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Making the leap from an independent record label to a major one is no easy feat. Neither is landing a song on an iPod commercial. But Brooklyn-based dream-pop trio Chairlift has accomplished both in just 16 months. Their catchy “Bruises” accompanies a multihued Nano TV ad, and the group will release a spiffed-up version of their debut “Does You Inspire You” April 21 on Columbia Records.
And whereas some bands might have been disappointed to revamp an album that dropped almost a year ago, Chairlift saw it as an opportunity. “The way I like to put it is when George Lucas rereleased ‘Star Wars,’ he went back and color corrected a few things and made it the way he always envisioned it. That’s essentially what we did,” says singer and guitarist Aaron Pfenning. They were also able to add two tracks, “Dixie Gypsy” and “Le Flying Saucer Hat.”
This story first appeared in the April 13, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“Most bands have to live forever with the record they made and we were given the opportunity to go back into the mix,” said Caroline Polachek, who works the synthesizer, in addition to singing. “We just changed the balance of the whole thing.”
It is a musical revision in keeping with the Chairlift’s members’ own evolution. Polachek, 23, and Pfenning, 25, met four years ago in an economics class at the University of Colorado and soon after formed an eclectic pop duo act. They moved to Brooklyn together when Polachek transferred to New York University, switching her major from music and biology to studio art, an academic shift to which she credits Chairlift’s unique sound.
“I’m so glad I didn’t study music because I think all those kids come out of school with a very technical idea of what making music is about,” says Polachek. “What we do in Chairlift is very intuitive.”
The twosome found a third member in Patrick Wimberly, 25, an acquaintance of Polachek’s from Colorado.
“He can play almost anything you give him,” notes Pfenning of Wimberly, who added drums, keyboard and bass to Chairlift’s sound.
And though Polachek and Pfenning do most of the writing, they say the group is highly collaborative.
“Caroline and I write the songs separately initially and then we work through them with Patrick. He’s really good with arrangement,” says Pfenning. The outcome — which has been described as hypnotic synth-pop — reflects the band’s name. “A chairlift gives you a wide panoramic view of something, very atmospheric,” explains Pfenning. “The music somewhat translates.”
Starting this spring, the trio will begin a yearlong tour for the new “Does You Inspire You.” Their complex, revamped tunes won’t be the only things on show: unsurprisingly, the bandmates’ styles are as edgy as their moody riffs. Polachek, who favors Yohji Yamamoto’s Y-3 line and Ann Demeulemeester, is “kind of obsessed with outfits that are Goth-letic.” (Translation: clothes that are funereal, but made of synthetic athletic materials.) Pfenning often dips into her closet for leggings, loose tops and scarves to spruce up his stage ensembles. But Wimberly takes a more laissez-faire — though no less successful — approach.
“[He] is masculine to the point where he doesn’t even think about fashion,” laughs Polachek. “He just likes to wake up and put on whatever is crumpled up next to his bed. But it’s great.”