Future Relative, an electro-pop band based in New York City, is in the midst of preparing for their headlining show at Mercury Lounge this Friday, November 26. Music Vice writer Laura Antonelli spoke over the phone with mastermind and lead vocalist, Armand Aviram. They discussed Future Relative’s EP, Fantasies, what it is like being a new band in the music industry, and how open-mindedness can make all the difference.
Laura Antonelli, Toronto, Music Vice – Prior to Future Relative you had been performing under your own name. Why did you decide now to release music with a different name instead of your own?
I think this is definitely a new beginning for me and the project doesn’t sound like anything I’ve done before, so I knew early on that I didn’t want to go by my name anymore. I wanted to pick a name that had some kind of imagery attached to it so I could do more with it. Plus, it’s not the type of name that is helpful when you’re marketing and promoting yourself. It’s hard to say and people have been mispronouncing both my first and last name my entire life.
Can you tell me about the other members of Future Relative and how you guys came together?
Nic Coolidge is the programmer/DJ/guitar player in the group and Lex Sadler plays synths and bass. Nic is from Boston. We went to school together and we’ve been good friends for a few years now. Lex is from Perth, Australia and moved to NYC a couple of years ago. The two of them had actually been playing together with different artists around the city. As soon as I saw their chemistry on stage I knew there was magic in the air. There’s just something about the way they play together that doesn’t come along often and I picked up on that quickly. It’s exciting to be making music with two friends that you love and whose company you genuinely enjoy. I definitely don’t take that for granted. We love making music and performing together and I think people see that in our live show.
Your previous releases as a solo artist include rock songs primarily driven by piano and guitar. With Future Relative you’ve really gone in a new direction with this electronic, dance-pop sound. Tell me about the process of going from an acoustic EP to electronica. Was it natural or a conscious decision?
Well, after college I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do in music. I was thinking about giving it up. I stopped writing for a long time, probably for at least six months.
My roommate at the time was heavily into electronic and dance music, which I’ve always liked but never gave myself the chance to develop my taste in the genre. He nurtured me and exposed me to so much stuff I didn’t know about, which led to me attending more concerts.
One night we saw Thievery Corporation. It was just one of those nights where you have a revelation. I woke up the next morning and decided I didn’t really want to do rock music anymore. Not that I don’t like it, I will always love it, but I wanted to hear my voice on top of something different than just power chords.
I had already worked on one song with Ido [Zmishlany, producer of the EP] that was still in that rock singer-songwriter vain. After that night, we decided to start working on a new track. I told him I would love to explore and try something different, whatever it may be, and that’s when we started “Monday Morning”. That song was the bridge into the new sound of Future Relative because it still had a rock vibe but we were using vocoders, electronic drums, and just few organic instruments.
Immediately the response was better than anything I’ve ever had before, so I knew I was onto something exciting. From there, everything opened up for me, musically and in life. My perspective on so many different things changed. I just always saw myself as a rock singer because that’s how everyone else viewed me, so I never gave myself the chance to try anything new. So that’s a very, very long answer. [Laughs]
[Laughs] No, that’s great. You basically answered my next question because in an interview you said you struggled to find your voice and sound, so I was going to ask if you feel like you’ve finally found it.
Yeah, but I still think I have a long way to go. I’m just at the beginning. I have the perspective now that this is a brand new band, we have so much work ahead of us, but I’m ready for it. I feel I can improve as a songwriter and that my voice will get better. We have time to develop this project and so I think everything will grow. It’s foolish for any new artist to come out and think this is the best they’re going to be at a young age.
The title of the EP, Fantasies, comes from a lyric in the fourth song “Eye Contact” in which you sing, “This is the place I dreamed about in my fantasies.” Can you explain why you chose that word for the title?
That’s a good question. [Pause] I write from the perspective of almost a fantasy life. I don’t necessarily write in the first or third person. For example, right now I’m writing a song called “The Finer Things”. It’s basically about a guy who’s dating a girl that he can’t provide for financially. I’m not in that relationship but it’s still relatable for me, so a lot of the time I do write from the point of view of myself but in this fantasy, dream world that’s in my mind. That’s the word that sums up where my head is at as a songwriter and it just felt right.
