SLANDER talk the power of leaving things open to interpretation on debut album, ‘Thrive’ [Interview]

When Derek Andersen heard Kiiara‘s topline on “Nothing Hurts Like Goodbye,” he cried. He listened to it over and over again, crying “many, many times” as he did so. For Andersen and Scott Land, tears are telling; they’re an indispensable component of their sonic “checks and balances system.” “If we listen to the song and it doesn’t make us cry, then it’s not the right one, especially for the album,” says Andersen. So went the guiding ethos for their debut studio album, Thrive. The project, many years in the making, is the product of SLANDER‘s patience, perspicacity, and ultimately, their pledge to their vision: creating a collection of songs that resonate at the same “very high emotional frequency” as two of Thrive‘s foundational tracks, “Love Is Gone” and “Walk On Water“—no matter how long it’d take or when the album would actualize. “Nothing Hurts Like Goodbye,” released as a focus single on September 23, sat in what SLANDER term their “‘A’ folder” of vocals for four or five years. Andersen always intuitively knew that the song belonged on the album; it was just a matter of producing it. And if there is such a thing as divine timing (defined in this case as making the songs that one is meant to make when one is ready to make them), then SLANDER would believe in it. “With emotional music, you really have to hit these things at the right time,” Andersen attests. “Working on emotional music can be a little emotionally draining because you’re trying to channel the emotion that you want to put into the song while you’re making it, so getting into the correct mindset and the correct feeling takes a lot out of you. We had to wait until we were in the right mindset to really attack [Nothing Hurts Like Goodbye].”The story of “Nothing Hurts Like Goodbye” is a microcosm for the making of Thrive, an album that is just as representative of the process of elimination as it is of covalent bonding. “We sorted through many, many, many, many other tracks to filter them down to the most emotionally potent,” Andersen says.Ensuring that the songs would share the same emotional charge was one of two conceptual tasks key to the making of Thrive. The other was embodying the motifs of the album’s guiding narrative in each tracklisting. The LP tells a “cosmic love story” set in the near future and focused on a singular astronaut in search of a new home for mankind. While on his expedition, he brushes with an alien force that scans his mind, sifts through his memories, and downloads them, causing him to relive all his memories in this moment. These snapshots of the past are poignant recollections of past love left on Earth. With this in mind, it makes sense that SLANDER see “Love Is Gone” (with Dylan Matthew) as “part one” of this story of love, loss, remembrance, and regeneration, symbolic of the life cycle of a relationship.With the help of ROBOTO (David D. Navarrro), a digital artist skilled in computer-generated imagery (CGI), animation, and motion graphics, SLANDER translate select junctures in this narrative to detailed audiovisual experiences. Naturally, “Love Is Gone” is the first Thrive inclusion to vault to the screen, and like the astronaut’s journey, its venture there was a slow process. “ROBOTO worked on the ‘Love Is Gone’ music video for three or four years, and we didn’t see any of it during this time,” says Andersen. “Then he showed it to us, and we were like ‘this is the craziest single-man CGI animation video that exists.’”After imparting where in the context of the larger story the astronaut is in “Love Is Gone,” SLANDER gave ROBOTO complete artistic license to illustrate it. These moments are rendered in an intricacy of detail atypical of music videos in the dance/electronic space. Importantly, although the events of the visual are defined specifically enough to orient the viewer, they are not over-developed. This was done intentionally to allow viewers to embed themselves and their experiences within the space purposefully left to them. “ROBOTO designed the music videos for people to attach their own meaning. The plot is there, but it’s pretty vague and it’s deliberate that the plot has these holes in it. One of ROBOTO’s main objectives with the visual piece was having this visual world, where every single person who watches can kind of create their own story for it,” Andersen explained.The effect is one of duality. As viewers fill in these holes with their own memories, they simultaneously exist as viewers and as the astronaut; by watching and by filling in, they transcend mere viewership. It’s a multi-dimensional audiovisual experience made more visceral by viewers’ own pairing of personal experience with the story that SLANDER tell through the individual music videos and ultimately, through Thrive. And although all albums by nature invite listeners to idiosyncratically impress their lived experience and personal associations upon the music as they listen, the intention with which SLANDER and ROBOTO create the conditions that don’t merely invite but rather entreat viewers to do just that is what ultimately allows Thrive to become a deeply personal project capable of taking on intimate meaning. It is for this reason that this meaning will look and feel a little different for each viewer/listener, though it will be unified by the very motifs around which Thrive orbits: love, loss, remembrance, and regeneration.ROBOTO, who previously worked with Zedd and Skrillex, respectively, is also behind the visual for “Walk On Water,” or as SLANDER call it, “Love Is Gone Part 2.” “Walk On Water,” “Halfway Down” with Ashley Drake, and “Replay,” also with Dylan Matthew, are the sole other Thrive tracklistings to be visually translated by ROBOTO, though SLANDER note that one more music video might be coming. Regardless of whether they do release another