Friday, August 20, 2010

Exclusive interview: Stay Ali

Today we give you an exclusive interview with one of the great young hopes in Swedish electro – Stay Ali. They released their debut EP, ”Vat:Auhlau”, on Monsieur Adi’s label Technofavrik just before the summer. We met up with Bård and Elias from the trio (unfortunately Johan couldn’t make it) over a couple of beers. The interview lasted for two hours and we recorded it on a cell phone, which made editing hard but necessary work.

Here’s the interview after we boiled it down to the essentials.

What music do you listen to?
ELIAS – Wow, I listen to pretty much anything. Really, from hits to more indie stuff.

But are you out there on the blogs searching for music yourselves?
ELIAS – No, I wouldn’t say that.
BÅRD – But when you’re in the industry, so to speak, you get a lot sent to you which make you find quite a few cool bands. I also think that all of us together have a really broad taste in music. Johan plays and listens to a lot of jazz for example, and I listen to a lot of classical music, and jazz too.

Well actually, you can tell that you get inspiration from a lot of different music and that there are elements from different genres in your music. Some blog wrote that you mixed italo disco with this whole house thing, and we think we hear some techno too...
BÅRD – We don’t always aim for a particular sound.
ELIAS – No, exactly. Pretty often you listen to an artist or a song, and then the production kind of move in that direction. Then it depends on a lot of other factors too of course.
BÅRD – We’ve been doing this for four years now, and you can really notice that we’ve changed genres completely. Well, not genre maybe, but the sound at least.
ELIAS – And sometimes we go back closer to what we did before and other times we distance ourselves even further.

What kind of music did you start out making four years ago?
Both Bård and Elias laughs.
ELIAS – It really started out as a joke. It was really weird...

Four years ago, you were still in junior high school then right?
BÅRD – Yeah, ninth grade. It started out with me being over at Elias’ place eating crisps with my laptop. I had just started making some electronic music. We found this project that a friend had started on, that we thought was so bad.

Everyone starts laughing.

BÅRD – It’s good laughing at how bad it was after choosing to make a song out of it. Anyway, it ended up being our first song, and was called ”Korvhuset” (the sausage house), and I still have it on my computer.
ELIAS – But to our second song we made a MySpace page where we uploaded it together with a music video. The desire to make a music video was greater than doing the actual music production. We made a weird song and a weird video...

Which song was that?
ELIAS – It’s called ”One Fish”. It’s on YouTube.

We’ve seen that, but there isn’t an mp3 out there, is it?
BÅRD – No, probably not. In those days we used to meet up all three in the evening, and then we made a song and a music video, all in the same evening. Mainly, it was the whole process that we enjoyed, and then we maybe ended up with a video that was fun to watch. We didn’t really have a clear idea with what we were doing, it was more just about having a laugh.

So you didn’t have the idea that ”tonight we make a song and a video, and then we take it to a label”?
BÅRD – Hehe, no that wasn’t the plan. But it always ended up on YouTube the same night though.

You’ve already told us about your broad music taste, but what sort of music did you grow up with, and what are your favourite bands?
BÅRD – The band I listen to the most is Esbjörn Svenssons Trio (a Swedish modern jazz band), Frank Zappa is really good, and then Gorillaz actually.

Those three are a pretty interesting combo...
BÅRD – Oh yeah, and Bob Hund too.
ELIAS – I’m not really “in the know”, I have a more ordinary taste. But my father listened to a lot of 60s music, and I grew up with The Beatles and The Beach Boys who I like a lot. Lately, I’ve listened to Of Montreal and Fleet Foxes, and Grizzly Bear are my absolute favourites. And I’ve started to listen a lot to Dungen too. Well, that’s the sort of music I listen to I suppose.
BÅRD – I think you can see some sort of pattern there.
ELIAS – Exactly, Grizzly Bear also feel inspiringly broad, almost like jazz sometimes.

Yeah, they’re very interesting. You can hear that they’re inspired by a lot of different things.
ELIAS – Yeah, totally. It feels like intelligent music somehow.

Speaking of intelligent music, it feels like your music is very intelligent, like you have a lot of thought and knowledge behind it. It shows that you, unlike a lot of other artists, are musically schooled. Like your track “97” for example. You have mixed together a lot of different kinds of music in that track. It has these clubby house or techno sounds, but the slow tempo and the harmonies makes you think of classical music.
BÅRD – When we did that song we had listened a lot to Aeroplane’s remix of Friendly Fires ”Paris”.

Stay Ali - 97

Friendly Fires - Paris (Aeroplane Remix ft. Au Revoir Simone)

Yeah right, it has the same slow but steady beat.
BÅRD – We’re a lot into that sort of thing. It’s not really a party track, but it’s not mellow either. I like that. That’s how the whole EP turned out I think.

