Pillow Talk is a Memphis-based indie band, pulling from shoe-gaze and electronic influences. Their first full-length record, This is All Pretend, is out March 24 via Animal Style records. The band released the third single "Little Worries" today and are donating 100% of the proceeds made through March 7th to Trans Lifeline - You can read the full statement from the band and find out more info by visiting their Bandcamp here.
Pillow Talk’s lead singer, Josh, spoke with Hooligan over email to discuss how music can act as an agent for social change, and what it was like to make the bands first music video.
Hooligan Mag (H.M.): Describe how you navigate the tension between visuals and music in your work. The video for “Ferris and Effie” does really view like a small film rather than a standard “music video.”
Pillow Talk (P.T.): Ferris & Effie was really our first attempt at making a video of any sort. Sam, our drummer, and I love film — he from a visual perspective, and me from a writing perspective. We wanted to make a video for this record, we but didn’t want to fall into the tropes of what a traditional music video looked like when produced by a band our size, on a limited budget.
We wrestled with even including the shots of us playing, but it felt necessary for our first video since we’re more or less unknown. So, I did my best to write it as a short film, a dream-sequence of an older man watching his youth, pining for those moments, and reflecting on that time. Our friend Nate Packard, a photographer and constant collaborator, helped us shoot and edit the video into something cohesive. We’ve grown addicted to working in-house, and just wrapped on our second video.
H.M.: How did you come up with the concept for the video for “Ferris and Effie”?
P.T.: The lyrics are more or less about the duality between foresight and hindsight and the moment I began to see my parents through a human lens. Looking past the light in them and understanding their darkness helped be better comprehend my own obstacles. We wanted to capture the song’s theme rather than directly replicate the concept, so we focused on that duality. My grandfather, who I look up to dearly, played the character in the video. The mannequin serves as a sort of permanent admirer throughout the character’s life, but we ultimately included her to create a more macabre video.
H.M.: Has the wider Memphis DIY scene influenced your work at all / do you have a favorite story about the Memphis DIY scene?
P.T.: Oh yes, absolutely! We all grew up in the scene, playing in different projects. There’s a nonprofit label in Memphis named Smith Seven that I owe everything to in terms of my outlook on playing music and creating a show space. I met Brian Vernon, who started the organization, when I was 12 years old, at a now defunct skate park where he ran the door. He plays in a band named Wicker that operated under Smith Seven’s ethos-banner: If not at the skate park, he’d book shows in his living room or wherever would have us, and, after breaking even, we’d donate any money we made to an organization or someone in need. Same with any records the label released. I’ve got countless stories, but they all center around the idea that punk, and music, should ultimately be selfless in its purpose.
That’s a hard pill to swallow when music — performing it, recording it, releasing it, and asking anyone to care — is so egocentric. I’ve never walked that line perfectly, but Pillow Talk tries to do its part when we can. To me, though, that’s what DIY is, utilizing nontraditional spaces to lift others up.
H.M: I hear some hints of shoegaze in your work, are you at all inspired by shoegaze? What do you think the 2017 iteration of shoegaze and/or lo-fi looks like?
P.T.: We’re inspired by shoe-gaze, as well as electronic music, hip hop, and a lot of other music beyond what we’re normally associated with as an “indie band.” A big part of our sound, we’ve found, is in experimenting with the sonic elements that would make up a traditional rock band. In that sense, the vocals can become more of an instrument than a leading voice — guitars can phase in and out of becoming synth or pad sounds. Whatever sounds interesting and atypical to our ears is usually what we dig as far as tones go. Beyond that, our song structure and writing style tends to be influenced from more pop-oriented bands. We probably like a good catchy chorus more than most shoegaze bands. Between members, we share some similar influences, but each of us has pretty different music tastes. This Is All Pretend is the result of us putting our heads together and turning those influences into a whole, and as a piece of music it’s the truest to ourselves we’ve been.
