Words by Tommy Johnson
Having just laid down the roots of DECOUPLR around two years ago, Bailey Walker and Adam Laub found that their merger sonically offered a fresh take on electronic music. Tapping into their influences such as Trent Reznor, Sylvan Esso, and Flying Lotus, DECOUPLR weighs the natural balance of the digital and physical.
The duo’s debut DIGITAL BONFIRE was curated over hours that featured sitting on voice chats and video calls, all while being fully aware that the way of communicating during this difficult time made them feel hopeless. Laub complied a mixture of vintage and modern sounds, while Walker offers up stunning vocals that go along with her vulnerability lyrically.
Off Shelf: What’s the state of the DIY scene, outside of the fact that shows have been shelved?
Adam Laub: In Philly, people I know in the DIY scene are still trying their best to create and make new music. The pandemic has absolutely halted a lot of progress on people’s projects, but I have also seen friends and colleagues making some of the most unique music that they have ever worked on during this time. Being forced inside, I know a lot of people who are taking the time to learn music-making software and how to record themselves in their homes. Bedroom solo projects are a different beast than playing with a band, but I do love hearing all of the records that have come out from local musicians during this time as I think the isolation opens up a different type of creativity for some.
OS: With live shows not being able to take place, have you thought about doing some online sets?
AL: We have started to do some online sets! This project was created and released during the pandemic, so there has not been an opportunity to play live as DECOUPLR before we went into quarantine. We are releasing a set recording with WXPN and Cherry-Vine Zine sometime in the next month.
OS: Bailey, I wanted to ask you what was some of the takeaways you took out of moving to Philly?
Bailey Walker: My very first taste of Philly was when I moved there the day the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2018. I met Philadelphia on one of its best days ever. There was a huge parade, and the light poles were greased by the city department so people wouldn’t climb up in celebration. There were people drunk and singing in the streets – I could tell that while it was mostly about football, it was also about showing up for Philly together. My takeaways were about the people in Philly and how lucky I was to witness them celebrating such a huge win.
OS: The album lyrics center mainly around the complex situations from the past, present, and possible future. When writing, was this focus on being vulnerable a priority?
BW: I don’t think I intentionally set out to write such vulnerable lyrics, they just kind of happened. I wrote at first to try to process some of the topics that were on my mind, like change, loss, and uncertainty. At the time, I didn’t think I would be putting an album out so I just wrote to de-stress. Vulnerability is difficult for a lot of people, but having listeners reach out about their takeaways from these songs has been worth it.
OS: Did the new album also find a lot of inspiration in mood, partly due to the pandemic?
AL: The new album absolutely found a lot of inspiration in the pandemic. Most of the songs on the album are informed by the new feelings of loneliness and a need to relearn our methods of communication.
OS: How long has this collaboration been in the works for you two?
BW: We have been working on this project for a little over a year. We started with a couple demos before the pandemic started for two tracks on the album “Cold Sweat” and “Got It Covered.”
OS: When you started working together, when did it become clear that this was something you needed to move forward?
BW: Definitely. We started slow by writing a few songs together, and at some point it just made sense to push through and try to write an album together.
OS: Being roommates now, what challenges came up during the writing and recording process for the album?
AL: I feel like we work really well together, and living together did not have a huge impact on our ability to work together effectively. We have always treated music as something we can do together for fun, a way to create art together. When we keep our heads set on that mentality, it avoids a lot of the common issues and frustrations that people have working with other musicians and being in bands with close friends. There were definitely some moments where we became too focused on the business side of the music, and that can get stressful as it starts to feel like a job. In those moments, we just had to acknowledge what was happening and find ways to back down from getting angry or confrontational.
OS: I have read that Trent Reznor, Sylvan Esso, and Flying Lotus have been influential to you two. What is about these acts that speak to you?
AL: I love Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. They have always been a huge influence on me. Ever since I was a teenager and first listened to With Teeth and The Downward Spiral, I saw something in the production and sound and tone of Trent’s music that I have always strived to replicate. He can create the most alien-sounding synthesizers but still give them this warmth and organic nature to the sound. Making your electronic instruments sound alive is something I have always pulled from listening to NIN.
Flying Lotus is also a huge inspiration for me. The use of hip-hop beats and psychedelic sounds is something I am a big fan of and have also tried to continually pull into my music. Arpeggiators, sidechained kick drums ducking the whole track, and tape hiss, and natural-sounding samples are elements that I feel Flying Lotus is a master of, and I have tried my best to incorporate some of those sounds into DECOUPLR.
Sylvan Esso is probably the main inspiration for our project. The idea of taking a folk singer and combining it with a modern electronic sound to create dancy, hip-hop, and electronica-inspired music was inspiring to us. I love everything about Sylvan Esso, from the unique vocal performance to the creative beats that span a variety of electronic genres. We pulled inspiration from Sylvan Esso by trying to make every track on the album sound distinct and different, hopping between different electronic genres and styles.
OS: With being in so many projects, how much did you allow those past experiences to come into DECOUPLR?
AW: For me, DECOUPLR pulls a lot from what I have learned in previous projects. In my band OhBree, we went for maximalism and layering as many tracks and sounds onto a song as possible. For DECOUPLR, I took the ways I like to layer sounds in OhBree and utilized that to create an interesting sonic pallet, but I also had the knowledge of when to stop with adding more to a given track. I also perform in a noise and ambient group, Tidal Archive, and having played in that group for so long. I have a good grasp on making ambient soundscapes and using drones and other tones as backdrops. That style makes an appearance across DECOUPLR’s album as a lot of the tracks have ambient backdrops and soundscapes behind the main beats.
OS: Where do you see the project going now that the debut has dropped?
AW: As soon as things get back to normal, we will be out playing live shows in the Philadelphia area hopefully as soon as this fall!