The Golden Filter: “It’s always good to stretch your wings.”

21.09.09 Words by: Charlie Jones

This week, we’re releasing the Golden Filter ’s terrific new single Thunderbird here. We’ve been chatting on Skype quite a bit, and last night I interviewed them. They are actually really down-to-earth, unassuming and terrifically smart.

First, some thoughts on the Golden Filter.

Penelope and Stephen make up the New York band. Dummy signed them to the label a few months ago, and they’ve got really pretty popular. One reason that the band is so interesting is that on the surface, they say a lot of things about the musical world at the end of the decade. They’re a disco band making electronic music, cherrypicking influences from psychedelic rock to soul to disco to EBM to the further reaches of polyrhythmic music. Their persona is famously guarded and they have garnered no small name in the online world.

Of course, all this web shit is entirely meaningless when it comes to the actual act of listening. Their music is personal, emotional, fresh and weightless and belongs ten thousand leagues from the world of the internet, soaring high somewhere else. The Golden Filter make amazing, personal and strange music, and are as perfect an argument for the timeless power of pop music as I can think of right now. No joke.

I suppose I’d like to speak about the ideas behind the single. Um, what are the ideas behind the song?

Penelope – The thunderbird is a mythical creature from Native American mythology, predominately from the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and all that, though it does translate into other North American cultures. I was reading about the Navajo nation, and that’s where some of the lyrics come from. They have this summoning of the dark thunderbird to guide them through the purification ceremony, funniy enough against mental illness. It’s very deep in a lot of ways, but we’re just trying to be lighthearted about some of it. Running with it in a dance realm.

Are you a lighthearted band?

Stephen – Generally you can look at it in different ways. In some ways, you could see this psychedelic disco funk thing in this complete Alice in Wonderland fantasy meaning nothing. But in other ways, that song and others are incredibly important to us. Even if no one else will get it! It doesn’t really matter how other people perceive us, but it’s not…

Penelope – Generally speaking we’re not that frivolous. There is meaning – we’re not just gonna want to talk about partying.

One of things I think is really awesome about you guys is how personal and affecting your singing is. I mean, it’s not faceless, but it’s not droning on about going to KFC, either.

Penelope –Yeah, I mean I think the voice itself is a tool to tell a story. It’s really easy to just talk about the mundane. But if you can tell something more important, it doesn’t matter if everyone gets it, what matters is that someone might.

Stephen – Even with Thunderbird, it relates to us in some ways. Of course it means a lot in native American culture, but it doesn’t necessarily relate to us unless you think a bit harder.

Penelope – Hopefully if people are listening to the lyrics, they are very visual and transport the visitor into some other realm. If they can. If they want.

Stephen – It’s much more exciting to write about your own life using amazing imagery rather than just – staying in. [laughs]

Penelope – That’s part of the art I guess. It’s all about trying to create an image as much as a feeling.

How do you mean?

Penelope – Well, I think it’s something about how you use certain words and what they describe. I don’t know if you know but ZZ Top did a song called Thunderbird, and there’s loads of others, and the car obviously. So there’s so much to get away from! So then with our song, there’s the lyrics, with “storms”, and “cliffs” and so on.

That’s really interesting you talk about all those pop culture references, because your music, unlike so many other disco bands’, doesn’t feel self-consciously retro.

Stephen – Yeah, I think that say some bands just take things and run too far with them. Like taking some eighties drum loop and pushing it too hard. And you’re like “Wow, you really killed that.” In a lot of the songs we’ve redone the eletric drums with real toms. No point in replicating the eighties fake drums, let’s play with real sound. It’s a lot more timeless.

Penelope – We try to incorporate things from the past but make it progressive. I was thinking as you were saying all that, that with fashion, I’m a big fan of vintage stuff, but I can’t stand it when someone wants to wear something “vintage” and they go all the way, and everything they do is from that one look. Why not look at now for inspiration?

Stephen – I think that can come from when bands have stylists who tell them – Right, we’re gonna make you loo “eighties” or when they have a producer who makes them sound really eighties. That’s one of the reasons why we want so much control over what we do – it’s nice to have that power to pull the plug.

Do you come from DIY backgrounds?

Stephen – Yeah, pretty much everything I’ve ever done has been self-taught.

Penelope – Wheras I studied in classical, operatic vocals.

Oh really?

Penelope – Yeah, but I couldn’t stand it. Being told to be in this box and do in this way, which I can’t stand – I want to do it in my way, with my voice! So, that was an element of the do-it-yourself philosophy.

Does that come out in the music?

Stephen – It’s taken a while to come in, but it’s getting there.

Penelope – It’s not an easy fit, but it’s such a particular style, but there are elements there.

I’m curious about musical influence – what’s lingering there that might not be expected?

Stephen – You go through so many phases, don’t you? So, you know, you go through a phase of listening to psychadelic rock and you harbour a desire to make an album that sounds like the first Pink Floyd album. It might never happen but that’s what you want. Then you listen to Gang Of Four and want to make guitars that sound just like Gang Of Four.

Penelope – It’s all these sounds, from funk to post pin, and you just can’t do them all, but you want to make something that carries some of the philosophy through when you’re listening to it.

So, you’re coming over to the UK this week. Are you looking forward to it?

Penelope – Yeah, absolutely, it’s always good to stretch your wings. For me, I lived in London for a while.

Wow, I never knew that.

Penelope – Yeah, I lived on Primrose Hill.

Stephen – Working as a flight attendent.

Penelope – Shhh…

Wow. Good work?

Penelope – The work was terrible, like I wouldn’t do it again if you paid me a million dollars, but it was fun and I got to fly to less touristy destinations like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and all over the Middle East. But whenever I get back to London it always feels like home. Though Stephen tells me off, because I apparently act like a local. Like “Let’s go this way!”

Download Thunderbird here. Buy it on vinyl from us from the 16th November or DJ-friendly kps from beatport

The Golden Filter’s myspace