credit; Anthony Scott Burns
"For us, our music starts with making sure there’s a real song behind it, that there’s depth there, whether it’s instrumental or lyrical, and that it comes from true emotions."
Film and music go hand in hand together. Blend the two seamlessly and you end up with a sensory overload; a symphony of pictures and sounds that are so cohesively moulded together, they create a masterpiece. When you watch a film with a perfect soundtrack, it makes it so much more memorable. You forever relate the songs to a feeling - a fleeting emotion that the particular few moments in the film give you.
Take Drive, for example. When Nicolas Winding Refn's masterpiece came out in 2011, the soundtrack sparked as much of an uproar as the film itself did. With that fame, the artists who contributed to the soundtrack were catapulted into electronic royalty almost instantaneously. Toronto duo Electric Youth were one of those artists. Fast forward a few years and with Drive under their belt, along with the greatly successful debut of their first album, Innerworld, Electric Youth are back - on an awesome compilation brought to you by Nicolas Winding Refn himself, a collection of songs that inspired his latest film, The Neon Demon. Good Blood is a song they wrote for the film, which wasn't in the final product, making way for a score done by Cliff Martinez.
I got the absolutely wonderful opportunity to catch up with Bronwyn and Austin and pick their brains over films, their unique sound, Good Blood itself, and the release of their first feature length film score they've been working on for the past year.
I know you probably get asked about Drive-related questions a lot, but I have to get it out of the way; how did a project so big as that shape the future of the band in your eyes?
Bronwyn: It definitely gave our music a platform that we wouldn’t of had so early on in our career. There will always be an immense amount of gratitude towards Nic Refn for including our art alongside his. We’re truly honoured to be in the presence of such emotive work.
Austin: For sure. And I think at that time leading up to Drive's release, we were still in a sort of self-imposed, artist development stage, refining the consistency of our sound. But next thing we knew, 'A Real Hero' was in the top 10 on iTunes and we weren't prepared with a follow up yet. It propelled us to release our first EP even though those tracks were still just us in a refining stage. What happened for us with Drive, our music working like that in films, was always in our plans but we weren't totally prepared for how exactly or when it was going to happen. It wasn't until we released 'The Best Thing' single that people got a chance to hear our sound fully realized. Drive helped us realize we got it right with 'The Best Thing' and 'A Real Hero'. So it wasn't until then that we were able to go further on completing an album, which is why that didn't happen until sometime later. We promised from then, that we would always take the time to get our music to the point we were totally happy with it, before releasing it. Drive gave us the ability to do that on our own terms.
What are you inspired by? You have such a distinct sound. I'd love to know how that came to be and how you were able to create that.
A: For the most part, our inspiration is internal and how or why it's there is not always the same. For me, a lot of my best ideas musically are already in my head when I wake up. It's almost a burden at times, it wakes me up. In that moment, it may be dawn, I may really need more sleep but I have to get up and make the song because I recognize it's value and that the idea can slip away at any moment if I leave it long enough in my head, without putting it into a machine. It took me years before I decided to really not take that for granted. And I say it's a burden, but it's a small burden I'm happy to bear for life if that's what it takes to continue to make things I believe in. The pros far outweigh the cons. And other times, a song will be in my head for months or even years and I'll finish it in my mind before I record it. The ones that stick around that long are usually pretty strong.
As far as external inspiration, when it happens to us it just comes from life experiences, our environment, and of course film. And the way film has inspired us in the past has made it a seamless transition for us into scoring films, with how that creative process goes. With that, it's our job to pull inspiration from the films, but so far for us, that's come as much, if not more, from the scripts, conversations with the directors and being on set, as it has the actual picture.
B: We’re both super inspired by film, but I personally, am most inspired by people; the human condition. I’m more of an observer, and from there, I make my own conclusions about life, but tend to keep them fairly internalized. Our music is my way of externalizing those feelings and thoughts through sound. Not even the words, because I don’t write them all, Austin also writes a lot, but it's through the way I choose to sing the words. I can only hope what I emit helps others to make connections between myself and themselves and what we’re all going through on a daily basis.
A: And as far as our sound, it's just something that comes out of creative instinct. We've never tried to sound like anything. I'm sure if a romantic era composer grew up his formative musical years around the sounds of synthesizer music in his house instead of music of the 17 or 1800s, that his music would sound a little more like ours too. Not necessarily by intent, just as what would then be a genuine part of his musical fabric, a genuine synthesis of the music he was exposed to. As much as what we do creatively comes from our genetic, environmental and spiritual instincts, a big but unintentional part of the music we make does come from being a genuine synthesis of our influences and the artists that have resonated with us. I think that goes for most artists.