We’ve noticed that the bpm counter says ”97” as in 97 bpm. Is that why it’s named that?
BÅRD – He he, yeah, that’s why. We thought it was an unusual tempo.

Yeah, it’s rare we listen to songs slower than 97 bpm…
BÅRD – There are a lot of 128 bpm tracks around, especially remixes. It’s been a while since we last made one, but we’re currently working on a remix of the song “Backseat” by Stay Gold where Salem Al Fakir is singing. He’s got an amazing voice that is great to work with. That song is like 140 bpm though and three or four other artists are remixing it as well, so we figured they would slow it down to 128. Which is why we’re thinking of slowing it down to somewhere around 105.

The strengths with both Aeroplane’s ”Paris” and ”97” is the tempo. They’re quite slow, but still energetic. There’s the Computer Club edit of Aeroplane’s remix that kicks it up to a more ”workable” tempo (130 bpm), just as Datassette has done with “97” (115). We like it, what do you think of it?
BÅRD – He’s really underrated. I don’t understand why he hasn’t got more plays on his MySpace. He’s made a great remix of Röyksopp that's on their EP, for example.

Stay Ali - 97 (Datassette Remix)

How do you know him?
BÅRD – Well, we don’t really know him. I just thought he was good and he wasn’t super big. So I shot off a mail to him.

Two remixers on the EP and you took contact with both of them yourselves?
ELIAS – We met Owl Vision during a gig down at Deathelectro’s club (I love Electro) down in Gothenburg , and turned out he was a great guy…

He’s more trash electro...
BÅRD – He calls it deathelectro actually. Don’t know if he maybe created that genre… I can’t think of anyone else who is so “death”…

So where do you think electro will go from here if you get the chance to be spokespersons?
ELIAS – I think the tracks that will get big will have some sort of finesse to them. Take “Backbeat” for example, I can’t really put my finger on what it is, but it’s just like no other song I’ve heard. And “Paris” is another track that I’ve thought a lot about how it sounds.

Yeah, there’s something that sort of sticks with you, and make it stand out. Some of all this 80s influenced music sound very much alike. You sort of lose the artist somehow. You recognize the song, but can’t really place the artist. ”Paris” takes two seconds and you know exactly what track it is.
BÅRD – Yeah, it can be a unique sample, a synth hook or a riff that stands out. I think that’s what it takes to make a ”hit”.
ELIAS – A bit smart… Intelligent electro. And I have to add, when I heard Datasette’s Röyksopp remix, I got this feeling that ”this is the new electro”. Maybe it doesn’t work for everybody, but it’s unique somehow.

Elias, you mentioned earlier that he grew up with a lot of 60s music through your father. It’s a thing we’re interested in. What kind of music you’re brought up with, so to speak. So what have you grown up with Bård?
BÅRD – Me and Elias has known each other since we were born actually, so we have always listened to the same music really. I listened to The Beatles and The Beach Boys too; The Beatles already in kindergarten even.
ELIAS – Then we listened to more rock in primary school. I even bought a striped jacket, a white and blue striped one, which I wore with red Converses. So it was more Ramones there for a few years. They really are some sort of geniuses, in the way that they’ve been able to make evergreen hits with only three chords in a song.

Karma Tree is featured on one of the tracks on the EP, are they the ones who are singing?
BÅRD – Yeah, it is. It was actually a song of theirs that we were supposed to make a remix of. But it ended up being a completely different song that had nothing to do with the original anymore. So we asked the guys if we could have it and credit it as our own and feature them instead, which was fine by them.
ELIAS – They’re also a Stockholm band and about the same age as us. We don’t really know them that well, we’ve only met them a couple of times.

What are your roles in the band? Have you like different strengths, and is there a lot of arguing?
ELIAS – Sometimes actually, and more so now than before. In the beginning you could let things slide, knowing that you got that back later. When we were younger this thing didn’t matter as much as it does now, but now everyone put their foot down when they’re not satisfied.
BÅRD – We usually get together at Elias’ place, where we make the music together. Sometimes I may have started on a song, but we always meet and discuss the song and talk things through.

Ok, so who makes the actual production and the harmonies?
ELIAS – Bård does the rhythms and beats, and more of the production.
BÅRD – Johan is really good on harmonies and stuff. He makes a lot of the composing.

What about these gigs? How long ago was your last and when is the next?
ELIAS – We had two gigs last May, but sadly I couldn’t participate.
BÅRD – The last gig we played in a church. It was a new electro collective here in Stockholm with a lot of young bands, and we were invited to play. They had removed all the church benches and they had smoke machines and stuff. The reverend was a sound engineer, a man in his 40s with worn tattoos. It was a pretty different gig.

