Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm of super-duo Tanlines are currently STILL riding on a wave of success generated by Mixed Emotions, which was released in the spring of last year; that magical, musical wave will send them to Webster Hall in NYC (11/29) and the Black Cat in DC (11/30), so you should snag tickets if you haven’t already. I caught up with Jesse for a bit yesterday morning, and we talked about the record, how it was to work with Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh on the video for “All Of Me,” and all kinds of other important things, including but not limited to the history of air-quotes. So please sit back and enjoy!
So typically at the beginning of an interview, I like to ask, “How are you doing?” but I think for this one I’d rather ask, “What emoticon would describe your mood today?”
Oh, I don’t know, maybe something with eight smiley faces.
Awesome. That’s a good one. So Mixed Emotions has obviously been super well-received, but the thing I was going ask you about…I’m always really interested to hear how bands react to these really…just, poetic little blurbs about the music that gets written up. I mean, I’m sure for the most part any positive review would be flattering, but it’s just crazy! Like, one for you guys was, “The synth-aided beats of “Yes Way” clattered as if they were fashioned out of wooden sticks and planks, a globe-trotting beat...” I mean, again, I’m sure it’s super flattering to hear something like that, but do you guys ever read some of these things and just feel like the statements are a little out there?
Honestly, I’m always just interested to see what people hear when they listen to our music; they’re never going to hear what I hear, so I’m just interested in seeing what they do. I would say one of my favorite reviews was a guy who just wrote about how he and his girlfriend broke up and he listened to our album a lot.
That’s cool, that’s really nice. I mean, just on my end, I sort of appreciate that it’s this year-round record. You know, I have plenty of music that I can only listen to during certain times of the year depending on the season, and this one seems to have just the right balance that you could listen to it any day. Like even today, for instance; I’m pretty sure it’s snowing right now here in Brooklyn.
Oh, I’m here. I think it’s what they call a “wintry mix.”
Exactly! That lovely, technical term. But yeah, I think it works really well, and that’s something I really appreciate as a listener.
Thank you! I’m always happy to hear you say that, instead of…some people are like, “This is a summer album,” you know? And that’s not going to work for us.
No, I think it’s definitely more complex than that, so good on you!
Thank you. If I had to say which season is most appropriate, I would pick either the spring or fall, because those are combination seasons. Like, summer and winter are just hot and cold, but sort of the whole MO of Mixed Emotions is all mixed everything. So it’d either be spring or fall.
Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. So I was also curious to know if you even recall what sort of things (if any, besides your own) you were listening to during the writing and recording process. I know that a lot of artists get so focused that they don’t really listen to other things, but I was just wondering if anything kind of played out influentially or subconsciously on the record depending on what you were listening to.
You know, I’m sure there are; I don’t have an answer for it. It’s hard to say, because when you’re writing and working on an album, you spend so much of your time listening to your own stuff, and that’s sort of what you’re focused on. I hear a lot of things in our music, but I don’t really like to say one thing or another; I kind of leave that up to a person who writes about music, because I think it’s their role, not my role.
No, that’s true; when I write something, I’m not going to sit there and analyze what’s happening; it’s nice to see what other people can pick out of your work. Now, some of your songs have been featured on TV shows like The New Girl, which is kind of exciting, but I was going to ask you about how that process works. Do they typically approach you to ask your permission to use a certain song on the show?
Yeah, it’s someone’s job to pick music for a show, and if they’re fans of our music or someone suggested it to them and it works, then they come to us and let us know how they want to use it and gauge what we think about it.
So have there been any that you’ve turned down?
I’m not sure…nothing important or worth mentioning. No, I don’t have any good stories where they wanted to use it for something and we said, “NO! We hate that! We like this!” I don’t have any stories like that.
Well that’s probably a good thing. I would actually like that job, I think. Like if I weren’t doing this, I think it’d be fun to be the person who soundtracks shows and movies.
I think it’s called a music supervisor.
Yeah, that’s it. That’d be a fun one, I think. But speaking of television, I was going to ask you how it was working with Howard Moon, aka Julian Barratt, on the video!
Yeah, that was great! I mean, that was a very, very cool experience, because he’d never made a music video before, and he did it because he wants to start directing more. He put together a really good crew of people who were fans of his who wanted to work with him, and they were just super professional, super friendly people, super good at their jobs. We’d exchanged a few emails with him, and he was like, “Here are some ideas that I want to make a video for you guys, and here are some references.” And we looked at them, and they were all hilarious and weird and super smart, and we were like, “Yes. Do what you said in these emails.” So then we went to London, and he did what he said in the emails; he made pretty much exactly what he said he was going to make, and I think it’s weird and dark and funny, and it looks great. So, yeah.
