Chairlift's 'Moth' Is Taking Flight

    liftoff

    by paul caine · January 22, 2016
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    Photographed by Amber Mahoney. Photographer's assistant: Jill Schweber.

    The following feature appears in the February 2016 issue of NYLON.

    “It was kind of like the end of Jurassic Park,” says Caroline Polachek of the studio she and her Chairlift bandmate Patrick Wimberly built within a former Brooklyn pharmaceutical plant. “Everything was water-stained, and there were cables coming out of the ceiling.” It was early 2015, and after two years of touring, the pop experimentalists had returned home to make their third album, Moth. But first they had to find a place to lay down some tracks, and the semi-decrepit old Pfizer building fit the bill.

    There weren’t any other tenants around them in the cavernous space, so Polachek and Wimberly had free rein. “We could get in there 24 hours a day,” says Wimberly, “and be as loud as we wanted.”

    In a way, wandering into the ruins brought Chairlift back to their DIY roots. At the plant, there were no high-priced producers to be found—just an abandoned loft, a bunch of instruments, and a stack of songs. Not so different from when the band moved from Colorado to Brooklyn in 2006 along with then-bassist Kyle McCabe and joined the borough’s burgeoning scene. Back in those days, “kids were experimenting with loop pedals and homemade synthesizers, and it had this craziness to it,” says Polachek. “You didn’t have to be a musician to get into it. You didn’t need to know your way around a keyboard.”

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    Photographed by Amber Mahoney. Photographer's assistant: Jill Schweber.

    Alongside pop-minded peers like Matt & Kim and MGMT, Chairlift cut their teeth playing countless concerts—an endless rotation of underground venues, converted lofts occupied by people with really chill neighbors, and little clubs that sprouted up in storefronts gone vacant during the recession. And then the band released “Bruises,” a mesmerizingly minimal first single from Chairlift’s 2008 debut, Does You Inspire You. Apple picked the song for an iPod Nano commercial (remember those?), and Columbia Records came calling. “It was weird,” recalls Polachek. “The country was in a recession, and I had a job after graduating from art school. That’s not how it’s supposed to work!”

    Over the next couple of years, the band dropped from three members to two, toured the world, and released a sophomore album, 2012’s pop-focused Something. Although it lacked a breakthrough single like “Bruises,” the album was slickly produced and eminently danceable, and it reached some influential ears—including Beyoncé’s. At Queen Bey’s request, Chairlift wrote and produced the standout “No Angel” from 2013’s Beyoncé. The track is a triumph of negative space, with reverberated handclaps and icy stabs of synth periodically piercing the void. The collaboration was a dream come true for the band. “I was a closet Destiny’s Child fan in high school,” confesses Wimberly, without a trace of shame. “But I played in punk bands. I used to hide my Destiny’s Child CDs from my friends. I don’t hide my fandom anymore.”

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    Photographed by Amber Mahoney. Photographer's assistant: Jill Schweber.

    There’s a pronounced R&B influence on Moth, which is easily the band’s strongest and most focused effort yet. The songs are sultry and maximalist, and the production is expansive—Moth sounds just as good in headphones as it does on the dance floor. “We built a studio that did exactly what we wanted it to, and we explored the productions in a deep way,” says Wimberly. Polachek calls the album “super-saturated, with everything as vivid and colorful as possible.” That’s clear on Moth’s upbeat bangers, like “Romeo,” which juxtaposes wide electronic washes with a driving beat, and “Ch-Ching,” the album’s dubbed-out first single. But it holds for softer numbers like “Unfinished Business”—probably Polachek’s finest vocal performance to date, with Björk-like glissandos that float from strength to vulnerability and back again.

    The album also marks a high point for Polachek and Wimberly’s creative partnership. “Patrick and I have very different impulses musically,” explains Polachek. “He’s drawn to really warm, soulful music, and I tend to gravitate to icier, formal music. We temper each other’s impulses, and we’re not afraid of sharing one another’s judgment.” It also helps that both have other projects to keep them busy. In 2014, Polachek released a solo album, Arcadia, under the moniker Ramona Lisa, and Wimberly has a side gig producing and mixing artists like Tune-Yards and Das Racist. “We realized that Chairlift doesn’t have to be an outlet for all of our ideas,” adds Polachek —“Just the ones we both like.”

    Tags: music, chairlift
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