Die Young, the sophomore album from Adelaide/Sydney experimental electronica duo Collarbones, is a carefully studied and suitably intoxicating treatise on the age-old phenomena of young love.
On its surface, young love can appear to be a thing of beauty, innocence and sweet platitudes. But one thing Die Young does – and does quite well, to be honest – is to strip away the outer layers of adolescent longings and reveal the depths of its dark heart: the desperation, the sense of ownership, the gnawing naivety and that feeling of pain – so intense you can feel as if you’re dying – that comes from the first time you get your heart broken.
It can be a pretty damn cruel thing, this thing we call love.
“Young love, baby/Oh, so mean,” crooned Bryan Ferry on Roxy Music’s seminal “Same Old Scene”. The man was onto something, I think.
Marcus Whale, the Sydney half of Collarbones, sounds like he’s having quite a lovely day when he calls with a jingle from his hometown. “The weather’s spectacular!” he exclaims, chilling out in a “really peaceful garden area.”
“It’s like 23 degrees, completely blue sky – it feels like spring!” Whale enthuses.
Whale and his Adelaide partner-in-crime, Travis Cooke, first met online on a music forum, where they clicked over a shared love of electronica, RnB and punk.
Their debut, 2011’s Iconography was notable in the fact that it was made without Whale or Cooke even being in the same room; rather, they harnessed the power of the Internet and used file sharing, sending the songs back and forth to each other until they reached a conclusion.
Die Young was created in a similar fashion, after their tour for Iconography – though they did in fact meet up a couple of times for this one, Whale tells me how the dynamic has changed between these two albums.
“Well, there is still a large proportion of [Die Young] that wasn’t done in person,” he informs. “But yeah, the dynamic has changed a bit in that there were a couple of tracks on there that we looked at together. I suppose it means that it’s easier to create more unified sounds. It’s about how disparate the sound sources can be in one kind of scenario, whereas this is now less about that disparateness, cause we can be more together.”
So how, through the tyranny of distance, does one know that a song is finished, and doesn’t need anything else to be added to it? Simple, explains Whale. “The part where [a song] becomes one of ours – either it’s my responsibility to finish it or Travis’s – it’s usually mine, because I have to sing over it. It actually comes to a natural sort of end, possibly because we don’t really work at the same thing for a long time!”
“A lot of people just chip away, and that sort of process is difficult to find out when it’s done. Whereas when we do it, it seems to find a completion pretty quickly; and then after that it’s kind of down to finicky stuff like mixing.”
Pointing out that Die Young’s lovely soundscapes can, at first listen, be rather inviting and quirky, but then on closer listening, one realises how much menace there actually is underneath the surface.
How does a song typically come together? How does a song begin life? “Usually a song starts with a little loop or something, a base sort of sound,” Whale begins.
“It always starts with a sound – and sometimes things kind of pop out fully formed because there’s just not too many bits to put in it. Like ‘Missing’ for instance, there’s that vocal loop and a beat, and then there’re other layers… and in that sense, it’s the sound that generates everything, and the mood, and then the song comes in at the last step.”
Naturally, the conversation turns toward the theme of Die Young, namely young love, and why it still holds such a special power in the world of songwriting. What’s Whale’s take on this phenomena, and how does he think it affects the psyche?
“Ah, man!” he exclaims. “I’ve been thinking about that! Because I’m interested in why I would want to write lyrics about [young love]. And why I keep coming back to that period of my life when I was a teenager.”
“It’s sort of difficult for me to write about anything more recently, to be honest,” he admits. “Maybe it was a period of naivety and there’s just something about that time I find really compelling! I think because at that time it feels like there’s nothing else – there couldn’t be anything else. And the feeling that you have is the only one that you could ever have, because you’ve never had this feeling before, and it’s just so overwhelmingly different from anything else you could feel.”
“Like, you go to school, you do your homework, you watch TV and play computer games and play sports and talk to your friends [and then] you feel like you want to give up your entire life to some person,” he barrels on, “and I think it’s incredibly jarring to somebody who’s just growing up and doesn’t really know how to deal with these feelings!”
And surely a lot of young people think they’re the only ones who have ever felt this way?
“Exactly!” Whale laughs. “They never seem to realise that it’s quite ordinary.” A good thing then, that Collarbones’ articulation of it – is anything but.
Die Young is out now through Inertia. Collarbones are currently on their album launch tour. Full dates and details here.