You may not immediately recognize the name, but you have definitely heard the band Chairlift at least once. The Brooklyn-based trio was first put on the map when Apple decided to use their infectious and charming song ‘Bruises’ in a national iPod nano campaign. Now, Chairlift is proving they have much more to offer with their sophisticated and genre-blending debut album “Does You Inspire You” released through Columbia Records this past April. Since then, Chairlift has been touring around the world playing festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and All Points West, and supporting acts such as Peter Bjorn & John. The Music Pirate’s Eszter Zimanyi caught up with Chairlift guitarist, lyricist, and vocalist Aaron Pfenning this past June in Los Angeles to talk about everything from shirt designs to twittering taco trucks. Here’s what went down:
Video by Eszter Zimanyi
Eszter: So. You guys recently put your music video for “Bruises” up on your MySpace. Was that the premiere?
Aaron: The video premiered on radar.com two weeks ago, and then we put it up on our MySpace.
Eszter: Oh, I’m behind. Well I read somewhere that Caroline [Polachek] was going to direct it. Did that still hold true?
Aaron: No, she didn’t direct it. “Bruises” was directed by Timothy Saccenti. He’s a really good director; he’s done some Animal Collective videos.
Eszter: Who came up with the concept for the surveillance room?
Aaron: A lot of it Caroline came up with, and then the whole band sat down and talked about it.
Eszter: Is there a specific reason you chose that setting?
Aaron: The idea was just to make a fort that was our own hide out space, where we could just eat cake and take pills and make out.
Eszter: Well that’s always fun! I saw Chairlift in Philadelphia back in May, and I remember as I was sitting outside waiting to be let in to the venue I saw your merchandise. There was this t-shirt there that had the three of you sketched nude on the front, and I thought it was a really bold statement, so where did that design idea come from?
Aaron: Caroline has this cat shirt with three cats on the front, and they’re looking at you. Then on the back they have their asses, cat asses, on them. So we were like ‘oh, we should just do a Chairlift shirt with us as the cats...but naked.”
Eszter: [laughs] did you pose?
Aaron: No, well yeah we did...also our chest hair really does look like that.
Eszter: It’s funny because I saw that shirt and I thought, “I really want to buy that”. It’s so versatile and I feel like I could then buy fabric and design outfits for you…like reinvent the shirt…but I think I would probably be the only person to think of doing that.
Aaron: Yeah. It’s a really great shirt.
Eszter: Cool. So I read that you guys recorded your demo onto a cassette tape so that record labels wouldn’t be able to leak it?
Eszter: Do you then prefer the idea of music being sold in physical manifestations as opposed to downloading songs off the internet?
Aaron: I just think that CDs are on the way out. Actually I think there is a statistic somewhere that points towards CD sales of plastic origin going down and digital and vinyl sales going up. It’s just easy. I buy all my music on iTunes or vinyl.
Eszter: Would you want CDs to come back into fashion?
Aaron: No, I just think they’re outdated, and kind of annoying to have around.
Eszter: Well, in terms of vinyl then…you guys wrote a song called “Garbage” in which you comment on how all of our human possessions continue to pollute the earth after we die. How do you reconcile this idea of producing music in a physical way that, you know, doesn’t biodegrade with the issue of albums being leaked and downloaded illegally off the internet?
Aaron: I think one of the coolest things I heard recently is when Rick Rubin took over co-heading Columbia Records he got rid of all the plastic jewel cases and made everyone release their CDs on recyclable paper. Our CD is that way if you look at it.
Eszter: That’s cool.
Aaron: We just got back from Taco Zone.
Eszter: Oh? How was it?
Aaron: It was really good.
Eszter: I’ve heard that you are all very into tacos.
Aaron: Yeah! I just had this idea that I want to become a taco manager. You know what’s cool about the taco trucks? Some of them have started twittering, so they’ll like twitter and tell you where the truck is going to be so people can find it. It’s a pretty good idea.
