Last Christmas while visiting relatives, I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of going down to the pool house, plopping Winterbrief’s Complaints From the Beauty Class into the home theater stereo, and settling in for a six-speaker blast of “I Want To Be Sexy,” a heady mix of styles, languages and voices pumping through three minutes of intense beats, quarking synths and slashing punk guitar. Winterbrief — and Complaints — is full of songs that make you sing along before you realize what exactly they’re about. After that, you just sing them all the more loudly. I got a chance to ask some questions of magic wonder duo Julian and Jan (who needs last names?) in anticipation of their Southeast appearances.
What are some of the advantages of being a pop duo (or even a boy-girl pop duo) these days?
Julian: I think people are usually more curious about us because we are a boy/girl duo doing traditionally non-duo pop … also, when we tour or play out we can take a smaller car and pack lighter! I would be lying to if i did not tell you the best reason for being a duo is that when clubs give drink tickets or free beer they usually assume most bands have four people, so in the end we get much more beer. Sorry, I had to say it!
Jan: Transportation is made easier. I think the fact that we are a boy-girl duo makes it a little bit harder to stereotype us. If we were two or three guys and one girl singing, people might assume that it’s the guys writing the music with the girl providing the female vocals, mostly being told what to do. And if we were all girls there’s the possibility of being ghettoized into being a girl band, either in the riot girl or Lilith Fair sense. But being only two people playing live is kinda tough. We have to make up for the lack of other people by being more energetic. Which is good, I guess, but puts a lot of pressure on you.
Winterbrief has some pretty strong politics and opinions lurking behind the chirpy synth-rock. Do you think the message gets buried in the medium? Has anyone been surprised to find out what you’re actually singing about?
Julian: Yes and no, about the politics being buried in the medium. I mean, if someone likes us because our music makes them spastic and go wild but does not realize what our songs are about, all power to them! I love people who praise the tunes, melodies, beats, or whatever because we take music very seriously but as well if someone is moved or even upset by our lyrics that makes me happy because i know at least we are provoking a reaction and that is great because at least it makes some people think about some things …
To be honest, a lot of people seem fine with it, but sometimes some seem a little uncomfortable to see two people like us dancing, hollering, and smiling like kids and then realize there are opinions behind our music …
Jan: I don’t think it’s an issue. Some people listen to the lyrics and some don’t. I think it’s more about listening, than an issue of “since the music is ‘fun’ the lyrics must be as well.” And people listening will always give their own interpretation of the songs, regardless of what I was intending. I think if someone likes a song and misinterprets it that’s just fine. For instance: “Me and P St. Beach” is in no way a “love” song and “Chick Flick” has nothing to do with heroin. The songs aren’t political propaganda. I really don’t see them as very political either. i think there is a big difference between being “political” and being “socially critical” and that’s much more how I see my lyrics. I’m really interested in people and how they make their life choices and how external sources influence how decisions are made. I think that is very different from being political. No one has ever mentioned to me being surprised to discover what I’m singing about.
What is the one song (by someone else) that you wish you’d written?
Julian: So many, so many, so I will list my top 3 of the moment:
1-“What I Once Feared Has Now Come True” by Skull Kontrol (Chris Monorchid/Circus Lupus is the underrated American Punk God)
2-“Globe Alone” by Blur (This song is just electric energy and it gets you pumped!)
3-“Unman” by Mocket (This is Gary Numan meets ATR perfection!)
Jan: Wow, so many I could think of. Maybe “Plastic Cowboy” by the Yummy Fur. Every aspect of the song is perfect. I’m often really jealous when I hear great songs that are perfectly funny and sexually explicit at the same time. Like the Buzzcocks’ “Orgasm Addict” is just brilliant, and the snotty way the lyrics are delivered just drives the point home. Others would be “Grandad’s False Teeth” by Denim, “Sailor Boy” by Go-Kart Mozart and most of the Yummy Fur’s Male Shadow at Three O’Clock EP. For me personally it’s difficult to figure out if the song is cheeky or just stupid when it’s my own lyrics.
It sounds like you moved from the Beltway to Philly for musical reasons. Is that right? What attracted you to Philadelphia?
Jan: Actually we didn’t move to Philly for musical reasons… It was for personal reasons and as a bonus it ended up being very beneficial for us musically. We really knew very little about the music scene here or how supportive it would be. We were pleasantly surprised.
We’d grown up in the DC area and it was feeling really claustrophobic; we discovered that there was virtually no housing in the city in our price range that was realistic. Philadelphia, as a city, is really good for our tastes. It’s definitely a northeast city, while DC was definitely below the Mason-Dixon. A two-hour drive makes a big difference. Philly is great if you are in a band because it is affordable, so you can have a flexible job that understands taking time off and still be able to afford to pay the rent. And it’s in a convenient location for doing shows anywhere on the East Coast.
Julian: Ditto to what Jan said … Going to Philly over the years (when I lived in DC) for shows, family, and other reasons I began to realize that Philly was perfect for me. The thing that I like most is how most people here are pretty chill as compared to DC or New York. Musically, I think Philly has a diverse scene, as compared to DC and even New York … it is a young scene here for sure which I dig.
Are you coming down with a full band? Or playing with tape/sequencer? Which do you prefer?
Julian: No, we are not coming with a full band. We had a full band for our first single but things fell apart sometime after that … Live we use a portable DAT player which has programmed drums. I have never toured with a band so I can’t say which I will prefer but being in a duo is brilliant, there is much less hassle and problems …
Jan: I definitely prefer touring just the two of us. Makes life much easier. Less stuff, less people. And I think it’s fun just the two of us playing live, becuase it’s just the two of us directly feeding off of each other. However, it would be nice to occasionally have a living breathing drummer record with us sometime.
What’s this about a secret remix project?
Julian: We have several people in the US and UK working on remixes of our songs, nothing else as of now. We had been contacted in the past to get permission to use our songs for dances or remixes and from there we got ideas. So we tried to pursue a lot of remixes from lots of diverse artists and hopefully from there release those remixes with covers from our live show and create a Winterbrief remix/covers release.
Jan: Several people have asked to do winterbrief remixes which we totally support. If there ends up being enough to put on a release then we will pursue that. Nothing more definite than that.
Winterbrief will perform with Mathlete (featured elsewhere this issue) on June 9th atthe Ultramod Compound in Athens, GA and on June 10th at the Wayward Council in Gainesville, FL.