visual, SLANDER are happy they had the opportunity to visually illustrate the inherent connection between “Love Is Gone” and “Walk On Water.” This relation played a large role in their decision to include “Love Is Gone” on Thrive, even though it was released as a single in May 2019. SLANDER had planned to follow the collaboration with “Walk On Water” in 2020, with the intention of putting out Thrive that same year. But with the advent of COVID-19, SLANDER joined the anything-but-exclusive group of artists whose release timelines changed amid the uncertain circumstances of the pandemic. “I think when people see that ‘Love Is Gone’ is on the album, maybe some of them will be surprised, but it was just always part of the original plan,” Andersen said, though he adds that they didn’t know that “Love Is Gone” would eventually evolve into an album. “Those two songs connect and have so much meaning that it just didn’t make sense for us to leave out that context, especially for someone who doesn’t know who we are and doesn’t know that song [‘Love Is Gone’] and the stories. I just felt that we needed to include that on the album for people to sit there and listen from track one all the way through track 10 and get the entire story.”Like the “Love Is Gone” music video, the “Walk On Water” visual is nebulous but intricate in detail. Interestingly, the flashbacks that the astronaut experiences are reflected in the backward steps that he is shown taking around the two-minute mark. The rest, though, is ambiguous and awaits each viewer’s interplay.Neither the visuals nor Thrive at large is “a direct interpretation” from SLANDER, says Land. “We want everyone to listen to each one of these songs and implant one of their own memories into it, be it a future memory, a present memory, or a past memory. And we’ve always done that with our music over time. Obviously, this album is no different and I think that’s just always been our goal. With every single song that we put out, our hope is that someone can listen to it and put a little bit of themselves into it, and the song can either help them get through something that was hard or help exemplify something that was amazing. That’s always been the undercurrent of all the music we put out.”Altogether, there is nothing about Thrive that doesn’t carry meaning, including its title. When in the brainstorming phase of naming the album, SLANDER distilled the tone that it could take into a dichotomy. “We basically decided it could go one of two ways. It could be ‘okay, this album is a reflection of how we felt during the pandemic and getting through that,’ or it could be it’s over and it’s time to let go of all of that not-so-happy stuff to start the new chapter,” Andersen said. By now, listeners know the route that they took. To get there, though, Andersen and Land asked themselves some pointed questions as they weighed potential titles that were “a little sad and introspective” with their lighter counterparts. “I know it sounds very direct, but I always felt that an album name is the meaning. So we said, ‘what is the message that we want to put out with this?’ If people didn’t listen to the music at all and they just read the name, what emotion is that going to invoke, without any context? And I think the most important thing was when we landed on the feeling that we want people to read the name of the album and get a sense that a leaf has turned—all the negative stuff is done and it’s time to grow again,” Andersen added.SLANDER strove for the a-ha moment, but it didn’t come—not instantaneously, at least. Like some of the songs up for consideration for Thrive, many possible titles were discarded because they didn’t carry the “emotional charge” that Andersen and Land were seeking. Answers, however, are often found in the most unexpected of places, and SLANDER found theirs at Club Space during this year’s Miami Music Weekend festivities. Surrounded by their friends, Andersen looked around him and was struck by the sheer electricity of the feeling of being in the moment, appreciating life, and feeding off of the positivity of those around him—of thriving. “I just wrote it [‘thrive’] down in my phone and then the next morning, I looked at it and I was like, ‘yeah, this could be it.’ It was really interesting how it came about that way. As much as we were trying to search for it by sitting in the studio and listening to the music, it just didn’t come until we were out in the real world, where the positive, emotional charge of the moment was very, very strong,” Andersen said. “I’m really happy with the message that this project is putting out into the world: that you should go and thrive in your own life. And we hope this album can help you do that. That’s what we’ve always wanted to do with SLANDER—just bring positive experiences to as many people as possible.”Ironically, it’s merely by coincidence that Thrive synchronizes as well as it does with the astronaut’s story and his mission to help mankind thrive again. SLANDER say this was an “unintentional link.” In the context of the project at large, this connection is perhaps the only aspect of Thrive that was not intentional. And, in thinking about the narrative and the imagery associated with the album, these elements beg a question: why an astronaut in particular? SLANDER’s response is delightfully pure and simple: they like Science Fiction. It’s worth noting that the space imagery is almost too fluid a fit, considering that space can be read as a metaphor for how foreign life can feel when love is lost, no matter the reason. In this way, we have all been the astronaut—and this is precisely what makes Thrive a project that listeners can identify with and the astronaut, a familiar subject worthy of empathy.Visit SLANDER’s website for a complete list of tour dates in support of the album.Featured image: Koury AngeloTags: , , ,
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