By Angel Fraden
Fuzion Magazine had a chance to catch up with the up-and-coming Queens-based urban electric trio Neonfaith to talk about their current music, their plans for the future, and a little bit about Kanye’s new album Yeezus.
Fuzion Magazine: Your band is two-thirds female, which is pretty unusual in the music industry. Do you ever feel as if your gender might inhibit your success? In your days of Audio Never Dies did you feel as if your material was ever devalued when people realized a female helped make it?
Fef: Yeah it’s a little intimidating sometimes. Being in the music industry, not as a singer, but as a beat maker. Even when I’m in the studio with the guys, like Lay and a few of the other producers, they know their shit.
Megan: There’s also just a different vibe. Men are very aggressive.
Fef: They’re very aggressive. They love their music. If someone tries to come in and change something they’re just like, “What?” I’m the same way too. When it comes to me playing chords and me playing a melody and they tell me to re-do like 500 times, I’m just like, “Where’s my knife?” And Lay does it to me all the time. Lay is a perfectionist and I’m a perfectionist too. At the end of the day it’s how I know that we don’t put shit out. We always do things over and over. “Mercury” was a headache. I’m glad it’s a success but it was a fucking headache.
Fef: We re-wrote the chorus. With the outro it was just like, how are we going to end this shit? And then me and Lay came up with this cool-ass outro. We sampled Megan’s vocals.
FM: I like how that’s a recurring thing, you sampling her vocals and then twisting it up.
Megan: And also while we’re doing that, we have in mind what it would sound like to play it live with an audience.
FM: How often do you play live and what’s your live set-up like?
Fef: We’re actually in the process of rehearsing to get a live set together. We’re hoping to do some shows mid-July, August. August we should be doing shows probably twice a week, if that.
Megan: We’re also trying to cement the EP so that we have a set list that we’re proud of. And then we have to work out basically, because it’s so electronically based, how to break down all the samples on to two keyboards so they can play them.
Fef: Yeah so it’s basically just me and Lay playing the entire beat.
Megan: So we’re not just pressing play the whole time. We were also thinking of doing some practice shows on the DL.
Fef: We were thinking about where our studio is in Queens, Lay’s home, we were just going to invite a few people over and have like a barbeque and just have a live set in the backyard. Just for fun, to get our feet wet. If we suck it’s just gonna be our friends there.
Megan: We can work it out.
Fef: Yeah I’m so excited to do shows. I mean I’ve played live before, but I played like stupid recitals because I went to piano school. But I’ve been so amped to play as a band, just because making beats you get so sick of playing in the basement.
Megan: Live is the best part.
FM: It’s like instant gratification, seeing the expressions on all those people’s faces responding to your music.
Fef: I know. I can’t wait.
Megan: Because I’ve never been in a band like this. I’ve been in like soul/blues sorts of projects.
Fef: I’ve been in a church band. I’ve seen people catch the holy ghost and shit. But like, this is going to be really different.
FM: Who do you like your crowd, the people that listen to your music?
Fef: I actually feel like it’s really random.
Megan: It’s really eclectic.
Fef: Yeah, in fact I can’t even pinpoint. You have like the indie crowd that like the electronic pop and stuff like that. And then you have the people that are like four on the floor, like really dubstep. And we’re not really dubstep. I don’t even know, I can’t even say.
Megan: And I feel like it’s because the way we blast our bass line and beat. We get a lot of people who like hip hop, and that Kanye kind of crowd.
Fef: Our genre is definitely electronic. Urban electronic, I think that’s what me and Lay were going for.
Megan: We’ve been called everything. We’ve been called chillstep, I don’t even know what the hell that is.
[After a brief intermission the third and final member of the band (beat maker/producer Lay) joined us at the bar, having lost his way from the F train.]
FM: Exactly how long have the three of you known each other? So, I guess after the Craigslist post. When was the Craigslist post?
Megan: A year and a half ago.
Megan: Yeah it was January when I first met you guys.
Lay: Yeah we met January 10th. I remember that because uh..
Megan: It was the greatest moment of his life.
Lay: (laughs) No, it was my brother’s birthday and an event was going on. So that’s when we met. January 10th.
