Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberley talk politics, love and sonic identity
Poppy Turner

10:03 9th June 2016

When I arrive at Chairlift’s East London hotel, Caroline Polachek is just finishing off a full English breakfast, and Patrick Wimberly arrives downstairs a few minutes later, still rubbing his eyes. He doesn’t order any food of his own, but picks at Caroline’s leftovers as we talk. I ask them how it is spending so much time together in the studio, and on the road – they seem so chilled, but surely they must fall out sometimes?

“I think we’ve got it figured out,” responds Caroline, Patrick adding, “we do get intense creatively, but it’s more yin and yang…” The pair do seem incredibly in tune with one another; they often find themselves showing up to the studio in matching outfits. Today is no exception – they are both dressed all in black, although they’re quick to point out that this is a rarity in both of their cases – a “London moment”.

Moth is the first of the band’s three albums to have been made in their own studio: Patrick tells me, “It’s very liberating, to not feel like you’re watching the clock all the time.” Aside from the practical freedoms, such as having as much time as they need to get the music as close to perfect as possible, and not relying on someone else (and their patience) for making changes to tracks, Moth was infected with the general sense of being in their own space. Friends would come in and out, sitting and listening, having lunch with the band, or even guesting on songs.

Caroline suggests that this gave them a different perspective on the music: “Instead of thinking about it through a label’s ears, we’re thinking about it through our friends’ ears, and it just changed the tone.”

It’s also the first album that Chairlift have produced almost entirely by themselves. They brought in LA producer Robin Hannibal to help them with just three of the tracks; “We went to him after we were deep into the process and we just wanted some fresh ears to help us finish up a couple of tracks,” Patrick tells me, but other than that it was all down to him and Caroline. The live set-up has shifted slightly too; whilst Patrick joined the band as a bassist, he’s now on drums for most of the set.

Caroline points out that this album generally has less synthesizer on it than the last two, and her focus seems to be more on her vocals. “The vocals on this record are so athletic that I actually can’t do them well while playing,” she explains. “It’s so much nicer for me to just be able to sing and move. So in some cases we’ve put them on the track, in some cases we’ve cut them, and in some cases our sax player plays them. I’m on synth for about a third of the set, and then out and running around for the rest of it.”

In the time between their second album, Something, coming out and making Moth, Polachek and Wimberly have both been busy with various other projects. Polachek brought out a solo album under the moniker Ramona Lisa, and both have collaborated with other people; Wimberly has drummed for Solange Knowles, and built up an impressive portfolio of mixing and production credits, including names like Tei Shi, Tune-Yards, Das Racist, and Beyoncé. I wonder if this has affected the way they work together now as Chairlift. “I think we’ve learned things from all the different projects we’ve done, and we learned what works best when we’re working together,” says Patrick.

“That’s really what it is for me,” continues Caroline, “doing other projects gives me an outlet for other ideas, and it makes me suddenly understand what Chairlift is, and what the sound of Chairlift is. I think in the past we approached Chairlift as the outlet for all of our ideas, and the more we work, the more we realise this project has a specific feeling and a specific sound to it. And even now, I think we’re getting closer and closer to a singular sonic identity for the project. Doing these other things definitely helps, because you learn what it is by learning what it is not.”

The third track on the album, Romeo, draws lyrically upon classical mythology for its story, but the video for Crying in Public, which came out the day before our interview, is very intimate, with sections of the band in the studio and Caroline sporting jewel-like teardrops that cling to her face for the duration of the song. “Well there are 10 songs on the album, I’d say about 90% of them are quite personal, Romeo’s sort of the outlier, it’s the only one that has a story.”

I ask her if those personal lyrics may also have seen a shift since 2012’s Something, as both Caroline and Patrick have (separately) got married in that time. “I’ve been wondering about that too actually,” she muses. “This record was written mostly as I was just falling in love with the man who is now my husband so… I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing songs that are about relationships, but perhaps the nature of them will change.

“But also I really like writing from stories that aren’t my own.” She mentions two of her favourite lyricists who do just that: Kate Bush – who you can see a lot of in Polachek’s aesthetic, as well as in her vocals – and Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout. “He treats relationships and love in itself like a subject to be studied, and not necessarily from one’s personal point of view but just through everyone you know, and through the whole of the collective human unconscious. So I don’t feel like I’ll have any sort of absence of material, lyrically.”

I ask her if that means she thinks she’ll look outwards for inspiration in the future more than she did on Moth. “Potentially…” she replies, before adding with a smile, “I mean I could also write another entire album of I Belong in Your Arms!”

In London, the housing crisis has meant that a lot of people, particularly musicians and people in other creative professions, are being priced out of the city, leaving it possibly less rich in culture as a result. Chairlift have described Moth as their ‘New York album’, and as such, I’m interested in how much Caroline and Patrick have noticed the same thing happening in New York. “Definitely,” Caroline says, “I think that’s been the story of New York for the last 50 years, the neighbourhood just keeps changing. But yeah, it’s severe in New York right now.” In response to whether this will affect the magic of the city that inspired the album, she tells me, “the magic will change, it’ll just go different places.

“I think the thing to be aware of is actually having too much nostalgia. New York is a constant reminder that you can’t take a good scene for granted because it changes, it moves, it disappears. You’ve got to enjoy the city you’re in, not just to pay rent.”

On Chairlift’s first album, Does You Inspire You, some of the songs were overtly political, for example album opener ‘Garbage’: ‘So much garbage will never ever decay / And all your garbage will outlive you one day’. This hasn’t changed though; Caroline points out that the first track on Moth is also a political song. “‘It (Look Up)’ is my anthem to get through this disgusting American election thing that’s happening right now.

“I don’t mean that it’s political in as much as it’s about politics, it’s just about a general state of feeling like you have no control, and that we’re on a path going somewhere bad. You just have to have faith. ‘Amanaemonesia’ is a political song as well. I think we always manage to sneak one in there.”

Chairlift play at The Garage in London tonight (9 June). Get tickets and more information here.

More about:

Photo: Press