No, I think it’s fantastic! So did he just email you out of the blue, or did you know him beforehand?
We didn’t know him, no. We put together a list of people we thought it’d be cool to work with, and we mentioned him and a bunch of other people, and someone we were working with was like, “I think we can maybe make that happen.”
So cool. I probably would’ve dressed up as Old Greg every day and ruined everyone’s lives or something.
(Laughs) He’s a very cool, very humble guy.
That’s awesome. Well, it came out fantastically.
Have you seen the new video?
Which one is this for?
“Not the Same.” It came out today.
NO! I haven’t seen it yet!
Okay, well as soon as we hang up, you should look at that!
I will definitely, definitely watch it. Now, working as a duo, I know you guys are good friends, but how (if they come up) do you typically settle creative differences? I mean, do you do thumb wrestling or flip a coin or something? How does that usually work?
It’s usually if either of us feels more strongly about a thing, we just do that thing.
Well that’s a good way to settle it. Very diplomatic.
Yeah, exactly. And it all sort of evens out at the end.
Cool. Okay, so you guys will be in Boston, then New York, then DC, then Philadelphia, and then what will you do with the rest of the year?
That’s not enough? (Laughs)
I mean, that’s pretty plenty, but maybe not even career wise, what are your plans?
We go to Miami also, and then I think that’s kind of it for the year.
That’s nice. So then you’ll have some downtime, hopefully?
We hunker and we huddle and we discuss the next phase of this whole thing.
Nice. And since the holidays (in general) are quickly approaching, I have to ask if you send any holiday cards, and/or do you receive holiday cards in the mail? Because I’ve gotten to the stage in my life where people have started sending me holiday cards, and while some of them are fine, others are very long and braggart-y and not very fun to receive in the mail.
Personally, no. I’ve never done that, but I think it could be funny if the band had a holiday card.
Totally, you guys should do that!
But we don’t have any addresses. Like, I don’t have anyone’s mailing address.
Right, yeah, I don’t think I really do, either.
Yeah, I’m not sure what I would even do with them. Do you have one?
A holiday card or a mailing address?
No, do you do the cards!
No, I have not done those before, but I’ve toyed around with the idea of sending over-the-top fictional Christmas cards to all the people I get the worst ones from. Like, “I live in a cotton candy cloud in Brooklyn and play racquetball with Woody Allen on Tuesday afternoons.” That sort of thing, to kind of be like, “Look, asshole, I don’t care about how great your life is in rural America. Please stop holding your stability over my head.” But I haven’t done it yet because I don’t want to cause any rifts.
I come from a long line of people who have not mailed holiday cards.
That’s lucky for you. Now, how about New Year’s resolutions? Do you do those? I mean, it’s a little early to be thinking about them I guess. I never do them because I know I’ll just end up disappointing myself after like three days.
Oh, you know, the old “exercise more,” “eat better,” “be nicer to everybody,” “answer emails faster,” …your basic starter package of New Year’s resolutions.
That’s good, that’s good. And just in terms of this year, 2012, what would you say would be a main highlight and/or lowlight?
Okay, we’ll only talk about highlights.
Okay good. Keepin’ it positive.
I’d say absolutely for me and for us the highlight was releasing this album and getting it out to the world, enough that six months later we can still be playing shows for it and finding new fans everywhere we go. You know, that’s absolutely a highlight, and I don’t take it for granted. It definitely didn’t have to happen that way, and I think it’s the product of all our hard work. That’s definitely the highlight. If you need me to be more specific, I would say…that I would rather not be more specific. That was the highlight, I would say.
I think that’s good! I mean, it’s fairly specific all things considered…I mean, it’s been 365 days (or slightly less at this point.) Now, obviously you HAVE been working super hard at this, so do you have any closing words of advice for…maybe not even just musicians, but everyone? Like a motto or something like that?
Well, my mantra is that there’s no right way to do life, so I would say that. The problem is that when I say it, I put air-quotes around “right way,” and I think if your mantra has air-quotes in it, you’re definitely doing something wrong. So that’s my mantra, and I’m trying to get better at saying it without the air-quotes voice.
Well maybe that will be your New Year’s resolution: figure out how to not air-quote the mantra.
Yeah, that’s a good New Year’s resolution, is to just abandon air-quotes.
Yeah, maybe I’ll adapt that for myself. I could probably use a dose of that as well.
Does anyone know where that started? I’m sure there’s someone out there who did it first.
There has to be. I mean, it’s kind of genius in a terrible way.
It is. It was an evil, hilarious genius who created those.
So you should probably “go” to the Tanlines “shows” tomorrow at Webster Hall and Friday at the Black Cat. (And also probably join us in the crusade to abolish air-quotes.)