Oct 12, 2012
It seems appropriate that Poolside has sunshine on the brain. The Southern California-based duo (DJ Jeffrey Paradise and Filip Nikolic, formally of Junior Senior and Ima Robot) created their debut album Pacific Standard Time in the most regionally appropriate of settings: over drinks in their poolside studio, before literally stepping out the door to air cuts for a few friends. The result? A lackadaisical, lush blend of Balearic beats, shiny synths, and UV-baked posturing that they call "daytime disco."
Under the Radar joined the duo at their Los Angeles studio space to discuss the art of defining one's musical identity, the joys and pains of releasing an album without a label, and the possibility of producing music in some very Shining-like conditions.
Laura Studarus (Under the Radar): Has music always been an obsession for you?
Jeffrey Paradise: I had always been doing music since I was a kid. The idea of going to college, I was scared to do music, because you have to take it really seriously. I'm not very good with people telling me what to do. So I thought being ordered to play an instrument would just be unfun. I didn't know if I wanted my talent to be that I'm good at a particular instrument...I went to school for clothing design and textiles. Pretty much my last semester, I was like, "I hate this. I'm never doing this as a job!" Well, I didn't despise it, but the idea of it. It didn't translate, the actual craft, into a profession very easily. You either have to sell really generic stuff to the mainstream, or sell to rich people-both of which seemed not exciting.
I guess that's how music is different. You can market to anyone.
Filip Nikolic: I watched a cool documentary last night called PressPausePlay. It's about how the digital revolution has changed the whole music/film/art industry. Just pros and cons. It's super awesome. It proves that everything we did with this album is the right thing.
How did you handle releasing your album?
Jeffrey: Well we didn't give it away for free, but we had a lot of labels wanting to put it out. But it was going to be like nine months. "You're going to have to owe us three records." Stuff like that.
Filip: We just don't have the patience. We have so many friends who make music, and they have their album, and it takes them a year and a half to two years to put out. It's so slow nowadays! It's crazy because it should be a million times faster. But the record industry still goes in cycles of when you're allowed to put things out.
Jeffrey: There was one label where we said, "OK, we'll take all your rules." Then at the last minute they changed their mind. We said, "We need it out in three weeks." That was our thing. It has to come out in three weeks. It has to come out digitally.
Filip: It came out a little late because we almost reconsidered and went with a label.
Jeffrey: We pushed back our deadline by two weeks for them. Then they were still pressing for more time. We were like, "Forget it." Then, two days prior, they were like, "OK, OK! Let's make the deal!"
Filip: By then we were stoked to not be working with them. It's so awesome to have full control.
Jeffrey: Complete autonomy. It's so cool.
Filip: You can buy the album as a digital download on our web page for five bucks. But people still buy it on iTunes for $10! As soon as it came out it was widely available as an illegal download. But people are still buying it. I think if you approach all your stuff as being for the fans and create some kind of connection with people, people will want to support you. They don't want to support a big label.
I think the industry is going to have to evolve to a more artist to fan transaction.
Jeffrey: We're happy to give people who like our music the album for five dollars. We're stoked to not have to add extra costs.
Filip: I remember a couple years ago Radiohead let fans pay whatever the wanted. Everybody thought that was really cool and stuff. But if you're a new band, you're dependent on more stuff. We're lucky that we didn't consider this band our living. It was just a hobby. Every time we made money we just put it in an account. We had some cash to spend on this release. If you're a new band and you want to put out a record, it costs money. We were lucky to be able to do it that way. If we didn't have some cash up front, we would have had to go with a label.
Jeffrey: If we were 21 doing this, our first band, we would be locked down.
Filip: Essentially a label is a really shitty bank. I've been thinking about it a lot. Even if you are a broke band, if you have somebody in your family who is eligible for a bank loan, the interest rate is way better and you keep control.
