and desired something different from a solo concept, that idea. I really enjoy the process of it. I think it's really neat to see something come out of you and someone else collide with it and become something you didn't know, you wouldn't have thought of. It's more challenging, but it's also more rewarding, as far as just playing music.
Sam: Bands are cooler. [Laughs.] It's like being in a gang.
Blair: I toured a lot in 2011 and then after getting off that tour, I was like, well, what do I want to do now? Do I want to do round two with that? Or do I want to try something different.
What is the creative dynamic like?
Sam: We're moving pretty fast. We started this band in January and we recorded at the end of March, and I feel like we're pretty nitpicky, in a good way. We won't just go to band practice and be like, okay, let's play songs [and leave]. We'll say we're going to play through the set and we'll end up spending like two hours on one song just because we want to make it better. Which is scary, because you could do that for like 50 years.
What makes you hit that end point, when you're like, "OK, we got it"?
Blair: We're still figuring that out.
Sam: What's cool is that you don't ever really have to. Once you record it, it's done theoretically, in a way, but we're writing for a full-length where some, or all, of the songs could end up on the full-length, which is cool. We didn't rush the EP, but we were like, we want to record and the songs were ready enough.
Blair: We wanted the music to be out there but we didn't want it to be in "bedroom pop" form. We wanted them to have some craft to them, and not just havewell, which is fine. I know a lot of bands that do that. I just happen to like the craft of clean pop records. As far as knowing when the songs are done, it's cool because we're all learning what our inherent styles are, and then we push each other in and out of that. We have this sound now that we're trying to stay center to.
What do you foresee being different or the same with your full-length, versus the EP?
Sam: I feel like a full-length will be a bit more expansive. I feel the EP songs are a little similar to each other, as opposed to what the album would be. It'll be a little bit more shuffling the deck. More moods. More variety. It's tricky, when you're in a band and writing songs, every song sounds so different to you because you spend so much time with them. But then someone could hear your record and be like, "Yeah, it sounds all the same." I think that applies to all other bands who are like, "Yeah, every song sounds like Beach House." But to them, they're like, "This is the rock song! This is the ballad! This is the jungle song!" I just think our record will be a bit more multi-dimensional.
Blair: We had to choose what we could do, and we would rather have released an EP of four songs that make sense together, as opposed to a variety pack. A variety pack isn't necessarily the best introduction. You shake some hands and you're like, "I'm happy and I'm sad." "I like you and I don't like you."
Sam: Yeah, you don't want Apple Jacks every day. You want Corn Puffs. You want Rice Krispies.
The bio says something like, "This isn't electro-pop or anything goofy like that. These are songs with a capitol S." What does that mean?
Sam: I just think, for me, something like electro-pop sounds... Well, a, I don't know what that word means, and b, I feel like if you said, "You should check out my band! It's electro-pop," I would be like, "No thanks." But I think I would like this band, I hope, if I heard itbut if you describe it to me like that, I'd be like, I don't want to listen to that. To answer the question better, though, I think these songs [hold up]. I think of electro pop as more bells and whistles, keyboards, cool sounds and effects and really processed. These songs could work without that. We could do, like, MTV Unplugged and the songs would translate.
Blair: We're waiting for that call to do MTV Unplugged.
Why go this more electronic route with your music?
Blair: When incarnating these songs, I had access to a laptop with a MIDI controller. I think it's really prevalent in the music world today. When I think of an electronic band, I think of kids who get up there with a keyboard, pedal, and laptop, which we definitely don't do. Or a Gameboy, or whatever. You see a whole lot more of that. I think if I had access to a studio with a bunch of organic instruments, I might've written songs in that form. But I think that the things I had access towe have our laptops, our MIDI controllers, and we can write drum beats on them. We don't necessarily want those to be electronic drum beats, but we can't stay up all hours of the night playing drum kits.
Future Of What play at Cameo Gallery with Like Pioneers, Yoga Pose, and No Gold tonight.