Sometimes, when you have an appointment to interview someone, you’ll research that someone prior to speaking with them. Sometimes, you find out that you and the someone you’re slated to speak with shares a mutual love of sex columnist Dan Savage. As much, maybe you’ll spend like, seven hours reading Savage Love instead of writing questions. Sometimes your interviewee starts interviewing you, possibly because the weight of their intelligence spills over outside the boundaries of the typical Q&A script. Your journalism degree cowers in the corner like a little shit.
I’m not saying that’s what happened when I interviewed Tanlines’ Jesse Cohen … but that’s what happened.
Jessie is 50 percent of Tanlines, the Brooklyn duo that deserves an immense amount of credit for both their music and the now-infamous way the promote it. Their second LP, Highlights, was teased and released via Tanlines Internet, a website that hilariously parodied Netflix, and “premiered” with a fake “conference call”, which featured some “Sound Advice” from SNL’s Vanessa Bayer. From these hijinks, Tanlines emerges as a branded, highly thought-out project that delivers on their audience’s desire for a band who embraces the inherent silliness of the album release process. They’re self-aware, and operate on a level of innovation most bands never ascend to … and by now, hopefully you’re seeing why a talk with Jesse can never just be “So, how did you guys get your band name?”
The man himself and I talked about the new album and why another journalist’s assertion that it sounded like “sex with a cabana boy” was maybe the wrong word choice. We got all up in the subject of what it was was like to work with Grizzly Bear‘s Chris Taylor on production and record the album in a century-old Lutheran church. I even found out what Chris Taylor smells like from Jesse. And lastly, fuck yes, we talked about Dan Savage … you think I brought that up just to simultaneously tempt and taunt you? Tackling the important issues here.
When I was researching you guys, I read a review of Highlights that said it sounded like a”5:00 am post-tiki party K-hole or sex with a cabana boy.” I died. What do you think of the current state of music journalism today? With all due respect, way more people listen to music than read about it. It’s like … You know how I have a podcast?
Yeah. One of the reasons I have the podcast is because I wanted to have a platform for letting artists talk about what they do in their own words. I don’t think anybody really loves reading about their music. That description, I’m appreciative that anybody has put any thought into what we do and in the music that we make. It’s a privilege to be one of the few bands relatively that people think about, but I think our band has done well because people like us, and they like our music, and not because they’ve read reviews of us in general. What do you think?
I’ve had sex with a cabana boy, and I don’t think your album sounds like sex with a cabana boy. But I love that someone did. It’s always interesting to me what people hear in our music. I felt that this album sounded pretty different than the last album in a lot of ways, and a lot of the things that they’re reading about it are like, “Oh, they’re doing the same thing again, but it’s not good.” I don’t know. It’s interesting to me what people hear. I don’t think anything that we do is really that complicated. We write pretty simple music that I think people just like listening to.
On that topic, you spend all day interviewing musicians for your podcast, but is there anything that you secretly wish somebody would ask you? Ultimately, on the podcast, I just let someone talk about what they want to talk about it. Sometimes it ends up being more boring than if I went in with an agenda, but most times, something really good comes out of it. That’s what I would like to see, and I’d like to be talking to somebody who is interested in what I do who pulls the strings out of me some. Does that make sense?
Yeah, absolutely. Good thing I came to this interview 0 percent prepared. Let’s talk about something completely random just because I’m really interested in this part of you … You and I share a mutual love of Dan Savage. Yes!
What you would ask him if you could ask him a question? I think more than asking him anything, I just want to thank him. I have been reading his column and listening to his podcast for like 10 years now. Even more than the sex advice stuff, the relationship advice is so sensitive, realistic, and helpful, and has really changed my life in a lot of ways. I really look up to him. I think I would want to just thank him for putting out into the world what I think is a progressive and realistic worldview about relationships, and how to approach then with respect. I think he’s brave.
Is there anything that you’ve learned from him in particular that really stuck with you? He said something about how his mother and stepfather had started to fight, and were going to break up. But then, she got over her own anger towards him and managed to stay with him. If she hadn’t gotten over her own feelings and her own anger, she would have missed out on years of happiness that they spent together. That to me was a really important lesson because I do think sometimes, you can get too stuck in your own head, in your own feelings, and you have … Sometimes, you have to get over yourself. A lot of times, you risk depriving yourself of interesting things that could happen.
That’s something that I’ve also gotten from him is that it hurts you more than it hurts the other person to be upset. At the end of the day, you can really only be held accountable for your own happiness. I sound like a Hallmark card. Yeah! Don’t turn your back on love and so many good things that are a part your life because of pride, or anger, or your own sense of ego.
It’s an interesting way to look at cheating. Yeah. That’s a big, big part of Dan Savage’s whole ethos. Personally, I’m like a natural monogamist. That’s not a struggle that I’ve particularly ever had in my life, but I do think for other people, there’s a bizarre adherence to monogamy that doesn’t always have everyone’s best interests in mind. We have this idea in society that it’s one strike and you’re out. That’s true for some people, but for a lot of people, I don’t think it needs to be. I think that’s a really, really important thing that he’s put out into the world, and I hope that people start to appreciate it.