Jeffrey: It's like a bank loan, and then the band decides, "You need to spend this much money on your house! And you have no real say on the matter, and you owe us that money back." When record labels controlled the whole distribution of everything, they could make all the rules they wanted. Now that they don't, none of those rules make any sense. It's an exciting time to do music.
Filip: One thing that you get out of a good label is a strong brand attached to your name. That's important. A lot of people, if a label that they like puts out a new record, they're going to check it out. So it's not all bad when it comes to labels. But I think in our situation it's good because we're not ready to have pressure from a label either.
But how many people, like, say the average music fan, says, "Oh I have to go pick up the new 4AD release?"
Filip: I know a lot of people who do that. Depending on the brands. I don't think people say, "Oh, there's a new album out on Capital!" [Laughs] But I think there's a bunch of brands nowadays that have a lifestyle connected to them. I think that attracts a lot of people as well.
Jeffrey: Like Kompakt. Awhile back I would buy anything on Kompakt, because I knew it would be good. And if it wasn't good, I would find a way to find something good about it.
Filip: When you're young and scared to trust your own instincts in music, you want to listen to what the cool dude listens to in high school. Creating your own style is scary as fuck! You can't say, "Oh I like Ace of Base, and I don't care what people think!" That doesn't exist. But a lot of people secretly liked Ace of Base in high school.
Jeffrey: I did.
I kind of feel like with the younger generation—oh wow, I aged 10 years saying that—but I feel like they can now. So much is available to them that high school kids 10 years ago didn't have.
Jeffrey: Kids these days when you ask what kind of music they like, their answer: "Everything." That's the stock answer. Before, you defined your whole personality based on the kind of music that you like. And the kind of music that you hated.
Filip: But when you're high school age, you don't do it based on your own instincts.
Jeffrey: No! Of course. Your mentors or whatever.
Filip: You always had the guys that were a little older who you looked up to. They'll fucking tell you what to listen to and you'll get into it.
Jeffrey: I DJ at parties for kids who are like, 18. You ask them what they like, and they're all just like, "Everything." Come on! Tell me who stands out, and they're like, "Everything dude!"
Isn't that also code for nothing?
Filip: Yeah, it's also bad. All of a sudden it's not music for the individual or something that you put time into. Music is something that's just present.
Jeffrey: Yeah, it's become functional.
Do you both come from producing/DJ backgrounds?
Jeffrey: I've made music with others in the studio. But Filip is the producer.
So you're more on the DJ side of it.
Jeffrey: I had been in a bunch of bands. I found DJing, and I was like, "OK, I like this a lot." I want to spend time getting good at this. It felt like it employed the way I think about music. It was really cool to be able to make these sound collages. These tapestries. Or whatever. That's how I thought of music, so I took to it really fast.
Going into Poolside, did you come into it with a musician's mindset? Or did you approach it like a DJ?
Filip: None of those!
Jeffrey: That's a good question. We started anti-DJ and evolved. We were like, "Fuck DJs! We don't want this to be for the club."
Filip: But we didn't want to play live either.
Jeffrey: We were just trying to make music we wanted to hear while chilling out.
Filip: Not even. That came way later. It started out with us just getting drunk.
Jeffrey: Well yeah, that's how it started!
Filip: It took awhile. Even when we got signed with our first song, we weren't taking it seriously. It wasn't supposed to be our serious project. We were just trying to hang out and swim. The first idea was, when there was interest and people wanted to put it out, that we could create this thing where we'd DJ and only play daytime pool parties.
Jeffrey: Never nightclubs.
Filip: There was even an idea—just to show how loose it was in the beginning—our idea was to go to a DJ gig, and have pool chairs. Then we'd hire my roommate Dave to be the actual DJ, and we'd write down lists of songs. That would be our performance.
Did you ever pull that off?
Jeffrey: No. All our early ideas we threw away. We started getting more serious offers and thought, "Maybe we should rethink this!" Originally we had no ambition to do anything with the project. But it kind of took on its own life.