Megan: They were screening me to make sure I wasn’t crazy or just ugly.
Lay: Yeah you just can’t invite somebody to your house. We work in my basement, you know.
Megan: I was totally gonna murder all of you.
FM: And how long did it take to finish your first song?
Megan: We had a bunch of songs that we did together, but we moved away from the sound we were initially doing.
FM: So you just scratched them?
Megan: Well we might re-visit them in the future if we do them.
Lay: We had to change the sound a bit. We had a lot of records together that we just didn’t end up using. It was just like she said. I guess we found our sound together.
Megan: Our first record was probably done within a month or two.
Lay: But I don’t even know when we finished the first record that we actually released.
Fef: I think it was April. It was in April. “Escape” we did in the winter and then me and Lay drafted up beats for the actual EP that was like during April/May. That’s when we found a good sound.
Lay: Yeah we took like a week off from everything and just made music in the basement. Sat outside drinking beer. Picking up old records. Listening to a lot of music. Went record shopping. Just things like that, totally immersing ourselves in music. And more than like 75% of the beats for the EP kind of came from that.
Megan: Yeah we’ve been working on the songs for the EP, just re-drafting them for the last year.
Lay: Yeah just doing them over and over, trying to get it right.
Megan: We have a few additional songs that we feel really good about, but we don’t want to just release everything from the EP. Then what’s the point of saying, now this is the EP over here.
FM: [to Lay and Fef] Can you two talk about Audio Never Dies a little bit? I’m really interested in the work you did with Bobby Generic. The one song that really struck me was “Tonight”. How much work did you both put into that song, production wise and beat wise?
Lay: That was a song that we actually co-produced. We got that beat from another producer and I had an idea for when the whole beat kind of changes. And that was like my vision.
Fef: It’s like a chop and screw motion.
Lay: I kind of had that vision and directed it. I told them, you know, play it like this or try this. Things like that. And that was pretty much it. And Fef did a little keys and bass. But it was pretty much just seeing what he did.
Fef: Seeing how far we could take it.
Lay: I just gave him a lot of suggestions. I still let him do his thing, but I guided him through the process.
Fef: “Tonight” is actually a song off Bobby Generic’s EP that me and Lay and other producers under A.N.D. actually produced together. And that was a collective. The entire thing was A.N.D..
Lay: We actually produced that record like three years ago. That’s when we first started.
Fef: Before Neonfaith even.
Lay: Yeah way before Neonfaith. I guess we were just doing hip hop stuff. I started off doing electronic music but I kind of moved away from it and I started doing hip hop. I met Bobby Generic and I was impressed by his raps and I was like yo, I wanna work with this guy and see what happens.
FM: What did you and Fef learn from that whole experience, and what made you change your direction and seek out a singer?
Fef: Well basically Bobby Generic was for Bobby Generic, you know. We wanted to work as a collective just to get us noticed. But me and Lay kind of wanted to do something apart from that.
Lay: Because we had started together. When I first started making music, maybe like a month or two in, I knew I needed a partner. I knew I had no musical background, and I wasn’t classically trained in piano. The music I was listening to was advanced and I knew I couldn’t make any of that without having somebody who was really that talented. She’s been playing piano since she was five or whatever. I knew I needed somebody like that to get my vision out.
Fef: Yeah me and Lay have been making beats way before Bobby Generic and way before Audio Never Dies. And then Bobby Generic happened and then A.N.D. and then finally Neonfaith, we needed something that would set us apart.
Lay: I was always the hardest on myself. I wanted to create something for myself.
FM: So it seems like he taught you all of the production work and she taught you all of the technical work.
Fef: Yeah we definitely feed off each other.
Lay: It’s like a yin and yang thing. This wouldn’t have happened without it.
Fef: Yeah I can’t do certain things if Lay’s presence isn’t there, and you know vice versa.
FM: So would you ever consider collaborating with a rapper on Neonfaith material since you’ve already had this experience working in hip hop.
Megan: We haven’t really thought about it.