All right, all right. Let’s talk about Highlights. For you guys, is the pressure on or off now that you’ve released the dreaded sophomore album? It’s hard to say. We never really thought of this as our second album. To us, it’s more like the third album because we had a few years at the beginning of this band that we didn’t release an album. We just released music sporadically. Usually, the problem with the sophomore album is that you put everything, all of your work out at once. It could take years for your first album, but the second time around, you really have to just sit own and do it. Something that happens with music is that we love it if it’s tied to a specific time in our lives or a feeling that we felt … but you can never really replace that. If someone loved our last album, they might want this album to make them feel the exact same way that the first one did … but it never will because you’re different, the time is different. All you can hope for is that it creates new feelings in people and the more that it builds upon the feelings that you had that reflects upon the earlier feelings. You know what I’m saying?
I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but you sound a little unsure about the reception of the new album. It’s too early for me to tell what this is or isn’t going to be. I do feel very similar to how it felt when our last album came out, like the same mixture of excitement and anxiety as I did last time. When Mixed Emotions came out, it wasn’t like a celebratory “We did it,” feeling. It was like, “Okay. This is out, and we have to do everything we can possibly do to get this music through as many people as possible. Otherwise, it’s not going to go anywhere.” Now, what do we have to do to get people to hear it and appreciate it? That’s where I’m at with it.
Is it more important for you to have your audience understand where you’re coming from on the album, or are you trying to work something out personally through music? I try to be 50-50 on it. Ultimately, it’s my job to make something that I’m proud of because at the end of the day. I can write a song and no one could ever hear it, or everyone in the world is going to hate it or everyone is going to love it like anything can happen once it’s out in the world. But ultimately, the one thing that I can control is my own relationship to it. That’s the thing I’m thinking about the most, but I do think that it’s important as like an artist to be generous about how you approach your music and to think about your audience because the truth is that once you’ve put a song out into the world, it’s transformed and becomes not just what you think about it, but also what the listener thinks about it. The truth is somewhere in the middle.
I’m never sitting there trying to like either write something, “Oh, this is something that people who love ‘All of Me’ are going to love,” or say, “This is something that is going to push people away, but it’s something I think is really good.” At the end of the day, the song is no one’s and everyone’s.
One of my favorite songs off of the album is “Darling Dreamer.” Which one of those categories does that fall in? Also, tell me about it. You’re asking the wrong person! That’s a really Eric song. Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear who produced the album, that was his favorite song too.
We knew always would be the last song of the album. It has a different tone, but we put it at the end because it’s definitely not going to be for everybody. It’s not going to appeal to people that think Tanlines is a party band. It’s for the fans, and the fans are the people who have listened all the way through the end, and so that’s where that song belonged.
How much do you think that Chris Taylor influenced the sound of Highlights? I mean, Grizzly Bear is at times plodding and thoughtful, and you also recorded it in his studio in a hundred-year-old Lutheran church. All of these things conspire to bring a sort of angelic soul to it. He’s pretty old-school … like he’s not a computer guy. He doesn’t have hardly any machines. For him, it’s about recording, and it’s about using the room and capturing the space. The songs were written and finished when we brought them to him, but he did shape them in certain directions. In a lot of ways, he helped make it about capturing Eric’s voice in that space and getting the air of the church onto the record. That was really important to us on this album. We really wanted to make something that sounded deeper, richer, and more forward, and that’s why we wanted to have Chris and the church and the whole deal. He really helped bring the human instruments out on this album.
What does Chris Taylor smell like? He smells good. He smells like the best parts of nature. He’s like, a camping type guy, so pine needles.
Are you guys going to keep Tanlines Internet around for a while, or do you have the world’s next greatest marketing scheme up your sleeve? It’ll be around for a while, I think. No one else has anything like it, so it’s kind of cool for us to have something like that to promote our music.
Did Netflix ever get pissed at you? No! They loved it. They actually Tweeted Tanlines Internet from their official Twitter to get people to join. When we were making that site, which was an idea of mine, a lot of people were like, “Oh, we got to be prepared. We might get shut down. How can we get away with this?” I’m like, “I’m not worried about it at all.” I think that it’s clearly like a tribute. All of the links on the site point to Netflix. If anything, it’s like an ad for them.
Huge, huge fan of like Julee Cruise in Twin Peaks. David Lynch’s stuff is so ominous and creepy yet it’s always in the context of this saccharine melodrama. Breaking Bad actually had a lot of really good licensed music like weird New Mexican ska-rap. What TV show would you love to see a Tanlines song in? Good question. I would say any show I’d be happy about pretty much, but if I could pick … I don’t know. Scandal? That would be cool.
What’s next for you guys? We’re working on another video, which I’m pretty excited about, I can’t talk too much about, and then we’re going on tour with our band around the whole country!