[Interview] Foreign Air Take Time To Talk At Shaky Knees
Cover Photo: aLIVE Coverage
Foreign Air are an interesting blend of alternative and electronic. Punk rock chops infused with a hip-hop mindset have them garnering attention from music lovers and outlets everywhere. After playing an impressive set on the Criminal Records Ponce de Leon stage at Shaky Knees Music Festival, the duo agreed to take a break from the heat and talk for a few minutes about their friendship, Kanye West, and the meaning of life.
You have a very unique sound, what goes into making that happen?
Jesse: I think with this project we tried not to think about it too much, but we did, going into it, know what we wanted to surround ourselves with instrument wise. We were both coming from a more traditional alternative rock background playing in different bands growing up. We kind of wanted to make a shift and do something that felt exciting to us. So we ended up using things like Native Instruments’ Maschine, SPD pads, and Moog synthesizers and trying to do what we’ve always done, which is write songs, but with these new tools. And seeing what happens.
Jacob: I think that was what was most exciting about all of this is that we had no expectations. The only thing I wanted to do was I wanted to play new instruments. Before in the previous project, I just played bass, and I was looking to kinda get out of that mode and try different things. I wanted to play more stuff live and I had a thought that it would be fun to go back to that. Cause when we first started the project it was just like, we were just making music and it felt very organic and fun. Now there’s a little more expectations around what the sound should be or what needs to happen next, and it would be cool to go back to that and be free again and just keep experimenting and keep finding something new.
You guys have yet to release an album, are you waiting until you feel that you have a big enough fan base to support an album or is it more a case of trying to nail down a consistent sound for a whole album first?
Jesse: I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s definitely early on for us in experimenting with how the project can sound. You have more freedom pushing the limits with things like EPs or singles, so there’s that aspect. And then also, for an album, we feel like an album should be a solid work that feels like everything goes together. The way we create music, meeting up for weeks at a time, I think we have batches of songs that fit together rather than full-lengths.
I think for the future we’ll sort of evaluate what makes sense as an album and if not we’ll have to set aside enough time to knock it out in terms of writing to make sure that it’s that thing. Cause we don’t wanna put out something that’s just all these songs together. Because we have plenty of songs for a full length now, but we want it to make sense.
Jacob: I think what an album is, is different nowadays, like the way you approach it. It might just be cool to rent a warehouse or something for like two weeks and be like, “These two weeks are gonna be the album, and it’s gonna make a representation of what that vibe was and what we were trying.
Do you guys have any specific influences or ideas when you talk about what you want or look for in an album or an artist?
Jesse: I think in terms of albums, the biggest growing up would be someone like Pink Floyd. Where it’s like an amazing intro that draws you in and just like a complete journey that goes up and down. In terms of new music, we like Kendrick Lamar’s records.
Jacob: I think Kanye’s doing some really cool stuff in terms of albums. Cause he’s taking you on a ride. Hip-hop in general, and I think a lot of it may be because of Kanye, but they take you on a ride and a journey and each song is a thought and it leads to the next. But the sounds are different and the samples they’re using are from different genres, and I think you’re in it for the long haul. I listen to those records like the Kendrick and Kanye stuff from start to finish and I feel something afterward. Like I just experienced something. A lot of those are story-based, too, which I really like. So you feel like you just slid into someone’s life for a second.
What’s your favorite Kanye album?
Jesse: 808s and Heartbreak I feel like is amazing, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, there are some moments that give me goosebumps. The earlier stuff is amazing, too. I think that satiates a little more of the pop hooks and stuff and big '80s hip-hop production.
Jacob: I think 808s for sure, cause when he put that album out people hated on it. The entire hip-hop genre was like “Kanye’s done, Kanye this,” but now you look back on it and it had such a big impact on music and kids growing up. To the Frank Oceans and all these people that are making albums that sound kind of like 808s. That album is a very iconic record for hip-hop.
Would you say that your own sound, with wanting to bring in more electronic instruments and synthesizers, is somewhat influenced by 808s or hip-hop in general?
Jesse: Definitely a hip-hop influence and electronic music. It’s something we’ve always appreciated growing up. I’ve done hip-hop groups in the past. When I was in high school I had an R&B group as well, but a lot of times with music you go where the opportunities are sometimes. So I think, for us, a lot of the doors were opening for that style the past 10 years, and we just wanted to do something new.