Lay: It’s definitely possible. Some of the barriers that are being broken in hip hop right now, it’s unbelievable. I can’t believe what’s flying. I guess that’s always been hip hop. You can’t keep using a soul sample forever. Eventually they’re going to get all used up, so you’ve got to start moving to different genres and taking different things. That’s hip hop. Hip hop is a genre built on biting and taking shit, taking samples from here and there. That’s hip hop. I think hip hop and electronic music are starting to go hand in hand at this point. So it’s definitely possible.
FM: Artists like Shlohmo, How to Dress Well, and practically everything on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label are doing exactly that. They’re creating a space for music where hip hop, electronic and experimental music all become completely interchangeable. How can you explain this trend and how does Neonfaith fit into all of it?
Fef: I think we’re a little different just because Megan’s voice is what really sets us apart. Our beats are different. I feel like our beats are something that you haven’t heard, period. You hear hip hop and you hear electronic, but then you hear the sounds we use and the way we set our beat up in certain sequences. And Megan’s voice; she’s not an average singer. Megan can actually really sing.
Lay: Yeah she’s not the typical indie voice. Not to say they can’t sing.
Fef: Megan has a really bluesy thing.
Lay: She’s like a soul singer. Soul singers can like sing.
Fef: Sometimes we really have to emphasize it. You know like sang with an ‘A’. Sometimes when we go over lyrics and melodies in the studio, we’re like Megan we know you can sing. Tone it down a little.
Megan: Maybe in the beginning when we were finding our sound. I wanted to really sing hard.
Fef: You show off. (laughs)
Lay: Yeah I mean, Megan doesn’t even get to really sing as good as she can sing. It’s kind of funny.
FM: That’s what live is for, right?
Lay: I think that’s coming. I think we just need more experience and more time together as a band, so we can figure out how to use her voice and still make it work within this whole indie-electronic thing.
FM: This April Megan sent me a few responses to some questions I’d come up with you all. She wrote a little on the creative processes you go through to completely finish a song, called it “breaking through the threshold”. So what do you think is that threshold? What are you striving for when you think: I want it to sound like this when we’re done?
Fef: Well usually when we hear something we just know it. I can’t really pinpoint what we go for. Once we hear it, once pick a sound, once we play a chord, we know that’s the chord we’re going to use. Me and Lay are just like try a C-sharp. And we don’t know what the hell a C-sharp is at the top of our heads. We just play around with different chords. Megan sings different lyrics. Basically it’s just whatever sounds good at that time. We don’t ever settle on one thing at that time. When we revisit it the next day we might hate it. It’s all just a process.
Megan: I think the word “settle” is good. It might be okay but how can we take it that next step? We want that, where people are going to turn their heads like what is that? We want to kind of sound like what’s out there but with a twist. Take what’s been done and curve it a little bit.
Fef: We want to make it acceptable to what’s already out there, for people that aren’t used to experimental music. But also we want it to be new and original.
Lay: I think that’s everybody. Finding something to latch on to, because a lot of that… I don’t know, I just feel like a lot of people like their own shit. People like the same chords, without even knowing it. You like this, like this. You know what I’m saying? So it’s got a little twist on it, something familiar. I feel like everybody that wants to be innovative, in a sense, does that.
FM: How have you situated yourselves as independent artists in New York City? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced so far?
Fef: Well everything we do, we try to do in-house. We just recently started reaching out , trying to get our music out there. But usually we do everything on our own. We realized it’s hard to do shit on your own. We’ve been making the beats and at the end of the day trying to do promo for yourself.
Lay: Trying to market yourself. Reaching out to blogs, stuff like that.
Fef: It’s a job in itself. It’s one day at a time. For us to be where we are right now…
Lay: It’s all just what we created. For that to be able to get us this far, it’s crazy.
Fef: Doing things on our own, it’s more than what we expected.
Lay: I like it. I like the independence. And when everything is everything—I’m excited. I want everyone to hear our new record.
FM: What are some of your other influences? I know on Facebook you have some older acts like Daft Punk, Otis Redding, and Tribe Called Quest.
Fef: It’s a whole bunch of stuff. Sometimes we just pick up a vinyl and if the cover looks cool, we’ll buy it.
