Peaking Lights interview: “The infinite ways of writing music.”

12.01.12 Words by: Karen Chan

“I just want it to be really warm,” Aaron Coyes from Peaking Lights is saying. He is describing how he wants their music to sound, and it’s this distinctive and balmy scape that catches attention. Since the release of their fourth album ‘936’ on Not Not Fun in late February last year, this husband-and-wife duo, who recently moved from Wisconsin to California, further established themselves as an outfit that makes murky, fuzzed out and luxurious reggae pop music for the mind and the soul. Their blend of synth, keyboard, bass, and drums classily intertwines the earthly and the cosmic, something Indra Dunis indirectly admits: “it’s very felt, and probably comes from somewhere beyond the subconscious”. But after all, their forays into the sound of ‘936’ are all the evidence we need: raw, invigorating, soaked-up-the-sun, but often displaying a simple yet forceful arrangement and composure. First track of the album, Synthy, for example, is an elegant take, in which the lavish and sumptuous synth lines roam freely. The song teases with its texturalised structure, but at the same time fully expresses the aesthetic of ‘feel’ to new peaks.

Peaking Lights’ recent signing to Domino imprint Weird World brought the band to Europe and the UK at the end of 2011. It also led to the release of a ‘936’ remix single, with Dam-Funk, Main Attrackionz, Maria Minerva, d’Eon, Doldrums, Patten, Sunless ’97, Damu, Adrian Sherwood/ On-U Sound and our very own Cadenza taking charge of the reinterpretations. Not Not Fun sub-label 100% Silk are also out in force – ’936 (Remixed)’ is due out later this month, with reworks provided by associates Innergaze, Ital and Xander Harris.

How’s the tour going?

Indra: It’s great. We had maybe seven shows in the past two weeks. We got here [London] a few days before we actually started [touring]. Every show’s been either sold out or close to it. We’ve had a great response from people. It’s been fun to be able to put out ‘936’ because when it came out, I was eight months pregnant with Mikko [son], so I wouldn’t be able to do any touring. But I’m able to now, and we’re having a great time.

So ‘936’ came out at the beginning of 2011 – it’s an album I listened to a lot. The whole record sounds very coherent to me. What’s the concept of it? Is there a statement you wanted to make?

Aaron: We just wanted to make music that’s really free. We wanna make something that we really liked but also for other people, and at the same time not tearing it to anyone’s expectation. I don’t know if that makes sense but it wasn’t really conceptual, it’s more about making music as a contradiction itself.

Indra: We had to write it with the idea of it being our final record, so we wanted to have a flow and a good feeling, like an album should have, rather than just… Aaron: individual songs.

Indra: Yeah, rather than individual songs. We’d written some of the songs several months before [recording them]. We digested them, worked them out live, made and edited them a little bit better. A couple of the other ones, we wrote them in the studio.

Aaron: But I think the ones that we’d had written before helped us develop a writing style of something. We’re obviously going to be developing, but it was like a starting point, like a helpless jump-off…

Indra: I don’t think we were consciously thinking about some kind of grander plan. It was pretty natural, and just sort of happened, except for the part of our trying to think of it as a final record.

What drove you into the creation of it, then? Is there any inspiration that made you go into the studio to make ‘936’?

Aaron: Actually, yeah. It’s when we were brought over to Europe in 2010. We played at Kraak Festival in Belgium, and in the ZDB art gallery in Portugal. At the time, we had three of the songs from ‘936’ pretty much finished. At Kraak, the sound system was so clear, so good. They even had someone doing a separate moderator mix and main stage mix. When we were playing on stage we looked at each other and we’re like “what the fuck!”

Indra: Up to that point we were just playing pretty crappy amps. We had a lot [of amps] going on, and when it’s all running to the same amp it just sounds really muddy. When we had the opportunity to listen to it more spread out, and with a higher fidelity, we thought this is actually how we’d like our record to sound.

Aaron: We recorded ‘936’ in June 2010, and that tour was in March, so for the next four months, we were thinking about how to make that happen. And then Shawn Reed from Night People Records, hooked us up with someone from Flap Black Studios in Iowa City. Shaun introduced us to the Not Not Fun guys as well…

You mentioned about how you wanted your record to sound earlier, is there a sound you want to achieve?

