Tanlines' Jesse Cohen Doesn't Have Any Sunbathing Tips For You.
In the years since its debut Mixed Emotions LP crash-landed onto the playlists of electronic-tinged indie pop fans everywhere in the summer of 2012, New York's Tanlines has undergone something of a substantial change. These days, the duo of Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm is taking a more humanistic approach its sound.
And not necessarily by choice, either. When the band sat down to start work on Highlights, its May-released sophomore full-length, the computer it aimed to do so on blew up on a cloud of smoke — and literally at that, or so claims the band in its own press materials.
Point is, the band was inspired to try something new. In turn, Highlights was written as fuller and more analog-oriented than the more electronic-dominated material of the band's past. Also? The band's upgraded to a quartet, at least in live settings.
Now, armed with that bigger sound and some wider appeal thanks to a universally well-received web redesign stunt that saw its band web site turned into a Netflix rip, the outfit is taking its show to dynamic stages across the country as part of a tour that includes a stop at Deep Ellum's Club Dada.
Ahead of that performance, we caught up with multi-instrumentalist Jesse Cohen to talk about his band's direction on its new record, what’s like to be human in 2015 and the warp that is Netflix.
What is Tanlines?
Tanlines is the name of our band. It's me and Eric. It's our band. I don't know. It's hard for me to say. It's me.
And you just put out a new record.
Correct. It's called Highlights. It's our second album. It's better than the first album. I don't know. It's our second album. It's a collection of songs. It's something we worked really hard on.
What's the biggest difference between this new record and the one before?
The biggest difference is the better incorporation of our live sound on this record. There's more guitar, for example. More live drums. We were thinking about the live show more. The last one was a “home studio,” a little bit more bedroom sort-of style. Now for the tour, we've brought in a drummer and guitar player. So, we're doing a full-band tour. That's the show we're gonna do for you.
What's it like doing the full band as opposed to a duo?
Well, it's more fun. You get to play with more people. There's more human interaction and emotion. It's also bigger, and you feel like you're filling a stage better. There's also more room for error. I think it's more exciting.
What are some things that have stood out to you so far on this tour?
The main thing is the whole group dynamic. That's new. Just working with other people and with a crew, when we’re used to doing everything ourselves. It used to just the two of us and a sound guy. It’s an experience.
Speaking of experiences: With the release of Highlights, y'all built a whole website inspired by… something called Netflix? I see it's been a high talking point, Why building your website based on that? Why not a Yahoo! search engine or a Google spreadsheet or something?
Well, I didn't think of those ideas! But they’re pretty good ideas… So, this was just an idea that occurred to me while I was staring at the [Netflix] menu for a half-hour. I thought it would be a funny place for our band to be. We asked and the designer said he could do it. We just sort of spun from there. It's just how we use the internet. It's a familiar place, and it's funny for us to own that space on our terms.
How often do you use Netflix?
When I'm home. I don't really watch too many movies while I'm on the road. But when I'm home, I just relax and watch movies or TV. I don't have cable, either.
In 2015, computers have sort of taken over. Is it still important to be human?
Yes! Definitely! What's my other option? I don't know what to say. I think that, as much things change, people stay the same. We're always going to be much more human than anything else. I think that technology will only help people express themselves. In some ways, it's expressing the bad parts of being human. In other ways, it's expressing the good parts about being human.
Another Netflix-related question, I suppose: I was recently watching this video of yours with the girl from Orange Is The New Black (Natasha Lyonne) in it. And also the guy from Girls (Alex Karpovsky), who directed it. How did you convince these people to be in your video?
Well, we didn't do any convincing. Alex Karpovsky, who is a friend of a friend of ours, really wanted to do a video with us. He and [co-director] Teddy [Blanks] wrote this great script, and they sort of asked people if they wanted to do it. Most of those people said yes. It was just sort of a fun project to work on.
You do a podcast called “No Effects,” too. How do you manage your time with that?
I try to release two or three a month, but I've had a little bit of a hard time with that being on tour. Every episode, I talk to a musician or other performer. So, in general, I try to prepare enough but also let the person talk about what they want to talk about and sort of go with that. That way, because it's a long format — like an hour — I can hear what's interesting a musician that normally wouldn't be covered in press releases or short discussions. I like to give somebody an opportunity to let people know who they are, where they come from and the kind of stuff you'd hear backstage or when you're driving to a show.
One last question. Since y'all are a band called Tanlines, do you have any good sunbathing tips you can share?
No, I don't. I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting that! No.