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By Spencer Flanagan on November 18, 2010



New York City-based band XYLOS plays beautiful, eclectic music, combing vocal melodies and electronic sounds with guitar, drums, bass, keyboards and other instruments, creating upbeat, happy music set to dark, mysterious lyrics.

After playing music together for two years, the band will finally release its debut album on March 7, after going through some changes in its lineup and sound a few months back.

We Skyped with Monika Heidemann, Eric Zeiler and Nikki Lancy—three of XYLOS’ five members—and talked about the band’s success in New York City, touring with Danish indie-pop band Efterklang, “emotional revelations,” comparisons to Willy Wonka and finding singer Monika on Craigslist.

What are you listening to right now?

Eric: Yesterday in the studio we took a little break and watched some Cyndi Lauper YouTube videos. We were recording a synth patch that was reminiscent and Monika thought of a Cyndi Lauper song. We wanted to find it so we ended up just watching some live footage of her. She’s amazing. It was inspiring.

Monika: It’s kind of mid-crunch time trying to finish our album, so seriously I think all I’ve been listening to is XYLOS music. [Laughs] Well that’s not completely true. I was listening to a band we opened up for called Buke and Gass. I’ve been listening to their CD recently. That’s kind of the newest thing on my iPod. They’re a New York band and we did a show with them a few weeks ago and I got their CD. They’re really great.

Nikki: I started relistening to my friend Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, his first album that he put out a couple years ago. It’s like kind of dark and folky.

What are some of your influences as a band?

Eric: The music we’re making now is pretty electronic. Working on this new record, we’re using a lot of synthesizers and drum machines and stuff so I’ve been going back and listening to a lot of stuff I listened to like 10 years ago, electronic music-wise like Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada—a lot of that beat-oriented electronic stuff I haven’t listened to in years—so I’m kind of going full-circle and listening to stuff that I loved in high school.

Nikki: Old-school dance stuff. Monika has referenced ABBA.

Monika: That was my favorite band when I was five so… I don’t listen to them so much anymore, but I think it’s kind of ingrained in my brain. To me, it’s a mix of a lot of different vocalists… Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper definitely are big influences. Aretha Franklin, a little bit. Some soulful stuff as well.

I’ve heard four songs off the album—“Not Enough,” “Second Order,” “Mission” and “Suburbia”—and they all sound pretty diverse one from another. Is that the direction the album is taking as well?

Eric: Those four songs we did a while back. We did a full session for a record that we’re not actually putting out, but those four songs were from the last session and then the album is going to be filled out with a bunch of new songs that we’re recording now. So I guess in terms of scope of the album, those songs represent some of the different styles.

Nikki: I think in every song there is a little bit of all the elements you probably heard in those four songs, so we’ve been in the process of sort of meshing all of those things together to form cohesive songs.

Are you guys almost done recording the album?

Eric: The whole album is going to be done by December 1, so it’s like we’re in the final stretch for the next couple weeks, finishing recording and mixing and getting it mastered. We’re excited. It’s been a long time coming.

This will be your debut album. What kind of things are you feeling right now?

Nikki: I’m super excited. I feel like, because it’s been such a long time coming, we’ve all been writing so many songs. I’m excited to get this out so that we can keep writing and keep moving forward stylistically and just have these songs we’ve been playing for so long finally be released. So I’m excited about that.

Eric: We’ve been a band without an album for a while, so it’ll be really nice to have something tangible that represents us and that we’re psyched for. I’m really excited.

Monika: It’s been a while. We made some major changes with the band a few months ago, so we don’t really have an album that represents the band as it is now and this one has been in the works now for like a year so it’s definitely time.

You mentioned earlier that you recorded an album but won’t release it? Can you explain that a little more?

Eric: We did a full album, late last year/early this year, and as we were finishing that we sort of underwent a lot of changes in the band, lineup wise. We got a new drummer, one of the main singers in the band was no longer in the band and Monika became the full-on lead singer. We got a new bass player. So there were a lot of changes and by the time all the changes happened, we realized we were sort of a different band playing different music. There are some songs from that session that sound nothing like the band we are today.

