ROOM8, photo courtesy of artist
Drive your favorite movie? Synth your jam? Love to dance or mellow out in style? You've found your perfect match. Ezra Reich and Nic Johns of ROOM8 are here to answer a few questions about their infectious music, impressive collaborations and future plans for Transduction, their exciting new album.
You've mentioned that you are hugely influenced by films both with synth soundtracks and with traditional soundtracks. Can you name a few films that have really inspired your music? In what ways did the different style of those songs manifest itself in your music?
It's more the feeling of a song being "cinematic" then actually emulating any sound or soundtrack. I think we both love when a song is redefined by a film or a scene in a film by a song. Some examples are Lynch's use of "In Dream" in Blue Velvet, "Putting out Fire (With Gasoline)" in Inglourious Basterds, or even the way Britney Spear's "Everytime" was turned on its head in Spring Breakers.
I think we feel songs in a very cinematic way, if that makes sense. In terms of specific films and soundtracks, the key is, "Is the soundtrack a lead character in the film?" Some examples of this would be Bernard Herman's score for Vertigo, Tangerine Dream's score for Risky Business, Jack Nitzche's score for Starman, and Giorgo Moroder's score for Scarface. None of those films could exist without the music, which plays a lead character. The common thread between all of these examples is that music is used in combination with visuals to create a contrasting fantasy. This is the feeling we look for and that we make music from.
How did the collaborations with Polina (feat. in Eminem's "Legacy"), King Deco, and Little Boots come about? What has the reception been like from your fans in regard to all of your newest work?
We love collaborating with singers and other artists. It's one of the best parts of the current music industry, the amount of collaboration. It's very healthy and, as an artist, it's very fulfilling to be able to have a defined sound yet have many twists on it based on the process of collaboration.
ROOM8's Ezra Reich, left and Nic Johns, right
In terms of the three new collabs you mentioned, we were put in touch with those artists by people we work with and all three gelled with what we were doing and did a phenomenal job. Both "No Hard Feelings (feat. King Deco)" and "This Place Again (feat. Polina)" have come out and had a fantastic response. We got support and show dates from Neon Gold, one of the labels we respect most in the biz, radio support from John Schaefer at WNYC Soundcheck, and Hype Machine love on both, hitting number two on the main chart.
Some of the bloggers and writers we respect most have written great things and we have gotten amazing messages from fans. We are very excited to put out the song with Little Boots soon.
You collaborated with Electric Youth on your track, "Visions of You," in addition to "Without You" on their debut album. You've made amazing music with them that sounds virtually seamless. Individually, you do have similar sounds, but in what distinct ways do you think your musical styles differ?
Well, they are a two piece with the same singer on all tracks and we bring in other artists and are a more collaborative model of a band. (Although live we do have one singer.) They, so far, have used an eighth note synth bass as the backbone of almost all of their songs which you don't find as much with us. Overall, the collabs we did with them definitely share a sound but individually both bands have their own sounds and identities.
"Right Way" by ROOM8 feat. Ian Young of M83
You've teamed up with so many amazing artists -- Ian Young from M83, Martha Davis of The Motels, Richie Zito... Sometimes when an artist's ideas are challenged, there might be a bit of sensitivity or defensiveness involved.
I'm sure you've had many positive experiences, but if there were disagreements, how did you handle the situation? Compromise? Sticking to your guns? Or throwing out the project completely and starting fresh?
When collaborating with an artist you have to have a balance of compromise and sticking to your guns. For the most part we have always seen eye to eye with the artists we've worked with which is why we did those collabs. If people are on the same page musically and don't get overly precious about anything it's a fairly seamless process. Just like anything though, there has to be trust and mutual respect between all parties.
I've read in multiple articles (some of them dating a few years back) that your debut album, Transduction, was anticipated for release but with no definitive date. One article mentioned that Transduction "is anticipating a 2014 release." Why the holdup?
Sometimes the business of music can really affect the release an artist has. When we started ROOM8, the first thing we did before we had any social media or remixes or logo or anything was to make a 14-song concept record. I think this helped define what it was that we were getting ourselves into, but it wasn't the easiest way to try and launch a project.
