On a Friday in late September three young musicians performed at the Lower East Side’s Seward Park High School auditorium, clad in garb akin to the faculty patrolling the halls earlier that afternoon (and if not the faculty, at least three Teach for America participants). The rain kept us off the roof where the concert series usually occurs, but the school assembly-like atmosphere was a particularly pliant for the brightness and vitality of Chairlift’s music.

A three-way tandem of guitarist/vocalist Aaron Pfenning, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Caroline Polachek, and drummer Patrick Wimberly, Chairlift’s new record—whose song “Bruises” now rings from a current iPod commercial—represents two years hard work and an evolution from past musical dalliances.

“It is happening fast…sometimes I’m nervous about it but we’ve worked hard for two years and it’s really cool that after these two years we finally finished out first full length record, and to get this kind of promotion (referring to iPod), that’s exciting because we’re proud of the record. It’s exciting to see what the rest of the world thinks,” Wimberly says.

“It’s easier to be a band now than it has ever been. Anywhere, regardless of location, because of the internet. exposure is amazing,” referring to the osmotic transfer of music taking place via the web, where files can be thousands of places in one second.

“At least they could be…the magic is how to get there,” Polachek says.

Whether the prominent position in an Apple ad or the slow growth to critical and commercial success that belies independent label releases (their debut album Does You Inspire You was released by the indie Kanine Records), the band remains optimistic and loves the musical mecca that envelops their current residence, Brooklyn, NY. 

“I feel like, in a lot of ways, we helped to create {the Brooklyn scene} by introducing a lot of people to each other, which has been the most thing possible… People have this idea that we’re all hanging out in a house together,” Polacheck says.

“Well, that is kind of what it’s like,” Wimberly says, commenting on the band’s current living arrangements.

“…but it’s not like we’re just hanging out with MGMT or Yeasayer.  We’re very professional. People bounce ideas of each other,” Polachek says. 

Chairlift’s music mostly comes in dreamy, shimmering pop with flecks of brightness thanks to Polachek’s vocal prowess. However, their debut records jumps around in a reflection of the different spurts of recording and songwriting, as a few of the album’s songs have been in the Chairlift catalogue for some time.

“Some songs are really old. “Bruises” and “Garbage” are really old songs, then the rest of the songs on the album were literally written six, eight months before or during recording the album. The funny thing is you can’t really tell the difference between the old ones and the new ones, like, some of our most shamelessly poppy tunes like “Planet Health” or “Evident Utensil” were written towards the end of the writing for this record. Where “Don’t Give a Damn” was clearly written in Colorado,” Polachek says while the others grin along, perhaps momentarily reflecting on the artist-friendly scene of their idyllic college town, Boulder, Colorado.

“We really want to develop a unique and exciting live show that we can carry with us on our tours next year,” Wimberly says regarding Chairlift’s still-forming live persona,” and we want people to like our record and we want people to like our live show too, and like them for different reason. Because its two different beings altogether, so we want to create something {unique}.”

Though they’ve turned some of their attention toward turning up for the European tour, much of the band’s collective mindset still dwells on the music yet to come, though the strains of touring can hamper their creation process.

“I kind of thought that the whole idea finally behind becoming a band that has a lot of opportunities to tour and “do the circuit” is that it gives you the opportunity to make more music, but actually I’ve found that ever since our record went up on iTunes and the iPod commercial that every step of the stuff that’s happening and coming out is actually putting us further away from coming up with new material…you have like all the press stuff to deal with, and we’ve never been part of the grand equation before….it’s fun but the traveling is…we need to be representing the record, the child that we’ve had, but I just can’t wait to working on new music,” Polachek says, adding, “I think we’re all optimistic…we brought our recording equipment on the tour. We have this idea that we wake up on these leisurely mornings with a cappuccino and…but we don’t get back till three or four at night.”

“You’re so lazy because you don’t move around all day. You drive around not moving,” Pfenning says. 

When I asked the band about their influences, both for their music and just who they listen to, it was the wild array that I had expected from such a young and quickly growing group.  “John Maus,” Pfenning says.
            “Mariah Carey,” say Polachek.
            “I try to listen to two Beatles albums every day,” Wimberly says.
            “Tears for Fears,” says Polachek.
            “Black Dice,” says Pfenning. 

Though their influences and musical proclivities can be seen in some of these other recordings artists, Chairlift has developed a direct approach to songwriting, rather than trying to rephrase a song by Brian Eno or try to record a song as TV on the Radio might.

“We’re never not direct,” Polacheck says. 

“Sometimes we’ll steal production trends, like “we want it to sound like this,” Wimberly says.

“A lot of bands are really clever in pulling ideas from other songs, but for better or worse, most of our songs just come to us.  It’s like, alright, I’ve got this idea…it’s intuitive. It’s not curatorial,” Polacheck says, “We don’t go out of our way to write songs. They just come. Thank God.”

Chairlift’s newfound exposure is, to hang on the old cliché, both a blessing and a curse—with the newfound exposure will surely come media scrutiny from all sides. Then, if that isn’t enough, there will be an extreme amount of pressure to follow up their strong debut with a record that can overcome the strains
of the newfound “indie sensation.”

But staying in the present, Chairlift has culled from their various instincts a singular ambition:

“I hope the kids like it,” Polachek says.

Visit the Chairlift website.









© 2009

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Corban Goble

Photo by Heather East