CMJ was a crazy week. Quite frankily, I still haven’t recovered. I was able to see a good amount of bands live, but I was also lucky enough to interview a few of my new and favorite upcoming bands.
On late Tuesday afternoon, I had the chance of seeing Brooklyn-by-way-of Colorado band, Chairlift, play a stellar show at Piano’s. I arrived a few minutes into their set and already, the crowd was out the door. It was literally packed like a sardine can. The band was brilliant on stage bringing their debut record ‘Does You Inspire You’ to life. Never have I seen a band that early in their career be so cohesive on stage. Everything about their performance was flawless…and that was only their first CMJ show of the week (and day).
After the show, I had the chance to meet up with Chairlift co-founder and songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Aaron Pfenning next door for an interview at the Cake Shop. Pfenning, a charismatic early 20 something opened up about how the band formed, their future plans, and of course, the Ipod commercial.
How did Chairlift form?
We formed in Colorado. Caroline and I met in a economics class and bascially I was sitting behind her with sunglasses on and like a big leather jacket. We had a Chinese professor. It was a small lecture class and he was like ‘Can someone please draw the United States?’ and Caroline got up and drew a picture of the United States and it looked like a whale, well to me I thought it looked like a whale. It was actually an accurate portrayal of the United States. Then everyone had to get up and draw their city and say where they’re from. I got up, and I’m from Colorado, but I said I was from the Bay Area, because it looked like the mouth of the whale. So I went up and I drew a mouth on the thing, and I basically turned her drawing into a whale (laughs). So I lied and said I was from the Bay Area and then we stuck out, you know? It was just a class full of douche bags, and Caroline and I just hit it off and traded CDS and then we started making music together.
Caroline and I moved to New York, then Patrick moved to New York seperately, and we just ran into him totally, randomly in Union Square. I had never met him before but I’d seen him play jazz before; He’s a really good jazz player and plays vibraphone. And then, actually, right here! (The Cake Shop), Patrick saw Caroline and I play a show. It was just the two of us here at Cake Shop and right after that, Patrick walked up and was like ‘Uh can I be in your band?’ and then we started playing with Patrick.
I had read that you originally wanted to write music for haunted houses. Is that true? Or is that a total lie?
Yea, its true. Caroline used to bring me to a place called the Broker Inn and its a really creepy hotel, almost no one there, and Patrick would actually play jazz there (Laughs). Every Friday night was jazz night. The owner totally would wear like, a toupee and a really weird couple would walk around and ask ‘Are you enjoying yourself?’ and so that kind of rubbed off. So Caroline and I started…I had a shed in my backyard and we started to improv and making weird music at night, because nighttime was the only time we could do free stuff. So we decided coming up with ideas for haunted house soundtracks. Haunted house music is so textural and I think it can teach you alot of things about coming up with composition.
You’ve been playing with a lot of great bands lately. Which show or tour has been your favorite or the most memorable?
Uh (pauses)…I want to answer accurately. I think the Ariel Pink tour was definatly the best tour. Yea, definatly the best tour. Austin, Texas with Ariel Pink. It was an outdoor venue called Mohawk. It was outside with palm trees and we had really good barbeque right before. It was just a really good feeling. The after party was great, there was like the prerequisite red pick up truck in the front yard, and just like a stereo playing in the yard the whole night. And Ariel, that was his best show too.
Were you nervous about going into the studio to record your first full length?
No, because we’ve been working on it for so long. We’ve been working on all the songs since Caroline and I met, I mean one of the first songs we wrote together is on the album. Like that one country song ‘Don’t Give a Damn.’ Like its kind of the one love song on the album. So yea, that ones on there and um, a lot of these songs have been a journey that have been written and I’ve been working on recording them the entire time. So that one has been recorded like four different times and we actually didn’t even record that one in the studio. I recorded that one up in Connecticut. So we did some, or alot of the recording on our own, and then the other part of the recording we did in the studio. We recorded everything over the course of nine months, so it was a long time. There was nothing nerve wracking. Definatly we were not nervous because it was kind of just being really dorky and making music that we wanted and wanted to hear.
You’re really good live, very cohesive. Sometimes new bands don’t have that, but Chairlift seems to be dead on.
The one thing with the live show..it has always been limiting because physically the three of us obviously can’t play everything that has been recorded at once. Only specific things we’re able to do but we have to pick and choose.
Some bands, to make what they did in the studio, have to bring in extra members for their live show, which can be kind of weird.
Right, yea. We though of having other people come on stage, filling in the other parts, but we figured out ways to make it work. I think it works better with three people. Its kind of weird having someone onstage just shaking a tamborine and they only come on for a couple of songs. I always thought thats so cheesey. If anyone ever joined Chairlift, they would have to be multi-instrumental. I hate when people go on stage and go off.
You mean you don’t want to take some guy on tour to play tamborine? (Laughs)
Yea! We paid for him. We’d pay for his tuna salad everyday (Laughs)
What is your favorite thing about being on tour?
Not having to pay rent!
What is your least favorite thing about being on tour?