We don't exactly live in a very album friendly climate to begin with, especially for new artists. We had this piece of art we were really proud of without a plan or way to get it out effectively. It's one thing to work a single or EP independently, but much harder to be effective [in that method] with a full-length, challenging album.
Photo courtesy of ROOM8
"Visions of You" and "Geo" (both from Transduction) got signed to Win Music and came out as an EP with some remixes. There were talks of raising money to make an animated film à la "Heavy Metal" and releasing the album as a long-form video.
Basically, if and when the right partner emerges for that particular record you will see it come out in all its glory. In the meantime, we are working on songs and music all the time and energy always goes to whatever is newest. Only time will tell the order of things. But we do play a lot of the material from the album in our live show.
Speaking of your album, you've mentioned the theory of transduction, or the conversion of environmental energy into neural energy. "The meeting of style and substance." To you, this means a debut album with songs fit for a soundtrack -- telling a story, perhaps aiming for a certain escapism from reality where one is completely engulfed in something other than themselves.
Is this still your goal for the album? Has the initial concept for your debut remained the same over the years, or have you decided to go a different direction?
Well, the Transduction album is 100 percent what you just said. It's a pseudo-soundtrack concept record filled with songs, instrumentals, collaborators both old and new, and this is what we love. These ideas are part of who we are musically and weave their way through all of our work.
Some filmmakers have flirted with the idea of using our entire album as the soundtrack to a film, which is a release plan we would love to see happen.
Your music has been described as a mix of new and old, a perfect conglomeration of modern retro appeal and vintage stylization. In addition, your music is often referenced as a nod to the 80s.
Do you personally think these are accurate descriptions of your music? What, if anything, would you change about those statements to make them seem more fitting to your musical style?
A mix of old and new? Sure. We love good music. Great songs. Great soundtracks. Rock, Pop, New Age, Disco, Heavy Metal, New Wave, New Romantic, Doo Wop, Synth Pop, R&B, Rap. If it's good we like it. What's "good" in our eyes? Great melodies, great sounds, timeless songwriting, not following trends or fads but being the artist you are without having to even think about it at its core.
Personally I think the nod to the 80s is a cop out by writers a lot. I mean, we love music from the 80s but that encapsulates all the styles we mentioned above. In addition, a lot of music in the 80s was heavily influenced by pop music of the 50s. I think the most accurate thing about the 70s and 80s is that if you make electronic music, then the bulk of the roots and origins of that music come from that period when those instruments really came to fruition.
Photo courtesy of ROOM8
In our case we hear a big difference in quality and listenability between the hardware synthesizers, both old and new, both analog and digital, and the VST's or software synths. We choose to now be exclusively hardware-based in our recordings. In the 70s and 80s there were no software synths, so in that way we share a process with electronic music of that time and use many of the original instruments made at that time.
But that is also a wholly modern way to work again and many of the original synth companies, such as sequential and moog, are making fantastic instruments again that many musicians use. So synth music is modern again. I think when you hear the growth of pop music in the last couple years with records from people as diverse as Empire of The Sun and Tove Lo to Todd Terje and Jessie Ware and on and on and on, are those artists 80s? No. They are the sound of the best of modern pop music.
That's the music we are a part of in our own unique way, because this is the time we live in. But hey, we both have huge 80s record collections and love almost every record of that time. I mean, I think our generation grew up in that time, so that is our motherland of pop culture and I think we both couldn't be more grateful for that.
Preach! So you hear this a lot, but your music often sounds like an extension of the Drive soundtrack. However, your sound has had the same style for quite some time, before the soundtrack came to be.
Do you find it exciting that so many people love music that is so similar to your own, or does it push you to try new things? Break out of that mold, in a sense.
ROOM8 & King Deco collaboration, right
I think if you listen to our work starting with Transduction and through "No Hard Feelings" and "This Place Again" and then to the new music we are making (which isn't out yet), you would hear a big change.
First, on the technical side, when we made Transduction we were reliant on software synths with a smattering of hardware. We are now exclusively hardware with a vast arsenal of synth treasure and you can hear the sound change in that way. Also, the writing is currently more pop. It's still all us but the mixes and songs are more in that vein, although through our own unique sound.