Aaron: I just want it to be really warm.

How would you describe your music?

Indra: We both called it “fucked modern pop”.

Aaron: It’s like… dancing in the world. [laughs]

Personally, ‘936’ is something I always go back to when I feel depressed, I would put it on and listen to it from start to finish. For some reason, it heals me emotionally, if that makes sense.

Aaron: Yeah, most definitely. That’s the ideal response we’d hope to give to any listener.

Indra: We do think about wanting people to feel good, and wanting to give to people through our music. I don’t think that we necessarily expected that kind of reaction but it’s really nice to hear. It’s pretty much all we can hope for really, which is to make people feel good. It’s kind of a healing process for us when we’re writing too.

Aaron: To get it out, you know.

Indra: You get something out and then hope that you also give something in as well. It’s not very intellectual, it’s very felt and probably comes from somewhere beyond the subconscious, kind of like the higher realm.

What’s it like to be working as a husband-and-wife duo? What are your roles in Peaking Lights?

Indra: It’s great. There are a lot of different aspects here because it’s more than just your band or your project. It’s our whole life. We do it together. As a family we tour together, so it’s become part of Mikko’s life too. Touring is also a sort of family vacation. It’s very different to what I’ve experienced in the past – when I was in a van and had to leave my life to go on tour and be with people who get my nerves. I have a different lifestyle now. I absolutely compromised a lot. But with Aaron and Mikko, we’ve already chosen to be together as a family and now we get to travel and do stuff together, it’s actually really awesome. At times, there were definitely moments where it was intense because we had a lot to do together.

Aaron: Both of us are trying to be really communicative about things in our relationship, like just working through things. It’s really important for us not to hold resentments from each other. We totally cannot play a show if we’re unhappy or bummed out.

Indra: We have to clear the air all the time. We’re always talking and working stuff out. Otherwise it interferes with our music, and that just can’t happen.

Aaron: It’s a lot of compromise but it’s really good.

With writing songs and performing, do you guys always agree on something?

Both: No. [laughs]

Indra: That’s something we’re trying to get at. We don’t! We don’t agree on everything at all.

Aaron: We compromise.

Indra: We try to compromise and communicate with each other. I think that we actually do agree on a lot, especially when things are going well between us in our relationship; it’s when we have the easiest time connecting musically as well. We can really get into a flow to write and record. It goes really smoothly when, like what we were saying, we don’t feel resentful about each other. Otherwise, it’s really hard to be on the same page, emotionally and musically. I think once when we’re feeling good about things, it is pretty easy to connect.

Did going into a more hi-fi studio change your approach to music?

Aaron: It changed the approach but I don’t think it limited it in any way. It taught us about another way to approach it but there’s infinite ways in writing music…

Indra: We enjoy using the our disposal and what we had access to. Before, we used to record at home because that’s what we had. We had gears like tape machines and other stuff that we picked up at thift stores, but we weren’t able to afford equipments. We just created it that way because that’s what we had laying around. When we had the opportunity to go into a studio and had someone backing us to pay for that, we were excited to be in there and have access to better tools. We’re open to using those tools though, it’s not like we have to sound like we recorded it in a garage. I don’t think that we want to limit ourselves.

Aaron: We just wanna learn. It’s great to record stuff on our own because we’re consistently learning about how to mic some shit super weird. If we wanna get a kickdrum sound, we’d put contact mics on a chair and a board, then put them in front of a bass drum, and that would get the lowest bass sound. It’s like mic the floor and have this tiny 8 inch speaker on the floor but facing down. It’s about doing weird stuff to where the sound is made.

What do you do when you’re not working on music?

Indra: We used to own a vintage clothing store that we just sold this year. We’ve a lot of experience in retailing vintage clothing. We hunt for treasures.

Aaron: I really like to paint. I do visual arts.

Indra: I do photography too.

The cover art of the album…

Indra: Aaron did it.

It’s really nice.

Aaron: Thanks!

What’s next for you guys?

Indra: Well, we’ve just recorded another album. We spent a month, the whole of November, writing in the Mexican Summer studio in New York. I think we’re gonna put it out in the US and then Domino/ Weird World over here.

When can we expect that new album?

Aaron: Sometime in May. Pretty soon.

Not Not Fun released Peaking Lights’ album ‘936’ in February 2011

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