Have you got any favourite artist you’d want to remix or have remixing your stuff?
ELIAS – Maybe it’s cheesy, but it would be cool to be remixed by someone really big. So you just get your stuff out there.

Who’d that be? The Swedish House Mafia or David Guetta?

Everyone laughs.

But if David Guetta would call you personally and beg to remix one of your tracks, would you say no?
ELIAS – No we wouldn’t, we don’t gave a lot of pride in that way. We take whatever we can get.
BÅRD – Maybe it’s boring, but I think Boys Noize is really good.
ELIAS – Danger would be awesome. He’s big AND he’s good. He would be the coolest to be remixed by. And I would love to remix Sébastien Tellier if he asked for an official remix…

What are your plans for the next release?
BÅRD – We have actually thought of releasing an indie EP. It wouldn’t be unplugged, but it would be guitar and piano and Elias on the vocals. And with indie we mean like MGMT and Jamaica.

Do you feel you have an advantage because of your backgrounds in classical music, playing instruments and going to music schools?
BÅRD – I’ve actually thought about that. Mr. Oizo, who’s one of my favourite producers, and who I by the way would love to be remixed by... I suspect, but don’t know for sure, that he hasn’t got a musical education. In a good way I mean.
ELIAS – Either he got lots of education or none at all.
BÅRD – His music is pretty fucked up. It’s bizarre, but extraordinary at the same time.
ELIAS – The thing with a musical education is that you learn the rules of how to make music, but also how you can break those rules.

What’s your most embarrassing song that you like? You know, a song that you’re not really supposed to like?
ELIAS – I have to say Rhianna’s ”Rude Boy”.
BÅRD – I choose the whole OC soundtrack.
ELIAS – I actually downloaded Jason Mraz’ ”I’m Yours” recently, and that’s pretty embarrassing.
BÅRD – Oh, and I came up with another one, ”Fireflies” by Owl City.

So what’s the feeling with Stay Ali now, does it feels like you’re on a roll? That stuff is starting to happen?
ELIAS – I often use to think that things are about to happen, and then it doesn’t.
BÅRD – But there’s always little stuff happening ….
ELIAS – Right now there are a lot of small things happening. This blogging thing is new to us. It’s great that people write about us, and there have been a lot of that recently.
BÅRD – Plus the”Vat:Auhlau” EP is on iTunes.

You were really young when you started out. How does that show? A lot of stuff happens between ages like 15 to 20. How have your production changed during these years?
ELIAS – We have always wanted to make these pumping, energetic tracks. But now when we have started to go out, that feeling has diminished. But making more ”mature” music comes automatically I guess.

Funny you should say that, because you’ve always felt more mature than most artists your own age. It was hard to believe you’re teenagers when you listen to your tight and well produced music. So what’s in the future? Where do you want to be in, say a year?
ELIAS – We hope the future is bright…
BÅRD – I’ve always dreamt about producing some vinyls, and that’s actually what we’re going to do with ”Vat:Auhlau”.
ELIAS – We want to get out and play more. Get out in the world. We’ve played in Italy, Holland and Norway. And we hope that Monsieur Adi’s connections in France can land us a gig there.

Lastly, you said you didn’t want expected questions like “how did you come up with the name Stay Ali?”, but we have to ask anyway!
ELIAS – Haha, we were actually thinking about that on the way over here. We have a few different stories, or variations of a story, because the real one is pretty boring.

Let’s start with the real story.
ELIAS – Ok, there was this girl on my MSN that called herself Stay Alive. She had seen that crappy horror movie with the same name, which we hadn’t seen at the time. And when I minimized her on MSN it said “Stay Ali...”. I started to call myself that on MSN and had that name six months or so. And then we stood there without a name... Well, Johan had the suggestion that we would call ourselves My Female Bodybuilder.
BÅRD - ...Which was so bad…

Everyone burst into laughter.

ELIAS – We didn’t come up with anything else, and then Stay Ali sort of stuck. And then we saw the movie and it was horrible.
BÅRD – It was really really bad.

That was a good story, but what have been the ”official” story?
BÅRD – Ok, we actually told this story to Too Many Sebastians, but they didn’t know it wasn’t true, haha. The story was that I had a friend called Ali who was from Iran. His parents decided to move back and we started a campaign among our friends that he should stay. Everytime we saw him we shouted “stay Ali”. We even started a Facebook group and everything. They moved to Iran anyway, so we took the name to always remember him.

Well, this was a lot of fun! Thanks for a nice interview guys! Tracasseur wish you good luck in the future.
BOTH: Thanks a lot, and thanks for the interview!

Stay Ali - Time [Tracasseur exclusive]


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