Eszter: Yeah it is. [laughs] When you guys are writing your songs, do you tend to hear them as a completed piece already in your head? Or is it more like separated layers that you put together like a puzzle?
Aaron: Actually, we’ve done it both ways. There’s never a formula.
Eszter: Do you ever listen to your own record or do you find it difficult to hear your work as a finished product?
Aaron: Um, well in the process of making it and coming up with songs we listen to them all the time, but I haven’t listened to our album in about ten months.
Eszter: Yeah, but that’s good because then you wont get tired of playing it live.
Aaron: Yeah, I think I would be so sick of playing our songs if I listened to our album a lot. I pretty much hear it every night when we play it.
Eszter: A good amount of your songs on the album have a dreamier, more atmospheric feel to them. How are you finding translating these songs in your live performances is going? Do your audiences get involved at all or do they tend to just stand there and stare at you?
Aaron: Well, it can be cool when people just stand there and stare at you. I do that a lot. I like when there’s a lot of energy, like when we just played at Bonnaroo. There was so much energy and that always feeds back at you and makes us play better with each other.
Eszter: A lot of times lyrics get misinterpreted, and I saw you guys have that blog on your MySpace with the sort of satirical analysis of Bruises...which I think is a joke right?
Aaron: I think it’s a joke, yes.
Eszter: Have you ever had fans sincerely come up to you with this idea of what your song means that you see no logic in or makes no sense at all?
Aaron: Yes, but I love that. I love hearing different interpretations of our songs.
Eszter: Do you have a specific example?
Aaron: Uh...there are quite a few...I can’t think of one off the top of my head, sorry.
Eszter: Do you have any artists you really want to collaborate with?
Aaron: Fever Ray, check it out. The Dream, Jay-Z…seriously. I would love to do something with Crystal Antlers, I would love to do something with Dirty Projectors, St. Vincent, these are all bands I really look up to and would just love to do something with. Oh, Grizzly Bear is another band I would love to collaborate with. Chris Taylor from Grizzly bear produced our song Dixie Gypsy, which is one of the new songs on the re-release of our album.
Eszter: Cool. You guys have been playing new songs in your live shows; do you have plans to record soon?
Aaron: Yeah. I think in January.
Eszter: When do you think the album would be out? Next summer?
Aaron: Yeah, it would be a pretty quick turn around I think. It wouldn’t take a long time.
Eszter: Awesome. So, since you’re always grouped together with all these other Brooklyn bands, do you ever feel stigmatized by it, like this idea that you are all part of some movement?
Aaron: Uh, there’s a scene but it’s just a geographical scene. We’re just friends. I don’t think there’s a Brooklyn sound, because we’re all doing such different things.
Eszter: Right. So do you think there’s merit to this idea of a Brooklyn scene even though all of these bands are making music that is fundamentally different from one another?
Aaron: I think so, but I’m always interested in hearing what other people interpret it as, because I’m just so caught up in doing my own thing that I don’t really think about it too much.
Eszter: Well for me it’s like, every interview I read with you, or MGMT, etc, they are constantly bringing up this idea of a Brooklyn scene, but the answers from all of these bands are always the same: “we’re all doing different things”. So I don’t know why the idea is continually perpetuated.
Aaron: Yeah. It’s just, so collaborative. It’s easy to encourage people and get along.
Eszter: How do you define success as a band, and do you feel content with where you are as a band right now?
Aaron: I think I’m never content. That’s the problem. And, I would say success is just being able to record the songs that you really want to record, and being happy with them, and then being able to get them out there. Also, playing shows where you feel like people come and everyone shares something, and there’s a lot of energy and discourse in a way.
Eszter: Yeah. Well I think it’s good that you’re not content, because that means you’ll always be motivated to do more, you know what I mean?
Aaron: Yeah. There are moments where I feel like, if we play a really good show, for maybe an hour afterward I feel really content with everything, and then it all kind of goes away and I have to build it back up again.
Eszter: What is the ultimate goal for you as a band, as an artist, and as a person?