Filip: I think that's the best thing about music in this situation. We're not worried about what other people think. I've been doing music since I was a kid. In the beginning you always want to be cool. You want people to think that you're cool. People think it's good, of course. And then that tends to take over your mind, and you're worried about if people don't like it. At some point, after doing it for so many years, all of a sudden it's like, "I don't really care." The process of making this music is a way shorter version than when you're doing something that has to become something.
Jeffrey: Yeah. Like, if you want this played on the radio, you've got to think this way.
Filip: I think the most fun part of making a song is coming up with ideas and putting it together and making it into something. With the digital revolution, it makes it a million times worse. You can edit everything, you can get into details. You can overthink it. You can recall every mix; you can keep mixing the same song. And then you go crazy because you lost perspective. All my friends do that all the time!
It sounds like you're speaking from experience.
Filip: I've never been because I get so annoyed. That's why this project is cool. It's like, "This sounds like music!" Boom! Out.
So you were drinking, you were mixing, you played it outside, it sounded good, and so you called it a day.
Jeffrey: Pretty much!
Filip: We made the album incredibly fast. It's a problem these days. When you do music by recording into a computer, back in the days you were limited to a tape machine and a mixer. If your mix is not good, you have to start from scratch. All the settings are going to be different. You don't have the option of, "I'm going to rest on this for a week, and then I'll come back." The thing that is really interesting to me is that you have to decide. It's done now. That takes courage. It's scary. You can always change something. The whole magical part of making a song happens pretty fast. And then you have this stage where you keep working, and you have to say, "This is done." We got lucky. Our first song that got us signed, I wasn't supposed to sing on it. It was a demo. When this demo got picked up and this label wanted to sign us, first of all I was like, "I'm not a singer. I've never sung in my life." It was a weird thing. Then we were also thinking, "Do we need to finish this thing?" It's called a demo. What does that even mean? If these people like it, why isn't it finished? So we've been following that principal since then. We want to skip the frustrating parts of making music.
Jeffrey: I feel like that's the part that people like about it. It isn't perfect; there is looseness to the songs. It's refreshing to a lot of people. It's not overproduced. That's rad.
Filip: We've been talking about this for a long time. The flaw with computers is that you can make perfect songs, and perfect songs don't have personality. We need mistakes in music because humans make mistakes. We're not perfect. When music is perfect, there's nothing human about it. Stay away from overediting!
You're touring behind this. Are you playing it live or is it a DJ set?
Jeffrey: It's evolved. It started as DJs only. Then we were a two-piece band. Then we got a four-piece band with a percussionist and a keyboardist. Now it's a live band.
Over time you're going to start looking like Edward Sharpe on stage.
Jeffrey: [Laughs] That's funny.
Filip: We're not really against it. The thing is, we're considered electronic music, but it's not really. It's maybe 20 percent electronic, the rest is instruments. We're awkward about the fact that we don't have a guitar player. We have guitar on the backing track. It already feels weird. But if it were a purely electronic band it wouldn't feel weird. We have the urge to have that these real instruments in the backing track should be played, but we're also really cautious about not becoming a 10-piece right away. Touring is really expensive and we don't have tour support by default.
Jeffrey: Yeah, that's one of the problems of putting out your own record. If touring was cheap, we'd have a six-piece band with percussionists and guitarists and all that stuff. We can't put it into reality just yet.
Filip: The weird thing is that it's not as weird anymore to have a small amount of people in one band. In some people's minds, us as a four-piece is like, whoa! It's a full-on band. It's cool, but I wish we were in the 1970s.
Jeffrey: Totally, three semi-trucks carrying gear.
With the rush to put out this album, are you two constantly producing new material?
Jeffrey: Not really. We wanted it to come out this summer. We've been planning on it coming out earlier, or even at the beginning of summer. Filip got majorly busy with other production projects. We were like, "Fuck it, it has to come out this summer."
