Flaunt Premiere | Drinker "Wave" + Q&A

by Drew Penner

I paid $60 to check my plaid Japanese duffle bag chock full of old notebooks on the airplane cross-country.

I had grand plans to collage a ‘zine into existence, work on a website or catalogue these spiral-bound scribbles in one format or another. Days later I’m in Chicago, and I haven’t even begun. The past feels heavy, but the future feels far away, too.

So, as I sit with my coffee in a brick building with high ceilings that’s been rehabbed with faux-antique lights to appeal to a hipper crowd, I can’t say I’m fired up with inspiration.

Instead, I’m left staring blankly, my brain operating at about the tempo of “Wave,” the latest from indie-electronic duo Drinker, which Flaunt is broadcasting out into the wider universe for the first time literally right now. That’s the NY/LA partnership from songwriter Aaron Mendelsohn and producer Ariel Loh.

“Looking through your memories,” the song begins. “Who is this? I’m stuck inside a wave.”

Caught in a wave?

Caught in a wave?

The music is plodding, and not exactly defeated. However, it sure feels moody. “The past is all gone. And the future, is it coming?”

The song follows on the heels of “Holiday” and “Something I Want,” all part of the group’s debut LP, Fragments, out May 3, 2019.

The album is a tad whiney, but with note-specific key dips that train the listener to expect a quick resolve, even when doling out a little madness here and there. But anyone who’s on their toes long enough gets tired. So luckily they’ve got tracks like “Follow,” that, while a tad dreary, provide that rest you’ve been seeking. “If I can make you follow / I think that we might find our way,” goes the song, revealing flaws while using this to provide respite to the audience at the same time. There’s a general sense of warmth and Lana Del Rey-style brooding to the album. On “Something I Want,” it’s more in the vein of the Elliot Moss remix of their track “Fake It.” We venture into trippy, but aren’t offered a ticket to the stratosphere of weird or anything.

Drinker is still solidly indie-rock, and the crunchy-but-reverbed-back-to-supple-smoothness synth lines prove it. It’s in this more-alternative-than-techno framework that “Wave” emerges.

The song is directionless, like arriving at the six-street intersection I can see out this downtown Chicago window pane, not knowing which way you should go.

Flaunt premieres Drinker's "WAVE"

Drew: Sometimes when I'm in that contemplative state of mind you portray in "Wave," I don't really feel like creating anything new, since the future seems like such a foreign concept at that point. Was there something that ultimately sparked your creative drive to put pen to paper, or finger to instrument, convincing you to take that step forward and turn this energy into a particular direction? What were you interested in exploring with the song?

Aaron: It might be unusual but a lot of my lyrics come from a very contemplative place, where the future feels like a foreign concept. Funny how appropriate of a question it is the way you put it, with the lyric that says  “The past is all gone and the future, is it coming?” In the original version, the lyric said “the future isn’t coming,” but that seemed a little bleak and untrue. 

When I’m consumed by a concept, or a thought, or a difficult realization of any kind, writing it down and exploring in words can be the best way to move through it. Committing it to a song and recording is a way of etching it to stone, a stamp of what Aaron, or Drinker, has to say. 
Who would you say are some of your biggest influences right now? Has that changed over the past few years?

I’ve been inspired by a lot of artists I’ve come across in the past few years. I love How To Dress Well’s last record, how it fearlessly explores dark themes and electronic territory, but in an effort towards beauty. Ariel has been consistently inspired by The Acid and Ry X’s other projects, as well. Other recent pioneers like Sevdaliza and older classics like Portishead have been a staple of our musical vocabulary. Since we started putting out music as Drinker, I’ve been more keenly aware of a wider array of new electronic music, whereas when we started in 2016 I was still living in more of a guitar-oriented world. 

What elements of Fragments would you say you can attribute to the time you've spent in LA, and which have more NY DNA all over them?
We’ve worked a good amount in both cities, but most of the lyric writing is definitely coming from a new perspective I’ve found in LA. I’d say it’s kind of songs from the west coast, with sounds from the east coast.

I know you've been thinking a lot about how our obsession with food, drugs, cellphones and money allows our creative impulses to be throttled at times, and about how it can be so difficult to hold onto the unique thing you felt you were trying to bring into existence — particularly when pressures of the business world you operate in are put into play. How do you feel the music you make has been impacted by these factors? 

My creative impulse has certainly been throttled, thanks for acknowledging that. These distractions figure a lot into my writing because I’m always trying to share my experience and they’ve undeniably been a huge part of my experience. 
Now that you've had a certain amount of success, and are legitimately coming from a different place, do you feel, in a way, you might even need to tell a different story to stay true to yourselves?

This certain amount of success doesn’t really change a lot of my reality. But it does serve me with some newfound confidence to tell my story. Hopefully I can continue to share my inner world, just ever more directly and honestly. 

You've said that in the past you've used Fever Ray's Plunge as a way to wrap yourself in an environment that helped you write new music. What are some of the "tools" you used to facilitate a similar scenario this time 'round (like for Wave)?

The aggressive synths on that record, particularly the opening track “Wanna Sip” were pretty mind-blowing to me. Sharing that influence with Ariel I think expanded our sound palette. The repetitive downward-leaning synth melody at the end of “Wave” probably took a firm nod from Plunge.

Photo courtesy of Dinker