Few people in this scene make dance music as emotive and hooky as PillowTalk. The American band write proper songs with a real sense of heart and emotion, and have been doing so for years. It’s come on labels like Kompakt and Wolf + Lamb and given rise to some big singles as well as a bunch of quality albums.
And now they are back with another, “All People”, on their own label. It finds the band change line-up and welcome guests like expert trumpeter Greg Paulus, all while offering properly considered lyrics that touch on love, social issues and more.
Here we talk to them about their current line-up, the album writing process, what to expect from their world tour and much more.
“…our writing and musicianship has matured in a big way”
Introduce us to your current line-up and who does and plays what.
Sammy Doyle on lead vocals. Mikey Tello is mixing on stage, playing synth bass, keys, percussion and background vocals. Shane Duryea on keyboards and backing vocals. When they are available and we can make it work, we love to have: Greg Paulus on trumpet, Derrick Boyd on bass and guitar, Hannah Noelle and Ntem Love on back up vocals. Ryan Williams is still very much a part of the band but he’s taking a sabbatical this year while his wife is pregnant with their first child.
You’re about to put out your latest album. What’s changed since the last one, musically and personally?
We are all a few years older for one. Some of us are now married and one of us has a kid on the way. Shane has joined us full time which is a big win. We think our writing and musicianship has matured in a big way by incorporating more live instruments into our compositions. This has given the album a more organic feel for sure. Also, we now have our own imprint, PillowTalk Music, which gives us more creative control of our output. These are the main changes since our last album.
How much consideration is given to the overall flow of the album and track order, is that an important part of the process to you?
That, actually, is the fun part. Arranging the album in a way that not only keeps the listeners’ attention but also, as cliche as it may sound, tells a story. Just so you know, it is much easier to arrange the track order for digital release as opposed to vinyl. Vinyl comes down to plays per side and you lose some quality as you work towards the center groove. So the vinyl arrangement will most likely differ slightly compared to the digital release.
How important are the vocals to the overall album? Who wrote them? Do they come before or after the music?
Vocals are extremely important. We are known for our vocals so that is the anchor of our project. Lyrics are mainly written by Sammy Doyle and Ryan Williams. For the most part, they share those duties but we all have made contributions in this area. We tend to write after the music, that being the melody. Sometimes vocals come from sitting at the piano and coming up with a melody or chord structure. Other times it can be the rhythm of a baseline, in some occasions a certain sound, patch, preset from a hard or soft synth will spark a creative idea and become the root of the vocal.
Is it important for them to have a special socio-political message? Is the dance floor the right place for these messages? I guess it’s all about balance and not being too preachy?
To answer this question in order, no, not at all. We write about all kinds of subjects. Our message is usually pretty straight forward no matter what the subject matter may be. If we do have a social or political message, we do it in good taste without going overboard. The dance floor should always be a democracy, and for the most part, our only socio-political message is love, kindness and equality. In our mind, that’s pretty hard to take issue with. But yes, balance is key here.
I understand it has a more organic sound than before – what drove that? Why is that important? How is it achieved?
Nothing consciously drove that theme for this album at the beginning. We are just lucky to have worked with really amazing musicians that happened to be in the studio for most of our writing process. That pushed us to really examine what we were capable of ourselves as musicians and we tried to incorporate as many real instruments and out board gear as possible in the final phases of each song. Digital recreations of real instruments sound pretty flat. Why use a digital Rhodes when we have a real one right there? We were lucky enough to get a few days in The Bakery, an amazing studio right next to the old PillowTalk Nest studio in Greenpoint (Brooklyn) which is a beautiful space, designed specifically around recording live instruments, and we made the most of it. All the Rhodes, piano and the Hammond B3 with the Leslie that you hear on the album, were all recorded live there. As DJ’s first who started a band, we have always had one foot planted firmly on the dancefloor but as we grow as musicians it’s always nice to take pride in playing something real and organic. A lot of this comes through as well by replaying and programming the scratch 60’s & 70’s Soul and Rock drum loops with the NI Maschine and adding just the right amount of swing by not quantizing too heavily to the grid. This leaves room for additional polyrhythms in the percussion and drum fills to make it sound as if a live drummer was following along with our arrangements. Mikey went to school for audio engineering and has been recording and mixing for over 20 years. He’s been known to have some tricks up his sleeve and knows his way around any studio.
Where does dance music come into this? Why are you not more in the indie scene, or do you straddle both worlds? Are you party people and groove lovers at heart?
Well, we all come from dance music. Sammy, Mikey, and Shane all became friends while DJing house and disco in San Francisco almost 20 years ago and we met Ryan shortly after. Each of us has a unique musical background, but it was our shared love of dance music that brought us together. We all realized pretty quickly that we had a shared love of all music that extends beyond the dancefloor. Any music that makes you want to dance is dance music and we have always tried to defy being labeled as any one type of music. We definitely straddle both worlds. We would straddle a third if we could. We have such a diverse catalogue of music and its nice to be able to make tunes that appeal to people beyond the club scene. Just like our album title, our music is for All People. Are we Party people? Why? Do you have some gear?
Tell us about working with Greg Paulus on one of the tracks – how long have you known him, why get him involved?
First off, what an absolute treat and pleasure to play with someone on his level. A modern day Chet Baker, if you will. A consummate professional who owns his craft. We have known Greg now going on ten years. We are all original members of the Crew Love outfit. When we are writing and we say “this could use trumpets” it’s nice to know Greg is a phone call away, why not get him involved? His studio is literally across the street from ours. Just for the record he is on three of the album cuts. All People, Safety and 1000 Faces. He’s the coolest.
What’s most important for you when writing – the hooks, the bass, the messages, the musicianship or what?
All of it. It all plays an integral part in the process. We try to balance out these the best we can. Our vocals tend to take center stage but it’s what’s in the background that brings them to life. Attention to detail when it comes to production and mixing gives us a solid end product.
You have a world tour coming soon right? Where will that take you? What should people expect from you live shows?
To the moon and back. We have not stopped touring four seven years so this is just a continuation of our journey, only now, with new songs to share. We love playing live and we think it’s the best and most personal way to get lost in our music. No expectations just an open mind and heart. The music will hopefully take care of the rest.
“All People” is NOW AVAILABLE on PillowTalk Music PRE ORDER