Junior Prom, The Griswolds
1131 S. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19147
Doors 8:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM
This event is 21 and over
Commanding, crisp, and perfect for summer: Cast Away is the highly anticipated debut by Melbourne, Australia’s electro-pop charmers Strange Talk. Following up on the international buzz brought on by 2011’s self-titled EP, Cast Away is 11 tracks of indie-meets-electro gems: relentless, hook-laced hits (breakout single “Climbing Walls”), rave drenched anthems (“Falling In Love”), big tom dance floor bangers (“Another Day”) and minimalist electro ballads (“Come Back Home”). Packed full of shimmering synths and pulsing pop beats, Cast Away is one epic, dazzling listen. “It was a long journey, making this record said frontman Stephen Docker, “We really challenged ourselves. It’s odd: you’ve got a classically trained violinist, a dance producer with a DJ background, and two funk/soul musicians. It’s weird how it all gels together, but that’s the unique flavour of Strange Talk.”
Off the back of killer singles like “Climbing Walls,” “Eskimo Boy” and “Sexual Lifestyle,” Strange Talk frontman Stephen Docker, producer/DJ/bassist Gerard Sidhu, Travis Constable (drums) and Gillan Gregory (guitar) have already made their mark, both in Australia and beyond. They’ve joined the line-ups of such festivals as Parklife, Stereosonic, Future Music, Soundscape and Falls; opened for the Rapture, Neon Indian and Marina and The Diamonds; hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s Uncharted chart in the United States; and wowed New York City at 2011 and 2012’s CMJ Music Marathon. Now Strange Talk will make their U.S. debut with Cast Away this August.
In October 2011 Strange Talk decamped to a friend’s farm in Castlemaine, Victoria, 90 minutes north-west of Melbourne. In between breaking to play headline gigs across the country, they wrote and layed down tracks. “The farm was amazing,” remembers Stephen. “It had moose heads on the wall, an amazing veranda which overlooked a huge field with cows, a big lake, a gym so we could keep fit (laughs)... After a while it was sad to come back to Melbourne, because when you’re being creative like that it’s hard to leave it behind.” There was, says Stephen, “mood talk” about the direction of each new song, “For example, should it be a big club banging tune, or even a ballad, which is something completely out of our realm.” The singer took heed of advice given by the Presets’ Julian Hamilton. “He’d said to me, ‘If you’re onto an idea, roll with it – whatever comes out you’ll most likely stick to.’”
After the Christmas break in February 2012 Strange Talk headed for the coast, Gerard’s sister lending them her beach house in Victoria’s Mount Martha. Here, the second half of Cast Away fell into place. On the recommendation of pals Van She, Strange Talk had fallen in love with the gritty, digital workhorse sounds of synth – the Dave Smith Poly Evolver. Six songs in, they replaced older beds with their new favorite toy. By April, the record was complete. Enter mixer Tony Hoffer (M83, Phoenix, Beck).
“Tony was the perfect man for the job, he brightened everything up,” enthuses Stephen. “We record and produce everything ourselves, so over that whole process we really learned what works for us and what doesn’t. The thing that sold us on Tony was what he did with M83’s ‘Midnight City,’ I haven’t heard a song with such glitz, but at the same time such gritty sound.”
On Cast Away Strange Talk have widened their scope, reaching back into influences past and present to create a whole new sound. Basslines are deeper; melodies even more euphoric. “For the first EP we were heavily into M83, Phoenix, Passion Pit and Two Door Cinema Club,” Stephen admits, “but growing up, our biggest influences were people like Michael Jackson, the Police and Queen, among others, all of which I think you can hear more of on this record. We’ve stepped away from the ‘indie’ thing somewhat; the album’s a lot more complex, and really shows how we’ve progressed as producers and musicians.”
A year of shows and Strange Talk has morphed into one of the country’s most exciting live acts. It’s long way from the bedroom duo Stephen and Gerard envisioned when they met on MySpace almost three years ago. “We all know each other a lot more now,” Stephen laughs. “It’s weird how it works with such a diverse mix of backgrounds, but I think that does the project justice. ‘Climbing Walls’ was when the penny dropped for us. Now, we just want people to have fun, lose themselves in the songs. Enjoy the journey, from start to end.”
Put down your coffee, cronut, or knife. Go onto YouTube and watch Junior Prom’s cover of Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That.” Trust me.
It’s merely a fraction of what’s unique about the Brooklyn-based duo of Mark Solomich and Erik Ratensperger, but it introduces everything that makes the Elektra Records duo great. There’s the sky-scraping vocal range, playful humor, and the crisp musical interplay.
The songs on their self-titled debut (EP) bring that same sense of joy and levitation. They’re whip-smart pop that you can dance to. If you like Phoenix, Cut Copy, or even New Order, odds are Junior Prom will be one of your new favorite bands. Regardless, their sound defies verbs, adjectives, and arbitrary genre divides. It needs to be heard.
“It’s about striking the balance between writing a great pop song that everyone can sing along to, but finding an artful angle that makes it unpredictable,” says Ratensperger.
“We want to make music that appeals to all different types of people but don’t want to be cookie-cutter. It’s boring to write lyrics that everyone else has written,” adds Solomich.
After all, they recorded and scrapped an entire album before releasing a single song. In an age where groups attempt to discover their sound as they progress, it highlights an unusual sonic maturity—or at least a preternaturally locked-in musical connection.
Bonding over everyone from The Clash, to Earth Wind and Fire, to Bruno Mars, Ratensperger and Solomich navigate the terrain between indie rock, punk, and dance-pop.
“I usually tell people it’s like punk soul dub dance music,” Solomich says. “At least, that’s how we hear it.”
The goal is something fresh but always fun. Where you expect them to go right, they dart left. The arrangements always twist at a slightly different angle. But everyone is invited to the party. Pop music isn’t necessarily Britney Spears or Katy Perry. Pop is universal. Junior Prom is pop, but they’re also much more.
The pair don’t take themselves all that seriously—only the music. Their bonafides are legitimate, shored up over innumerable short-lived punk bands and indie rock outfits during their teen years and early 20s. Randomly enough, Solomich caught a show from Ratensperger’s first band when they played a Pittsburgh basement show.
But when Junior Prom came together, part of their mission was to break away from the screw-face pretensions that dog many contemporary scenes. It’s body music first, but there’s a restless intelligence that pierces through when you stop moving. The lyrics riff on everything from economic inequality to comic tales of violent ex-girlfriends. Junior Prom is the sort of band that makes your realize it’s always summer in some hemisphere.
“It’s really about making music that hopefully encourages people to engage, whether they throw down on the dance floor, or roll down their windows, blast our music and sing along,” Ratensperger says. “No matter what song you put on, we want people to feel something.”
The Griswolds’ first bio simply read: “The chameleons of pop.” That description holds true for the Sydney indie pop group, formed almost two years ago by singer/guitarist Christopher Whitehall and lead guitarist Daniel Duque-Perez, as they look to become a globally known act.
The Griswolds were thrown into the spotlight immediately after they found instant success in early 2012 when they became Australia’s Triple J “Unearthed” feature artist and won a slot on the 2012 Parklife Festival lineup alongside Passion Pit. In the beginning there was no set plan for the music, which was created almost incidentally by the joint efforts of the duo. The two musicians had been playing in various bands around Sydney and got together one night to expand on a guitar riff Dan had written. That was when they knew almost immediately, they had great songwriting chemistry.
“At the very beginning, you don’t really know what to expect and don’t really know what the potential is with a new project,” Christopher said. “There was some skepticism about what we would do with it, but after we wrote a few songs together it was clear that this was something special. These weren’t just good songs; they were some of the best songs we’ve ever written.”
That riff evolved into a song called “Mississippi,” which later became the band’s first hit in Australia. “Mississippi,” and its buoyant, upbeat melody, sing-along chorus and group vocals embrace the exuberant tone the musicians wanted to pursue with The Griswolds.
The Griswolds’ lineup is rounded out by bassist Tim John and drummer Chris Riley. They self-recorded and released their debut Heart of a Lion EP in Australia during the fall of 2012 without actually having a band name yet. After a long late night conversation, the name The Griswolds came up through their mutual love for National Lampoon’s Vacation film series and it stuck. The EP, a shimmering four-song collection of tropical indie pop numbers, immediately earned them notable accolades from press and fans alike will be released in the United States on September 3, 2013.
All of the songs were written and produced by Whitehall and Duque-Perez and were recorded in the musicians’ house as well as a studio in Sydney throughout 2012. They selected the four best songs they’d written to comprise their first EP release. “We decided to go all-in,” Christopher says. “We just wanted to write the best songs and then make it work. And we got lucky. The guys who are in the band are all amazing musicians.”
“Heart of a Lion,” the single, with its charming and buoyant toe-tapping sounds, has received airplay in over 20 countries worldwide. The track was also featured as an iTunes “Single of the Week” and notably created a huge buzz in the Netherlands, where it reached No. 3 in radio airplay.
The Griswolds have toured extensively in Australia, Europe and the U.S. with artists such as, Django Django, San Cisco and Last Dinosaurs to name a few and played numerous Australian festivals including Big Day Out, a show that stands out in their minds as their favorite show to date. “It was 48 degrees Celsius and it was early in the day but when we walked out to the stage the crowd was enormous, over 2000 people all screaming the words back at us,” said Dan, “and best of all was that it was in our home city.”
They plan to expand their aesthetic on their debut album, which they will record with Tony Hoffer in LA in November 2013. It will be released in early 2014 and will showcase the band’s growth since recording their EP. And now with the EP coming out in the States on Wind-up Records, The Griswolds have started thinking beyond making songs with no real intention. Everything, though, still goes back to the two guys who connected over a guitar riff.
“Back when we wrote the EP it was two guys in a house writing songs for fun and not really knowing who was going to be listening to it,” Christopher says. “We wrote for fun and for us and for Australia and that was great. Now we’re getting a lot more ambitious and we’re thinking globally. But we want to stay true to ourselves. I think our style of music all comes down to big choruses you can sing along to.”