And as far as the distinction of our sound and how we create it, another big part of it is the tools we use and the way we use them. The combination of our sensibilities, our focus on quality, the particular ways we use the old and new synthesizers, and most importantly, Bronwyn's voice, are the most distinctive components. Perhaps because of the synthesizers, sometimes there's a misconception of our music, certain people think we're about making things that "sound 80s" but that's never the intent. We're aware that there are artists out there whose intent is creating from the idea of being inspired by 80s or trying to create 80s or old sounding music, and there's nothing wrong with that but it's just never been something we personally identify with or can relate to. Our intent is more future forward and universal than that but some people associate us with those artists anyways. I'm sure a big part of the association happens because of how much the Drive Soundtrack has influenced and inspired endless amounts of projects like those 80s ones, even though it's a film set in the modern day with modern music. But people see what they want to see in art and they're not wrong for that if they enjoy it, that's what it's there for. From that perspective, everybody is correct in what they feel a piece of music is. We appreciate everyone who sees anything in our music, as long as it’s positive. But for us, our music starts with making sure there’s a real song behind it, that there’s depth there, whether it’s instrumental or lyrical, and that it comes from true emotions. We do what we call the piano test, where it has to be able to sound good played on just an acoustic piano. If it passes that test, the song will sound good, no matter what it’s played on, from synthesizer to acoustic guitar. It’s why a song of ours like ‘A Real Hero’ has been covered hundreds of times, from accapella versions like when Alt-J recorded it, to all the acoustic and rock versions that have been done. It doesn’t matter that our original version is all synthesizers. It’s universal and comes from a place of true emotion.
You two make music that can so seamlessly fit into films. With Drive brilliantly under your belt, along with The Neon Demon, and the upcoming release of your first feature length film score, it's clear that movies and cinema play a huge part in who you are. What are your favourite film soundtracks or scores?
B: We have many, (unbiasedly Drive being my favourite) but Interstellar, Donnie Darko, and Gone Girl are among my favourites. John Williams and Thomas Newman own my childhood…One that I particularly like right now is the Jackie score. The composer Mica Levi really captures the heaviness of that film and the events surrounding that day. The music allows us to sink deeper into the perspective of Natalie Portman’s character and create distinct memories related to how we feel. Mica Levi is continually inspiring me as an individual. I’ve watched a number of interviews with her and she allows me to feel more at home with who I am just based on her comfort level to be herself. There’s no persona. It’s also hard to ignore (which it seems most people did) that she is one of 4 women to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score, the last nomination being almost 2 decades ago…
A: I second everything she just said. And Mica Levi's Jackie score was my favourite score of last year. Her musical sensibilities on that score are something I can really identify with. We're in total admiration of her as a creative all around. I also really liked Cliff Martinez's score for The Neon Demon. It's my favourite work of his to date. A while back Entertainment Weekly had us do a playlist of our favourite film songs that covered a lot of those (http://ew.com/article/2014/10/
28/electric-youth-soundtrack-p laylist-drive/ ) but as far as scores, for me, Pino Donaggio's Body Double score, Thomas Newman's Shawshank Redemption and Roxy Carmichael scores, Fabio Frizzi's Zombie score and Clint Mansell's Requiem for A Dream score have been favourites and influential to me since I was a kid. Also Vangelis and Blade Runner of course. Numerous scores from Jerry Goldsmith, Explorers, Rambo 2, Psycho 2, The 'Burbs and Poltergeist. And John Barry and his strings, like in You Only Live Twice. Those are all things I really identify with musically. And only recently, I've really come to appreciate the very underrated and somewhat under the radar film composer Richard Band. I think because he primarily chose to work in the horror genre, he's never got the recognition he's deserved. But the little moments where he was able to do something emotive, they really shine. His main theme from the original House on Sorority Row and his end title theme from a film called Mutant are two of the most beautiful pieces of music I've been in love with this year.
I read that you spent time watching old films gaining inspiration for Innerworld. What films were those? How did you draw inspiration from them?
A: Back around the time of Innerworld's release, we posted a photo on Facebook of most of the films that helped inspire that album... (here) I think the only other major ones for Innerworld not in the photo were probably Heavenly Creatures and Basquiat. That's a film I've been continually drawn to since I was a teen. It's part of the reason my hair looks the way it does.