Jacob: I think that’s how we even became really good friends. We played a show together, shared a bill, and we talked and hung out, but then you (to Jesse) sent me that project you had called The Blades. Was that what it was called?
Jacob: And you sent me this song and I loved it so much. It was like my song of the summer; I played it for all my friends like relentlessly. And then my computer like, combusted or something, and I lost it, but yea that was a really strong connection for me that I had with him. I liked the hip-hop side of the stuff he was doing a lot.
Jesse: A big thing about the Kanye thing, before moving on, is the emotion of it.
Jesse: With music being more electronic and a lot of sequencing and Ableton and drum machines, you can lose a little bit of feel if you’re not careful. And that’s why vocal delivery and emotion and attention are so important. That’s what I feel like 808s and Heartbreak especially had that intensity.
Do you guys run backing tracks live?
Jesse: We do run, well I run, Ableton click launching, I have a midi controller that I’m activating all kinds of keys sounds and arpeggiators and stuff to play live. Also, Maschine is running standalone with a lot of one-shot sample stuff and other keys stuff, too, so I can play, like, the piano part in the chorus but be able to chop it up how I want on the fly. And then also running a vocal sampler so I can do effects and sample my vocals in real time.
I’m so upset that I missed y’all’s set today; that sounds like a great live show!
Jesse: Come to Hangout!
I heard, though, that someone in the band was wearing a flag or a cape today?
Both: It was Lee.
Jesse: He’s from Venezuela. There’s a lot of shit going on in Venezuela (For those unaware of the current situation in Venezuela, click here).
Is that your touring band, or is it the full-time band and you guys are frontmen?
Jacob: They’re our friends. Most of the writing is Jesse and I, but Matt who plays drums and Lee who plays guitar are our really good friends. When we started touring we wanted to have some of our background, like the live drums and live guitars, be a part of the new project so it just felt kind of natural to have them come along.
Are you guys from LA or did you just buy that dope jacket out there one day?
Jesse: We were just in Los Angeles working on music right before this, but I live in North Carolina. I grew up in Raleigh; I’m in Charlotte now.
Jacob: I live in Washington D.C.
Oh, that’s not too far apart. How’d y’all meet?
Jesse: A random show about 11-years-ago on the same bill in different bands, it was at Tremont Music Hall, which just closed down actually, in Charlotte. We just kind of hit it off and kept in touch for years. You know when you’re in punk bands touring in a van you sleep on each other’s couches and stuff. But then growing up we just kept playing shows, and here we are.
With you guys switching from your punk/alternative backgrounds to a more electronic-backed style, how do you make your case to people who might say you’re just chasing what’s popular at the moment?
Jesse: I think you can tell intention right away with music and what feels authentic. Also, we have both grown up loving electronic music and hip-hop music. It’s just something that worked out at this moment for us. I think most people that I know from past bands are very happy and encouraging, and I feel like you gotta be. The biggest thing you can take away from just life, in general, is being true to yourself and being open as well and experiencing new things.
That’s what life’s all about is experiences. You don’t want to sit at your house and watch the same movie over and over again. You gotta fall in love with new things; you gotta fall in love with new people, you know? That’s the thing I encourage everyone to do, is expand your horizons and be open to new experiences and fall in love with new things.
With that in mind, what’s the most recent, new, dope experience you’ve had?
Jacob: Shaky Knees is our first festival. The first one we’ve ever played, at least with this project. I’m excited to spend the rest of the day going and seeing other artists.
Who are you guys looking forward to today?
Jesse: We caught a little bit of Bishop Briggs before coming over here, which sounded amazing. There’s a band, Sylvan Esso, who’s from North Carolina; I haven’t seen them before. Our friends Lewis Del Mar are playing around 7 PM. Who’s headlining tonight?
Tonight is The XX.
Both: Yea, that’ll be cool.
You said Hangout was your next stop. What’s after that?
Jacob: It’s like the festivals this month and June.
Do you have any idea about when you’ll be back in the studio?
Jacob: Probably right after Firefly. I mean, we always work on music when we’re at home and always write. But yea, I think we’ll probably get together in like, June, after Firefly, which is our last festival.