Interview by Lindsey Craun.
Brooklyn-based electronic pop group Xylos will release their self-titled debut album April 5, which will include several songs from the group’s live show. This year marked the first South By Southwest (SXSW) appearance for the group, and we were able to steal a moment of their time amongst all the chaos. Monika Heidemann, Nikki Lancy and Eric Zeiler sat down with us to talk about the band’s formation, their SXSW experience, and the upcoming album.
How did all of you come together to form Xylos?
Nikki: Well, I knew Eric from a mutual friend and we were kidding around and joking about starting a band and then you [Eric] actually had written a bunch of songs…
Eric: You were joking, I was serious. We just got really drunk at a party and I was like, “Let’s start a band!” And everybody was like “Yeah, totally, let’s start a band!” But I don’t think you were serious about it.
Nikki: No, okay so you were serious, and then you had the five songs you’d written and then you had asked me to come and sing on them and kind of do that with you. And then we brought Monika in.
Eric: Yeah, I guess it kind of started with five songs and then we sort of filled… it wasn’t going to be a band at first, then we sort of filled in the pieces of the band over the course of making these songs. When all was said and done, we had a band.
Why did you guys choose be based in Brooklyn, and what are the advantages and disadvantages?
Eric: It seems like a reason that a lot of musicians congregate there… Living in New York, everybody is up in Brooklyn because there’s more space, it’s cheaper, and if you want to have recording space in your home, you kind of have to live in Brooklyn, so that’s why I moved there.
Nikki: He has a recording space in his home.
Eric: Yeah actually I had it in Manhattan for a while in my bedroom. But then it was, like, this is ridiculous that I have to do this sitting in my bed.
Nikki: I think it’s a natural place for like if you are creative and a musician, I think it’s natural that we all found each other and are living there. Obviously it’s an amazing place to be for music in general. There’s just so many great, creative energies floating around.
Eric: It’s kind of how Austin feels this week (during SXSW), I think is sort of how Brooklyn feels most of the time– at least in the summer. It’s a similar kind of energy, I think, very electric and venues and bands playing everywhere. It’s kind of an inspiring environment to make music. For disadvantages, it’s expensive.
Monika: It’s expensive and also, because it’s expensive, you have to work a lot to pay your rent. So, that’s kind of a disadvantage. Everyone’s really busy. It’s not a very chill place, you have to like struggle to chill out there.
Monika, I understand you performed Lithuanian folk songs while growing up. How has your musical background influenced your current projects?
Monika: That’s so funny, that keeps getting out. When I was a child I grew up in kind of a—my mother was born Lithuanian—so I grew up in this really Lithuanian-American community. Except, at the time, Lithuania wasn’t independent so they really struggled hard to keep the culture and the music. Lithuania is a really musical country and there’s a lot of art, music and dancing—they love that. So I just grew up… like I was a Lithuanian Girl Scout, Lithuanian folk dancing, Lithuanian everything. Half my life was surrounded by this Lithuanian culture, but in the U.S. So I learned a lot of songs and singing, a lot of folk eastern-European melodies from a young age. It’s definitely helped my melodic sense.
Nikki: They’re awesome, really interesting, really crazy folk songs. Senses of harmony, and the one’s [Monika] played for me—those are amazing.
From where do you draw your inspiration in songwriting?
Eric: Probably all different. All three of us are songwriters, so we’ll probably all answer separately. I like to be away from instruments. I tend to come up with melodic ideas while walking. And then I’ll let an idea kind of filter around for a while before I try to pick up a guitar and turn it into a song.
Monika: It really just varies. It usually happens when I’m not thinking about it so much. Usually for me, a lot of non-musical things inspire me. Lyrically, being out and about, and kind of delving into this dark emotional space as well. Phrases and emotions going into phrases kind of come out when I’m in that space.
Nikki: For me—I was actually just talking about this last night—when I write lyrics, when they’re good lyrics, I don’t necessarily know what they’re about when I’m writing them. They just kind of come out as random pieces of ideas and fragments of pictures and stories, and then later I look back on it and understand more about what I was writing about at the time.
What can you tell me about your album coming out in April?
Eric: Best album ever.(laughs.) But yeah, we’re so excited because we finished recording it in late 2010. So it’s been a couple months now that it’s been done and ready. We’re just excited because it’s like the culmination of where the band has been and where we arrived to a couple months ago. It really represents who we are now.
Nikki: It’s a good sign marker. It’s really representative of the best of what we do I think.
Eric: It’s moody and pretty emotional, I think. But also up-tempo and kind of fun. So it’s kind of like a juxtaposition of some darker moods lyrically and emotionally, and then dancy kind of feeling to a lot of the songs.
Nikki: And sometimes we do dancy songs to somewhat darker lyrics, which is like juxtaposing also.
Who writes your song lyrics and how does the song form from an idea to words on a paper?
Eric: We all kind of do, and also collaborate within certain songs, like the song “X-Ray” on our record. We all kind of contributed lyrical ideas and musical ideas. That’s an example of all of us mushing our ideas into one song, then there are other songs that are like, one of us kind of wrote most of it. But I think all the songs have at least a bit of all of us in them.
I understand you chose certain songs from your live performances to include on the album. How did you decide which ones made the cut?
Nikki: I think it was just a process of the ones we were most excited about playing when we were playing them. It was like we sort of naturally—I mean there are songs that we played for a while, and as we were writing new songs, we were more excited about them. So it’s just a natural process where you’re like, okay these songs aren’t the songs that we like the most, so we probably won’t put these on the album.
Eric: We sort of operated under the assumption that the songs that we enjoyed playing live were the songs that would be best on an album. Like the song “Circumstances” that we had tried live a bunch of different ways and never sat right. We sort of assumed maybe we should put that one aside for a while and focus on the songs that feel good to play live. Even though the album if different than live, I guess they do go hand-in-hand. And all the songs from the album are ones that we’re excited about playing now on this tour, so it sort of works out well.
What goals did you hope to achieve here at SXSW?
Monika: Take in all the music, connect with as many people we can, and show our faces here.
Nikki: Play some damn good shows.
Monika: Eat some good food.
Eric: We got some good advice from Larry Flick.
Nikki: Yeah we did a radio interview with this guy, Larry Flick, and he had really good advice, which was just like go down with the idea of having a good time and just playing your music, and not really expecting anything to happen as a result. Just have a good time. I think that’s kind of the attitude.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2011?
Eric: We’re on tour for another two weeks after this, so we’ll be back in New York in April. We have a record release party when the record comes out in early April. We’ll probably have a couple weeks of down time, maybe get back to some writing, then get back on the road later in the spring.
Nikki: I have this idea that I’m really excited about. Zeiler has a house down the shore, and I really am inspired by Lykki Li wrote her album in Arizona or somewhere in the Southwest, and I really just want to go somewhere and sequester the three of us, and just start writing stuff.
Eric: We’re already ready to make our next album, and our first hasn’t come out yet (laughs,) but it’s a good thing I think.
Watch the music video for “Second Order” from Xylos below: