Teengirl Fantasy, the Brooklyn-based duo of Logan Takahashi and Nick Weiss, have been making music together for nearly a decade, managing to carve out a unique artistic space while their music remains somewhat unclassifiable, wavering between disparate strands of R&B and electronic music. Their blissed-out new album, 8AM, is their first in five years, and marks their debut on the esteemed Planet Mu label. In advance of the record’s release, Takahashi and Weiss spoke to Shawn Reynaldo for Red Bull Radio’s First Floor about how they pursue a consistent musical vision, the unsurprising success of their collaborators and trying to achieve a post-ecstasy feeling on 8AM. Read an excerpt below, and listen to First Floor on Red Bull Radio here every Thursday at 1 PM EDT.
Music changes so quickly these days. Has it been difficult for you guys to maintain a coherent musical vision while working together over the course of a decade?
When we started a decade ago, the context that we were making this music in was pretty different than the current musical landscape. I think our general views on music and the things that we’re trying to do with music haven’t drastically changed. If anything, it would probably just be the immediate context that we’re being read against. When we started in 2007 or 2008, there definitely just weren’t as many people doing house-y or techno electronic music in the sort of context that we were trying to do it in, which was maybe from a more DIY approach.
Since the time we’ve started, I’ve definitely seen a watershed moment of all these people making dance music and weird dance music and all sorts of interesting, great electronic music. At this point, living in Brooklyn, it’s almost like techno has come to take the place of where indie was maybe 12 years ago.
The context and the circle in which we were touring in, at least when we started, was a lot of American indie or warehouse-based scenes – noise shows, punk shows. I think the general context or genre that a lot of people were playing in was still very guitar-based in that world. We would often be one of the few bands that was fully working on electronics. Within the past couple years that paradigm has totally shifted, where everyone pretty much has shifted to exclusively electronic sounds and set-ups.
I think the changes we’ve seen on an underground level have also been parallel to these changes that have been happening on a mainstream level in the past few years. It’s like EDM has almost become arena rock. The underground or indie response to that might be techno, just paralleling that to the last decade or so.
Now it would be harder to start a four-piece rock band, even if you wanted to, than just being able to do everything yourself or with a friend on a computer or a synthesizer. It’s so accessible now that it has become the main medium by which people are expressing themselves musically.
The last Teengirl Fantasy album was Tracer, which came out almost five years ago. One thing that I think a lot of people don’t realize about that record is that Kelela was on it, singing on the track “EFX.” Nowadays she’s being written about at length in The New York Times. Did you guys have any idea that she was going to blow up like this?
I think that every person that we’ve worked with we have had ultimate faith in their ability. We wouldn’t work with someone if we didn’t think they were incredible. I think we have a pretty good track record of people that we’ve worked with going on to do really amazing things. From the first time that I heard Kelela’s voice, I definitely thought it was super special. From the first time she sent back her demo on “EFX,” before we worked on it in person, I had just not heard something like that before. The way that she is able to ride these disjointed electronic beats in this really smooth way is something that has since maybe become more of the norm, but she was also a frontier on that path for vocalists or people that bridge that gap.
Since Tracer came out, there have been a couple of EPs, but overall there hasn’t been a whole lot of Teengirl material in the past few years. What have you guys been up to? Were you taking a break from the group at all?
We started the recording process for some of the tracks that would end up going into this album in 2013. It hasn’t been until the last year and a half where we had our own studio. Before that, I think we had recorded at five or six different locations, including two different studios in Berlin, a studio in London, going upstate in Woodstock in a friend’s cabin for a week and a few different spots here in New York.
I wouldn’t say that we ever stopped looking forward and thinking about the music. There definitely were moments where we didn’t do Teengirl stuff as much, just because of our own lives and schedules and other projects. Last year I released a solo album that I had been working on for a couple years and did some shows around that. Nick has been doing some other collaborations as well. It was just a matter of getting everything to a place where we felt happy with it and where it could feel real and not forced.
We never stopped working on this album in that timeframe. But I think we were just a lot more cautious about what was going to go on the album than on Tracer. I think Tracer we were super determined to just do it. We were like, “OK. We have this summer. Let’s do this record and just see what happens.” With this album we had a concept and we spent more time deliberating over what tracks fit that sound that we wanted.
The new album is called 8AM, which seems like a callback to your first full-length, which was 7AM. Can you explain the connection between 7AM and the new LP?
It’s not so much of a direct thematic connection. It’s not like with 7AM we’re trying to tell the story of one point in a person’s night, and then 8AM is that same night continued. But I think there is some sense of sequencing. The idea of sequencing and coming after is inherent in the concept of the album 8AM itself, the idea of post-peak, after the main event of the night. I think that in itself is this neat tie-in. Maybe the things that they both share is this idea of an in-between, maybe a sense of becoming.
I think it’s basically that Tracer was an outlier in sound and concept. It had a lot more different directions with all the vocalist features and that kind of thing. I think with this album we were returning to that same, like what Logan was saying, “in-between-ness,” dream state, post-ecstasy feeling that 7AM had. But I think that this one is even pushed a little harder into this unknowable moment. 8AM is not even really a party time anymore. It’s a different kind of feeling, that morning feeling.
Over the years that you guys have been a group, a lot has been written about Teengirl Fantasy. But one thing that no one can seem to agree upon is what kind of music you are making. It’s obviously electronic. People tend to use the word R&B a lot. But Teengirl Fantasy doesn’t really fit neatly into any one box. Do you guys ever think about your music in terms of genre, or do you even worry about how it’s going to be perceived or categorized in that way?
I used to sometimes feel like we weren’t accepted into the more club or straightforward dance music culture. But then I stopped caring. Now I really don’t think about it at all. Genre just feels less and less important at this point, to make these distinctions between genre when music can be as free as you want it to be. That can be so limiting.
One of the main reasons I have for even making music is to try and explore and hopefully create some new vocabulary. So much of my favorite music is about either disassembling pre-existing vocabulary or creating their own. I’m still pretty driven by that idea.