Week in Pop: Lilly Wolf, MTNS, Neighbors, Stroamata

Sjimon Gompers

week in pop

Pop dreams and the rising star of Lilly Wolf, photographed at Pianos in Brooklyn by Michael Dote.

Never mind the spring hype, as the press machines move us into the future and closer toward summer, 2014 style. Twitter birds are already chirping about the FYF and Lollapalooza fest line-up announcements, or whatever that Jay Z versus Solange elevator drama was about, while Weezy toasts Hova's own line of cognac on “'D'usse“, Dave Grohl continues to entertain his inner Ken Burns with an upcoming HBO documentary series, Billy Corgan gets experimental and weird with Aegea, Creation Records returns as Alan McGee starts Creation Management just in time for the 30th anniversary of Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy, and look out everyone as Morrissey is actually using his Twitter account.

Switching gears and lanes; we are honored and privileged to close out our week with a host of exclusives from Lilly Wolf, MTNS, Neighbors, Stroamata, Bonfire Beach, Superhumanoids, The History of Colour TV, and more—in no particular order.

Every so often there is a song that encapsulates the cause, fight, and struggle of producing self-made pop songs that are made up from the materials and recipes that dreams and grand visions descend from. Enter Lilly Wolf, a Brooklyn based artist who has been penning her own songs with longtime collaborator, Alex Neuhausen, aka Dr. Nu, who pull the rug out from beneath the obscure core of consciousness with the debut of, “Pop Dream”. This is a song for everyone who has dared to dream big, for everyone who has ever tried their own hand at recording, for everyone who has ever stuffed a nightstand full of poems/songs/stories read by no one but the author, and for everyone that has every fantasized about winning life's marathon spring in record time—”Pop Dream” was made just for you.

In our following interview with Lilly Wolf, we were able to deconstruct and explore the single from every angle. The opening slowly seeps in waves that wash in revolutions like signals from a home studio pirate-radio transmitter-antennae. The production of warping key-rotations starts the sidewalk hopscotch-can-kick percussion that frames Lilly's voice that stays mostly au naturel in the mix. This facet of focusing on the power of voice in the mix is becoming a large focus lately amongst various rising independent singer-songwriter-productions [i.e. the recent songs from Caitlin Frame], where the availability of limitless and over-abundant vocal effects has artists returning to the naked power of controlled and pointed exhalations of breath. “I can speak to the silence, play a singular refrain, I can pull back the curtain but the view remains the same,” Lilly sings while reflecting on the journals and sketch books full of unheard songs, “I've been writing pages that no one ever reads.” Emerging from the vanishing point of weeds and wild flowers from the pale horizon, Lilly Wolf utilizes an economy of poetics and production that emerges with a self-designed glamor expressed in the pop dreams ripped from the spirit of spiral bound-best kept secrets.

We had a chance to talk to Lilly Wolf about the debut of her new single, “Pop Dream”, music theory analysis breakdowns, artistic missions, running around Brooklyn, and much more.

What first inspired you to take up the balladry arts of song?

I started writing music when I was eight. I'd been playing piano since I was six, and I thought composing music was something everybody tried at some point, like drawing or baking cookies. My parents entered my first song in a contest and I won because I was the only entrant in my age group.

When did you first begin collaborating with Alex Neuhausen/Dr. Nu?

I was in my senior year of undergrad at Stanford and Alex was starting his PhD. We formed a band and played shows around San Francisco. True fact: we didn't get along that well for the first three­-ish years. Alex is pretty blunt and no­ nonsense, he doesn't mind getting a little confrontational (he prefers NYC to SF). I was a total shrinking violet and I was always inching away from criticism. Then I grew a spine. Now we're best friends. Alex taught me to produce, we both use Ableton Live and pass tracks back and forth. We get together a couple times a week to demo ideas, tweak instrumentals, record vocals etc.

How do you describe the synergy that comprised the drifting, space shifting “Pop Dream” single?

I'm gonna pull out my Owen Pallett impersonation here and give you some nerd talk about what's going on in the song.

Melodically, it's pretty straightforward. It's the only song we've written in C. The chord progression doesn't have the strongest motion, going I ­ IV ii ­ vi. No climactic V ­ I transition; instead it's a vi ­ I, which gives it a mellower vibe. The idea is more 'bathe you in sound' than 'get super tense and then release.'

