Outlands are an interesting pair. Their experimental self-titled debut sounds danceable at times, sexy at others, and always dark and moody. Surprisingly, they don’t hail from where you’d think they might. They are, in fact, based in Blacksburg, Virginia; miles away from any major city. So where do they get their inspiration? What drives them to create such diverse and moving music? I caught up with them last week to find out…
Violent Success: What are your musical backgrounds and how did you start playing together?
Melissa: I played piano and guitar growing up, and Mark played drums, but we’ve picked up various instruments along the way and play what needs to be played. We were in a more garage-y/shoegazey sort of band here in Blacksburg, and then started Outlands by accident.
VS: Have you been accumulating songs over time or is Outlands EP all new material?
Melissa: It’s all new material. It was all written over the course of last fall-winter. We have some more songs, a couple mostly recorded, some more demos, but we needed to let that stuff ferment a little longer. We’ve been playing some new tracks live — ‘Chrome’ and ‘Metropolis’ — and people have responded really well to them, so that’s a sign that we need to finish them and get them out there!
VS: What is your writing process like?
Mark: It varies a lot depending on who brings what to whom, but it can occasionally go something like this: I’ll have a bunch of samples or beats that I’m working on, and then I’ll get Melissa in the mix by encouraging her to share her thoughts on where she might see the song go– This is almost always different from where I see things heading, so then we work on bringing those ideas into harmony with each other. It’s really collaborative. Other times, Melissa will crank out an entire demo at once and I’ll have to figure out how to translate that production-wise into what you’ll end up hearing. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, but basically some variation of those methods is typical…
VS: Tell me about a live show you attended that inspired you…
Melissa: I had the opportunity to see Diamanda Galas in a solo piano setting in Chicago a few years ago. Her ability to channel every possible emotion – I’m actually getting goose bumps thinking about her performance of ‘25 Minutes to Go‘ – in a single set of songs is amazing. She’s just that powerful of a performer. It’s inspiring because it shows what art can do to an audience and how people are still interested in being challenged in a very public, emotional way.
Mark: I love it when you can literally sense the energy of the performers. That can happen all the way from the lawn section of an amphitheater during a Radiohead concert, a mosh pit at a Sonic Youth show, or my friend’s basement, the effect is the same… I saw Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance once and not one person spoke during that performance…not one! That’s how intense he was! The most recent person I’ve seen that I was feelin’ hard for is Rob from Widowspeak. That guy loves what he does so much!
VS: You have a very hypnotic sound. How intentional is that and who are some of your core influences?
Mark: A lot but actually not really. We’re paradoxical around here. I’m fond of really immersive textures… like albums or songs that when you listen to them in headphones and are completely mesmerized by all the layers of things that are present and all of the subtle little details. So, I guess it’s fairly intentional, but I definitely don’t sit down to write or mix and think “make it more hypnotic!” I do sit around and think “make it more sensual” or “is this likely to induce bouts of makeout sessions at our live shows?”…
VS: When I listen to your music, I can’t seem to nail down a specific genre that seems apt to you… What do you classify your music as?
Mark: I think we’ve been embraced by people with eclectic tastes and that’s exactly how I hoped we’d be received. I think there’s a lot of things influencing us genre-wise both musically and visually, so our writing process is probably tacitly informed by all of the things going on in our heads! If I was pressed, I’d say we do something like ‘textured and slightly experimental electronic pop’. It’s somewhere between Art of Noise and Janet Jackson, I hope.
VS: Share a childhood memory that might relate to your music…
Mark: My childhood was spent largely in dance studios and musical theatre rehearsals since my mom was a dancer. I think being around all that dance and pop music had some lasting effects…
VS: How (if at all) has being from a more or less remote part of Virginia influenced your music?
Melissa: It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s great, because we’ve been able to form friendships and bonds with a small community of like-minded folks. There are people who do experimental, folky stuff like our friends Maya Renfro or Kevin Knight; dark poppy post-punk like Hoop Dreams, or IRS-records stuff like the Potomac (RIP). Mirror Kisses, who are from Harrisonburg (it’s a two-hour drive), love to come down here because people dance! On the other hand, we don’t have the chance to walk out our door and catch a great show or see amazing, transformative art on any given day or night. It’s a 3+ hour drive to Chapel Hill or Richmond, and even farther to DC. You really rely on the relationships you form – that’s what’s most important around here. It’s also not competitive musically. But it is really small, so if someone’s listening to Prefab Sprout, everyone’s listening to Prefab Sprout.
VS: Thank you for taking time for us today! Is there something your fans might not know about you that you’d like to share with them?
Outlands: Oh so criminally open-ended. There’s a Farfisa compact in our studio space that might be getting some use in upcoming recordings. Stay tuned.