But even with films, it's still the real lives being cinematically depicted in them that we find most inspiring. And that comes from the life experiences of the filmmakers, their subjects and how that reflects and relates to our life experiences. So it's all still life. In those moments, film is like a mirror in a mirror.
And it's rare that other music inspires us, we're much more inspired by film, but oddly enough, the last time I remember that happening was towards the end of last year, with the classical piece by Arvo Part called "Spiegel im Spiegel", which I believe translates to "Mirror in Mirror". At the time, we were in the middle of scoring the film we've been working on for a while, and I was driving to the studio listening to 96.3FM (Toronto's classical station), they were doing a special on minimalist composers and when they played "Spiegel im Spiegel" it instantly helped me connect the dots with the right compositional approach to take with this melody I'd had and wanted to use in the film for a while. There's a compositional technique that Arvo Part invented that I guess had the right feeling for what I wanted to make. But usually, hearing other music is easier something that causes a loss of inspiration for us than a source of inspiration. So we're mindful of the music we expose ourselves too. So films on mute are much more commonly an inspiration for us than music.
You're working on your second album right now. Any films there for influences that differ from that on Innerworld?
A: Now that we're scoring films, we're finding our inspiration from film is left more for the scores. It's more so life and humans that we're inspired by on this next album of ours. But on Innerworld, films were very much a primary influence.
credit; Anthony Scott Burns
How would you say this album will sound like in comparison to your first?
A: With Innerworld, we wanted to make a point of establishing our sound. It's why that album plays in a sort of linear, oneness. With the songs we did for that album, we wanted them to be something that for now and the future could serve as a strong musical document of that being our sound. Now, two and a half years later, the goals we had for that album creatively, for it to be something timeless, it continues to reach that goal. As a result, we still feel just as good about that album as we did when we put it out.
And we're always about the long term, it's never just for the moment with us. So that aim for timelessness will still be there on this second album. But we feel we already accomplished the goal of establishing our sound on Innerworld. So now we feel we have the room to expand and explore other areas of the spectrum of our sound. It'll be new to people but without being any kind of dramatic departure. Naturally, we've grown. Electric Youth will never be the sort of group that "re-invents itself", that's just not an option or of interest to us. We are who we are. But we continue to grow and that will be something very evident on this next album. Some of that has to do with the films we're scoring and the new places that's taken us creatively. It's having a really positive effect on this album, and we're really inspired.
I'm really curious about the release of your film score that you've been working on. Is there any way you can tell us a bit about the film, or the sound that you've created for that world?
A: The first of our scores we're wrapping up as we speak and it'll be out later this year. Until it's officially announced, we can't speak too much about it. And we've already signed on to score more films and done some early work for some of those too. We can't speak too much about it yet but the first film is a Horror/Sci-Fi/Drama starring one of our favourite young actors. We've been fortunate that with all these films, we've been approached with the offers to score them by the directors themselves, early on. So we've been involved very early in the process on each one. Some of them even before script stage. And it's allowed us to take the time to really develop a unique sonic universe for each film. We realize the opportunity to be involved early might not always be a luxury we have on every film in the future, but it's great that these first ones have been this way. And we've been privileged to work with very musical directors thus far.
And film scoring opportunities initially started coming in before we finished Innerworld but at the time we decided not to take them on so that we could stay focused on the album. But once the album was out, since we were approached early and films often spend a long time in development, some of those offers were still there. Plus then we started getting more offers as a result of the album circulating. So working on films has been a big part of our life for some years already. We've done a lot of work before having picture on some of them. Then in some cases, once we've had picture, there's already been such a great musical foundation in place from our preliminary work, the rest of the process has been more fluent than it would of been otherwise.
We've found it really inspiring and effective bringing some of the sounds of what we do on our records together with more traditional score elements and more experimental sounds. But once we've completed our work on the current score, we're going to focus our energy on completing this second album, then hopefully get to that point of completion before we have to get deep into the next score. We find it all very inspiring though.
The Neon DemonI am so excited for the The Neon Demon "Wicked Die Young" compilation due to come out. I was a huge fan of that movie and of Refn himself, obviously. What were your thoughts on the film? Audiences were incredibly divided.
B: We’re really excited for the compilation to come out as well!