Not having a home, being homeless.
If you weren’t in Chairlift, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be studying Continental Philosophy (nods), Yea Continental Philiosophy.
What was the first instrument that you learned to play?
The trumpet. The trumpet (Pauses). I just wanted to make sure and ask myself.
Where does Chairlift’s lyrical inspiration come from?
Its pretty straight forward. It has nothing to do with us living in Colorado. Yea, we’re trying to make Chairlift sexy. Trying to make the word Chairlift sexy. Its a simple enough word!
How did the whole Ipod commercial come about?
Uh, its a…Its like a big fog of mystery. No one really knows. We played a show in L.A. and the next day or something, Apple, they sent us an e-mail and thats about it. We just don’t really know. Somehow Apple really has their ear to the ground and..have you heard of a radio station, KCRW in Santa Monica?
Their music director, I think she chose the first couple of songs for the Ipod commercials. I think she chose Jet for that very first one, and I think she found Feist. We played in L.A. once and one of the DJ’s girlfriends saw us and brought our CD which had on it an early version of that song (‘Bruises’). So I think maybe she took it in. This is just my hypothesis (Laughs). I think maybe KCRW had something to do with it, but i’m really not sure. They play such good music.
Better than New York. Do we even have one station here that plays good rock music?
Hmm, oh wait there’s one…Oh wait, thats a Jersey station.
I get one from Conneticut (WXCI) that I can get like, in my driveway but nowhere else. How do you feel about all the media attention that Chairlift has been getting? I saw you on the front of Yahoo a couple of weeks ago, and you were mentioned in Spin’s MGMT cover story this month.
Oh yea? A lot of our stuff I don’t even know about. Our tour manager called me last night and said ‘I heard your song on ‘The Hills.’ I don’t even know what ‘The Hills’ is.
Its a fake reality show.
I don’t even really totally understand all of it. Just spell my name right! (Laughs) The New York Times misprinted Patrick’s name. He was upset about that. But yea, it sucks because they actually spelled it right on the paragraph above it!
What does the near future hold for Chairlift?
We have three new music videos. Alot of touring. We’re headlining shows in Europe in November. We’re doing that. I’ve never been there and then (pause), actually we’re starting to work on another album. The music videos are more immediate though. We’re going to make a music video for every song on the album and then release a DVD.
Very cool. I have a DVD like that from one of my favorite bands, but I got the European one by accident and it doesn’t play in my DVD player!
Really? Do a lot of bands do that?
Very few. Its kind of rare. What is your favorite album of all time?
Well the albums changing all the time. My favorite album changes all the time. Right now it would be Air ‘Talkie Walkie’. Yea, I think its my all time favorite. it will probably be a different album next week.
I can never decide on one album that is my favorite. Its ever changing. I don’t even know why I ask people that question.
No, its a good question to ask because its interesting to see how people respond. Alof of people would say like, ‘Revolver’ and like always answer with that. Its kind of boring to me, so my favorite album always changes. Air, if we had to work with any other band right now, it would be Air. I really want to work with those guys.
I saw MGMT remixed one of your songs…
Wait, we’re on of them? They did, oh yea I know. I think its pretty brilliant. I like it kind of more than the original. I wish we could figure out a way to play the remix (Laughs).
Just bring MGMT on stage every night! (Laughs) What was the first band that you were a part of?
Well I had been doing solo stuff up until I met Caroline pretty much. I’ve always had, I guess people…I sort of had bands but never had a real serious band so to say.
Like talent show bands?
High School talent show bands…Radiohead cover bands (Laughs).
What made you decide to move from Colorado to New York?
Because living in Colorado had run its course. Caroline transfered to NYU to finish art school, and I didn’t want to quit Chairlift. I didn’t want Chairlift to stop being Chairlift. So I moved here. I was going to move here anyway.
Who are your influences, new and old?
Older Pink Floyd, Hank Williams, The Association…they did ‘Cherish’ (Starts to sing ‘Cherish is the word…’) A lot of the golden oldies, Tommy James and the Shondells, the 50’s gold era. The new stuff, John Maus, Black Dice, Atlas Sound, very much into Atlas Sound. Sebastian Kelly, he’s from Paris. French. I think think he’s friends with Air, thats why I like him.
Are you stalking them? (Laughs)
Grizzly Bear, I’m a huge fan of Grizzly Bear. Their live show is so…I think they have the best live show I’ve ever seen.
Last question of the day…What board game can you kick anyone’s ass at?
Does chess count?
It could, its a board game. One band answered ‘Ping Pong’.
Ping Pong?! Which band was that?
The Morning Benders.
Thats a beer game. How about Ouija Board? Thats a good answer.
Win against the dead.
Backgammon, no, yea, I think Ouija board is the best answer. I can beat anyone at Ouija board.
As long as they come through you win (Laughs)
Pretty much! (Laughs)
Chairlift is Aaron Pfenning, Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly.
(Note Aaron’s name is not spelled Aaaarin Pefing. Haha)
Check out Chairlift on their Myspace