I’m just going to say it – Cygnus by Pale Spring is one of my favorite records so far this year. It’s a tightly-composed, eight-song collection by the sultry, trip hop – and husband/wife – duo Emily Harper Scott and Drew Scott. From the outset, it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the vocal melodies and hooks on the album, and, veritably, each song has strong stuck-in-the-head capacity. From the dance floor ready “Happening” to the more hip hop influenced “Guilt Trip,” Cygnus brings together many forms of beat-based music, all masterfully swirling under Emily’s gentle but powerful croon.
Recently released on the great Doom Trip Records, you can stream (and should really buy) the album from the embed, and check an interview I did over the phone with Emily and Drew below the jump.
Jordan Reyes: Are you guys both from the Atlantic Seaboard originally?
Emily Harper Scott: Yeah, I was raised in Baltimore City and never moved until just moving to L.A.
Drew Scott: I grew up in Maryland and New Jersey.
JR: And what were ya’ll’s experiences growing up in terms of music? Did you have music playing a lot in your childhood homes? Was it encouraged?
EHS: For me, definitely – my great great uncle played for the New York Philharmonic, and he later taught my grandfather how to play jazz trumpet at Juilliard. My great uncle was a middle school music teacher his entire life. I was forced into piano lessons, musical theater, clarinet lessons from about age five on.
JR: Wow – what about you, Drew?
DS: My grandfather was amateur musician who sang in a doo-wop group in Philly when he was younger, but he was always putting instruments in my hands. I didn’t really get into making music until later.
JR: Did you begin with a band or immediately with electronics?
DS: I started making rap beats basically – I taught myself how to sample, and then I started to meet rappers, and make beats for these people. This was before computer programs, back when lo-fi chill beats weren’t really a thing – this was just what we used.
JR: You used a Tascam?
DS: It was like a Boss 16-track, and eventually computers made things a lot easier. I still use a Roland SP-404 and a Maschine Mikro II.
JR: Did you get into Fruity Loops at all?
DS: You know, I never got into Fruity Loops, but a lot of my friends did.
JR: I’ll be darned.
JR: Everyone I knew who was getting into hip hop production with computers started with fruity loops.
DS: I used something else pre-fruity loops, actually. The first thing that changed my life, though, was the Korg Triton. I got that, and that is basically what I used for melodies and sequences. I stopped using computers so much after getting it. It was a synth, a sampler, everything.
JR: Do you use it on the record?
EHS: No! He sold it before I even met him, and I’m mad about it! (Laughs). It’s an amazing piece of technology. For the record we used a microkorg, which we sold before moving to Los Angeles, before we got into midi. We were doing everything line-in, so we had to replay things until they were perfect – you can’t quantize it, really. We used the Maschine Mikro II for sampling and beats, did some glitching on the SP-404, I use a vocal pedal, and then I play the guitar on top of some of the songs.
JR: So it’s all played live?
EHS: No – usually we record like a synth line and then loop it – so we’d record a bar or so, then edit in post-production. The guitar is played live, of course, but then the Maschine Mikro II uses midi, which we can quantize, so it’s much easier.
JR: And were you using Ableton for recording?
EHS: No! This is an anti-Ableton household (laughs). No – whatever works for you works for you, but we use Pro-Tools. I think our method of doing things is a little different than most people, but I don’t know – he taught me how to make beats.
DS: My friends definitely call me an old man, but it works. I like limitations when I make music basically.
JR: So how long did it take for you guys to write the songs for CYGNUS? Did you write all of them, Emily?
EHS: I wrote all of them except for “Belongings.” “Old Sounds” is the oldest song, and I seriously cannot remember for the life of me when I recorded it, but I want to say the end of 2016 or early 2017. The album has been written for over a year because we finished writing in June of 2018, and then production and recording stretched into September. I didn’t get the final masters to Zac until Mid-October of 2018. “Belongings” was written by my friend Chris Taylor – he’s kind of famous in the DC hardcore/post-hardcore scene. He was in a band called pageninetynine – they toured all over the place. When I released the first Pale Spring EP, he found me on Twitter and hit me up saying he loved my album, and I was like “We should make music together!” I had “Old Sounds” written at that point. It took a full year, but in March 2018, he came over and stayed for a weekend, and wrote the second half of “Old Sounds,” which we finished together, and then he was like “Hey, I have this song I’m working on – I can’t sing it the way it’s meant to come off. Do you want to try singing it?” I had never tried anything like that, and it was fun since there wasn’t as much pressure.
JR: So how did you team up with/meet Zac from Doom Trip?
