Every now and then 80s-influenced throwback albums pop into the indie spectrum, like the recent work from Handsome Furs, Goldfrapp, and the soundtrack to the new film, Drive. The choice in composition is usually either a result of the nostalgic love for the era’s sound, or a distaste for modern-day indie pop. Chicago’s New Canyons, a project of Airiel’s Andrew Marrah, is releasing its debut eight-track album this spring, titled Everyone is Dark. The work is replete with bending 80s electric guitars, distant, moaning Cure-like vocals, and blankets of synths. And it’s good.
TBJ: You were in Airiel. How did you transition to New Canyons?
Andrew Marrah: I’m still an active member of Airiel, I joined the group in 2009. We have a new EP titled Kid Games coming out this spring on Shelflife Records.
How do you balance your time between Airiel and New Canyons? Do you have a day job that infringes on your music time?
Playing in two bands can be frustrating at times, but it’s totally worth it. Keeps me driven and focused. I’m pretty good about not over-scheduling myself, I like to keep things enjoyable.
I do have a day job, I manage an e-commerce website that specializes in selling DJ and pro audio equipment. It’s a relaxed and creative job, definitely not something I dread.
So it’s just you and Adam Stilson on stage and in the recordings? How do you balance that out? Who plays what?
We write and perform live as a duo. It’s a bit challenging, but we feel that having additional members is unnecessary. We’ve tried adding a drummer in the past, buy we prefer having a powered-speaker system in place to playback drum machines and bass sequences. Overall, the results are cleaner and give us a polished sound that I think everyone can appreciate. I play guitar and synthesizers live, Adam sings and plays synth as well.
You’re located in Chicago now? Where were you before Chicago? I saw that critics called you a Michigan band…
Yes, Adam and I moved to Chicago in 2007 from Lansing, Michigan. The two of us played in a handful of Michigan bands together, but we were tired of the struggle trying to keep other members involved in what we wanted to do. So far, we have no regrets and Chicago is treating us very well.
What’s your favorite club in Chicago?
Here are a few that we frequent and that support what we do: LateBar, Darkroom, Empty Bottle, Rodan and Danny’s.
I understand Good People and BLVD Records are putting out the New Canyons album together. How did you get involved with them?
Thankfully, both labels approached us with sincere interest. Melissa Geils of BLVD Records is a staff member at LateBar. She caught a live performance of us at the bar and immediately showed interest in releasing our record. BLVD has already created a buzz here in Chicago, releasing albums from Astrobrite, Mahogany, Population and Vee Dee. Greg Garrod of Good People is a long-time friend, and he has lended his hand in conjunction to do the CD release portion of the record. We are very lucky to have these two people on our side.
Both record labels are solid labels with good people (no pun intended) running them…people who are kind of untainted by modern short-term trends. Do you have any comment on that?
I can say both labels are very picky, we have 100% trust in them. We try not to pay attention to new trends. We like to focus on the old ones.
So the album is getting mastered right now, and I’ve been able to hear a few songs so far. Solid stuff. Definitely an 80s influence. Who are you favorite 80s artists?
Thanks! We adore: OMD, The Chameleons, Red Flag, Clan of Xymox, Camouflage, Tears For Fears, New Order, Comsat Angels…
You have a very specific sound. How would you describe that sound? How do you go about writing music to achieve that specific sound?
It just kinda happens, I’m a HUGE shoegazer fanatic and most of the material I write is completely different from what Adam is going for in the process of writing a song. Adam tends to be more focused on the classic 80s sounds and getting everything to sync properly in the studio (meaning, we have too many vintage drum machines hooked up at once). In the end, it always ends up sounding like us, no matter how much hair we have lost in the process. Haha, I guess we’d define our sound as ELECTRONIC SHOEGAZE SYNTH POP.
Did you consider the 80s influence when you were writing the lyrics too? Do you usually write the lyrics before, with, or after the music?
Not really, most of Adam’s lyrics are inspired by his own experiences. In fact, I’m quite certain that Adam pays no attention to other lyricists’ words. It’s more about the melody. Lyrics always end up last after the song has already been structured.
Music can take so many forms…how did your sound evolve to where it is now?
It has been a natural progression from playing in rock bands and experimenting with electronics along the way (we’re also addicted to buying gear on eBay). Building a studio has led to much experimentation and the sound that we have achieved.
What audience are you hoping to reach with your music?
I suppose we would be a good fit for fans of M83, Softmoon, Curve, Twin Shadow, Ulrich Schnauss, Zola Jesus, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Depeche Mode.
It looks like a messy synthesizer museum, we try to keep it somewhat organized. Also, everything is hooked up and ready to go at all times, it helps the work flow. A 12 x 24 room can get really small, really fast…
Can you describe your recording process?
Because most of the recording is direct, the process is fairly painless. The only live instrumentation recorded are vocals, guitars and the occasional drum bashing. We have some heavily modded recording equipment that goes straight into ProTools, then bounced down to analog tape. Bouncing down to analog really helps our sound, it gives everything an earthier and more natural sound.
Can you describe the album in full?
It’s been two years in the making so far and we’ve basically done everything ourselves at this point. We are definitely NOT one of those bands able to go into a recording studio and knock out the record in a week. We are way too anal.