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Interview: Collarbones

Jeremy Elphick chats about the internet and collaborative music


The projected and pulsating images feature images of teenagers looking confused, bewildered, isolated, and detached. Directly in front of this, Marcus Whale and Travis Cook are joined by Guerre as they dance through the opener of their last album, Hypothermia, joined by a more than enthusiastic audience. Whale and Guerre play counterpoint to one another, and Cook helms a laptop producing the complex rhythms and synths that underpin the song. The band has just finished eight months of heavy touring culminating in a Vivid-commissioned performance at the Seymour Center. Despite previous shows showcasing this new material, their latest gig saw the band playing their latest album, Die Young, in its entirety for the first time – giving a proper stage to the powerful themes and ideas it evokes. Many songs rarely played are given their well-earned time on stage, with a more subtle and restrained show than a regular Collarbones set. As Marcus revealed before the concert, the group was set on focusing less on their usual dance-heavy performance, instead opting for a one-off gig that fully realized their album. Marcus seemed to view the shift as something he’d wanted to try for a long time, “I have this kind of fantasy about being a kind of musician at some point that just plays music and isn’t just a kind of showman most of the time.”

The album the band was performing in its entirety, Die Young, is a surreal and subtle mediation on youthful mortality. Despite this, the two-piece didn’t anticipate the album turning out as it did. “It sort of precipitated into this iconography of teen tragedy, and whether that’s literally people dying and the legacies of that or the way that we are haunted by uncanny disconnected images of strangers or celebrities, it is still about death.” Framing the album is the inspiration of people like River Pheonix and Aliya, who Whale viewed as striking “this really intense brutal mythology about youth and youth being this transient, fragile and kind of mystical thing.” A lot of Die Young seems to have fallen into place, rather than being the result of Whale or Cook’s intentions. For instance, HTML Flowers (known outside of music for writing a candid blog about his experience with cystic fibrosis) raps on the title track of Die Young. When I brought this up with Whale, he responded “I can’t believe how dumb I was not to realize that it was obviously a connection to make. Firstly, I thought he’d be really good on the beat, and secondly because I know he’s really inspired by Left-Eye Lopez. The meta-aspect of me singing about him while he was singing about Left-Eye was something I’m willing to wear even though it was a bit accidental.” These non-intentional results have resulted in something Whale is genuinely happy with, stating “it’s something that felt really, really nice because I’ve known him for a long time and it just felt really good to express, you know, how much he means to me as a person.”

Collarbones serve as a powerful indicator of the future of collaborative music. As one half of a group that owes its existence to the internet, Whale believes that the creativity of the band is inextricably linked to their online relationship – “it’s a lot more separated. Sometimes we’ll develop whole tracks in isolation from one another. It’s more like we are contributing to a project rather than working on stuff together.” With the heavy touring since Die Young was released, Whale and Cook have seen each other in person much more frequently, however, Whale doesn’t believe this has been conducive to them producing new work, believing collaboration through the internet is far more effective to their output than anything they’ve worked on in person. One of the most provoking elements of the group is their slick mediation of sincerity, irony, and humour. While on one hand, Die Young is a dark and almost ghostly sounding album, the two-piece has a starkly contrasting Facebook presence featuring pop-culture mash ups and collages, and humour harkening to the Alt Lit scene in odd juxtaposition with the music of the group. Whale explained this by highlighting the different roles between him and Cook, “I’m probably responsible for the tone of the music, and Travis is responsible for the tone of our internet presence.” At times he seemed simultaneously frustrated and impressed with this distinction. “On Facebook, if we ever post about us playing shows no one cares, and when Travis posts some stupid photoshop we get a hundred likes. It’s coming to a point where we’re an internet comedy troupe rather than a musical act which is… okay, but a little disheartening.” Whale is now in Sydney and Cook has returned to Adelaide as the two take what seems like a well-deserved and well-needed break from touring to work on their 3rd record.