Photo Credit: Adele Sakey
EXNATIONS spent the earlier part of this month touring in support of their June 2018 release, Pink Haze. Before they set out on roads that led them from Ohio to Wisconsin and back to New York, they talked with us about the newer, darker side of pop music, romance, and of course the music. More particular, which chapter Pink Haze is for them as a band.
Kendra: Are you the type of band that goes into recording a new album with a set list of goals? If so, what were some for Pink Haze and were they all met?
EXNATIONS: Our big goal when writing and recording music is to capture a feeling. Songs always seem to start with a phrase that I can’t get out of my head. This becomes a line or two if I’m lucky a strong governing metaphor. This gets filtered through our influences – music that inspires us at the time, something we saw on Netflix, a cool synth sound, a groovy drum loop.
With this record, the governing metaphor was nostalgia. We’ve all had an intense year. Births, deaths, new relationships formed, lasting ones broke down. This had us looking back a bit, trying to use the past for guidance in the present and future. We’ve always looked back to the past for inspiration in our production style and sound design choices – but this was the first time we drew from it for lyrical themes as well.
Kendra: Growing up I was surrounded by Bubblegum, over-processed pop. In recent years there’s been this wave of more somber pop, that EXNATIONS does play a part in. Why do you think artists like yourself, Lorde and Billie Eilish are popping with a hint of sadness? And why do you believe there’s been a shift in listeners craving that?
EXNATIONS: Personally, I’m all for pop music being “allowed” to play in the full emotional spectrum. As you mentioned, the pop anthems of yesteryear were almost all bubblegum and rainbows. And sure, some of that stuff was just fine, some of it great even. But it’s unnatural and unrealistic to operate exclusively on the green side of the emotional dial. I couldn’t be more excited that pop artists now have the permission to swing into the red. I think there are many factors responsible for this sea change. We may have hit peak bubblegum when the radio was filled with hits like Pharell’s “Happy” and the JT song about trolls.
The rise of hip hop as the biggest force in pop music undoubtedly helped – I think hip hop has always refrained from peddling empty optimism and false promises and always been more comfortable dealing with the full spectrum of the human experience – warts and all. But mostly I think people are hurting right now, and there’s something that feels healthy and healing about pouring a little sad music on your sad mood.
Kendra: Let’s talk about “Tether.” It’s about something that fascinates me to death; dating. I did get a later start in life and have only ever relied on apps and sites for dating. This song is about more than that. About that actual connection. Do you feel like as the video killed the radio star, apps have inherently killed romance?
EXNATIONS: People have been finding new and interesting ways to meet, fall in love, and absolutely destroy each other from the beginning of time. Apps are just the latest permutation. They certainly introduce a whole new slew of complications and eccentricities. For one, they always make it seem like “the one” is never more than a few swipes away. The feeling this song was trying to crystalize is those moments when you feel like you’re in a blissful little bubble with this new person you’re falling for. The world is nothing but the place you’re at and the person you’re with at that very moment.
Kendra: Somewhere romance will never die is in teen movies. Which you’re likely fans of seeing as Pink Haze features “John Hughes Movie Soundtrack.” With that, if you could go back in time and play a prom scene in any teen movie – which would it be and why, and you can’t say Pretty in Pink. Too easy.
EXNATIONS: Maybe this is kinda cheating, cause it’s not of the John Hughes era, but the one that sticks out in my mind is from Lady Bird. I was always the kid who thought prom was kinda overrated and overblown. I also went to a catholic high school, so this movie brought me back. Seeing the two leads crash the prom and subsequently blow it off to go and have an intimate, meaningful conversation as best friends – that sounds like my kind of prom.
Kendra: Albums are often viewed as chapters in a musicians life. For you each, what chapter would you say Pink Haze is for you personally?
EXNATIONS: For EXNATIONS, I think this is the chapter where we found our sound as a band. We were scratching at something with Tiny Sound in the Dark. And on Pink Haze, we found it.