by Wilson Standish of Boy Kings
New York City’s The Golden Filter released their first single “Solid Gold” in February and it already feels like an established classic. Their underground new wave sound is bringing back imagination and mystery to music. Golden Filter releases close to nothing about themselves or their music, forcing listeners to fill in the blanks and create their own story. Leading up to this interview all that was for certain was that they currently reside in New York City and not much else.
I spoke to them after sound check at Chicago’s Sonotheque, a club so compact we had to conduct the interview through the coatroom window. Penelope (vocals) pulled her blonde hair behind her face, which is not exposed during the shows, and extremely large tortoise shell glasses. Stephen (keyboard/percussions) had scruffy facial hair and wore a long scarf wrapped many times around his neck and still hung to his hands at both ends, and Lisa (drummer/newest member) listened most of the interview in her ankle exposed jeans and t-shirt. Every once and in a while someone would try to get me to check their coat, but that didn’t stop them from talking about the reason for the band’s mystery, coffee and even the unheard of upcoming album.
Boy Kings: How did you all meet?
Penelope: Well, I’m an Aussie. I moved to New York after traveling for a bit. It’s really not that exciting. I would love it to be more exciting, but we were neighbors.
Stephen: We’d chatted for a while about photography, films and whatnot. After a few months Penelope said, “Oh yeah, by the way, I can sing. And I was like “Oh…really cool.”
Penelope: And Lisa was our neighbor--drummer as well--like our own little posse.
BK: How long have you been making music together?
Stephen: In this project we’ve been making music since June.
BK: I have to ask, how come so much mystery?
Stephen: It’s just the way it happened. [laughs]
Penelope: But I don’t know. Society is spoon-feeding everyone, everything. It’s a bit clichéd and I just wanted, personally and collectively…
Stephen: You look on MySpace and there’s a band that played the night before and there’s a hundred photos uploaded to their gallery. And all these posh, super exciting photos…
Penelope: And that’s all cool and all, but I guess it’s a rebellion for us against everything being in your face. Let’s bring it back a little bit, and get people to use their imaginations.
Stephen: Plus we like taking photos and being creative about it.
Penelope: It’s very much about you have to create the story in your own mind. Maybe some people create too much of a story.
Stephen: There might be a little bit of when we started to release “Solid Gold” to blogs we weren’t actually sure if people would like it, which is completely insane to think about that now. But back then it was like I don’t know about this, should I do it.
Penelope: The mystery in relation to the name. The name was pertaining to photography essentially, like 1970’s hazy romantic. And it was mysterious in that romantic kind of way. So that’s where the name came from, to tie into the whole “Should we do this? Will it be liked?”
Stephen: Ever since then it’s evolved, and we decided let’s not release any photos and don’t say too much.
Penelope: Living in the moment.
BK: What’s your process like when you’re putting together songs?
Stephen: Each one’s different, but we have a general goal or a sound we like.
Penelope: And despite the fact it is electronic we try to tone it down to something organic.
BK: What was going through your mind when putting together “Solid Gold”?
Stephen: It was written in two days, there really wasn’t much to think about. It was just like let’s put together a song really fast. Because we had written songs before this project. But that was writing the music one day, writing the lyrics that night, and recording it the next day.
BK: What’s normal life like for you guys in New York then?
Stephen: Drinking coffee.
Penelope: Searching out the best coffee beans you can buy.
Stephen: It’s not that we go out and party every night. I don’t.
Penelope: Well, it comes in phases. Depends on the season.
BK: You said that you were brought together by film and photography. What film and photography inspires you the most?
Penelope: Movies…David Lynch, anything that’s a little crazy is good for me. And photography, David Hamilton, the 1970’s. He was a little controversial on one realm.
Stephen: A lot.
Penelope: He was very embraced by the French because he did this whole romantic, blurry semi nudity.
Stephen: But that’s the whole golden filter joke, “Oooh, the picture is through the golden filter.” The other thing about photography is that you [Penelope] and I were both photo minors in college.
Penelope: If I had another life, and had enough time in my life, I would do photography. I chose music, I had to make a choice.
BK: Your music reminds me of the 1982 film Liquid Sky.
Lisa: That goes back to what you were saying, how everyone has their own imagination. You attached this music to that movie, and someone else might attach it to another image.
BK: What do you want to accomplish with your music?
Penelope: I don’t want to come out with a cliché…I’m really good with clichés. It’s about reaching out to a bigger sphere of folk. To inspire others and the imagination thing.
Stephen: More of the imagination with me. Basically the goal was to make songs click and let people say what they want about it. Escapism.
Penelope: And not just through here [the live shows] but the mind concept and you can start going into the visuals. And go off on another tangent.
Stephen: We also set out to make the vocals more imagery-esque, which is why there are foxes and stuff.
Penelope: It was a very visual, deliberate choice of words.
Stephen: As opposed to a song about love.
BK: Are you excited about touring?
Stephen: We’re excited…our next show is in Paris.
Penelope: We get two hours of recreation in Paris. Search out a good coffee. [laughs]
Stephen: Three days in the UK and four shows which is crazy.
Penelope: We fly into London, drive straight to Paris, and that’ll be exciting too. Just crossing over the channel and getting on to the European mainland, and start spreading out the whole energy. And then Presets--oh my God--I get very patriotic. I was in Australia in December and saw them headline the Never Everland Festival in Brisbane. I was told by family members, “they’re really big here now,” and they’re fucking huge. Jesus, even my dad knows the Presets.
BK: How did you get linked up with Dummy Records?
Stephen: It’s not like it was our only option, but we really liked the visual magazines.
Penelope: And the other artists. The other offers weren’t getting who we are, and what’s the point?
BK: So what is the point?
Stephen: The music, that’s it.
Penelope: It’s about let the music do its thing and you do the rest as the listener.
Stephen: Not prejudging by what we look like or what label we’re on.
Penelope: No box. You either like it and it moves you and that’s cool.
BK: Do you have anything in the works for an EP or an album?
Stephen: Single number two coming soon. We’ve actually finished 90% of a full length…Barring we decide to do more.
Penelope: There is a full album, which almost has a home and will come out.
BK: Are we going to see Chicago added to your song “Favorite Things” after tonight?
Lisa: It’s already one of my favorite things. I love Chicago, always have.
Penelope: I need to learn about Chicago.
Stephen: I’ve honestly not had good things here. I’m hoping that this time isn’t my best time here.