Long distance duo, Marcus Whale and Travis Cook have come together once more to release a fourth full length album. Today they release their second single, Everything I Want, off the forthcoming album and announce a Sydney show on March 23 at the Red Rattler. We chatted about collaborative tech, pop and becoming an android.
BYO: Why was the end of 2018 and the start of 2019 the right time to come back to the Collarbones project?
Marcus: It took this long. It took this long to finish enough music that we were satisfied with. We've never really been one of those groups that makes fifty songs and throws out 40 but there was a phase shift. When we released the last album our label closed down and maybe the world changed as well. We made another album entirely, before this current one that we are finishing now, that sounded really different. That previous album will never be heard, [it] was way darker and kind of industrial and it took a while to get back into making pop music which is what this album is and there was that whole process that is quite fraught these days of finding a label, deciding how to release the music.
Travis: We had that backlog of tracks, when we were young we would do something and release it. It's also good to let it sit with us, to see which songs we actually like.
BYO: I read that AI, the first single off this new album, was produced in 2016, so what's that two-year process like of producing the song and getting it to an album and releasing that?
Marcus: To be perfectly honest it was even frustrating getting from 2016 to 2017. If you decide that you want to look for a label you have to go through all these conversations with people who are maybe interested, but in this landscape it's like ‘Are we going to be bothered to spend this much money on something unless we know it's definitely going to be successful?’ That two year process was basically us going, ok, we're going to use a distributor and go that way.
BYO: You’ve been producing music together for more than ten years now, how has your working relationship changed and how have the technologies that you use to collaborate changed as well?
Travis: I'm still uploading my ideas onto Mediafire. It hasn't really changed fundamentally, just certain things are easier.
Marcus: In some ways we built up this mythology that we were like constantly sending things back and forth, and slowly building up music, but I feel like it's always been large bits of songs and maybe sent one direction, maybe back, sometimes not sent at all, so it's like not this hectic process, but I have heard about these apps or software that you can use to keep track. It's completely normal to have a collaborative document or have things in the cloud, and be able to track every step of the way what's happening.
Travis: Write lyrics in Google Docs.
Marcus: Well we haven't done that before, we're very behind the times.
BYO: In using these technologies in a way that they are not designed for, or using the most up to date, cutting edge software, how does that affect that in your creative process as well?
Marcus: In the earlier era of this band it was very much about the digital low fi and just treating the material really disgustingly and seeing what would happen, seeing how it would sound on the way back and it's funny, it's become completely different now, and in some ways that sort of style of music has become lost. I remember in the noughties it was almost fashionable to make digital low fi music which was misusing software but I think our ears are very attuned to these things and we crave something that sounds more rounded or more full.
Travis: I guess it's easier and cheaper to make things that sound amazing.
BYO: I wanted to ask about pop music and what that means for you. Pop is derided for being artificial but then it can also be a really authentic way of expressing yourself, and allows you to lose yourself in music. What's your approach to pop music and what's the value you draw from placing yourselves within the pop genre.
Marcus: I think the pop argument was a thing that I participated in when I was young and in high school on the basis of trying to make a statement about who I was, like ‘I am very indie and alternative’ and but now it's super important to me, at least in terms of the drama of it and the theatre of it, which is something that is forgotten sometimes when we talk about music. Music is a performing art like it's something that depends on more than the kind of abstractness of music. I do love dressing up and making videos and I love watching that stuff and that's how I consume pop music, it's through the context that it's couched in. In some ways in an ideal world this project would be really high budget and we would have very high concept videos that went for ten minutes but that's not where we're at, at the moment but that's still the headspace that we're in.
Travis: I guess ideally we would be sneaking experimental ideas into pop world.
Marcus: Our music isn't that experimental anymore.
Travis: But I guess that's relative.
Marcus: It's relatively less experimental than it was, but I think it's better than it was as well.
Travis: We're not ashamed…
Marcus: We were not ashamed before, we were just not very good at producing.
BYO: I guess we're in a moment where there’s an investment in pop in that it can be so much more than what it is criticized for being, but in a way it always has been.
Marcus: When you make art about something or reference something, it's never as powerful as the original. I think about that with that Lily Allen song, Hard Out Here. It was a parody of the expectations of women in the pop world, and the reason why I hated that song so much was because it sounded like a pale imitation of something that can be very honourable and powerful. The things I think is so amazing about music like Charli XCX's music is that it takes that pop sensibility or idea of pop and rather than stepping away from it and being distant, it dives right into it at its queerest and most experimental and most garish and powerful.
Travis: Pushing it to 110.
Marcus: Yeah, taking that idea of authenticity and throwing it out the window and playing with the texture of pop. In a sense it's not quite that new, Pet Shop Boys are the classic example of that kind of thing, in this futuristic zone, in this post internet world, the texture is so heightened and android. Anyway I don't think we make music in that world, as much as maybe we would like to.
Travis: I would be into becoming an android.
BYO: If you had the gigantic production budgets that you could ever wish for, what would you want to do with Collarbones?
Travis: I feel like we would have a lot of fun with music videos.
Marcus: I would just love to be able to pay people properly, and give them what they deserve. I think also on an artistic level I would live the live show to have more in it, to support me singing at the front. I would love it to be confronting and weird and intense in a way that I can't do with my body. You might see more of that when we start playing shows. It'd be just incredible to play shows with something really wild and sculptural on stage. I've always wanted to be suspended…
Travis: Like Pink's Funhouse Tour.
Marcus: Honestly she's nailed the ‘I have a lot of money so I'm going to do something entertaining with it.’
Travis: You have to come in in a huge orb, floating.
Marcus: All those arena shows, you have to be suspended over the audience at some point whether in a glass box or on a harness, I would love to have some kind of flow-y garment and to be an angel, but this is not something that will ever happen at the Red Rattler or Oxford Art Factory.