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The Sound and the Warmth: An Interview with Cardiknox

New York's Cardiknox are taking more steps in their goal of world domination. With their debut record Portrait out, the band are dreaming big, wanting to transcend the indie pop scene.



Label: Warner Bros.
Release Date: 2016-03-11

When New York's Cardiknox talk about world domination, there is no maniacal laughter involved. There's an intense passion that wants to push a dream forward. While the indie pop scene can be like an art show where people pick favorites, Thomas Dutton and Lonnie Angle have more than enough fight in them. When they dream of being larger than life kings and queens, what they really are saying is that they are truly serious about wanting to play Madison Square Garden.

When Tristan Eaton designed the artwork for Portrait, the duo's debut album, there began to be a sense that something was concrete. Though the band had a couple songs and music videos under their belt, the process of a debut was something that made things real. Bigger prospects would then be hoped for. PopMatters had the chance to speak to the duo on their inspirations, song process, and, ultimately, how they condensed something giant into a beautifully small package.

One look at Tristan Eaton's artwork could strengthen thoughts of Michael Jackson's first posthumous album Michael. Though Thomas indicates that Eaton was going off his own style, he does say that Jackson was one of the big musical influences. The other giant, David Bowie, also found his way into the band's style of indie pop. For Dutton, '80s figures like Prince and Madonna got caught in Cardiknox's sightlines. "I'm inspired by rap and hip-hop production," he says, citing Drake and Kanye West. West's minimal beats were noteworthy within the band's track listing ("Doors").

Similar sentiments were described by Angle. Gwen Stefani's whole career spurred something within Cardiknox, but so did Cyndi Lauper's unique vocals. "It always inspired me to have a slightly different tone than most, particularly in the pop world," she explained. This approach would enhance the fire on songs like "Bloodlust" and "Supermodel", while also heightening the emotional depth found in "Souvenirs" and "Shadowboxing", an incredibly personal track in the band's current canon. The band acknowledges that they can sound like Charli XCX on "Perfect Storm", noting that it's a huge compliment to be like someone who is "obviously killer".

When the group channel their own style, storytelling becomes a key facet. Dutton claims that "anything that tells a story in a clever way or looks at things through a fresh perspective is always super inspiring." The image of John Hughes flicks like The Breakfast Club come to mind when they imagine how a track could be. For instance, their song "On My Way" touches the lines of dreams and successes. Through its music video, Angle and Dutton treat space like an individual treats time. However, instead of waiting, the two walk through locales and into the ultimate destination of the street, cruising from small venues to something larger in scale. In its storytelling glory, the band create the blueprint to their world domination plot. It illustrates the band's "emotional journey through what the lyrics are talking about... mentioning being on her way."

Yet storytelling is not completely about the narrative; the characters that are Angle and Dutton have grown through their experiences and likes. Dutton had an adoration for bass and drum samples due to how they managed to form a connection with him. These implementations became more than something that worked toward the instrumental goal of creating something inspiring and worthwhile. They became one with the musician. On Angle's musical theatre background, the idea of sprinkling epic and dramatic textures into pieces would form the other half of Cardiknox. However, it was not gargantuan pieces that would be strived for.

While Dutton saw (through his project Forgive Durden) the grand nature within an album like Razia's Shadow: A Musical, he acknowledges that the nature of Cardiknox would be smaller in scale. That does not mean that it would lack something awe-inspiring. His musical was a huge collaborative effort, and packing that within Cardiknox would feel forced. But in lighter doses, collaborating with others would be a completely welcome idea. For instance, they had already teamed up with a musician named Daye Jack to build up the track "Doors". It is in these taken opportunities that the band feel wholesome.

The past would also find its way into the great whole. While Boyz II Men and Backstreet Boys were the first concert experiences for Dutton and Angle respectively, the idea that these influences seeped into the band is complex.

"I think we really wanted to capture the kind of warm, nostalgic feeling that you get when you put on a record that you grew up listening to... I wanted our record to have that feeling for other people. I don't think that there was any direct Boyz II Men inspiration, but in the larger sense, the sound, the vibe is what we definitely wanted to have."

Dutton's words are relevant to a lot of acts, but it is in his sincerity that makes his delivery impactful. When "Souvenirs" talks of reflecting on an old, memory-filled mixtape, there is the sacredness of the warmth of nostalgia. Cardiknox do not only want Portrait to resonate as a musical piece, but also something that people listen to for the purpose of feeling warmth. In a smaller way, this becomes the domination of one's world. It becomes playing in one's own mental Madison Square Garden.

Cardiknox truly want to transcend the indie pop scene. They want to connect. In a decade, what they want is for people to ask "Who will be the next Cardiknox?" On "Wild Child", Lonnie sings "Ever since I was a kid I've been getting in trouble". The world is about to see the kind of trouble this band can stir.

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