You already started talking about working with Ido, so how did this partnership come about and what did his vision bring to the project?
Well, I was always a fan of his work. When I was 16 or 17 I saw his old band, Last Week, play on Long Island. I met him briefly then, and five or six years later we reconnected. We had a meeting, realized we had a lot in common, so we started working together and it felt natural.
The best part about working with him is that he’s a songwriter, not just a producer. He knows how to get the best out of me as a songwriter which is extremely important. There are a lot of producers that you go to with a song and they just record it. Ido gets to the bare bones of it and makes you play it for him just solo acoustic before he records it. He knows you can put all these bells and whistles on any song and it may sound cool. If you strip away that stuff and the meat and potatoes of it are not there, then you’re fucked and left with something to be desired. If it’s just straight dance music then it’s not necessarily about the song. I knew I wanted my project to be song-oriented, though. There are times now when we’re shifting into more instrumental dance stuff, but for the most part, I know that I always want a song there first.
Over the year, I got to watch his band [Lion of Ido] develop and witness their success. Ido also co-wrote the song [“Start a Fire”] for Ryan [Star’s] album [11:59], so it’s been inspiring to see big things happening around me.
Lyrically I think the EP is some of your most honest work. In “Monday Morning” you sing, “It looks like I’m only growing older without a god damn thing to show for it” and in “Coming Alive” you sing, “I’m so tired of living my life just to be living my life.” There seems to be a theme of frustration and being unfulfilled. Can you expand on that for me?
I think that ties in with the whole rock singer/songwriter vibe. A lot of rock music is described as depressing and angsty. There will always be a bit of that in me but I felt like I wanted to make an effort to channel that in a different direction. If I was depressed, I would turn it into a song that would lift me up. That was what I was going for in “Monday Morning”. I remember being in my apartment and just feeling incredibly lonely, so I started to write that song. As I was writing it, I started to feel so much better, so I knew I wanted it to have an anthem-feel that would lift people up.
“Coming Alive” was the same way. I was reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac. The whole book is about him travelling and being this free-spirit rebelling against the notions of society. I write about that theme a lot in my songs. Again, I get these fantasies in my head about running away and how liberating that would be, so that’s a part of it too.
“All Kinds of Love” seems to be about a forbidden love maybe involving an inter-racial relationship?
Is that right? Can you discuss the inspiration for it?
[Laughs] There have been different interpretations of it. I had a friend who thought it was about guys dating guys. Some other people have caught on that it might be about a white guy dating a black girl. It’s there, if you want to read into the lyrics, that’s kind of what the song’s about. In general it’s just more about being open-minded. I see a lot of people who only date certain demographics of people and stick to their own kind. I wanted to write a song about the idea of exploring someone who is totally different than you. In my opinion, those are the best relationships because you can learn so much more and it’s exciting. I don’t really want to date someone who is exactly like me and comes from the same place because to me that’s boring, so that idea was the inspiration for the song.
You’re an avid tweeter. In a tweet you said that an eight year old’s reaction to “X-Ray Vision” was asking you, “Is this sex music?” What was your reaction to that comment and how did it make you feel that such a young listener thought that?
[Laughs] I mean, I laughed. I just said, “Woah! What are you talking about?” [Laughs] I didn’t know what to say! I laughed and was embarrassed, so I changed the subject quickly.
There have been reactions to that song involving sex but I wasn’t expecting it from an eight year old! I think it’s cool. There’s definitely an element of sexuality in the stuff we’re doing, especially in our shows. I’m influenced by a lot of sexual performers who integrate that into their sound or live performances. It adds more for entertainment. People know that sex sells, but I’m not comfortable talking about that with an eight year old child. [Laughs]
There’s a line in “Monday Morning” that you sing, “A thousand lies in a New York minute.” Can you tell me about your experience with being a musician in the New York music scene?
