American band PillowTalk have been bringing real feelings to dance music for years now.
Early on it was cheeky edits and playful singles on the likes of Crew Love, Wolf + Lamb and Kompakt, then they turned into album specialists who cook up a range of moods and grooves that make a real impact. They have done that again on their latest album, All People, which is available on iTunes now. It's an album packed withbig-hearted disco-tinged dance tracks, and with a message of equality through peace and political awareness, exemplified by the album's title track.
We spoke to them about the process of writing the album, how they work together, how they adapt songs for their live show, and much more.
What's good and bad in your world right now?
We just released our second studio album digitally on June 15th worldwide on our new imprint, PillowTalk Music! Mikey is putting the finishing touches on our new studio in Brooklyn. We’re looking at a full tour schedule this summer through the end of the year to go with the new album and live show. Can’t wait to hit the road and share all the new music and break in our new band member, Shane Duryea. Our brother and founding member Ryan Williams and his lovely wife, Nasim are welcoming a baby to the world. We honestly couldn't be more blessed or happier.
On the downside, the continued homogenization of musicianship, while having to keep your online social presence completely lit, is pretty bad. The state of the world in general is really bad. Trump... bad. The acid we are on at the moment is starting off bad....hopefully we can move it to the above column shortly, only time will tell.
Tell us about the new lineup for the band—how did it come together?
It’s really only one change. We brought aboard long time PillowTalk collaborator, and friend, Shane Duryea, who has been with us since day one and is now joining us full time. He will be taking over Ryan’s duties on the road and we are lucky to have him as part of the team.
How did you enjoy the album writing process, it is all pure joy or more of a torturous process?
Great question. When you’re in the infancy of a composition, it truly is a joyous occasion. The more you refine and work it out, the more you usually start to loathe it and the process. After the thousandth listen it can be torturous, no doubt. It’s a journey that you hope in the end will bring you more joy than pain. After you have listened to a song a few thousand times in the studio over the course of working on it, if you don’t hate it, that’s a good sign.
What was it like working together? How do you write music, is it all shared evenly or does each of you have a certain role?
With four members in the band, making music for us is very much a shared experience. A lot of it starts with an idea or a very basic framework that Mikey and Ryan come up with in a hotel room or Airbnb when traveling usually. We also find writing music on planes to be kind of a happy place with no cell phones, WiFi, social media distractions. Just thoughts and creative ideas. Often times, it’s just a beat or a bass line or even just a simple chord progression. From there it’s shared with the rest of us, and if something resonates, we will get together and try and flush it out.
None of us have clearly defined roles in the writing process, so on any given track, each of our contributions can vary greatly. We have all at different times focused on every imaginable part of a song—from writing lyrics or melodies, to tracking and arrangement. Even if we are not all able to be in the studio together, we all make sure to constantly be checking in with each other about progress and changes. Not everyone is always 100% happy with everything, but writing music with other people is always a process of give and take. We have all been friends for a very long time, long before PillowTalk existed, so luckily we know how to deal with each other pretty well.
When you play live do you recreate the songs you make in the studio, or is it more freeform than that?
We do slightly different arrangements of our songs for the live set with a subtle twist from the studio masters. We love adding unique solos during songs in our shows whenever possible. We are working towards a more freeform live set but that does take tons of time and practice. From time to time we will invite our background vocalist, bass and trumpet players to the live show and throw in some new synths or toys to spice things up. The end goal for us as a live act would to be to play a completely freeform live set out of the box. Life goals. Seeing us play live is like listening to our music at home, only better!
What inspired the album? Was there an idea or concept for it from the start?
Not from the start. We had a bunch of songs that were pretty much sketched out. We had one particular song called "All People” that developed into the lead album cut. We sort of built off the theme of that song to carry the album and overall vibe, including the artwork. We did go more organic in terms of real instruments on this project. From guitars, horns, live bass and percussion. It does have a more indie feel to it while still keeping a foot, albeit, a toe, firmly planted on the dance floor.
Where was it written and what gear did you use? Does that matter or affect the sound overall would you say?
This album was created over three years in 12 studios, 18 countries, on countless flights, on at least two planets, and in no less than four dimensions. So much of this album started while we were on the road traveling from place to place, we would just set up shop where ever we were and continue to work in different studios, so the gear that we worked with varied greatly in every city. It’s always cool coming into a new studio and seeing new toys to play with.
In our studio in Brooklyn we use a Midas Venice F32 as our soundcard and main mixing and recording console. We love using vintage Roland gear, JUNO-106, JUNO-60, SH101, Jupiter 8, 808, 909, 707, 303. We got some killer sounds from an old 1984 AKAI AX-80 analog synthesizer, Dave Smith’s Prophet 6 Sequential, KORG SV1 and an Arturia Minibrute to name a few of our favorites. Our software consists of Ableton, Push 2, Native Instruments KOMPLETE 10 Ultimate, MASCHINE and a plethora of third party plugins.
We also tried to focus a lot more heavily on live instrumentation as much as possible and we think that definitely contributed to the more organic sound on this album. Once all the songs were written, we actually went back and re-recorded a lot of it live to give it the warmth we were looking for. We still love a good hard synth and we are lucky to have a pretty huge network of friends and fellow musicians who allow us to mess with their gear. We have such a huge variety of songs on this album. We cover so many genres but each song still very much sounds like us and a lot of that was informed by the people, places, and tools we worked with.
What happens now the album is done, do you take time off from each other and playing or do you get right back in the studio?
We never stop. Once the album is released we will continue to tour. We love being on the road and playing live for our fans. It’s especially nice when we have new material to play. The road can be crazy. Being away from our families for long periods of time can be rough but it still blows our minds that people pay us to do what we do for a living. Again, we were all friends long before PillowTalk ever existed so the upside is that we get to do this together. Nothing beats getting to play music all over the world with your best friends.
Was the album written with a certain time, place or audience in mind?
Not really. Writing is always done spontaneously and with no particular agenda in mind. Once we realized we had a good chunk of material recorded, we started carving out the new album. Eventually a concept takes hold and the theme reveals itself in the most mysterious of ways. The process is all very organic and hardly ever forced. The theme of All People became our guidance on this go around. It’s really a representation of the wide array of folks we meet at our shows.
What else have you got coming up/are you working on?
Right now we are really focused on the new live show. We feel like it just keeps getting better and better. We haven’t been working on too much new PillowTalk material yet just because our schedule with the album release has been so crazy. There are some collaborations, which we are writing with a few friends in Berlin, Brooklyn and Los Angeles that we are excited about. Be on the lookout for some new music from side projects that we all work on (Nickel & Dime, Signal Flow, Kid Head, Lil T & Big Sexy) when we are not focused solely on PillowTalk. But we always keep the “PillowTalk” sound and energy anytime we are creating, collaborating, writing, recording or releasing any new music. It’s a family affair.
Photos by: Shuana Regan