Even though we’re only halfway through it, it’s already safe to say that 2012 has been a good year for Tanlines. After previously making the blog rounds for their 2010 EP Settings, the Brooklyn-based duo of Eric Emm (vocals/guitar) and Jesse Cohen (synths/percussion) released their first full-length Mixed Emotions this March to great acclaim. Characterized by spacious, ebullient productions, anchored by Emm’s pensive lyrics and delivery, Tanlines’ songs already sound familiar on the first listen. From breakout track “All Of Me” to the more mournful “Not The Same,” Mixed Emotions slides easily into heavy rotation, especially when the sun is out.
I met with Cohen and Emm backstage at the House of Vans in Brooklyn before their show with The Rapture to talk music videos, America, and youth.
You just finished your first tour after the album came out. Any good stories from the road to share?
Jesse Cohen: Great shows. Everywhere we went, we met people who were really excited to see us play, and it was fantastic. I would say the best non-performance day we spent in Northern California, near Mount Shasta. A friend of a friend just moved out there, to basically the wilderness. We went out to his house and he made us this incredible dinner. He’s like a four star chef, he’s a private chef. He cooked us an incredible dinner, it was in the middle of nowhere, and it was really special. It was great.
Do you write a lot on the road?
Eric Emm: No, we don’t write at all.
EE: Is that something a lot of people do?
EE: I think if we were in a situation where we were being driven on a bus or on a bus tour, we would probably play around with that, but we’re pretty DIY kind of guys.
JC: We do a lot of things ourselves, so there’s not a lot of time to write. It’s just the situation we’re in, when we’re touring, we’re driving ourselves around.
EE: Touring is touring, and writing is writing. There’s a place for it all, and they haven’t yet met in the middle for us.
When you get the chance to write properly, what comes first, music or lyrics?
JC: It tends to be music.
EE: Almost always. But I think that down the road, it would be fun to do it the other way, or try to. It’s just one of the things we haven’t done yet that would be nice to do, or to try at least.
“All of Me” has made a lot of summer jam lists. What’s your ultimate summer song?
JC: That’s a good question. What’s yours?
“Girl” by Beck.
JC: Good choice.
EE: How about Pavement, “Summer Babe.”
JC: Mine would be…I don’t know.
EE: Just pick one. (laughs) It’s hard to pick just one summer song.
I saw that playlist you did for New York magazine.
EE: (To Jesse) Just pick one of those! Pick “Soul To Squeeze,” you want to.
JC: “Soul to Squeeze,” good choice.
The “All of Me” video was pretty great. How did you get involved with Julian Barratt [of The Mighty Boosh]?
JC: It was just serendipitous. We had talked about wanting to work with someone who wasn’t a traditional music video director and he was someone who was looking to direct a music video, and it just worked out. It was a cool thing that happened.
There are some other British comedy actors who have also done great music videos, like Richard Ayoade and Peter Serafinowicz.
JC: Yeah, he did that Hot Chip video.
He did a couple, “Night and Day” and the one with the fake boy band [“I Feel Better”].
JC: Yeah, love that video.
EE: This was Julian Barratt’s first, he’d never done it before. He’d never directed anything before.
You just filmed another video. What song is that for?
JC: Also for “All of Me.” You’ll see, I don’t want to talk about it, because we haven’t seen it yet and we’re not sure when it’s coming out. It’s possible that it will be not something we like, we don’t know, so I would rather just wait and see.
It’s just a different way of seeing things
JC: Exactly. A more American way, I would say.
EE: It’s a little brighter.
Do you feel definitively American?
EE: Yeah, I think we’re kind of like Skynyrd in that way.
JC: (laughs) I know that people respond to our music much more here than anywhere else in the world, having traveled to a lot of different places. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I feel like there’s something very American about what we do. I’m not sure what it is, I’d like someone to explain it someday.
Well, here you are, playing at a skate park. We just need a bald eagle to fly over.
JC: Yeah, skateboarding is really American.
EE: If I had to broadly generalize, I think that Americans are more comfortable with contradictions. In the rest of the world, they categorize things a little bit more, if I had to broadly generalize street sociology, that’s what I would say.