Lay: That’s how I buy records. If the cover’s cool. And then you can look on the back and see what kind of instruments they’re messing with.
Fef: Or if anyone looks familiar. But yeah if the illustrations are cool, fucking buy it.
FM: Has there been any specific record where you’re like, that’s the sound we’re looking for?
Fef: It just so happens that during the week that we took off, we were making beats for the EP. We found a sample and it turned out to be on one of our songs for the EP. We won’t tell you but.. (laughs)
FM: I’ll find out soon. And what is everyone’s specific role in the band?
Fef: I’m the keyboardist. He’s in the studio 24/7, because it’s at his house. So sometimes he’ll be working when we’re not there and come up with an idea. He’ll pitch it to me and we’ll try to come up with something and give it to Megan. Megan will be writing as we’re still working on the beat. It’s literally like a one-two-three process over and over.
FM: Is it both you and Megan on lyrics?
Fef: No it’s just Megan on all the lyrics.
Lay: It usually Megan but we actually got to write one of the records.
Fef: I’m really excited. It’s my favorite record right now, not because we wrote it or anything. (laughs)
FM: Why is it your favorite?
Fef: It’s just so nostalgic.
Lay: Yeah, it’s just one of those records.
Fef: You just want to, like, swing.
Lay: It’s like what is this? I’ve felt this before; it’s one of those records. I love records like that, you just can’t put your finger on it but it takes you somewhere.
FM: Have you guys listened to Yeezus?
Fef: Oh my god! I have it on my phone already. Look!
Lay: Yeah we listened to it together.
Fef: He’s a huge Kanye fan, I’m a huge Kanye fan.
Lay: That was something else, man. That was an experience.
Fef: We’re just like, damn you Kanye. You did it again.
FM: It’s just that when I first heard the record, I was thinking of what questions I would ask you. It was just so eerily similar to everything that I’m hearing when I listen to your music. That dark, grimy, deep house sound. And he still incorporates all these elements of hip hop, it’s like a mask or something.
Fef: Kanye’s music is like a score for a movie. It’s huge.
Lay: The sound is so big and crazy, man. I was very impressed.
Fef: I didn’t expect anything less from Yeezus.
Lay: When I was growing up all I had to listen to was a lot of gangster rap. It wasn’t really me. But then Kanye came along and he wasn’t this gangster rapper. I could kind of relate to this guy, it wasn’t about shooting people and shit. I like that music but I felt closer to him. Ever since then I’ve been following him and shit.
FM: I just think it’s really impressive that he’s working with all these small acts like Hudson Mohawke to create these songs that are like trap music and a really specific hip hop/electronic fusion, stuff like what you guys are doing.
Fef: Yeah Daft Punk actually produced a few tracks on the new record.
FM: I think that’s great. Kanye has a hold on what’s going to be big and you guys have been doing it for years now.
Fef: I think Kanye sets the bar and then that’s what you’re going to hear for the rest of the year. It’s like stop, I’ve heard it.
Lay: I think he’s really just pushing music forward as a whole.
Fef: It opens people up, people that aren’t used to hearing music like that. Especially people that love rap, I’m sure they haven’t heard beats like that before.
Lay: Music is changing now. He’s helping to change it, being that mold. He’s got this totally experimental album and he’s like this big ass icon. In music in general, not just hip hop. He sets the tone. People are going to take notice and they’re gonna step it up. They’re gonna try stuff again. Things will probably get a little more interesting.
Fef: It’s going to be okay to think outside the box.
Lay: I was really happy with Kendrick’s album. He was himself. He wasn’t trying to get on the radio, but he still got on the radio. People still heard him and really liked him. Hopefully people will receive Kanye’s new music well. I know the critics are raving about it. I just hope the masses can take it. And maybe music will start changing a little bit.
Fef: Yeah that’s what we hope for our music too. We don’t want to stray away from what we know. Me and Lay would study artists that we know and get inspiration from then, but after a while we just had to stick with what we know and do what we’re doing for Neonfaith. Taking from other artists is cool but we still have to stay true to ourselves. And once we realized that it’s been much easier for us to make beats and create a vision for ourselves. That’s what we hope for our music, to create something new that can be accepted and not turned away.