By Kevin Zimmerman
For anybody who’s wondered how Apple goes about determining its song choices for advertisements, don’t ask the members of Chairlift, the powers behind the bouncy pop song “Bruises” (“I tried to do handstands for you …. I’m permanently black and blue, permanently blue for you”) in the recent iPod nano ads.
Not that they’re unforthcoming or terminally bashful; it’s just that they themselves aren’t sure.
“They found us,” shrugs singer-songwriter-keyboardist Caroline Polachek. “Crazy.”
“Someone from Apple came to one of our L.A. shows, I think,” adds Patrick Wimberly, who plays bass, drums, and synthesizers in the group. “A couple weeks later they had contacted us through our label. We knew they were considering using ‘Bruises’ for the commercial, but we didn’t know they chose it until we saw Steve Jobs introduce the new nano at his press conference.”
So it goes for the three members of Chairlift, whose punchy brand of synth-based, occasionally psychedelic pop – at times recalling the early Cure and New Order, in both their playful and darker, foreboding guises – explodes gloriously all over debut album Does You Inspire You (Kanine) and has led to favorable comparisons with such presumably like-minded current acts as MGMT and Yeasayer.
While Brooklyn-based now, Chairlift actually was formed by Pfenning and Polachek at the University of Colorado in 2005.
“Aaron and I met in an economics recitation,” Polachek recalls. “The class was so homogenously fratty that we spotted each other across the room and started chatting after class, swapped demos at the second class, and then he invited me to go out to California with him to sing backup on the solo project he was going to track at Elliot Smith's studio. By the time we'd rehearsed for a few months, I'd started contributing material and we really couldn't call it a solo project anymore, so we picked the name Chairlift.”
The pair soon found themselves disenchanted with the Colorado music scene, so when the chance came to relocate to New York, they leapt at it. Soon after, they reconnected with Wimberly, with whom Polachek had played in another band in Colorado, and quickly added him to the lineup.
Their process of songwriting has remained relatively consistent, they add. “The idea always comes first, and once it shows itself then I chase after it until it’s captured somehow,” Pfenning explains. “I’ll eventually end up with a recording of the thing and then I’ll bring it to Caroline and Patrick.”
Translating their ideas into Does You Inspire You was very much a time of enjoyable experimentation, Wimberly says. “One of my favorite things about making a recording is that there is no way it ‘should’ sound. You can make it sound however you want. Most of the times, the way you thought it should sound isn’t the way it ends up sounding. I like manipulating sounds that I like into sounds that I like even more.”
“We didn’t have a rigid template for how we wanted the record to sound, nor many references either,” says Polachek. “It was very intuitive; blindly trying the knobs in both directions to find the middle points we all liked best, so to speak. We wanted to make a record of songs that we liked to listen to. Simple as that.”
Looking ahead, Pfenning says, he plans to keep doing what he’s pretty much always done. “In fourth grade I moved to Colorado, and inside one of the moving boxes I found a big black cassette tape recorder,” he recalls. “So I started recording experiments around my house: taping video game noises and my mother chopping onions, and my cat purring, then singing over all those noises while taking a bath. That was my first attempt at a song and I haven’t wanted to stop since then.”
”It seems like the best thing in the world to do,” adds Polachek. “I can’t imagine not wanting to create my own music. I never had the attention span to become totally absorbed with studying and performing music that wasn't my own. I loved it, but making my own music, there’s no tradition to adhere to, no right or wrong way to do anything. You take your favorite elements of your favorite music, and leave the rest for the vultures.”