Miami Horror Interview: A Visual Future

It is hard being a musician in this era of digital production, where music is synthesised like GM food. Just like an oversized, fluorescent green apple, ‘good’ popular music has become that which is most layered, most colourful and most full. Notice the word, most. Music listeners have become veritable fiends, their ears only acclimatised to the million-mouthed monster of commercial pop music (when will it stop singing). But, some musicians seek to free us. By slipping between the faults that border genres, and becoming many-in-one artists they are able to challenge us. By challenge, I merely mean widen our smutty, mini-horizons to vast vistas of art and music.

Miami Horror‘s (April 2015) sophomore album, All Possible Futures, is a nouveau-disco wrecking ball. Yes, it gives pop listeners the synthetic hooks they demand, but only once they have been forced to writhe like John Travolta circa Saturday Night Fever (none of us will forget the flutter of those Oxi Action white flairs). In this polished, but fat-with-funk way, the boys teach us that pop music doesn’t have to be a meat-stack of sonic minutiae.

We talk to Ben Plant, Miami Horror’s founder, about their visual aesthetic, artistic anonymity and changing music tastes.

H&E: How you going?

B: Pretty good. Landed a few hours ago. Have a few interviews and then straight on to rehearsals.

So, Miami Horror haven’t been in Australia for quite a while now. You have been in America,  recording a lot of your album in LA. What has it been like being out in the States writing and performing?  

Obviously, its been a very interesting experience. We didn’t really go there to work in the industry, to work with particular people or anything like that. We kind of just wanted to absorb the atmosphere of the place. We got inspired by that. It made us a little more experimental, I think, you know, not being stuck in a scene in Melbourne or Australia as a whole. We took advantage of that and just wanted to see what would happen if we tried to find our own sound rather than just be a part of something.

So moving to America expanded the horizons on a self-image and a sonic level? Would you say you could do more?

Yeah. But, not really in a self-image sense, just in a musical sense. LA is very weird itself. So that inspired a lot of creative energy, and so that’s what we took advantage of, just allowing ourselves to just create more freely – try and use new sounds and explore sub-genres.

It really is a weird place, and you kind of made that comment when you released your Cellophane Paper video on Papermag recently. It, itself, is a weird but awesome video – minimal pastel frames have elastic arms outstretched across them. What is the idea behind the video?

Well, I had this idea for a kind of minimal, soft-toned aesthetic, and I wanted to find someone who would suit that, and Lachlan Dickie is really good. So it hit me, I contacted him and he was up for it. He wanted to do it not in the way that everyone else has been doing it, but in a way that was meaningful. So, it is related to the idea of distance, long distance relationships and things like that. All the couples interlinked in some way, if you follow one arm to the next couple that person is dealing with somebody else later. So it is as if you are seeing multiple relationships at once in this intertwined web of different, distant couples. Maybe some having an affair, you know, that kind of thing.

That’s awesome. Before you started the whole Miami Horror thing, you were studying film. There is obviously some kind of visual aesthetic that is tied to Miami Horror and the different videos that you have released just for All Possible Futures. A lot of them are pastel and minimal, almost 80s-deco. How important is the visual for you, as an artist/musician?

It comes second to the music I guess. Sometimes it comes before the music. You can be inspired by anything like a movie. For example, this old movie, Logan’s Run, inspired the song Sometimes on our last album. It is just that visual concepts and all those things, when tied in with music, make it more effective. I mean, that’s pretty obvious. But, I feel like a lot of bands don’t really do anything more than get a cool cover. It is always fairly standard. One thing I don’t necessarily like about normal, everyday bands is that they are just a bunch of guys standing there. Originally, I never wanted to show our faces. But, it became apparent that that wasn’t really possible with labels and magazines needing promo pictures. But by using colours and tones, I feel like we can become more than our faces.

I really agree with you that artists need a visual narrative to accompany their music.

Yeah, and I think that sometimes it goes much more in depth than what we are doing. I think that next album or next project, I will definitely focus on that a little more. I think even in the early days of Miami Horror we kind of tried to focus on the visual, and take the focus away from ‘the band’. I really like artists like Daft Punk, where you don’t really focus on the individuals behind the music. It is just about the music and the overall concept. I really like that. Even, you know, the band Air; there was definitely a period when artists did that. You didn’t know too much about the people behind it. It was more just a combination of visuals and music.

Artistic anonymity, it’s important. But, in terms of coming back to Australia, it’s a homecoming. Miami Horror is doing a string of shows down the east coast and also in Perth. Clearly, you are not anonymous here. It’s your home. So what is it like to come back?  

Yeah, it’s weird. We try not to think about it too much. We just kind of take it as it comes. We’ve got Australian management here now. So that has made the whole process a lot easier. I think, in terms of making sure that shows are promoted properly and stuff like that. If we were using American management it would be pretty hard. I means you always just want to come home and have that kind of welcoming sensation. But, it kind of gets taken away when you are wrapped up in the business side of things. You know, thinking about how you are going to pull of the show and that stuff. So, I think the main thing about it is that you get to just come home and see your family and friends. I guess it is almost like an opportunity to prove yourself and where you’re at musically.