Monika: We don’t even play half of those songs anymore.

Eric: It actually worked out well. The songs that Monika sang on that album are the ones that are consistent with who we are now stylistically. The songs Aaron [singer who is no longer in the band] sang are folkier and they definitely don’t go with who we are now. So we kept the four songs that you heard that still represent us; we still play those live and we’re filling it out with a bunch more songs that we’ve written since, really just over the last six months. Our first show with the new lineup was in August.

How long has XYLOS been playing music together?

Eric: XYLOS has been playing for almost two years now. Our first show was in October 2008. If you listen to the stuff we did in the beginning, it’s almost not recognizable as the same band.

How did the band form?

Eric: Nikki and I met through a common friend. Nikki was dating a friend of mine from high school so when I started putting together the songs for the first EP Nikki was the first person I approached to sing on it. And we found Monika on Craigslist, actually—the most amazing thing ever.

I was originally just going to play bass in this band actually because I had a different band that I was in. I was trying to get more serious about playing bass and I wanted to find a band to do that with, not really thinking it was going to be a main thing for me and then it really clicked and I played bass for the first year until August pretty much. I was the bass player in this band and then started singing more and more and now I’m pretty much just the singer. I still play bass a little bit, but we have another full time bass player.

One day we’re going to donate a lot of money to Craig Newmark and Craigslist. [laughs]

How do you feel you have been received and established in New York?

Eric: Great. New York has been the thing that’s really kept us going: the shows, the positive feedback, good crowds. Even from our very first show we had an amazing crowd. Great friends and fans that come out to every show. A friend of Nikki’s... We’ll play two or three nights in a row and she’ll come to like every single show. There are people like that. New York has been so supportive. If it wasn’t for our New York thing, I don’t know where we’d be. That’s been the best thing we have going for us right now—our fan base in New York City. We play with amazing bands because there are so many fantastic bands in New York. Every time we play a show, there’s other bands in the building we’re psyched to play with and become friends with.

What things inspire you, in your life or in your songwriting?

Nikki: For me, the things that inspire me are stories. A lot of times when I write a song I have an image in my head of characters that are on the verge of something… I’m a very visual person so I imagine scenes from like a movie. I’m very character- and scene-driven when I write songs.

Eric: I get inspired when I’m on the subway or when I’m walking somewhere. I walk a lot. Sometimes melodies come into my head. Usually it’s the melody first and then I’ll go home and I’ll try and develop that. Sometimes it’ll be over a week before I even pick up an instrument to see if it sticks. But it just appears and I usually try and draw inspiration just from not thinking about music.

For me, lately I think it’s non-musical things that inspire me more. Usually when I go to a live show that I’m really into I’ll be super inspired and want to go home and write something, but it’s usually normally just my mind wandering right before I fall asleep or right before I wake up—dreams and images and mostly when I’m not trying. But like what Eric said, doing other things like walking around and letting things come in.

Nikki: For some reason public transportation is a big thing. I don’t know if all New York bands or songwriters have the same thing but being on trains and in the subway and walking around is key… There’s something about that meditative space.

Do you have a name for the album?

Eric: That’s one of the things we talked about a while back but haven’t really revisited yet. We have a release date though. That’s something and took us a while to get to.

Monika: I’m kind of voting for the self-titled first album route myself. We’re probably going to have a really big fight about it [laughs].

We don’t fight. We actually tend to agree on everything. It’s really weird. We all just think the same things, which is nice. No, I’m just kidding. We don’t [laughs].

Is there any significance behind the name XYLOS?

Eric: I used to make ambient electronic music and I thought [XYLOS] was a very appropriate-sounding name for that kind of stuff, like instrumental music. And when I started this project, I just sort of kept the name. I had a little bit of notoriety in the name and just went with it and then it became a band. It never was even supposed to be a band but it just sort of happened that it became a band and we stuck with the name.

It’s a Greek god. I’ve heard that one before

Eric: Yes, people think it’s a Greek something.

