Making their debut Australian appearances earlier this year, Chairlift have quickly cultivated a strong and loyal Australian following. Their place on the Parklife marks the New Yorkers' second festival tour this year and their ever-endearing frontwoman Caroline Polachek sits down backstage in Adelaide for a chat about the festival so far and why performing with Gotye made her so goddamned nervous.
How was your flight? You only just got in to town, didn’t you?
I don’t actually remember! I was so tired; I only got three hours of sleep last night! I got on the plane and put my jacket over my head and the next thing I know, I’m being shaken awake by the steward because I was the last person on the plane. Everyone else had gotten off, so I was out like a baby rock.
At least you got a good nap in! So how has Parklife been for you this year?
It’s been so much fun; I can’t believe it’s over! It feels like we just started, but I guess that’s a good thing.
Definitely. Chairlift has built up such a following here in Australia following on from your last tour here for Laneway; the album had only just come out and yet there was still so much for the band then. Were you aware of the reaction to the band before you came over?
We didn’t actually realise until we came for Laneway; I can’t imagine a better place to start a record, actually. I don’t know what it is, whether it’s a sensibility of people here, or maybe it appeals to something to do with the feeling of nature and the weather patterns here or something…or maybe it’s just that Triple J likes us and plays us a lot! It’s like a synchronicity that we have here; people like to dance and I think they understand our certain surrealism. I think Americans need to be beaten over the head a little bit; I think they think we’re a little weird, but we’re kind of poppy and they don’t really know how to reconcile the two. I think Australians understand that we’re using pop as a hypnotic medium.
How have you noticed the difference or growth in the crowds’ reactions now that there has been some time in between Chairlift visits?
I guess you see some super fans camped out in the front row who know all the words, that’s amazing. That always really touches me.
Coming from the States, where clearly, you’re in a huge musical market, have you been able to find differences between that scene and ours over here in terms of support for progressive music?
That’s a really hard question for me to answer because I’m in such a bubble, you know? When you just go from show to show and have only your own Twitter as a barometer, it’s really hard to tell. One thing that is for sure is that I’ve noticed that we’re definitely not a flash in the pan band that has a quick rise. Especially with the second record, it’s been a very steady and slow build of energy and that’s been really nice; I think that’s more sustainable and easier on my brain!
For sure. Now, with these current sets, have you been incorporating any new material you’ve been working on?
Actually, we’re about to play a new song at our next show; not today, but in Tokyo, which I’m really excited about. Other than that, we’re still touring Something, which came out like, eight months ago. It’s funny because on our first record, we really changed the songs a lot live when we were playing them, but for this record, we haven’t so much because I think the arrangements are such a joy to play live, they’re kind of athletic. I think Jason [McMahon], our guitarist, is the one who has modified the parts the most because he actually has the least to do on the album! We’re not a guitar band, we don’t write for guitar, but there are a couple of songs like “Met Before” and “Frigid Spring” which require one, so we brought Jason out. He really gets to make up what he gets to do for the rest of the set and it’s been getting louder and more distorted and more progressive. It’s making more of a ‘no-wave’ band live than I would have expected; it’s fun, I like it!
Would this be something you’d like to explore on the next record?
I definitely know the next record is going to be faster; I don’t know if that has anything to do with the songs being modified live or anything, but the faster ones are definitely the most fun for us to play.
It must be such a buzz to get quite unique reactions to these little change ups onstage with each show…
Yeah it’s really fun. I mean, there’s always the stuff that you can’t account for too; yesterday, our bass cut out onstage and while we were fixing it, I just did a Q&A with the crowd. I don’t know, it’s the unexpected things like that that happen which kind of bring you closer to people. There was a girl in a bear suit who was crowd surfing, she was in a yellow bear suit and it was amazing. On a couple of our first shows, the Parklife crowd brought these big inflatable balls which were like, half the size of my body and on the couple of dates they’d throw them onstage, while singing, I’d run and kick it as far as I could! It was really fun! Those are the kinds of things you just can’t rehearse for.
Chairlift are a seasoned touring band now; do you still find yourself becoming slightly daunted when you step out onto festival stages like this?
No, never. Actually, I feel like these songs are made to be played in places with a lot of space. For me, the scariest shows are…actually, cameras scare me more than people. It’s the video cameras that scare me and it’s probably something I’ll get over soon, but I just think that when you’re in person with the band and playing live, you’re with them and you understand it and you see the progression of how you got to a certain moment and it sounds 3D and rich, and then when you record it on your tiny camera and upload it to YouTube, it decontextualizes it so much. That’s the thing that gives me a lot of anxiety onstage, just looking out and seeing a tonne of cameras. At festivals, I think people are too busy dancing to do it; we just got off a tour with Gotye and that was just video camera central.
That was one of the other things I was going to ask you about, the Gotye tour. I mean, he’s probably one of our best musical exports at the moment, what was it like touring with him?
It was really exciting; those guys are all so sweet! I was really blown away by how eccentric and sweet they are, given how mainstream that song has become. I sang the Kimbra part on “Somebody That I Used To Know” with him every night and that actually made me way more nervous than anything I’ve ever done with Chairlift. I remember my hands were just shaking!
I can’t imagine what that would have been like! It’s funny to think of the international response to Gotye, considering how much of a known name he is here.
Yeah, for sure!
So, after this date, you’ll be heading to Tokyo?
How long are you there for?
Unfortunately only two days. I think we’re going tp be making the most of it though.
After that, then what? Heading back home to write, or continuing to tour?
We’re actually continuing toward the end of the year; we’re doing a week and a half out with The xx and then we go to Paris and play the Pitchfork Festival, which is going to be super fun because a bunch of our friends are there. We’re doing a New York show at PS1 right before Pitchfork and we’re going down to Miami for the Art Fair, for Basel Art Fair.
Excellent! Well thank you so much for today, like I was saying before, we’re loving having you back!
Oh we’re so happy to be back.
Can’t wait for the show this afternoon!
Thank you Adelaide!