Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek On The Myth Of The Music Industry “Mafia”

US indie synth-pop duo Chairlift appear to be settling into a decent routine, having now released their three records each four years apart. They were last in Australia following the release of their 2012 album Something, and now, following the release of Moth, in January this year they’re gearing up to come down under once again.

But it’s not as if they’ve just been chilling in between records. Caroline Polachek released her own solo LP called Arcadia under the moniker Ramona Lisa, wrote and co-produced No Angel on Beyoncé’s self-titled 2013 album with Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly, and also more recently collaborated with PC Music’s Danny L Harle on a track called Ashes Of Love.

We caught up with Caroline to chat about Chairlift’s latest and most physical record to date, what it was like opening up her world to pop and PC Music, and the state of the USA in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as leader of the free world.

Music Feeds: It’s been a pretty momentous few days in America since the election, and you guys were quite vocal on Twitter prior to the election about the importance of voting. What’s the vibe like there now given what’s happened?

Caroline Polachek: You know, it’s been better. It’s been a rough few days here in New York but we’re doing good. It’s pretty disappointing though; voter turnout was lower than it’s been in the last two election cycles, and I think a lot of people were confused with the parties being so divided. No one in my community expected this to be the outcome, and there’s been a lot of finger-pointing and a lot of disappointment. Yeah, it’s going to be really interesting to see how the next year unfolds.

MF: You guys were last in Australia in 2012, seems like an age ago. How excited are you guys to get back here again soon?

CP: Oh we love playing there. Australians as far as I know are the best audience, and I’m excited to be back with you guys.

MF: Obviously you’ve released a new record since then, Moth – how else has your live show changed?

CP: Well every record we do we put a very different ensemble together, but this live show is my favourite. I definitely get to dance the most which I love, and the dancing entirely improvised which makes every show different. The guys that we’re going to have out with us on this tour are both fantastic musicians and both played on the record. It’s been a really good feeling both on stage and off, I feel very lucky.

MF: What do you think you guys have learnt from more than a decade of performing live?

CP: Ironically I think I feel much more free on stage than I was before. I think before I really felt like I needed to replicate the record in some way that would satisfy people, and now I’ve realised energy just translates into energy in the crowd. If you’re having a good time they will too, and vice versa. It’s this beautiful feedback, and, as a result, I’m much looser and much more aware of the audience now than I’ve ever been.

MF: Since the release of Moth, it’s been widely praised as your most cohesive and full-bodied record to date. Do you think that was just a result of your development as a duo, or was there a specific intention to create the record in that way?

CP: I think it was definitely both of those things, and I actually really appreciate the words you’re describing it with, because that feels very accurate. We did know that we wanted it to be full-bodied, and I released a solo record in 2014 that was done all on my laptop. That record was all composed in MIDI and intentionally a completely digital thing, and very contained. After having done that record all I wanted was the opposite. I wanted everything to be very physical and very hand-played and very organic. It was about recording in a space rather than keeping everything in the tight vacuum of a computer – really letting it come to life and bringing in a lot of friends, keeping it quite social and collaborative. Patrick was definitely on the same page. When we’re in the studio I really enjoy having other people in the studio and I perform better. I need that kind of energy, so having people come in and out, having beers and listening to us working. It was a very open-door feeling.

MF: Between this and your last record you write No Angel for Beyoncé. How do you think that experience changed how Moth came together?

CP: It completely exploded my sense of what the music industry was. I think up until that point I had these very rigid ideas about mainstream music, and it was this sort of mafia from Los Angeles – and this is indie which is a different social fabric that goes by all these rules. And then this is the hip hop mafia, and that’s how this works. It felt like a very closed off world to be before that happened, and suddenly all these boundaries that I had thought existed revealed themselves to be fake and I realised this music you hear on the radio is made by people like me; hunched over their laptops. It’s not a big, shiny machine, it’s human beings. It’s malleable and it’s open, and it’s a strange post-genre melting pot of a world, and if you don’t take advantage of it you’re a fool. That really changed my approach.

MF: But you had another release recently, you featured on Ashes Of Love by PC Music’s Danny L Harle. How in the world did that come about?

CP: Danny was apparently a massive fan of the Chairlift song I Belong In Your Arms – and we did a music video for that one in Japanese and he loved the music video. I think that was actually all he knew of my work but he just loved that video and loved that song. So he got in touch to work on a track together. Unfortunately, we live on two different continents, so the amount of time we could actually get together in a room was only two days together, six months apart, to finish the song. In between there was a lot of email correspondence but I loved working with Danny. I actually had this sensation – I don’t have a brother but if I ever was to have a brother he’d probably be kind of like Danny. There was a kind of family bond, and we had a lot of similar musical sensibilities, but very different points of reference. We found it very hard to get anything done because we just wanted to play each other music all the time, but that was so much fun.

MF: What are your thoughts on PC Music’s rise as this label and genre that’s just become this weird, nostalgic, self-aware commentary on music?

CP: I think it’s genius, the way they’re playing with these sounds architecturally. I think the way they ride the line between irony and bleakness sometimes rubs me the wrong way thematically. I have a hard time fully identifying with it, but I almost look at it like art rather than pop music, which I know is the opposite of what they’re trying to do. They are highly educated artists, and they’re trying to make work that’s very naive, and the ways in which that fails are really interesting. I do thinK that they capture a kind of loneliness that people feel on the internet, this kind of solitude. I characterise some music as feeling like it’s vacuum-sealed, everything about it feels like it’s in a vacuum, and I think that’s kind of mimicking the experience people have online. I think that’s brilliant.

Chairlift return to Australia this week for a trio of east coast headline dates in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Catch details here.

Latest on Music Feeds

Load more