In terms of your live set and what you guys are doing, is there something different that you are going to offer Australia? Or is it just things as usual?

Well, we have a new show that in general is very visual heavy. We got to trial it in Melbourne last time, a basic version of it. But now we are trying to have a lot of video content and animation that runs with the music and the live show. The live show is a little more action packed. We have really tried to up the ‘live’ sense of it. The people that have seen us before would know that the live set is quite different to the album recording, in terms of how far we try to push the music, and make it a new experience. Rather than just a CD experience. Most other electronic bands are CD experiences, just the recording played live.

You just referred to yourself as an electronic band. But you also have keys, bass, guitar, drums, as well as the produced elements that are more digitised. You’ve been called psych pop, electronic pop rock. What are you?

Yeah. I don’t know. We have never been able to pigeonhole it. But I think that overall, it is more electronic than it is indie rock or something.

That’s what makes it great. I think that you guys are on something that people are starting to get a scent of, are starting to get more interest in. You know, over the past few years. That kind of psych pop, and the renewal of old pop tendencies. Its bouncier, it has that kind of jazz and funk-infused energy.   

Well, music has become really digital, really programmed, and just simple electronic noise. By digital, I mean most club tracks and a lot of that beatsy R&B. The sounds don’t feel organic. You can have an organic sounding synth pads but there is something about the way synths are used that sounds very 90s, that hyper-digitised mid-90s era. But what happens then, is everyone gets bored of that and they find something in the more organic feel. You find a whole generation of people that haven’t even heard a lot of 70s and 80s pop. So they get over 90s revival stuff, start looking for new things, and end up looking back to music that they haven’t heard before. So, that is where we kind of come in. We don’t fit into those digital eras like the 90s when electronic music was very digitised and programmed. I didn’t really like music during that period. I have a bit of a problem with some of it now, even though I enjoy it more. But, the ultimate goal is bringing music back to place where it is organic and natural.

It must be an intergenerational experience performing these days. I forget that there are probably people born in the late 90s or early 00s that are listening to your music. Most of them have not had a single experience with music from the 70s or 80s. How do you navigate those audiences?

I think that it is hard in a way, if people are coming in and they have never heard that stuff. It is interesting to see people try and interpret our music without knowing the specific influences. But, I guess in a way, it has matured our crowd a bit. We are aiming for people that do know their references and do know that era of music. Even if it takes some time, the whole aim behind this album especially was to write something that once people come back to that type of music (70s and 80s pop), they can look at this album and say ‘“whoa that was really good”, as opposed to us just trying to make an album to fit in with what’s current. You know, it’s just going to disappear with sands of time, like a lot of artists do. So that was the idea behind making our own thing, you know, waiting for the time when people look back. Its weird writing an album for the future. I don’t know how to put. Its writing something classic I guess. Something that can be listened to 10 years later and people find something new in it.

It’s not trivial and tokenistic, a hashed copy of what is being produced at the moment.

Yeah. That’s what you find with a lot of current digital and dance-pop music. Its not really going to be listenable in even a year. Nobody is going to want to hear that anymore. There was that electro clash genre in 2004 and 2005 when I was in high school – peaches, rapture and all these random bands. That era of stuff where everyone sounds different, and everyone has there own sound, but you still kind of mix it together, you still kind of DJ it. It creates a really character driven atmosphere. The parties are better because everyone has their own individual style, and everyone is having fun. That’s what we want to tie into our work and music. So, we are kind of waiting for people to get over the electronic scene.

Yeah, the constantly recycled and resampled electronic scene. I totally get you. Just finally, you guys have really shown yourselves to be collaborators with this album, you know, you have worked with Cleopold, Young Franco and JOY. What has it been like combining your musical powers with other people? And how do you go about doing it?

It’s just been a really fun experience. Some of them are unplanned. We just hang out with somebody and we are working on something and it works for Miami Horror. It can be anything. Sometimes you hear a voice in your head that suits a song and go out searching for that voice and you find somebody that sounds exactly like what you imagined. It comes together perfectly. I also like the idea of just bringing two artists from different genres together because the result is going to be something you haven’t heard before. What’s a good example… Wayne Coyne has done some weird collaborations in the past. He worked with Chemical Brothers at one point, and did this weird psychedelic song called Golden Park where he tells a story of this dream that he had. Its really interesting, because nobody combines those things. Rather than just getting a soulful R&B singer to sing on your electronic track, which is common. You know, try and bring one of those people to a different world, and tone them down and play around with them in a different way. It leads to new things.

I was just thinking of that time that Grace Jones performed Pavarotti. That was an intense crossing of worlds. It’s been really awesome to talk to you. I have just been listening and agreeing with what you have been saying.

Yeah, it’s hard to get that message out. I was that kid 5 years ago, that was saying ‘I only want to listen to this one thing’, and then you slowly open up and listen to new music. I had lots of friends who listened to David Bowie, Happy Monday and random mixes of stuff. I definitely see that stuff coming around again in the next 3 or 4 years. I think it will be a lot more fun.