Filip: Also if this were our big chance, we probably would have been a lot more careful. But this was like, "Hey, we think it's done." Why would we wait? The normal thing is to wait, but this doesn't have to be like that anymore. When most of the sales are digital anyway, it takes a couple of days to set up a situation where you can sell digitally.
Jeffrey: For us, a lot of people liked us already, so who cares what's smart? These people want this album for the summer, and it's basically done. So let's give it to them.
Well if your mission statement is about creating soundtracks to pool parties, what better time, right?
Filip: That's the other thing. It was the fear of it coming out in the winter.
Jeffrey: Yeah, it had to come out this summer or next. Waiting a full year seemed ridiculous. It could have come out this October, which was the soonest it could come out, people were saying.
The only place people are still having pool parties in October is here in Los Angeles.
Filip: [Laughs] Totally.
Growing up, did Los Angeles or Southern California carry with it a certain mystique?
Jeffrey: I think L.A. for both of us.
Filip: Oh definitely! Coming from Denmark? The whole rap scene, the whole beach scene, all these things. Even Hollywood. It doesn't mean anything to me now, but it was this place, that you have ideas of how it is. It's a lot different, but still awesome. I hated L.A. when I finally got here the first five times I was here. I couldn't stand it! I was only on the Sunset Strip. That was the only place I knew about. We didn't know any people, so we had our management tell us, "It would be good for you if you went to this party." It was all crazy networking situations!
At that point, did you decide to move here?
Filip: Basically what happened was we toured with Ima Robot. I became really good friends with him.
Jeffrey: We met during Junior Senior.
Filip: Yeah, about nine years ago.
I imagine coming from San Francisco to L.A. wasn't quite as much of a culture shock.
Jeffrey: I have a lot of connections to L.A. But I love San Francisco, so I never thought that I would leave. But it's a very small city. You don't realize that. At a certain point you've done everything there is to do. So I moved to New York for a little bit and came here.
So given that you met years ago, when did you realize that you should work together?
Filip: I guess we've always been doing it for fun when he's in town. We made some really stupid songs together.
Jeffrey: Yeah, some silly songs.
Filip: It's never really been about the music, but somehow the music always happened.
Jeffrey: Yeah, there was never much planned, but we had always been jibbing around somehow.
Filip: He just wanted to make music, so he came over. Him, me and Timmy [Anderson] from Ima Robot worked for a couple of days. It was just all these small tiny weird projects. Mostly as a basis to just hang out.
Is Poolside your main project at this point?
Filip: I guess it is, which is insane!
Jeffrey: It's kind of become that. We still both do other stuff. This is taking up a lot of time. It's almost like it has to be. We just finished a month tour. We've got a bunch more. But it's going so much better than I would have thought, and it's a lot more fun than I thought it would be.
Do you have any idea how you're going to approach your next album?
Filip: I was camping a couple of months ago in Big Sur. We thought about renting a house for two months and bringing all this stuff [gestures around the studio] and take it to the house. Big Sur is so beautiful but so useless. You can hike for days, but it's too cold to swim. It's this vast nature that's just present. It's an awesome feeling. Rent a house, and go on hikes in the daytime, and make an album from scratch in those two months. It has to be done by the time we drive home. We've even considered not having Internet and phones, which would be really weird.
Jeffrey: I'm pretty much for that. I think it would be really disorienting in an awesome way.
I have a vision of the two of you reenacting The Shining.
Jeffrey: [Laughs] It could happen! I think it will be awesome though. Just be up there cooking, making music, hiking, just all things that we like doing without distractions.
Filip: What if after day two we just hate each other?
Jeffrey: Hopefully we have enough life skills to not do that. You never know, I guess.
Filip: One thing that's interesting with that project is that it's not summery out there. We'll probably be there in the winter. That could make the next album the complete opposite. I don't think we really care. It would be interesting for it to be the winter album.
Jeffrey: I'm into the idea. It would be so easy with the Poolside concept to regurgitate Pacific Standard Time Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. It's rad to think that each album could be totally different from the last.