Sam Haar and Zach Steinman, the two members of electronic duo Blondes, spoke with me via phone from a cafe in Berlin about the direction of their latest LP, Swisher, an album that caught most people by surprise thanks to the spontaneous YouTube upload by their label RVNG Intl. Following two long months of lengthy studio sessions, the recording process resulted in what can be compared to a journey through an urban wasteland. There aren’t many remnants of the twinkling melodies we hear on their self-titled debut.
After meeting at Oberlin College in Ohio, the pair moved to Berlin for a brief stint where Blondes in its current state was conceived. Their discography gives us a peak into their musical development. With a series of 12-inches, the duo laid the framework for their debut album, which was given the remix treatment by a selection of respected producers and musicians.
Let’s talk about Swisher. What was the process of making that record?
Zach Steinman: We basically wanted to make an album where we worked on all the tracks at the same time and used sounds we recorded. We put those into our sampler to give a unifying quality to all the tracks.
Sam Haar: We spent a while getting together the sound bank that we wanted.
Zach: Before, we had sounds we recorded ourselves in our samplers and then more presets and kits that we put in from our computer. We wanted to create all the sounds. We worked on every sound that we used.
So how long would you say the process took?
Sam: It took a little over two months.
Zach: We were working pretty intensely though.
It’s a pretty intense listen. It’s a lot different than the self-titled—much darker and a bit more dense.
Sam: I guess because the self-titled was a collection of singles each one had this epic flow, and we’re moving away from that with this record. We wanted to do more individual states that had smaller tensions and releases. It was less dramatic that way.
Zach: Each one had its own idea of what it was going to be doing.
Sam: We were definitely in the mood for some darker music too.
What did you use to make this album? Were you guys using different pieces of kit or was it different process altogether?
Sam: We used a little different gear to change the sound a bit. We used a lot more delay and reverbs, as people have noted.
Zach: A lot more flange. An Octatrack and MFB drum computer.
You’ve gone on record about putting limitations on yourselves. What were some of the limitations this time around?
Sam: The limitations were about the same. Maybe it changed a little bit.
Zach: Your gear can also inform limitations.
Sam: Totally, there’s the limitations of the gear. Also, how we recorded. Everything we recorded we played with our gear, so that’s how we keep that live feeling. Basically, we took the way we used to make music and tried to push it a little bit with some new equipment and also some new territories.
Was there anything around you that influenced the direction the album went in?
Sam: The environment of New York the past few years. People have been making more abstract, gritty house and techno and that environment has been fun to be in. Also, I think in the past couple of years we’ve been listening to more and more deep techno. Before that, I used to listen to more gritty house and I’ve been getting and feeling techno a lot more the past few years.
Zach: Just touring around, hearing techno, and going to clubs in Europe. It’s hard to say that didn’t influence us. But also, we’re playing a lot. It’s not really an outside influence. It’s how we develop our interaction with instruments.
Have you had a chance to play any of the new material live?
Sam: Yeah, we’re on tour right now. We’ve had a few shows, probably three or four shows that we’ve done the new stuff.
Zach: We had a really good pseudo record release party in New York that went really well. It’s been going well.
So what are some of your favorite new cuts to play out? Is there anything that goes down particularly well?
Zach: The last track always goes over pretty well.
Sam: Right now we’ve been playing it the same way as on the record, which is at the end.
Zach: It’s nice because it comes after all this hard darker stuff. Then pads just come out.
Sam: Like the sun just rises.
With the last album there was an entire remix album. Do you guys have any plans to do something similar with this one?
Sam: Definitely nothing as intensive as that. We’ve got Claro Intelecto, Container, and Huerco S.
What’s next for you guys?
Zach: It’s a little too early to tell. There’s a lot of touring on our horizon. We’ve been thinking about a 12-inch, but we don’t know yet.
Sam: We’ve been spending a lot of time prepping for tour, so now we’re just going to execute.
Is there anything you guys are particularly excited to see on this tour?
Sam: We’re going to Lithuania.
Zach: Yeah, we’re going to Lithuania and Norway. We’re actually going to also go hiking.
Sam: We just played a festival in Poland with Laurel Halo, which was really fun—some Brooklyn camaraderie. They billed us at the exact same time and there were two different stages. So there was this one moment where the only music playing there was from her and us and we’re friends.
So it was like a little slice of home.
Zach: A Brooklyn takeover.