People make a big deal out of youth in music, but you’re both in your 30s. What do you think it would have been like if you were a decade younger and trying to make this album?
JC: I mean, we wouldn’t have made this album if we were in our early 20s. I think that the reason that young people thrive in music is because they’re fearless. They don’t think, they just do stuff, and we definitely had that phase of our career also. Now we’re at a phase where you can start to look back on your life, and that comes later. There’s a different sort of emotional energy that comes out of that, and that’s what we’re doing right now. I try to channel that fearlessness when I can, but you can’t fake it.
So it’s about not forgetting you were young once?
JC: You have to be sort of fearless in a way to be a professional musician, no matter what, as a career. That’s always part of you. But I do think that when you’re first starting out, you don’t even think of yourself as a professional musician. You just think of yourself as making stuff. A lot of bursts of creativity come from that. Now we’re at a phase where when you’re 30, you want to figure out what it is that you’re good at. You don’t want to keep repeating your mistakes, you want to be like, “I learned something in my life, and I’m good at these things, and I’m going to do those really well.” So as long as you don’t think too hard about it, in music, it can be really good.
I can hear that in your songs.
JC: I hope so.
What do you think is the strongest defining quality of your music?
JC: I don’t know. Honesty, I would say.
EE: The strongest defining quality? Yeah, it’s just us. Just us being us, and that will change over time, and I think it’s interesting.
Jesse, you’ve mentioned wanting to shift the relationship between artists and journalists. What do you think that relationship should ideally be like?
JC: I don’t know what it should ideally be like. Musicians and music journalists, they’re both people who love music and have dedicated their lives to it. So in that way, we have a lot in common, right? But it’s like cousins. You share the same DNA, but you grew up in completely different places. I don’t know, I respect and I’m on the same team as anyone who has sacrificed and dedicated their lives to music. I don’t have a good answer. I think it’s just a weird, interesting relationship to me. They have a lot common, but we’re very different people. I don’t know. I don’t have like, an outstanding beef, it’s just an interesting topic for me. Like, what is the difference between someone who loves music and wants to be a musician and the person who loves music and wants to write about music. Where does that split happen?
For me, the split happened because I can’t play anything.
JC: Anyone can play music, you just have to decide you want to do it. I’m not saying anyone can be a successful musician that people want to listen to, but there’s nothing stopping anybody from trying.
EE: It’s easier than ever. You can make a great song on your iPhone with GarageBand, copyright Apple 2009.
How much do you keep track of what’s said about you?
JC: I don’t know. Mostly whatever comes through my Twitter feed. That’s sort of my window to what people are saying about us. It’s interesting to me, I won’t lie. It’s interesting to me to see what people think about the music we’re making. I don’t care that much, it’s just sort of interesting when I want to be self-reflective.
The lineup for this show is great, especially because you’ve worked with Luke Jenner of the Rapture before.
It’s interesting, I was reading this article with Busy P talking to James Murphy about how “House of Jealous Lovers” was like the “Blue Monday” of the last decade.
JC: I see his point. I don’t really know what “Blue Monday” was like when it came out, though.
EE: That’s what I was going to say.
JC: “Blue Monday” is also the “Blue Monday” of the “House of Jealous Lovers” generation, as well.
EE: True, true.
JC: I can remember hearing that song when it came out and being pretty excited about it. I actually saw the Rapture once play in my friend’s basement when I was really young, that was pretty cool.
So, what’s the best thing about living in Brooklyn and being a Brooklyn band?
JC: The food.
EE: Definitely the food.
JC: Having a show a block and a half from our rehearsal space. We were joking on our way over here that this couldn’t really literally be any closer to playing in our practice space. I mean, it’s so close.
Any particular food?
JC: I mean, New York…
EE: It’s littered with food. Literally!
JC: They’re making probably amazing food right there.
EE: I don’t know what that is! The truck here! It’s delicious! I haven’t had it, but I’m sure it’s very good. But in particular, nothing.
JC: It’s all good.
EE: I wouldn’t want to single out any one place out.