Man, it’s really difficult. It was for a long time. Everyone is doing their own thing, hustling, wants a little piece of the pie, so it’s extremely hard to connect with other musicians. I have met tons and tons of musicians, but sometimes you don’t see eye-to-eye, so things fall apart quickly. I think this is the first time in my life things are coming together in a way they never have before.
Again, working with Ido was great because he has this huge circle and connection with musicians. I’ve met so many people through that whole inner-circle, for example, Lyle of Gambit. He’s a good friend now and I love his music. We’re both working with the same producer and we’re both playing at the same venues, so I’m finally meeting like-minded musicians. It’s awesome because you want to know there are other people out there that are doing the same thing as you and know how you feel.
It does get really competitive sometimes, though. At the end of the day this industry is completely fucked and there’s little room for anyone. To get anywhere you have to be amazing and have something that’s unique that people want to see, buy, and hear.
It’s just the negativity I don’t like. I don’t like musicians that hate on everybody, rag on everything, and complain about pop music. There might have been a part of me that used to be like that, but I don’t see the world that way anymore. It’s only destructive and doesn’t get you anywhere, so I’m very open-minded. There’s stuff I don’t like, obviously, but I can still understand why people like it. There are a lot of musicians that are so close-minded. That disappoints me a lot, but, overall, now I’m in a nice position and I like where I am as far as being surrounded by great musicians.
There’s a YouTube video of a song called “Infinite” that you played at your Canal Room show that’s not on the EP. Will it be on a future release?
Yeah, we are working on that track. Our idea is to play as many shows as we can over the coming months, play a new song at every concert, and just get a reaction to them. The feedback with that song was positive so we know that we want to continue with it and make it better. We’re hoping by January or February we will have played a bunch of new stuff live and know what worked so we can go into the studio with Ido and bang out another EP. I’m sure “Infinite” will be on it and some remixes too.
I was going to ask if you see yourself ever releasing a full-length album but you just mentioned you’re going to do another EP?
Yeah, maybe we’ll do another EP, attach it to the first one, and it’ll be like a full record. That’s an idea. Things are changing as far as the full-album format. For a new artist, it’s a lot for you to release an entire record of twelve songs. Unless they are, like, the best twelve songs ever written in the world, I don’t think people want to hear that much new music. They just want to get a little taste, get excited about what they heard, maybe go see your show, and wait for the next stuff. That’s one reason why I didn’t want to release a full album.
The second reason is that I didn’t have enough songs for it. We recorded eight songs but three of them just didn’t make the cut. I’m still growing as a songwriter so I wanted to make sure that I was only releasing the five best songs that I had at the time. I will do that again because I’m not going to release songs I don’t think are good.
Like I said, I think the album format is changing. I look at this example of Robyn. She’s one of my favourite electro-pop singers from Sweden. She released kind of like an EP called Body Talk: Part One. It’s eight songs but it feels like a full-length record to me and every song is good. I’d rather listen to an eight song album than a 15 song one with six filler tracks. You hear one filler track, get bored, and want to turn off the record. So I’m trying to be conscious of that and we’ll see.
Do you think giving music away for free is the new way of releasing music?
I think for new bands it’s tough to charge for your music. The EP is on iTunes but my focus is not about making money from the music but rather people just getting to hear it. We’re looking into getting different merchandise such as t-shirts and stickers, so maybe we’ll make some money that way. My number one priority is for people to hear the music and to make fans from our live show, though.
Do you think you’re going to continue releasing music independently or do you see yourself signing to a record label?
If a label was interested in us and could really help us get out to the world then I don’t see why we wouldn’t sign, but it would have to be the right deal. At some point we’ll need an investor of some kind to help us financially. There are so many things we want to do with our live show that we can’t afford at the moment, it would be wonderful to have the luxury to let our creativity run free. Every time we rehearse and write we’re thinking of different lighting setups and designs, but for the time being we can only pull off performances within our means.
This is the last question. Because this interview is for MusicVice.com, if you don’t mind sharing, what are some of your other vices besides music?
Hmmm. [Pause] I guess I’m a simple person. I like yoga, art, books, and movies. I keep an open mind to everything and am always up for an adventure, though.
© Laura Antonelli, Music Vice
Future Relative – MySpace