By Cam LindsayRecent graduates of Oberlin College's music conservatory, Logan Takahasi and Nick Weiss somehow managed to squeeze in a full-length and regular touring before their studies ended. With school now behind them, the duo return with sophomore album Tracer, an even deeper, mind-altering dance album that finds them ditching their samplers and progressing more towards a completely amorphous sound. By creating their music live, they allow themselves the freedom to open up their sound world to unlimited possibilities. Guest vocalists like Panda Bear, Romanthony and Laurel Halo sound as though they deserve co-production credits, as Teengirl Fantasy definitely wrote these songs with the work of their muses in mind. But Tracer is a complete LP that's unified yet fluid, providing a full club experience for those who choose not to leave their bedrooms.
From the outset, were there any particular goals you had in mind for Tracer coming off of 7AM? Logan Takahashi: The only real, conscious goal we both had going into this was to try to make something that was really cohesive as a single piece. After already having experienced releasing an album, the flow and sequencing was something we were more aware of going into this one.
What made you choose to go sample-free on Tracer? What was the hardest part of doing it without samples? We became more and more interested in digging deeper into our gear and using the hardware itself as a source of inspiration, rather than another pre-produced piece of music. In a lot of ways, it's more freeing to have complete control over every stage of composition. There is a lot less baggage, reference-wise, to deal with.
Where did the idea come from to bring in more guest vocalists? Although we are not singers ourselves, we understand that the human voice is special and that people respond to it in a special way.
How did you decide on whom to work with? Every collaboration was pretty organic, in that we knew the singers beforehand, except for Romanthony. We'd known Noah [Lennox, Panda Bear] from touring with Animal Collective and opening for him in NYC, so it was just a matter of emailing him. Laurel was recording and living in the same place where we were making the album, and we were roommates for the majority of the past year, so that was also really natural. Kelela, we were introduced via mutual friends and hit it off really well on a personal level. Roman took the most amount of proactive reaching out, but even then it seemed like he was genuinely inspired to write something for the track.
Were these purely vocal collaborations or did they contribute to the production as well? They're pretty purely vocal, although Noah sent back his vocals already processed with some sort of delay/pitch shift/tuner that made it sound very Panda Bear. We also had a little bit more back and forth with Laurel about production choices because we're all together in the same room. However, all of the instrumentals were basically finished before the vocalists heard them.
How do you find the process of working with vocalists? Does it differ much from making instrumentals? It's great, just another mind to collaborate with. We left it very open for the vocalists to come up with their melodies and lyrics, so it was always exciting getting their tracks back and hearing how they contributed/changed the feel of the song.
Your music is very amorphous. What appeals to you about constantly shifting the shape of your songs instead of sinking into a set pattern? This album especially is way more teleological than our last. Every track develops a lot and moves along very linearly, and this is kind of what the title, Tracer, is referring to. I think we like to play with the expectations of repetition that so much electronic music makes use of. Even with music that is really minimal and repetitive, the excitement all happens in the slight changes that occur over this suggested idea of repetition.
It's hard to miss the '90s R&B influence on "Do It," with Romanthony. The last couple years has seen so many producers fall in love with that particular era and genre of music. What is it that appeals to you? For us, the real R&B track of the album is "EFX," featuring the singer Kelela. For "Do It," we were really inspired by gospel house, specifically the track "Beautiful Life" by Terrence Parker.
You both perform and compose your music live, which isn't something many electronic producers do. Why take the difficult route? How much improvisation is used? For us, it'd just a lot more interesting to make music on something that is more tactile and analog. It's just one less layer of separation between the musical ideas and their creation. For our live sets, we have sort of templates for each song where we know certain changes will happen at certain points, but have space to move around in between. This makes it more interesting for us and, hopefully, the audience.