EHS: So after EP 2 maybe in April or May of 2018, I was like “Okay, me just cold-emailing people isn’t going to go anywhere, I should build some social media relationships with smaller labels because these are people doing good work for artists, and that might be a good way to make connections.” I started finding indie labels on twitter that I liked, followed them, started corresponding a little bit. I guess timing worked perfectly, and I added Zac on Twitter while he was on Twitter, and so he followed me back immediately, then checked out my EP. I got an email within days. He was working on the 3rd Doom Trip comp, and he said “Hey, are you working on any new music? I’d love to have you on this comp” so I finagled my way in there. I said “Hey, I’d love to – also I’m trying to shop my album around that I’ve almost finished.” At first he was a bit apprehensive because he curates his label so well and he gets so many submissions, but we liked the way we communicated with each other. He gave me really good advice about my demos when they came through and finally when I had the masters he thought they were perfect. I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s awesome, and puts in so much work.
JR: Yeah he’s one of my favorite people to correspond with – we’ve become good buds. Did that factor to you going out to Los Angeles?
EHS: No – we actually had been planning on going out to LA for like two-and-a-half years. It was going to be either LA or New Orleans. But…if we went to New Orleans, there was the chance we’d become alcoholics, and it’s more humid than Baltimore – I don’t know if we could have survived that. Maybe one day, though. Truthfully, we just wanted a change of life, and I don’t think we even had a conscientious rationale, but now that we’re here, it’s like “Oh, yeah – we’re out here for music – duh!”
JR: Were there any specific events that triggered the lyrical content on CYNGUS?
EHS: Yeah…I had a super depressing childhood, and I’m not going to get into it, but I did a lot of trauma therapy in my adulthood, so a lot of the lyrics are about coping with this bleak, desolate past in a subconscious, dreamlike way as an adult. Also, I’ve struggled with sleep paralysis and nightmares for my whole entire life. I used to be on a medication for how bad my nightmares were – a lot of my writing comes from dreams. “Quarantines” was directly from a dream I had – I almost feel like it was a past life of mine, but I had a dream that I was a young woman living on a prairie, and my house was burning down.
JR: Do you keep a dream journal?
EHS: I did! Oh my god – I did. I used to come down in the morning from bed, and I’d tell my roommates that we needed to talk about the fucked up dream I had just had, and they’d be like “What the fuck? You need to write this down in a dream journal.” Some of them are so funny, and some of them are so dark and weird. I had a dream that my best friend’s mom sawed off my foot with a chainsaw once.
JR: Wow – that one doesn’t sound all that much like a Pale Spring song, I have to admit.
JR: So once you have the dream, do you immediately contextualize it as a song?
EHS: No – so the way I write music is stream-of-consciousness. The instrumental always comes first. I’ll have an idea for a beat and explain it to Drew, and we’ll either sit down together and make it, or he’ll start it alone sometimes. Or – for instance – “Happening” was a beat that he already had. He showed it to me, and I was like “No, that is not a Pale Spring song – I am not singing to that,” but he wanted me to try, and I wrote the song in like twenty minutes. It always starts with the instrumental. Once we have the shell of a beat, I’ll pull out the scratch mic, and try some mumbo jumbo over top, but after that, I sit with the song and try to visualize myself, which frequently goes back to a dream I’ve had, and then I come up with the lyrics that way.
JR: When you play live, what’s the arrangements like?
DS: I just use the SP-404 and Emily has a mic. I will glitch the tracks a little bit, but not too much so it doesn’t fuck up Emily. I don’t think we’ve thought about it that much, but the live experience is really just the beat and us – kind of how it would be at home, how we make music.
EHS: He just sits with the sampler on his lap on the stage, and I stand on the floor. I typically prefer to play on the floor rather than on a stage to connect at an eye level. I don’t like singing at people.
JR: I also prefer playing on the floor.
EHS: It’s less pressure, and I think you get your emotional message across more.
JR: I agree – I also think it becomes this thing where you are telling people to witness your humanity, too. It’s all about that transmigration of feeling between one another. You get something from the audience and vice versa.
EHS: Yeah that duality is very important.
JR: Do you all have plans to tour any time soon?
EHS: Yeah we’re partnering up with our friend Lauren Lakis for a West Coast tour for early September. We’re in the planning stages.
JR: Cool – well, what else do you all have coming down the pipe?
EHS: We’re writing some songs – don’t know what it will turn into, but we’re definitely writing a collection of songs. I’ve been going on hikes out here into nature, so that’s influencing my writing quite a bit, and we know that once we have the shells of the songs written, we’re going to either try and record the demos or finals in ideally an earth dome house in New Mexico in the middle of nowhere.
JR: You heard it here first