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elevating pop into the ether
by: Bill Dvorak - October 4, 2008

Before moving to Brooklyn, the members of Chairlift found inspiration for their fantastical, nocturnal pop songs in a lonely inn on the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado. But inspiration didn’t emerge from anything that happened in the inn, it was the inn itself—the faux-gothic architecture, the surreal decor, and the general sense of otherworldliness that seemed to permeate the rooms and blow through the deserted halls like a specter. Singer and synth player Caroline Polachek told the Deli of the frequent nights she spent there, sneaking into the building’s hotel area to sit under the “canopy of fake plastic vines,” where she imagined that “the place was kind of a portal into a foggy, carpeted infomercial-nightmare.”

Like the inn, Chairlift’s music is a portal into the band’s imaginitive psyche—where ambiguous sonic shapes hide under a cloak of reverb and sanguine synth lines dance over decadent vocal harmonies. On the band’s debut full-length, Does You Inspire You, slated for a late-October release on Kanine records (and available now on iTunes), Polachek, guitar and sampler player Aaron Pfenning and drummer and keyboard player Patrick Wimberly took the melodic elements of synth pop and built them up with ambient noise and sonic textures. They’ve created unique, cinematic dreamscapes, from the Morriconian desert ballad of “Earwig Town” to the liquid space-pop of “Planet Health,” and the infectious and playful “Bruises,” which was recently featured in an iPod commercial—a definite indicator of a band on the rise. With October dates opening for Yeasayer and a November tour through Europe, Chairlift is primed to rise to the top as the next major Brooklyn indie export.

Many of the album's songs have an escapist or dreamlike feel, as do some of the lyrics. What is it that appeals to you about this kind of music?

Aaron: I actually wouldn't describe myself as someone who makes escapist music. I'm comfortable being described as such, but really all I'm doing is splintering reality to suit my own vision. I see it as more of a chasing after than running away. I've spent a solid chunk of my life listening to and admiring rock music, and that kind of song doesn't dig deep enough for me anymore. I'm opting out of rock class and walking into the field with my knife and magnifying glass.

Caroline: The connection with the unconscious, with sleep, with meditation.

Patrick: I like the space it creates, a place where you can look in at the world from the outside.

You're about to tour with Yeasayer, played with MGMT, and have been mentioned in articles discussing Grizzly Bear and the Dirty Projectors. There's definitely some common threads in these bands—from a world music influence to pop songs that are psychedelic or mystical. Do you see yourself as a part of a new music scene or culture with them?

Aaron: Yes, but we're all making different music, and that's what I find distinctive about the scene. These bands are master pop song writers, just doing what's natural to them, which usually encompasses a textured complexity applied by way of their own style, and that makes for an interesting live show. Audiences want to see more at a show than a simple garage rock revival.

Caroline: The connection of our branch of the "Brooklyn scene" is primarily social we like each others’ taste, each others’ work, and we like each other. It’s not like we get together to jam, but we do feature each other quite a bit on recordings. That being said, I don't think our collectivity is the reason for the common thread of mysticism, it's the times. In an environment of flat brand-name commodity culture, we gravitate towards things of exotic mystery. It's interesting to see what's going to happen now that the aesthetic has been embraced on a mainstream level, between American Apparel putting out tribal prints, and MGMT's music videos on MTV. It's “de-exoticized” the mystical, or at least all the traditional signs of it. But its success only means that people really did need it.

What prompted the move from Boulder?

Aaron: We all met in Boulder, but none of us are from Boulder. Right before we moved to New York, during the summer of 2006, Caroline and I organized a festival in the mountains, handpicking our favorite bands and hoping to see a scene emerge in Colorado, but nothing happened all the bands brushed each other off. I was influenced in that way to move to New York.

Caroline: I came to New York for art, which, at the time, seemed more like something you had to be in New York for than music did. Aaron came with me, and we ran into Patrick (who I had previously been in a band with in Boulder) in New York, by chance. He loved what we were working on and joined the band as a drummer. We couldn't have done what we did with any other “drummer” though, ‘cause Patrick ended up becoming our go-to producer as well, which was priceless in writing and recording Does You Inspire You.

Can you tell me more about that inn?

Caroline: A friend of mine and I would go to the Broker (the Broker Inn) almost every Friday night to spook ourselves. We actually made a ritual out of dressing to fit the place and blasting industrial music all the way there. We'd bring sketchbooks and India ink and draw at the tableclothed tables under the huge disco ball, while the live jazz band played to an empty room. Even after moving to Brooklyn, we always had access to that feeling of dread and wonder, and made little glimpses of it in our music. I think “Ceiling Wax,” “Make Your Mind Up,” and “Somewhere Around Here” do it best.

Aaron: It was within the first week I met Caroline that she brought me to the Broker. The Broker Inn is like the anomalous cousin of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park where Stephen King based his book The Shining. The Broker is one of those rare capsules of space filled with drifting currents of 'what's-going-to-happen-next-ness' as I would simultaneously feel totally cracked out and serene, staring at the jazz band playing and then watching the hardwood floors and thinking about ghosts. We're hoping to shoot a music video at the inn sometime soon.

Patrick: I practically lived there for a year. I played there at least twice a week and ate most meals there. In fact, I would not have gotten through college without that place supporting my eating, drinking and performing habits.

What are some musical influences? I hear everything from 80s pop to folk to (maybe) fantasy metal factoring into your sound.

Aaron: I haven't found myself bathing in fantasy metal quite yet, though I'm sure I'll be at that phase soon, where I grow a mustache and buy a Pig Destroyer album. My top artists right now are John Maus, Tears For Fears, Black Dice, Jozef Van Wissem, Sebastien Tellier and Miles Davis.

Caroline: Brian Eno's Another Green World, Meredith Monk's Dolman Music.

Patrick: Tony Allen (Fela Kuti's drummer and band leader).

Has living in New York affected your songwriting?

Aaron: I quickly realized that my songwriting needed to change once I moved. I physically couldn't handle listening to most live music and I needed an answer to that question. I started thinking about music in shapes and textures, and finding ways those shapes could make sense in a pop song.

Caroline: I found myself leaning towards music that gave me the most pleasurable 'worldview,' or character perspective, of living in New York. Music plays a very therapeutic and interpretive role in New York—it's a play on perspective. You listen to hip hop, you’re on top of the world. You listen to Sonic Youth, you're sinking into the cracks. So writing music became about creating perspectives, and not just hooks.

What can we expect next from Chairlift? Any new recordings or songs in the works?

Aaron: Expect new music videos from Does You Inspire You. We have new song ideas, but you can only birth one child at a time—unless you're expecting a double-album.


"I quickly realized that my songwriting needed to change once I moved [to NYC]. I physically couldn't handle listening to most live music and I needed an answer to that question. I started thinking about music in shapes and textures, and finding ways those shapes could make sense in a pop song."

"Does you Inspire You?"

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Multifaceted, electro-textured mellow indie pop.