When the indie-electronic band Tanlines landed on the scene in March 2012, their arrival was one of great commotion. Vogue.com named them Band of the Week, referring to their work as "a perfect balance between the forlorn and the blissful," and Rolling Stone enthusiastically called their album, Mixed Emotions, "unexpectedly poignant." In the months following their debut, the two-man band has realized a whirlwind of hype that is rarely given in the cutthroat world that is music, and when it is, it's well-deserved. When not accumulating further glowing reviews from Blackbook and Pitchfork, they have been busy playing with Yeasayer in Central Park and touring the country. They have even been claimed as a favorite new group by J.Crew's Jenna Lyons.
Their third music video, "Not the Same," debuts this week and was, as band member Jesse Cohen put it, a "labor of love." Directed and produced solely by Cohen and his partner Eric Emm (the lead singer of the band), the minimalist style of the video is similar to their past works: a creative idea effectively executed without overwhelming, overly-thought-out concepts and complicated graphics. This clean, simple new video is purely Tanlines. I was fortunate to talk with Cohen about the concept, direction and creative process.
KC: What can you tell me about the concept of the video?
JC: The concept of the video was basically what it would look like if we played every part of this song live. We never get to do that because we perform as a two-piece band and we use a lot of electronic stuff live.
So, going off of that -- what would this song sound and look like if there was a whole band playing each part separately -- we thought we could illustrate that in a video.
First, we talked about getting a group of musicians to play each part as a big band and then we thought, why don't we play all the parts ourselves, put it together and make it look like one band made up of versions of ourselves playing the various parts; to break out all the parts and make it a performance video.
KC: Throughout the video, the viewer sees different personalities emerge as clones of you appear in a variety of outfits. How did you guys come up with that idea and what do the characters represent?
JC: We had fun with it by making different characters for each instrument and each is a different part of our individual personalities. For example, the drummer guy in the glasses is the librarian/archivist Jesse and then the guy with the drum machine sampler is more of a hip hop Jesse. Then there is the uncle character and many other versions of ourselves playing the song. The two front people are the real us. And at the end it cuts to a very real, raw version of how we play live.
KC: You worked with Kat Typaldos, a stylist who previously worked for W magazine and has incredible eye for style and high fashion. How was it working with her on this video?
JC: Kat is a friend of mine, and we sat down and told her we wanted her to dress us in six or seven different ways and described the characters and she went out and got a ton of stuff for us to choose from. The most important thing we told her was that we want it to be really subtle. No crazy wigs or costumes. Each character idea is supposed to be a real person. She did an incredible job embracing the subtlety of it... more than most people would.
KC: The set in the video is quite simple and minimal, yet it makes a perfect stage for the visuals of you and Eric. Can you tell me more about the overall aesthetic that you guys were going for?
JC: I like that it turned out looking like a video that came out before the era of technology existed to make it. It's kind of got a '90s VHS feel. You know that movie, Multiplicity, where Michael Keaton plays every character in it? That was mind-blowing and amazing for the time. Today, that's not a tough trick to pull off, but I think our video harkens back to a time when that was hard to do.
KC: As you and Eric produced and directed your first video, what was the experience like?
JC: Bringing the idea to life, by directing and producing the video ourselves, was a whole new process. We wouldn't have been able to do anything without people like Kat. We learned a lot. I think we pulled it off, but you can tell it's a pretty DIY production, it's not slick, which is part of who we are and I am embracing that.
We shot it in two days, and then it was a long, two-month editing process where we were able to see our technical limitations and get the best product out of it. We wanted to do way more than we actually did.
KC: How did the two of you divide -- or share -- the tasks as producer and director?
JC: This has mainly been Eric's project -- he has taken the lead on it. I was the producer and he was more the director. One of my responsibilities was sourcing the piano, so I scoured Craigslist and had a guy drive it down from the Bronx the day before the shoot. It was pretty sketchy, but it all came through for us. I'm embracing the rough edges around this, that we're not professional directors yet.
KC: In one part of the video you drop an instrument, which I assume was a real accident, and when I saw your live show this fall I remember there were some minor technical difficulties with the computer. How you do feel about those situations when things don't go quite as planned?
JC: I like to think that whatever goes wrong on stage or in a video we can make up for by being very open and honest with our fans. And if they know us and trust us, they know we are working as hard as we can for them. I try to do that and I hope it comes through in this video. It was a labor of love -- we wanted to do it ourselves, and make something special to show a different side of us to our people.
KC: Changing the subject from the video, as a band, Eric is the main voice for the music, yet you are the public voice of the band for Twitter and most interviews. How was the dynamic established?
JC: It just kind of worked out that way. Eric writes the lyrics and I will occasionally give him ideas and help, but he doesn't like doing the interviews and stage banter. It's not his thing. He has a hard time expressing himself that way. And he is happy to have this dual-front-man thing going: he's the singer and writes, and I am the hype man. I'm more the politician and he's the mysterious, brooding artist. I enjoy talking to new people much more than he does.
KC: And what about singing? Will we ever hear your voice in a Tanlines song?
JC: I hear more melodies than I can actually sing. I don't have a great voice. I like to sing, but I never do it -- I'm not a singer at all. Who knows? I'd like to have an album where I sing one song. First, I need to discover what my true range is... which I already know is very narrow.
KC: Not many people know the meaning behind the name Tanlines. What does the name actually mean?
JC: We came up with it because we needed to put a song on the Internet. Now when I explain the meaning of it, I say that it's the meeting between where the sun hits and where it doesn't. And the music we make is the same -- some of it is sunny and some of it isn't.
KC: The band's symbol -- an emoticon of a winking sad face -- really sticks in the head. It's memorable. Where did that come from?
JC: That is something I started to use on Twitter a lot, and I sort of adopted him as our logo and mascot. It's the mix of sad and happy at the same time which I think is very much like our music. It's like the saying, "same shit, different day" -- something can be sad or messed up but you can still make a joke out of it. It's a grown up emoticon. After using it for a while, we thought, let's own this guy -- this is ours. It's part of our vibe and it makes sense and it works.
KC: You guys are just finishing a tour and headlining at Webster Hall this week. What is next? What can the fans look forward to?
JC: We're basically winding down and getting focused on writing the new album over the winter time.
There is no right or wrong way to do this. You figure it out as you go along and it takes a long time and a lot of work and that's it. We'll grow together, with our fans, that is what I believe.
Find out the latest from Jesse Cohen and Tanlines on Twitter: @tanlines
All images used with permission from Tanlines.
Follow Kirsten Chilstrom on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kirstnchilstrm