The bands and artists we love have a sound that they carry with them throughout decades. Things change and evolve, but there should always be a through-line. In terms of the Drive Soundtrack, we think that it had such a big impact because people hadn't heard good song- based electronic music in a long time and it married to the film so well.
We are happy whenever anyone wants to use any quality piece of work as a point of reference for us. As you said, we were making music like we do well before Drive came out. It was very reassuring to see people respond so well to that soundtrack when it came out.
Ezra, your father, Steve Reich, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who pioneered minimal music in the 60s and is said to have influenced many other composers and groups, even in contemporary times. The New York Times has described him as America's "greatest living composer."
You must feel incredibly proud of your father. However, I can also imagine feeling like you have these massive shoes to fill. What are your thoughts on that?
I'm proud of my father's work and really love a lot of his music. Music for 18 Musicians is a personal favorite as well as Sextet, Vermont Counterpoint, and the Desert Music. He has accomplished a gigantic amount and came along at an incredibly innovative time in music, being involved in early tape loop phasing pieces, and in doing so, almost inventing the modern use of sampling in a way.
He's a great guy too. We love talking music together and amazingly I think we inspire each other at this point in our lives. I'm very grateful to have grown up with those rhythms and harmonies in my ears. In fact, his mother was a pop songwriter back in the day, so music is in the blood of the Reich line. When someone is family, they are family; not the figure that others may see someone as. I know him from so many angles. Couldn't be a more down to earth person out there. He's also a huge fan of ROOM8. His current favorite is "No Hard Feelings." I've heard him singing along in his studio all by himself. No joke. He loves good songs.
Nic, you produced indie rock band Kitten's self-titled album. Rolling Stone ranked it #16 on the 20 Best Pop Albums of 2014. Pretty impressive. What was that experience like for you? Had you ever produced for a female vocalist before?
The experience was really great. Recording took place over the course of four years from the time Kitten got signed to Atlantic/Elektra, to the time the record was released. We worked really hard on the songs and were all really happy that it got noticed by Rolling Stone.
Chloe Chaidez of Kitten, featured in Rolling Stone
I hadn't really worked that closely with a female singer before. Chloe Chaidez is a great singer and fun to work with -- just a bonus that her and Chad Anderson wrote a lot of great songs. Gavin Mackillop, who co-produced the album, worked with Ezra and I on Transduction, mixing the record and lending his ears. So we all ended up being a big family that will hopefully work together in the future.
You have a lot of collaborations in the works -- you've chosen to work with LA-based artists Holychild, Fiona Grey, and Mereki. What criteria were you looking for when putting together the lineup for your residency? What is your dream vocalist collaboration?
We worked with Fiona Grey on her latest single and we have a collab with her and Leland that she's putting out next. Holychild and Mereki we really hope to be doing tracks with soon but nothing is started yet. But yes, all of those artists and more will be joining us in our August residency at Dirty Laundry every Tuesday in Hollywood.
We really just pulled out a bunch of our talented friends for the residency. These are all people who know and respect each other and we are very proud and honored to present all of them and highlight the camaraderie in the LA nu-pop scene.
In terms of dream vocalist collaboration, there are really so many. We would love to work with an older legendary artist like Phil Collins or Kate Bush, or even Smokey Robinson or someone of that ilk. In terms of current artists, I can personally say Tove Lo, Robyn, Dev Hynes, and Sia all would be amazing.
I'm definitely onboard for a Tove Lo/Sia collab! Is there anything else you'd like to add about your music, collaborations, performances, fans, etc?
At the end of the day, we are both big music and film dorks. We get super excited talking to each other about new synths we get, new rare vinyl finds we uncover, a new movie with a cool soundtrack we discover. But we also make sure that everything we do has our proper stamp of style and substance, modern and classic, and just be us. It's the strongest thing anyone can ever be.
ROOM8 Residency Roster
Special thanks to FancyPr for being awesome, as always. For more information about the author, visit laurenkruczyk.com.