A: It's really great. Nic Refn has such great taste in music. And for fans of the film, it's an immersive musical exploration into The Neon Demon universe.
B: I was so impressed by the film…The imagery was so powerful. If you ask me what it was about, I could only give you a brief understanding in words so I won't try very hard (beauty being at the core) but it was more about the intensity of the grotesque emotions it made me feel around beauty and mirroring the world I live in. I was able to question certain things about myself after watching that that I wasn’t willing to face previously. And for me that’s always an indication of an influential work of art. I have a lot of admiration for Nic. I think he’s very brave in the sense that it seems he’s comfortable breaking out of a mold, I’m sure, the industry and viewers would love to hold him in. The Neon Demon may have created a divide in audiences but to me that’s the making of a timeless piece. 20 years from now, I wont be surprised when The Neon Demon becomes solidified in the world of critical acclaim. It takes time for uncomfortable/revealing subject matter to sink in, then surface again with clear meaning.
A: The Neon Demon is one of the most amazingly visceral explorations of vanity I've seen in cinema. And I think it's also Nic's greatest visual masterpiece yet, in a career of visual masterpieces. And for me that's part of what makes it such a complete film. It'll live on and in time it will be better understood, as is often the case for the work of artists as forward thinking as NWR.
Why do you think there was so much backlash about that film, anyway?
B: I think it touches on a reality that people are unwilling to face when it comes to how we obsess over beauty and the void it creates…then he pushed that idea as far as it could go, threw in some cannibalism and necrophilia, and the horror of it all was just too much for some. That’s just my take though, who knows what the intention was, we all gather and settle on our own meanings, that’s what’s so awesome!
I really want to talk about the song you did for The Neon Demon, and how it contrasts to what you did with Drive. For Drive, I found A Real Hero was bittersweet sounding and airy. Like the inspiration behind the song and the role it plays in the film, it just fit so perfectly. The Neon Demon on the other hand was downright disturbing! Good Blood had an unsettling tranquility that moulded with the uneasy vibe in the film. Was the song written specifically for that film? If so, how did you get the idea to produce something so eerily calm? It works so well!
A: It was written for the film. It's primary influences were the story, the stories that inspired the film and real life characters we've come across in LA that embody much of the same mentalities as the characters in the film. We have a place in LA, we're here much of the year. We love it here but over the years we've met some real life vampires here. People you think are your friend but they're vampires. You come across some disturbed, vain people here sometimes. The Neon Demon is much more realistic of a film than a lot of people realize or want to admit to themselves. So it was a natural song to write. We love LA so much and there are so many good people here too, but there's a side of it that's really like La La Land meets The Neon Demon, so we tend to keep to ourselves quite a bit. That's also because we're both very introverted.
B: When Austin showed me what he had for the song, the sound is sort of sensual fear. I embodied that with the vocals. So your feelings of being disturbed are most certainly warranted. Beyond that, the melody takes you in.
Do you know what scene it was going to be used for? I'm really curious about the specific emotions or thoughts that pieced together Good Blood.
A: We're going to honor NWR's approach to answering that question in simply saying that if we were to point to specifics, it would take the fun out of guessing.
I was reading the tracklist of the compilation, and including you guys, you're sitting next to some pretty heavy hitters in synth and electronica. How does it feel to be right next to legends like Giorgio Moroder and Cliff Martinez, for example?
B: That was one of the most exciting parts of being on this compilation. These ‘heavy hitters’ as you say, have helped shape who we are as artists. It’s an incredible honor to be among them.
What are some artists that you like that would come as a shock to people?
B: Hmmm I don’t know if people would be surprised by these, I guess among the less obvious for both Austin and I would be: James Taylor, Cranberries, Enya, Steel Pulse, Dave Grusin, Buggles, Empire of the Sun …these are among our favs of all time…and on the more recent end, Pond + Tame Impala, Mac Demarco, The 1975, Ariel Pink, Midnight Faces, Thundercat… There are many artists we like. I’m going to stop there; the list could go on forever.
Finally, what are your plans after the release of your second album next year?
B: We have a number of scores we’ve agreed to compose...
A: and around the time of the album release we'll do another tour. We've been looking forward to playing in so many places in Europe for so long. We have so many supportive fans out there that we want to reach. And there's some places in North America we missed on the Innerworld tour that we look forward to playing again. Hopefully other parts of the world too.
B: I imagine we’ll just see where the music leads us. It’s incredible how that changes everything.