By Marissa R. Moss; photos by Marc Lemoine on December 14, 2011
Caroline Polachek is starving. The Chairlift singer has walked into Brooklyn tavern The Pencil Factory on a Friday afternoon, a day serving as a warmish sliver sandwiched between wretched rainy nights and impending fall, and the bar is already filled with locals in T-shirts sipping cloudy beers. She’s a few minutes late, but before we can sit down, she needs something to eat. Pizza from a place across the street will do.
“Do you want some?” Polachek asks. I say no, and she shuffles back out the door before returning a few minutes later with half a pie and bandmate/multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wimberly, whose few-day scruff peeks out from a flop of thick brown hair. Settling into a table, Polachek looks up, her makeup-free face dotted with beauty marks; stunning, all angles, a Greenpoint Audrey Tautou. There’s a reason for the hunger: the band has been in the studio all day working out the video concept for “Sidewalk Safari,” the second single off Chairlift’s sophomore release, Something, and had worked up an appetite. Polachek grabs a slice, her fingernails painted a metallic-green similar to the skintight jumpsuit she wore in the video for the new album’s first single, “Amanaemonesia,” an odd, David Lynchian interpretation of a Maurice Béjart ballet where she performs a modern dance routine, her extremely lithe figure a wiggly metronome for each beat and synth that vacillates between sexy and completely creepy.
The song, full of nonsense lyrics that Polachek describes as “Dr. Seussian,” is an antithesis to “Bruises,” the song that gained Chairlift some mainstream fanfare when it was selected for an iPod commercial with its sticky “I’d like to do handstands for you” refrain. (Note: Polachek can a do a handstand; Wimberly can’t “without a spotter.”) It’s still catchy, but replaces anything that could qualify as cuteness for quirk, blending many octaves of Polachek’s voice with both ’80s electro-pop lines and near-funk guitar. It sets the tone for the record to come. But what is amanaemonesia? “It’s an invented disease,” Polachek says after looking off to the side for a moment, then flashing her eyes up, big and shrouded by thick lashes and supermodel brows. She takes a bite. “It’s caused by overstimulation from online browsing. Resulting in forgetfulness and irresponsibility.”
“Psychological,” Wimberly adds.
“Do you have it?” I ask.
“It comes and goes,” Polachek replies.
Of course it does.
Chairlift is a band for the amanaemonesiac generation. Their breed of synth-pop straddles super modernity, with songs that key into the scattered, electronic-driven and experimental sound that could only exist right here, right now, with a nostalgic nod to pioneers two decades prior. While Chairlift met in Colorado, hail from Connecticut (she) and Nashville (he), and now live in New York City, they are an a-geographical band—they’re not characterized by any certain territory, but by a generation whose main home is the expanse of the World Wide Web. Polachek calls it the “no-zone.”
For Something, the no-zone was partly Hot Chip producer Dan Carey’s London studio, a place they rarely left while recording except to hit virtual German hip-hop clubs on Second Life. Having migrated to Columbia Records since the release of 2008’s Does You Inspire You, the pressure was less about a major-label boardroom and more about a keen awareness that this time, there’s an audience waiting.
“When we made the first record, I didn’t imagine anyone hearing it besides my mom and Patrick,” Polachek says. “But after touring for a long time and having a team, there are expectations…so it is an interesting mental game.” She recalls a time before the road and iPod commercial where being in a band was a hobby, with songs patched together after classes or late at night. The result was an “underground” LP, with a “sleepier, more nocturnal feel.”
This one, however, was conceived in the waking hours—a “daytime record,” so to speak. “It’s hyper-caffeinated, because we were kind of living more grownup-style; getting tweaked on coffee, working during the day and going home at night,” Polachek says. Despite their existence as a boy-girl duo, home is not with each other: they are both in relationships, and Wimberly is engaged to his girlfriend whom he’ll marry at an estate with a “ghost violinist.” Quite appropriate for a band who can trace a straight line from writing music for haunted houses to their current incarnation.
We leave the bar and head across the street to Chairlift’s studio, and once inside Wimberly shimmies up to the window, lighting up a hand-rolled cigarette. The room is filled with instruments, as well as an old couch and a mask that Wimberly wore in a Das Racist video, a group for which he sometimes produces. There are still some remnants of the “massive jam session” they had with James Blake’s band two nights ago.
When talk turns to the catchy factor of songs like “Bruises,” it’s Wimberly who this time explains the motivation. “We’ve all been on the other side where you’ve been totally captivated by a really catchy and powerful song,” he says. “We know what it feels like to fall in love with a song that someone else wrote. We want to give that same feeling back.” He finishes his cigarette and drops down from the window to say goodbye with a hug, as it’s gotten dark out.
Polachek stands up and puts her jacket on. “Finally,” she says, “it feels like night.” F
This article is from FILTER Issue 46