Exclusive: Tanlines Grow Up in 'Highlights'
Tanlines might have done some serious growing up since the release of their lauded debut album Mixed Emotions, but they definitely haven’t lost their spunk. Their newest album , Highlights, which will debut on May 19th, is filled with the characteristic musical wowness that first made them famous in 2012, while still managing to add surprises, like a perfect mix of dance and chill tracks that boast the meticulous production work that went into making it. Milk Made’s Ana Velasco talked to Tanlines’ Jesse Cohen on fate, Netflix, and what it’s like to create a sophomore album.
You said that you deliberately recorded ‘Highlights’ very differently than you did ‘Mixed Emotions,’ so what was the most important part about doing this differently considering it’s your second album?
I think we wanted it to feel different because we’re different, you know, we’ve grown. So I think that as a creative person and as a person person, aging gracefully is important, and that means trying new things and changing the way you do stuff, and you don’t want to feel like you’re just doing the same thing over and over again. Even if the results are the same you want to feel like you’re growing. It’s important to us.
So we tried to work in different places and in different environments, and I would say that the biggest factor, though, in terms of how we approached this album that was different than the last one was that we wrote ‘Mixed Emotions’ in a week. We had played shows but we hadn’t really done a lot of shows with a lot of audiences at that point in our career, so we weren’t really thinking about ‘live.’ This album we wrote after touring for like a year/year and a half and started playing for larger crowds and festivals and we changed the way we played the songs from the first album, we played more live drums on top of it and Eric played more guitar on top of it and learned to project with his stage voice. Those things are the main musical influences that have changed on this album and I think you hear all of that stuff on there. Eric’s voice I think is the biggest thing that’s changed on this album and I think a big part of that – and I can’t speak too much to it because I’m not him – but that’s what I hear, and I hear him sing a bold confident voice of somebody who’s singing on stage, not just someone who’s singing in their own private little studio.
I read your essay about the experience in Pittsburgh and I love that story about your computer exploding on you guys the first day you set up studio. Had you already decided to use more drums and guitar and more raw instruments? Or was it a fate kind of thing?
I think that was more of a fate kind of thing. That’s where we started the album. Our decision to go there was really more about getting outside of our studio, getting outside of Brooklyn, and going to a different place rather than be inspiring in an emotional way. It was Eric’s home where he grew up.
Thinking about it from a songwriting perspective more than from a technical perspective, we were presented with a pretty major technical challenge from the jump – so that influenced those sessions immensely and because it was the first thing that we did, and were really very happy with (and still are) it followed us for the rest of the year. It sort of set the tone for a lot of the rest of the stuff we did on the album. But we did return to a lot of our pallet of sounds, there’s a big mix of stuff on the record.
On ‘Slipping Away’ I can definitely hear more ME than in ‘Invisible Ways’ at least in the tone, but I think that the actual character of the song still remains very Tanlines, it’s still melancholy in a way. At least that’s how your songs make me feel, very emotionally connected. I also know that this album is your ‘America album’ and I think that’s really palpable in ‘Invisible Ways.’ What is the importance of this song?
I put that essay together because I knew that that song stood out and sounded very different than the rest of the songs and I wanted to give some context for it. But I think it does fit in with the rest of the album because of Eric’s voice and the character of the song is consistent regardless of what the bed of music is. I think it’s really the thing that ties us all together, but that’s a song I’m proud of because if you listen to that song and you listen to where we started six years ago, I really feel growth. Even if the music has gone from more experimental electronic goofy to more straightforward sort of rock palette on that song I hear a real maturity and growth of song writing and presence and confidence and that’s what I want to feel. Those are the things I want to feel as a person who’s been doing this long enough now. I want to feel like I’m a confident person who knows what I’m doing and can put a song together. You want to feel like you can get into any car and drive it, not just the car that you grew up with. You want to be able to feel like you have the skills to do whatever it is.
You guys also put out this awesome website that’s ridiculously incredible. What made you make this Tanlines Netflix?
That was an idea I had for a really long time. It was one that just occurred to me, we never had a good website. For our last album it was one of those websites that had not been updated in years. Somehow instantly it was out of date, and I don’t know if you need a good website as a band, I don’t think you do but if you’re going to do it I sort of look at all of these things you need to do as a band besides the music, like videos and social media and all the little artwork – I sort of look at them as challenges in terms of how can we express ourselves and who we are. What our values are and what our points of view are. What we think is funny, we think is smart. So when I was thinking of the website, I was thinking of how to make a website that speaks to who we are and one that people will actually enjoy looking at and share.
So I just thought about all the time I spend looking at the menu screen of Netflix. You can sit on it for 30 minutes trying to find something to watch and that’s unheard of in terms of how people use the Internet. Actually my original idea was to make a music video that takes place on this screen. I thought maybe there’s a way to tell a story on this menu screen, and then that idea evolved into ‘this should be our website, ‘ and it kind of grew from there. I think we pulled it off pretty well, our friend Teddy Blanks said this is what you have to do, it’s not hard to do it and then our label built it.
This makes me wonder, what’s the last thing you watched on Netflix?
Hmm. That’s a good question, the last thing I watched on Netflix was probably – I just started the ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ that new show. Have you seen that?
I haven’t seen it yet, I heard it’s really funny.
It is funny, it’s a little dark for me.
Dark? The last person that told me it was funny said it was really cute.
It is cute, I actually think it made it on our website under dark comedies. It is cute and it’s a Tanlines-y show cause it is bright and sunny but there’s this underlying darkness to all of it. It’s about a girl who was captured by a cult for 10 years and now she’s out in the world and is super naïve and it’s funny, and bright and cute, but there’s this bed of real darkness and sadness under it. It’s funny though.
You guys originated in Brooklyn right?
That is true yes.
What’s the biggest difference you’ve seen from then and now?
I don’t like to dwell on the differences, it’s changed a lot, but I don’t want to be the guy who is like ‘oh my god ten years ago it was so different and so much better.’ It’s changing. Some of it’s good and some of it’s bad. There’s neighborhoods that I used to be able to live in or want to live in and go to that I don’t anymore, but you know its just NYC has always changed a lot. I wish it changed in a more responsible way and a less savage money driven way than it does these days. But, it’s part of the story here. I’ll say the condos that are everywhere, it’s visibly changed in that respect the most I’d say. The skyline of Brooklyn has changed the most. That would be my answer.
So if you had one day to do anything you wanted without any repercussions what would you do?
So I have to do it all on one day? I can’t go to Italy?
Oh, I mean I guess if you stole Air Force 1 or something.
Mhm I mean I guess that’s what I’d do. I’ve never been to Italy and I’ve always wanted to go there. I think I’d fly there, have a great meal somewhere and fly back.
That sounds nice. Ok, finally describe ‘Highlights’ in three words.
Our best album.
Pre-order Highlights here
Photo by Columbine Goldsmith