I think we probably aren’t the only group catching on to blurring lines between genres in 2017. One of my favorite current artists, Kevin Abstract, put out a really cool album last year reaching the other way — hip hop and electronic music influenced by indie rock and emo. We are all for trying our best to push music forward in some way.
H.M.: What made you want to start making music?
P.T.: I was born into it. My grandfather is a musician, a rockabilly guy who grew up alongside a lot of the names that make Memphis famous. He was quite literally an observer to rock ‘n’ roll’s origin — touring the country, recording ‘45s, and writing songs for other artists. I grew up on his knee — learning guitar, singing his songs, and hearing his stories. He and my dad handed down a colossal record collection to me, and I was exposed at an early age to different styles of music. There was Sam Cooke and Al Green, Kiss and Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and Albert King, Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell. My dad worked concert security too, so I was fortunate to meet a lot of musicians I looked up to as a kid. I remember seeing James Brown dance, pure magic. It all just had a profound affect on me.
H.M.: How does making a full length record differ from making an EP?
P.T.: Our first two EP’s topped out at five or six songs, and there was more of an immediacy in nearly every aspect of the writing and recording process. We felt that we had to put something out. We rushed to do so, only taking a month or two to flesh out songs. I didn’t particularly spend a great deal of time with the lyrics, which is so crucial to do. In hindsight, I’m not sure why we didn’t think through the process behind both releases more thoroughly. I half-chalk it up to the internet age and the expectancies that come along with it. We’re continuously refreshing our feeds, there’s always something new by someone new, and I think on some level we all want to plug into that momentum. To some extent, technology has made creating and sharing music better than ever, but our attention spans have suffered.
We learned a lot while making This Is All Pretend. I think the universe forced us to slow down. We almost broke up, and went on a hiatus for six months or more. We had started writing songs prior to that happening, however, and I wasn’t sure if they’d ever see the light.
I wrote and re-wrote lyrics pretty constantly during that break as a way to cope with what was personally difficult period in my life involving my grandmother’s health and deteriorating relationships. The album is almost chronological in track listing, and it captures a time I’ve since moved past. I don’t relate as much to some of the words I wrote, but they were necessary because they helped me navigate and overcome a tremendous bout of depression.
But to answer your question, we just spent more time with the songs, working and reworking them, demoing them. We recorded the album analog, too, and that experience brought me closer to the records I love and grew up on. Bringing the LP to fruition was a long process, and hopefully if we do it again we’ll give ourselves even more time to write.
H.M.: Who are some of your favorite artists or musicians?
P.T.: Making a comprehensive list would be tough, and it’s impossible to speak for the rest of the band, but as for some personal influences that influenced the writing of this record:
The Smiths, Morrissey Solo, Belle and Sebastian, The Cure, Future Islands, The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, David Bazan, Kanye West, Phil Collins, Madonna, Blood Orange, Bon Iver, Prince. I remember finishing the lyrics to Go Where U Want 2 after seeing The Neon Demon and wanting that song to sound like it could fit in a Nicolas Winding Refn film.
H.M.: What has it been like to work with band camp as they donate their profits to the ALCU? What are some ways that you think music can be used as a catalyst for social change?
P.T.: Any opportunity to assist in uplifting and supporting human rights is necessary and important, especially during the weird times we currently find ourselves living in. It goes back to what I spoke about earlier -- that art should always strive to be bigger than self-interest. No matter the medium, it’s the artist's responsibility, in one way or the other, to speak for those who are oppressed. Our album is a far cry from American Idiot, but we try to do our part. In supporting art, it’s more important than anything to support artists of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. It’s crucial to support gay art. I’m fortunate to live in a city that’s forced me out of my box. I’ve become friends with artists and musicians who are telling a story rooted in a culture alien to my own. Proximity affects ethics and understanding, these relationships have enriched my life.
H.M.: Do you have anything specific that you do when you feel creatively stuck?
P.T.: Two things from two far smarter creatives. Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next.” David Lynch says, “Ideas are like fish, and you don't make a fish, you catch the fish.” It’s a struggle, but those ideas go hand in hand, and I do my best to practice them.