Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly are Chairlift, a duo whose arty synth-pop has been going strong since their debut record, Does You Inspire You, was released in 2008. After their second album, Something, was released in 2012, they took a breather. Polachek recorded a solo record under the moniker Ramona Lisa, Wimberly worked with tUnE-yArDs and Empress Of, and the two wrote and produced the song “No Angel” for a quiet little release known as Beyoncé’s visual album.
But now Chairlift is back with Moth, their first record in four years. Here, Rookie gets a sneak peek at “Crying in Public,” a timid song about opening yourself up emotionally when you’re out in the world:
“Like the peach you split open with two thumbs, I’m the half without a stone,” Polachek sings. “And my heart is a hollow with a space for your own, or whatever you want to do with it.”
I talked to Caroline and Patrick about the inspiration behind the song, and how the band has changed in the past few years.
HAZEL: What inspired this song?
PATRICK: This song was written during a week where Caroline and I were sharing a bunch of writing and songs. We wrote five or six songs that week. We started this song with a beat that was sort of inspired by a 6/8 beat, a certain type of rhythm that you might hear in some Michael Jackson songs, or there’s a Tears for Fears song like that. We were just adding some grooves and Caroline was thinking of some different melodies. In that process, Caroline brought up some lyrics about something that is very personal to her. On this record we really gave each other a lot of room to work on different things. We wanted this record to come from a personal place.
CAROLINE: At the time I had just started seeing someone who, about a year later, would become my husband. I had this realization that this is someone I was seriously in love with. The song was written about one of those moments that I think a lot of people have, not necessarily when they’re falling in love, but this moment where you’re being humbled. Where you’re sort of caught up in the bullshit of your day and there all these little worries, all these things you have to get done, and something so small all of a sudden wakes you up to the fact that life is overwhelmingly beautiful. Sometimes it takes a person to do that to you, someone who makes you stop and listen. So this was a song about that realization happening in public. It’s not necessarily crying in public because something bad happened, but the feeling of becoming very small and humble.
Something that feels new is how so many of the songs on Moth are very direct love songs. Patrick mentioned you both wanting to come at this album from a much more personal place. Were you consciously trying to explore love specifically, or was that a natural progression?
CAROLINE: It wasn’t a conscious effort to write more love songs, but more of an effort to put my feelings on the table. In the past, I’ve been more interested in abstraction and making weird, surrealist, sometimes humorous, arrangements of words. I think our song “Amanaemonesia” is the best example of that. This time around, I wanted to not just take the challenge of making these songs completely understandable, but also making everything come from real life. It required a certain level of bravery.
You’ve mentioned before that Moth is a “New York record” and “Crying in Public” really seems to highlight a very universal New York experience. What about the city did you want to communicate on this album?
CAROLINE: We recognized New York as being so important to us and inspiring to us in its energy. We really want to capture our version of the energy of New York on this record. It might not translate to everyone, but it was a process for us going into it. I think “Crying in Public” specifically deals with scale because New York is a place where you can feel so big one second and so small the next.
It’s been about four years or so since you released Something. Aside from opening yourselves up more lyrically, how would you say Chairlift as a band has changed in those years?
CAROLINE: Well, this is our first self-produced record, and I don’t think we could have done that at any other point in our career. All the work we’ve done individually and together these past four years hasn’t just given us the confidence to do this ourselves, but now we know exactly what I wanted out of it. Patrick has been doing a lot of production and mixing outside of Chairlift, and I did a solo record last year. I learned a lot about translating a sound you have in your head, through the computer and every step to mixing and mastering on my own. We both came at this record with a huge amount of personal education.
PATRICK: I was about to use the same word, education, as dorky as it may sound, though I don’t think that it is. This time I feel like we knew exactly how we wanted to make a record. We had a good idea of how long it would take and what it means to give yourself time to experience things and to experiment with things in the studio. There were years of education working with amazing producers and then knowing from the beginning we had the experience and the knowledge to do it ourselves.
CAROLINE: That said, we’re eternally optimistic. We always think something is going to take much shorter than it does. [Patrick laughs] We’re like: Yeah, this will be out in a year! And then it’s four years later. Patrick and I are both in our 30s, and there’s also the sense that we’re grown-ups now. We’re fully committed to making this music and that sort of changed our mindset. When you’re first getting into this, and young musicians will probably know what I’m talking about, there’s this sense that you’re not legit. You need to prove to other people that you’re legit. Then after doing it for 10 years, you wake up and realize, Wait a minute, nothing anyone says or does will make this legit, it’s just the fact that I keep doing it and doing it. This is my real life. That in itself makes it legit.
Regarding the production, and also experimenting with music, I feel like there are a lot of different types of music on this record. I think “Ch-Ching” kind of threw critics off to start with, and then there’s a lot of R&B, some disco, and it’s very brassy. Did you both have any musical reference points or genres you wanted to explore on Moth?
CAROLINE: The music we listen to is so all over the map. That’s always been the case. We met essentially as DJs at a college radio station. But I think on this record we really wanted to capture the feeling of being on the street in New York. It sort of comes with its own exciting mix of different things. But in regard to “Ch-Ching,” we definitely released that one first because we wanted to surprise thing, we knew it wasn’t what they would expect from Chairlift.
While Chairlift certainly seems like the priority now, is producing and songwriting for other artists something you want to do more of in the future?
PATRICK: I like to think that it’s more about writing and producing more songs, all the time. I think for me and probably Caroline too, that’s when I’m happiest. I just love being in the studio, and I like producing new things. That’s my favorite thing to do. And whether it’s for Chairlift or for other artists, for me or for Caroline, I like doing all of it. So if somebody tells me I get to do more of that all the time, I am allllll gung-ho for that.
CAROLINE: I think we’re really energized working on more than one thing all the time. I actually can’t imagine never not being that way.
PATRICK: And sometimes it’s best to just let good songs be good songs and let good production be good production. I mean it does matter who puts it out or who the artist is, but if it’s a good song it’s a good song, at least in my opinion. [Laughs] If there is a song that is truly good, I just want to find a way to get it out into the world. ♦