Monika: We’re a Greek party band.

[Everyone laughs]

Eric: There was a review of our show in D.C. where the journalist came out and tried to guess what our music would sound like based on our name and they thought we were going to be like a Greek Isles party band.

Nikki: I love it!

Eric: And they weren’t actually that far off.

What kind of effect do you hope your music has on listeners? Have you ever thought about that?

Nikki: Yeah. I think when people come of a live show, I want them to have fun. I like when people are dancing and get into it on the dance floor and also at the same time have an emotional connection. Have some sort of catharsis. For me, that’s what I like in a show or music I listen to. Even if it’s just a cool dance outlet. I like things to just bring me somewhere, to a place of emotional revelation. That’s probably bigger than it needs to sound, but…

Monika: We hope to bring emotional revelation.

[Everyone laughs]

Eric: I just want people listening to our music. That’s my only goal. To listen to it during emotional revelation moments.

At what point did you realize OK, we could do this for a living?

Eric: When the band recently changed and we got into this lineup where we’re really excited about and confident and our shows have gone a lot better. The feeling after our shows is different than it used to be. It feels real. It feels cohesive and exciting and to me that only really came into focus in the last couple of months. So that’s when I really believed it I think.

Nikki: Yeah, I think for me it’s the same thing. The energy of the last few months, the new lineup, the new songs we’ve been writing which I think are amazing and the album coming out, it’s just a really good. It feels like a really good time for us with all these things coming together.

XYLOS recently toured with Danish band Efterklang. How was that?

Awesome. They’re a great band. If you haven’t checked them out, you should. They’re from Denmark and they’re really great. And really great people.

They’re so friendly. The smiliest band you’ll ever see.

Eric: Ten people just constantly smiling for like an hour and 45 minutes every night. It was great.

And then they put that into the music. The music made you so happy.

Eric: I would tour again with them in a second. I would love to go to Europe and tour with them or something.

How long was the tour?

Eric: Just a short little run around the Northeast. It ended with two nights in New York and it was great. And they really liked us and we really liked them. It was good. Sometimes you go on tour with a band and the music’s too different or it feels very professional, but with them it felt like we all enjoyed each other’s bands and the third band, Buke and Gass who Monika was talking about at the beginning, they’re also amazing. It was great to promote the shows and know that the other bands were so good that we wanted to tell our friends to come and stay the whole night, because that’s not always the case.

If you had one sentence to describe your music to people who have never heard XYLOS or to convince them to listen to your music, what would it be?

Nikki: OK. If you could capture Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory in a band and all the excitement and revelation and new candy flavors and rooms filled with little people you could have, this would be the band for you.

Eric: We’ll have to put that in our bio. Can you type that up and send it back to us? [Laughs] The color imagery, I really like that, with Willy Wonka. I think that does resonate with our music. I think there’s a really fun element to our music, but there’s also a sort of deeper, more serious element. Even from the beginning—and we all kind of do this—the music tends to be major key, happy sounding and some of our lyrics tend to be darker and I think that’s a disparity that we all really like. I enjoy that about us so I think that’s one of the things people really like about us.

Nikki: Slash Willy Wonka.

[Everyone laughs]

What are some long-term goals of the band?

Right now, touring is a big thing. I know all bands probably say that, but it’s kind of true. I think most bands have the same goals.

Nikki: Travel, play music, make a living at it.

Eric: For me it’s to make an album that really moves people. I think that’s the path we’re on right now. In the near future—over the next two or three weeks—finish up this record. I think the goal is to make a really great album and put it out in 2011 and see what happens.

Nikki: And after that to make another album that’s even greater.

Eric: Keep making great albums and keep writing songs. That’s the best part, writing great songs.

Anything else you think we should know?

Eric: We’re all nudists. [Everyone laughs] We just wore clothes because we thought it would be more appropriate. But we’re not being ourselves right now.

Monika: So if we seemed a little awkward, it’s because of the clothes.

We bought these today actually for this purpose.     F

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