Drab City is the duo comprised of American witch house and chillwave artist oOoOO (aka Chris Dexter Greenspan) and Berlin-based producer Islamiq Grrrls, aka Asia. We introduced them with the track “Devil Doll”. Good Songs For Bad People is their debut full-length which was released via Bella Union.
10 tracks which reveal a complex project with different layers: the remarkable songwriting, the punk attitude, the dark mood, the dreamy lines of the sound connected in some way to the psychedelic scene and trip-hop movement. We were curious to know more about the album and their world. We asked some questions to Asia. Check the answers below.
“Devil Doll” was the first track which I listened to. I was impressed by these vibes of darkness you can feel deeply. I was also impressed by the lines: “They smile, but nothings right/When is the last time you cried/How much do you hate your life/How does it feel to be alive”. How much important is the writing path to address and process this kind of feelings?
I don’t think too much when I write lyrics, it usually just comes out like that. It’s the same for writing music in general. We don’t really plan anything before we start recording. Making music is quite intuitive, it helps us cope with our lives and say things we don’t want to talk about all day because it would be incredibly draining.
What did you discover about yourself while you compose this album which you didn’t know previously?
I realised that I can’t really shake off where I’m from and that it’s all sitting there somewhere in my body, like a storage space, ready to be dusted off and put back on the shelf. Making music does that to me. It made me realise how much I’ve been just storing away, things I haven’t dealt with, because life is hard and you can’t walk around in the world with a constant bleeding heart. So you store it somewhere, and it’s bad for you. Some call that PTSD. Recording music somehow takes a weight off my shoulders, singing, writing lyrics. I used to think musicians feed off of pain to make music, but I came to realise that music actually is a pain relief.
The artwork of your debut album “Good Songs For Good People” is powerful. It has a double interpretation: in some way, it is funny. To a certain point, it is scary because of the colours and people designed as “ghosts”. Is it a right vision of the album you released via Bella Union?
I can’t really tell you what’s right or wrong, I have no idea what I was thinking when I drew that cover. What I see on the cover are those different figures, staring back at me with their uninhibited eyes. The houses behind them are bending over, melting perhaps. The air is clouded by the smoke coming from the smokestacks. And yet you can find a deep, dark sky with shining stars and a quiet moon resting above the city.
Social alienation, violent revenge, and love as salvation are the themes on which you focus upon. There is a sort of punk attitude; is it right? Do you feel some kind of responsibility to be engaged with politics as a band?
It is what it is, and it will mean different things to different people. Some people will think nothing of it, others will be tied to it as if their life depended on it. I think music does not really exist in this executive way, such as genres or themes. As a musician, I don’t think of it that way. Whatever you hear in our music really just is a reflection of yourself. How much music you know, how trained your ear is, how carefully you listen, where you listen to it, the way you listen to it. If you discover our song on Instagram you might just scroll right past it, but if your crush sends it to you, it will suddenly mean the world to you. Some people might not be in the right headspace to “deal” with our music, to others it will be just what they needed. Some people will think our music sounds dreamy, others will think it sounds punk and violent.
“Live Free and Die When It’s Cool” is one of the tracks of your debut album and represents also a sort of manifesto of your way to think music, art and life. What is the meaning of “Live Free” for you? What things set you free in life?
Freedom to me has manifested itself in many ways through life. Rejecting social norms, creating my own set of values, ego death. Ego death was probably the biggest turning point for me. I failed so hard at the dreams I had set for myself, and that really hurt. Realising I could not run away from my past really hurt. I became aware of my own mortality, of the fragility of life, the speed in which time goes by. Youth doesn’t last forever, and before you know tomorrow has arrived and nothing turned out the way you expected. It really, really hurt and I fell into a deep depression. I thought I lost at life and it was too late and everything was over.
Failing terribly is what ultimately gave me freedom. Once you have nothing left to lose, life takes a whole new meaning to you and if you manage to not kill yourself or fall into bad addiction, you might have just earned the key to a better life.
Freedom is also something which reflects your sound which is enough free from a specific label or tag. When you wrote the songs of the debut album, what was the starting point? I’m very interested in that process of starting something new and not knowing exactly where it’s going. What is your first vivid memory of this album?
It’s too bad this is a written interview and not a real life conversation because I would want to ask you if you play any instruments or have made music in the past?
I get that question a lot, journalists often ask me what it’s like to make music or the process of making it. It’s very strange but I somehow know exactly what it’s like but I don’t really have words for it. It’s like trying to explain the thought process during a fall from a cliff. It’s something that takes place in a different part of our consciousness, where we just sort of perceive and respond to sounds. There is some kind of inner ear thing too, when I focus on hearing something in my inner ear (not actual music) I sort of forget to see or to think. Like when we play live shows, I can barely remember anything that happens around us because I’m so focused on my inner hearing.
Starting a record is just as blurry as the middle of it. You never really start anything, we make music all the time. I have about 70 unfinished projects saved on my laptop. Sometimes I’m in the mood to pick up where I left, other times I start something new. Sometimes I just procrastinate and nothing gets done for months. But most of the time Chris and I find ourselves in a similar work mood and things just get done somehow, and by the end of it we start narrowing down what we have, to make sense of it all and sort of put together a record. Maybe that’s just us, depressed and disorganised as we are, maybe some people really sit down and just “start” making a record. But it doesn’t work that way for us.
How are you living these strange times and what are the main concerns as an artist? How do you see the future of live shows? And what do you think that we’ll learn from this?
Everything in life has prepared me for this. I have been beaten down by the common crowd since I was born, which has turned me into an extremely asocial, introverted person. If you listen to our record carefully you will see ‘those strange times” are no news to us.
What is happening now just feels to me like the mainstream is catching up. There is a general consensus that the system has failed us, so literally everything is being thrown over now. The problem is, people have been sleepwalking for decades with their phones and material things and social media and celebrities. They were not prepared, to tell the least. So they are puking out all their sickness, and it’s necessary. The sobering up is rather brutal, but everything takes its time.
We are ok, and we always will be. Yes we are broke, so we’ll continue being broke, big deal! Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But we never really lose.
Ritual question. Have you seen or heard anything good recently?
So many things, I watched many interviews with Kerry James Marshall, we love the TV program “Jazz Casual”, we recently watched “What’s up doc?” which is again, just another beautiful movie by Bogdanovic (after having seen Paper Moon which is equally beautiful). I watch Laverne & Shirley every day, 5 more seasons to go. We sometimes listen to Anna Khachiyan, for better or worse, on her “Red Scare” podcast with Dasha. I share quite a lot on my Instagram, new finds and coup de coeurs, so you should definitely just stay hooked on there.