Aaron: I guess it’s just to never stop being curious about things. I just love learning things; I think David Lynch taught me a lot about getting obsessed with something and then learning all you can about it, and actually doing something about it, you know, getting really hands on.
Eszter: Yes. Okay, what is your favorite instrument, and not necessarily to play but just in general?
Aaron: I think the human body, as an instrument.
Eszter: Oh, I like that, but I have a proposition for you.
Eszter: This is my goal in life. I want to convince a band to learn to play the Theremin*. You know what that is right?
Aaron: Oh yes.
*The Theremin is an electronic musical instrument controlled without any physical contact from the player. It is comprised of two metal antennae that sense the position of the player’s hands in the air and control the frequency and amplitude of sound based on the location of said player’s hands. These electric signals are then amplified and sent through a set of loudspeakers to create a haunting and ghost-like sound.
Eszter: Well, I really think you should incorporate it into your music. I think it would work for you, and I think one of you should play it on stage because it’s the coolest instrument ever.
Aaron: It would be fun to maybe run it through some effects.
Eszter: Yeah, but the whole point is to do it live, so then people in the audience can be like “what is going on?” Anyway let it marinate. It can be your new goal.
Aaron: Let it marinate?
Eszter: You guys are going to Europe this summer. Is there any country you haven’t been to that you really want to visit, or any country you want to go back to?
Aaron: Iceland, Japan, and Australia.
Eszter: Hungary isn’t on that list?
Aaron: Now it is, yes. I would love to go to Hungary.
Eszter: Have you been there?
Eszter: It’s really cool, speaking as a citizen of that country. Alright so this next question is my Colorado reference, and you are the one member actually from Colorado right?
Aaron: Yeah, well, I grew up in Oklahoma and Colorado. I split my time between the two.
Eszter: Oh, neat. Well, if you were a character on South Park who would you be and why?
Aaron: I feel like...hmm...that’s a good one. I don’t know. I think it would be more fun to be our whole band on South Park in like a guest episode...like wasn’t Michael Jackson on it at one point? I don’t know.
Eszter: I’m not sure, but I did watch the Radiohead episode today, that was a good one.
Aaron: Yeah! Yeah, something like that would be fun. I would love to go in and do voices for it too.
Eszter: Yeah! Well, we could end it with a riddle...or we could just end it here.
Aaron: What’s the riddle?
Eszter: Alright. So one day you’re hanging out with Pinocchio, everyone’s favorite puppet, and he says to you “my nose will grow now.” What happens? Because, the story tells us his nose only grows when he lies. So if he says “my nose will grow now” and it grows, then he’s telling the truth and it can’t grow, but if he says “my nose will grow now” and it doesn’t, then he’s lying and it has to grow. So what happens at the moment he says that statement?
Aaron: [long pause] we’re talking about his nose?
Eszter: It’s going to bother you for the rest of your life now, isn’t it.
Aaron: Do you even know the answer?
Eszter: I think the world implodes...but my friend came up with a really good one. She said at the moment Pinocchio says “my nose will grow now” and it doesn’t, it turns into a lie and it grows a little bit. Then it turns into the truth so it grows back to normal size. Then it’s a lie again, so it grows again...so basically it just goes back and forth, and never stops.
Aaron: Yeah...it’s like a data-glitch or something. [laughs] That was really good. I think that what would happen is the earth will just break apart, and we’ll all fall into the ocean and become orcas.
Eszter: [laughs] Well that’s it, unless you want to rate my interviewing skills.
Aaron: Yeah, can I rate you in tacos?
Aaron: I give you...nine tacos.
Eszter: Out of ten?
Aaron: No. Nine tacos out of tacos.
Aaron: How were my interviewing skills?
Eszter: You’re awesome. I like your answers a lot. Do you want me to rate you in tacos?
Eszter: I think I’ll give you...12.5
Eszter: Yes, 12.5 tacos...out of tacos.
Check out more on Chairlift, including tour dates, at their websites: