Why Techno RuleBreaker Avalon Emerson Traded Club Bangers For Featherlight DreamPop
Avalon Emerson has spent the last decade creating techno as complex as it is restorative; expensive synth tunes and pastoral epics more suited to a jungle bath than a nightclub. The Arizona native is particularly known for his daring DJ sets, where industry legends Coil can collide with the hyperpop of Two Shell and the Cocteau Twins find intersections with the album Italo. He likes loud, well-placed samples and random pitches that surprise.
But with his new project, Avalon Emerson & the Charm, he's moved from eclectic club music to a singer-songwriter style that he doesn't know what to call it. "I think 'pop' is an everyday term, but it's also general enough to be specific," he told me via Zoom from London's Notting Hill, where he rehearses with his band. The fresh and sunny vibes of the upcoming debut are unmistakable. A warm Balearic touch thanks to the left-wing pop savant who produced London's Bullion (Nathan Jenkins), the album's nuanced, not-quite-retro style echoes the work of Westerman and Nilufer Jani.
Emerson has wanted out of dance music for a while, although he also recognizes the risks he takes as a junior DJ. (“So boring, right?” she laughs.) When she and husband Hunter Lombard moved to Los Angeles in 2019, she envisioned a new phase of her career working behind the scenes of other musicians. His first two sessions were with Romy, xx. "The sweetest angel," says Emerson. It was the end of February 2020. I remember having conversations like, "I read about this weird thing on Reddit, it looks really dangerous!"
For Emerson, the meaning of "God, my work is done" became " I like my work ." Because of the epidemic. Jim jumped off the hamster wheel of late nights and international travel and turned his attention to singing. He talked about changing chords and breaking verse/chorus/verse structures; Most importantly, he sought "creative silence" so that his new skills could take root and bear fruit. The album was recorded in harmony, starting at home with Lombardi and then with Boullion in his London studio, with the help of collaborators such as multi-instrumentalist Kevon Hobeheidar and guitarist Joe Newman. Emerson paid little attention to some of his paintings. "It's not really a song, it's just crazy dirty beats," Emerson recalled to Bullion. But with the help of his friends, even the most superficial ideas are formed. "Knowing that it's okay to give back the little things was a revelation," she says.
When I spoke with Emerson in mid-March, he was immersed in learning another important skill: the art of working with a team. "I can't sing live or anything like that," he admits. "We don't have the growth period that a lot of artists have where they get their sea legs through live shows, so we don't take it lightly." On the first night of his month-long stay at the Membership Club in London, where they gave private concerts every Wednesday, there were about five people in the audience, including his manager and some close friends; It was his first time singing in public. "Now, I have so much, so much, so much respect for the bands," he says, "because it's a completely different field."
the fork Your new project seems like a very sharp left turn. Can you tell me how this happened?
Avalon Emerson. I don't listen to dance music in my spare time. I've always wanted to make something that could be played offline with an acoustic guitar or piano, and I'm still standing. I was into folk guitar music in high school, and then when I moved to San Francisco, I got into dance music and DJing. I got pretty good at it in the last decade, so music has been at the center of my career for the last decade. I don't mean that my desire to make pop music came from a negative context, like, "I don't like dance music anymore." I still love it and I'm still inspired by it. It actually happens less and less these days, but it's still a part of me.
Was it difficult to learn to write real songs after making dance music for so many years?
To me it was the mystery of the black box. I would go to Wikipedia and look at different song structures and share all the songs I like. I'm teaching myself music, learning chord progressions. I often felt like I was banging my head against a wall, and it just didn't seem like the way to get there. I've worked with many other producers and songwriters, but it wasn't until I started working with Nathan that it really worked.
How did you get into casting?
When I was living in Berlin, my friend Nathan Mickey came up to me and said, "Duke, you've got to hear this song." He goes on YouTube and puts on the song "Blue Pedro" and they're both like, ok, I love that dirty jam. So when I started "Long Forgotten Tale" by DJ-Kicks , I thought, “I want to do this cover, who's the best to do amazing covers? Okay okay." That's when we started working together. He has this beautiful alchemy of hard and soft skills. He's not too technical and not too awesome. Sometimes I have to make fun of him, like. He's saying, "That's a good song, does it make sense?" was. "These lyrics are weird when you sing them like that, they sound random. Maybe us? I'll find something else."
Your production and DJing can be very strong and fierce, but this album is quite weak in many ways.
Ever since I've been in dance music, there's been an arms race between the strongest and the fastest, and I'm not talking about that. This relaxed version that people look for when they go to a club, I get, respect and participate as a DJ. But when I listen to music, my idea of a perfect album is Soft and Beautiful Things by the Cocteau Twins. I wanted to make this soft, beautiful album, but in my head the lyrical stuff is dark, sad and sometimes very black. This confrontation is important because something beautiful can be born from the place of pain. I think that's where most of the good art is, actually.
You've had a successful career as a DJ, but now you find time to release an album like this and tour live with a full band. Is it scary to say, "Okay, I'm going to ditch DJing and do something else?"
no doubt This is a financial risk, I have a new respect for teams. The DJ is definitely money for nothing, man. I just got on a plane, me and my USB. In the clubbing world, you can fill a venue with hundreds of people every night, even if they don't know the artist. I don't know how many people were in that Belgian club where only the DJ knew who I really was. They come to the club to have fun and dance with their friends, not because they're obsessed with my latest album.
It's very difficult to make money playing live. The shows we do, well, we can land a little because there is an optimistic plan to make money with other shows or festivals in the future. But in general it is very dangerous. Will people come? We have to sell these tickets, otherwise there would be no people.
How has your DJ style changed?
I feel like DJing is one of those skills that you get better at as you get older. When I went clubbing in San Francisco, my favorite DJs were old guys like Francois K and DJ Harvey, people who could listen to a lot of songs and play. I was 19 when I heard "Get Closer" by Valerie Dore and thought, "What is this song ?" But Harvey has been playing forever, probably since the day it came out.
In the last two years I have become more of an archivist. In the early stages of my DJ career, I've been trying to find songs to play this weekend, thinking, "I'm going to play Panorama Bar, I need to find some good songs." But today it is more. "This song is important and I have to get it on Rekordbox, even though there's a good chance it will never be played."
In fact, the last time I played today's game, that six-hour game, I spent an hour playing that great thing from the late 90s and early 2000s. Millennials my age and slightly older Gen Zs shame them over and over again; We are constantly being told that we are getting old, not cool. So as soon as the "cheap indie is back" thesis came out, all those millennials were saying:
In fact, I am too young to have personal memories of some of these songs; I graduated high school in 2007 and I'm falling more and more in love with ed banger. But everything is true. With LCD Soundsystem I played the remix of Australian hit "Still Going" "The Beat and the Pulse", Morgan Geist's version of "House of Jealous Lovers" and "Yae (Crass Version)". After all, you have to play something modern, that's important. Have a conversation between the present and the past that is not 100% retrograde, "It was better back then."
Have you played Girls by the Dare? Avalon, this conversation is over.
I'm sorry to hear. But it makes noise.
Originally appeared on Pitchfork