Classixx balance retro nostalgia and timeless composition on new album ‘Faraway Reach’ [Interview]
With polished productions and a laid-back aesthetic, Classixx personify the chill yet bustling lifestyle synonymous to their hometown of Los Angeles, CA. Together, Tyler Blake and Michael David make up Classixx: two childhood friends with musical artistry rooted by a myriad of sound, no matter the genre.
In May 2013, their debut studio album, Hanging Gardens, made waves as a jolt of nu-disco resurgence. Three years later, the duo have stepped out with their sophomore studio release, Faraway Reach, bringing aboard respected artists like T-Pain, Passion Pit, How to Dress Well, and Panama to contribute to the 12-track record.
Beginning with “Grecian Summer,” their funky ode to The Greek Theater in Los Angeles, Faraway Reach advances along with gorgeous synth work in “In These Fine Times” and cheerful keys in “Safe Inside” before segueing into the dancefloor-ready “I Feel Numb.” The record hits its first climax with the ultra upbeat “Just Let Go,” then dips straight into the ethereal solemnity of “The Dissolve.”
“Whatever I Want,” the most notorious single off Faraway Reach, culminates as the record’s apex before introducing a surge of groove with “Ndivile.” The eponymous track serves as a cool down with minimal vocals ahead of “Eyes on Me,” a song pumped with soul. “Pure Distraction” provides a glistening arrangement before concluding with the somber “A Mountain With No Ending.”
From start to finish, Faraway Reach, out June 3 on Innovative Leisure, emits a breeze of fresh air as an easy listening record that weaves between dance and melodic elements to create harmonies gilded by disco and pop influences.
We exchanged words with Michael, one half of Classixx, ahead of the album’s issue, to learn about their creative growth and production process on Faraway Reach: an album drummed up in his birthplace of South Africa.
DA: It’s been three years since the release of Hanging Gardens. How would you chart your musical growth since then, and what can fans of your debut album anticipate for Faraway Reach?
In terms of musical growth, I think we’ve learned about restraint in some ways. I know just in a tangible way that it has manifested itself in our sessions because on Hanging Gardens, a couple of the sessions had a hundred tracks. With Faraway Reach, it’s more minimal, so in turn, we’ve made more out of less. I think on Faraway Reach, fans can look out for a broad sound, because we’re doing more pop-oriented music on this album. We’re really hoping that our production is the common thread, and that it doesn’t sound too different from our previous work.
DA: In that regard, how did production on Faraway Reach differ?
If you’re familiar with what you’ve done in the past, it’s not a major departure. We recorded quite a bit of it in South Africa, so you might hear that regional influence, maybe in some songs more than others—but it’s permeable throughout the whole album. We stick to the things that interest us musically, like a fun dynamic that’s lush in tone with propulsive bass. The record probably contains all of that in varying degrees. There’s some slow songs, and some faster songs. We tried to make a linear narrative for the album, so you can listen to it in its entirety.
DA: What brought you to record in South Africa?
I was born in South Africa, and a lot of my family lives there. It was a friendship trip. I’ve known Tyler for almost 20 years now, so we’ve known each other since we were little kids. I know his family really well, but he hasn’t met a lot of my extended family. In South Africa, we hung out a lot with my family, and started recording over there. That was the genesis of the trip. We were there for about a month, and worked as much as we could. We didn’t want to strain ourselves, so we came home with a lot of bits and pieces of songs.
DA: Where did the inspiration for the album’s title originate from? And the album art?
It’s abstract, in that making a record is a trying, up-hill event that ends with us pursuing something and moving closer to it. Jonathan Zawada previously designed the cover for Hanging Gardens. For this one, I sent him a reference document of things I’ve been interested in, like gradient shifts and soft light. He took all of the references I sent and created the album cover in white, with several iterations in different colors for the singles.
DA: Faraway Reach features numerous musical collaborations. How would you describe the creative process for working with artists with sounds different than yours?
I think we had almost total control over the production. Even though we’re working with someone like T-Pain, we considered how the tempo of that instrumental would lend itself to a collaboration. We don’t cater the track to the vocalist; instead, we have them work within the confines of our production.
DA: How did you guys get connected with T-Pain for “Whatever I Want”?
We created the instrumental first, and had a list lying around with with prospective collaborators. His name was on the list because we are really big fans. We never considered it as a real option, but our manager reached out, and we heard that T-Pain liked it. We didn’t hear anything for months, then all of a sudden, we hear from him, and he’s ready to contribute a vocal track. It was a fortuitous and fluid process.
DA: And as for your collaboration with Passion Pit on “Safe Inside”?
With Michael Angelakos, we had mutual friends, so we sent him an instrumental and he liked it. He sent us a phone video of some vocal melodies, and then we flew to New York to record in his living room. There’s always a fun experience with getting a final vocal cut from a collaborator. We’re pretty old-school in cementing collaborations.
DA: Which artists are you listening to right now, and who would be dream collaborators of yours?
I really like this band called Tops from Montreal. Rush Hour Records have been doing cool reissues. I’ve been listening to Lindstrøm a lot, and would like to make a track with him at some point. Chaka Khan and Ned Doheny are the dream collaborators that come to mind.
DA: What do you guys have planned for the rest of the year?
Right now we’re in the midst of putting our new live show together. It has cool visual components and some interesting instrumental additions. We’ve got some really cool remixes, and we’re working on more videos. We’re just going to continue creating assets surrounding the release.
DA: What can fans expect from your forthcoming live shows, versus the DJ sets?
With our DJ sets, we’ll play house music and a little bit of techno, modern disco, old disco, and boogie. I’m really excited about music right now, so there’s plenty to play. As for our live shows, I think people will be interested in seeing how our music translates to the stage. Expect the major live tour to start in Fall 2016 in North America.