Sign of the Times: An Interview With Miami Horror
Emerging from the Australian electronic-pop revival with the likes of Neon Indian and Kimbra, Miami Horror move from the personal to the imaginative in pastel-bright fashion.
"You won't find a love like mine," Benjamin Plant sings on the energetic dance single "Love Like Mine" from Miami Horror's second album, All Possible Futures. While its pop love song lyrics might be trite and forgettable, the song itself is anything but that -- the upbeat, sun-touched melody has you racing for the replay button to stay with the nostalgia-tinged summer feeling conjured by the totality of Miami Horror's sound.
Having blasted into the Australian electronic scene in 2010 with their debut, Illumination, which featured Kimbra and Neon Indian's Alan Palomo, and went on to almost win the prestigious ARIA Music Award, losing only to Cut Copy's Zonoscope, the Melbourne-based five-piece band were looking at a bright future of constantly climbing the festival ladder. All Possible Futures cemented their unique sound that fused the old and the new in an album awash with gleeful electronica that overwhelms and places you in a lazy stupor, as if you were living in a furniture catalogue for seaside condos from the early '90s.
With The Shapes EP, released earlier this year, Miami Horror dive into more conceptual waters, with each song bringing something unique to the overall bouquet of an EP. Inspired heavily by The Talking Heads, the EP sees the band turn towards fusing their penchant for bold, colourful imagery with their proven mastery of electronic pop, resulting in a lively record that is hopefully indicative of what the band will do next.
PopMatters spoke to Ben Plant about how Miami Horror has changed over time, and how The Shapes reflects the current state of the band.
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Please tell us about the beginnings of Miami Horror. What prompted the transition from it being your solo project to it being a fully-fledged band?
I was getting tired of DJing music I didn't like and it felt like it would make sense to perform the music live. From there we've started to collaborate more and more and the live show became a huge part of Miami Horror.
You've said in interviews that what prompted Miami Horror to become this bigger thing was the attention it got on music blogs. Tell us about that music media ecosystem and how it has changed over time. Do you think it has become harder or easier for newcomers to rise to fame in a similar way you have?
I think it has become harder. It has become easier to make music for everyone, but that means more competition and more noise. Blogs were amazing because a lot of people really used them to find new music, so if you were above mediocre it was easy to get some attention and get the ball rolling.
Miami Horror seems to be as much about cinematography and visual design as the music. Please tell us about the people who've most influenced your taste in the visual department, any filmmakers or artists whose works you hold particularly dear?
It's always changing. Over the last three years it was artists like Erin Garcia, Spenceroni, Annu Kilpelainen, and Sebastian Borkenhagen, all of which we've worked with on our previous and current releases. We're really into bold shapes, lines and color at the moment and that has been the case for the last few years.
How would you describe the Australian electronic music scene when you guys were starting out vs. the way it is now? How integral was the Melbourne music scene to the formation of your music taste and the music of Miami Horror?
Yeah, I'd say some of my favourite artists were from Melbourne when I was growing up. It was good to be part of a scene back then. Now it feels like everyone is a bit of a lone ranger besides the club genres and small niches. I definitely looked up to Cut Copy and Midnight Juggernauts when I was in my early 20s.
Is the sense of place an important part of what inspires you? Has living in Los Angeles and touring all over changed the music you want to make?
Yeah, Los Angeles has a strong influence, it's crazy and also calm at the same time. Sunny and dreamy. All those elements have influenced our last album and our current EP.
Do you feel as if the music you want to make is still very much in flux? or have found your niche and want to explore it as fully as you can?
We always change, the new EP was something different for us. But I think overall we try to make music that sounds like us, we don't want to genre or trend hop too much just to fit in. I think it can be hard taking risks and going in your own direction, but ultimately that's what we wanna put out there as our legacy.
How has it been, working without Aaron? Has his departure triggered any change in the music you want to make?
Currently it hasn't influenced too much as we'd finished writing the last EP a while ago. I think it will change the atmosphere of the music a little over time, he was very quick at creating amazing experimental sounds and the magical sprinkles & effects, a great songwriter too. Sad to see him go but I think it's always important to remember the good times and keep moving forward.
When did you start thinking about The Shapes? Please tell us about the process of coming up with the concept behind the EP and how it evolved.
We were always really into the rhythmic guitars and percussion of Talking Heads, but that only started to come through in the song "Out Of Sight" on All Possible Futures. Their songs stood out when I was a child, I guess because of their originality. I didn't officially explore their discography until the last five years. Suddenly I started to explore a mix of other post punk/new wave artists like Lizzy Mercer Descloux, Bush Tetras, ESG, and Kid Creole and then was heavily inspired again to go further down that route and another release with these newfound influences. There were also other modern bands doing similar things like De Lux, Total Giovanni, and now Confidence Man so it felt like the right time to explore it.
Since The Shapes seems to blend more music from around the world with the distinct sunny electronica you are known for than any album preceding it. How you stay inspired and keep finding out about all this music that's far from the mainstream? Do you have to put in much effort in making sure you don't wind up surrounded by the same sounds?
Yeah, I mean sometimes pop music kills me, it was great for a moment but it's starting to get to that point again. It was refreshing when even artists like Rihanna and Drake were using a lot of cooler production influences but it's starting to get old with all the cheap copycats that come with it. So we just continue to find our own thing. Also, a lot of alternative music sounds very similar at this point, which is uninspiring, to be honest. I'm hoping for some sort of electro-clash revival where it's cool to do something different and edgy.
When writing lyrics, do you try to mine your own experiences or do you focus on some concept and explore that?
We do both. All Possible Futures was quite personal, whereas Illumination was more imaginative. To be honest I like the imaginative side of Illumination better. Nobody needs to hear more boring personal stories that have been told a million times. The Shapes was cool because we were exploring totally different topics. Some sound personal but they're actually imagined concepts of a broader culture or character.
What's next on the horizon for you guys? Are you thinking of making more conceptual work?
I think whatever we do next we want to get back to something moody, vibe-ey and emotional, but in a totally different way to how everyone else is doing it. Clean, downtempo modern R&B is becoming really boring ... I love the feel of records like the new Avalanches one, as well as old house records, the repeated euphoria they carry. The way they can take you away to another place. We need more of that. At least that's what resonates with me. I want to hear something that can always feel magical and timeless as opposed to really specific genres like hip house, dub step, post dub step etc. Those things only stick around for a few years.