We use some contrasting styles in the instrumental and vocal production. The beat is a kind of mean sound with a powerful kick and big claps, and the bass is a pretty dubby low end sound. The kind of stuff you'd hear on a hip hop track, except over the top we have these dreamy piano lines and that reverse swell sound. The vocals also switch up, going from the lo-­fi, up­front verse to the really reverb-y interlude and then to the big sound in the chorus with the doubled lead. It's like 50's jazz to chilly indie to Top 40. The 'space shifting” comes in part from all the different vocal positions: the up front vox in the verse move way back in the interlude, and then you're surrounded by them in the chorus.

If you listen carefully in the intro, we also kick the track off with some space­ shifting, as the swell sound starts in mono and then spreads out to surround you. Kind of like you're descending into this dream world.

(Lilly Wolf photographed by Janelle Claire Beranek)

There are some interesting meta­-narratives about thoughts and frustrations on song writing prose that you tell in spans of settings like, “roses in the graveyard, roses in the garden.” How do you describe your own creative approaches to song construction, and development?

Some parts of the writing are more procedural while others are what you might call inspired. Instrumental production, effects, vocal delivery, some lyrics, that's routine. That's getting up, going to a coffee shop, pulling up the track, shuffling through the plug-in libraries, tweaking settings, deleting the whole line cause I hate it, rinse, repeat. Other stuff, basic vocal melodies and certain lyric lines, I need those to come to me. I wait for them. They'll show up when I'm not looking, like when I'm shopping for groceries or eating a donut.

“I have been writing fables no one ever reads… pop dreams.” I like how that line really brings to life this parable of the obscure trove the best under­ heard pop songs recorded, you know, posted on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and left with a couple meager play counts. How do you take this kind of poetic hunger and translate that raw energy into a cool hazy pop single like “Pop Dreams”?

That line, 'I've been writing pages,' I wrote that at three in the morning. I was lying in bed picturing my work burning, reams of notebook paper and sheet music going up in flames. And it came out sounding like that. Maybe because there's a sort of resignation in it, an allusion to the inevitability of making art. All these people struggling in obscurity, athletes and writers and engineers, they fail over and over but they keep making their thing or doing their thing because there really isn't anything else for them. Like for me, it's music until my mind goes.

I also like too at some points where when you sing “pop dreams” it sounds like “palm trees.” Was that intentional in any way? The song totally has one of those “up­-too­-late” west coast electro­-dream pop vibes coasting the whole time.

It wasn't! I knew I wanted to keep the vocals relaxed, and the pronunciation is a funny by product of that. Or maybe there was some intent there that I'm not fully conscious of. I like that you made that connection.

What are you and Alex working on right now?

We're making the next album, the one “Pop Dream” is part of. We have a theme and six more songs at varying stages of completion. We have some other stuff going on too, a music video in the works and performances around NYC. We're at Pianos this Saturday!

I'm pretty focused on the album at the moment, though.

What are the two of you listening to right now?

That Kiesza song, “Hideaway”. I love her vocal line and the minimal production. Tycho, Disclosure, Julian Casablancas, Twenty One Pilots. Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, A$AP, Stromae, Rick Ross, assorted Vivaldi concertos and Chopin waltzes, occasional Rachmaninoff. I've been on an Ace of Base kick too. And Ariana Grande. Don't judge.

Is there a release or tour scheduling in the works?

We'll release an LP with about 10 songs late this summer or this fall. So far we keep putting off touring ­ it's part of this general disease where New Yorkers don't give a shit about the rest of the world. Also, with the internet, we can churn out songs from our home studio and get feedback off SoundCloud and excellent blogs like this one. So, we'll tour soon.

Parting words, and any wisdom, advice, shout outs, grievances, et. al.?

People sometimes ask us about how to get started playing music in NYC. Like what bookers we work with or clubs we play at, but that's putting the cart before the horse. The thing I always say now is, 'go find your scene.' Find people who are making music that you like and who might like your music, and hang out with them and go to their shows and start collaborating. Right now we do a lot of events with Brooklyn Wildlife and I get a lot of support from my running club, North Brooklyn Runners, what up NBR!

We received our first warning from the highly esteemed Arrington de Dionyso that we should keep watch for a band called MTNS. In our premeire of Arrington's “I Feel The Quickening” with his new project Malaikat dan Singa, we received the following Northwest prophecy:

I'm also about halfway finished with a collaboration with the Seattle band MTNS, they're pretty fucking heavy so this is an exciting project that will probably be surprising both to my fans and to theirs.

So without further ado, meet Seattle's MTNS, the dynamite duo of Daniel Enders on the drums, with Austin Hund doing all kinds of things with the bass. On their brand new video for “Limitless is the Imagination”, made by Coldbrew Collective's Aashish Gadani; you will immediately understand why these two dudes are a favorite amongst the n

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