Experimentation, Technology, and Interactive Album Art: A Conversation with The Britanys

The Britanys © Aysia Marotta
The Britanys are not taking any breaks after returning to U.S soil from an overseas tour in the UK and releasing their mixtape 1-833-IDK-HTBA. Atwood Magazine chats with frontman Lucas Long and drummer Steele Kratt to talk about the tour, their album, and the interactive album art that they created with it. Yes, you can actually call their mixtape.

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So, you are driving a virtual version of what looks like Kit from Nightrider on The Britanys interactive music video for their song “Yer Out of Control.” Over the soaring vocals of frontman Lucas Long and heavy guitar riffs, the car weaves in and out of the pixelated track dodging cars and blind ledges. As the circuit continues, pixels and digital smog impair your vision, until eventually, the car slips off the track into the digital abyss. Across the screen flashes: Yer Out of Control.

1-833-IDK-HTBA - The Britanys Cover Art

1-833-IDK-HTBA – The Britanys Cover Art

This game is just one of many digital treasures that the Bushwick rock band have laced within the website for their newest mixtape, 1-833-IDK-HTBA. The album is laced with links to conceptual art like easter eggs in vintage Atari video games. Objects link to digital zine that they crafted and bot chatroom where and “Eliza Britany Bot” questions you into existential despair. On the walls: a poster of the Grateful Dead Bears and a sticker of the Talking Heads that links to a Wikipedia page. A patch on one of the member’s sweaters links to an archival video of The Ramones performing “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” The iPod playing Gorillaz’s album “Demon Days” links to the music video for “Last Living Souls.” It is what Lucas Long described it as “a bibliography.”

And yes, you can call the mixtape.

This is all to say that the mixtape – and the interactive art that surrounds it – serves as the band’s meditation on their modern existence as a band in New York City. It covers many musical topics such as love, loss, and loneliness, but also some more contemporary ones like their relationship with technology and its impact on their relationships. While their freshman album Five A Side was a set of disjointed tracks, 1-833-IDK-HTBA is complete set. Composed of six full tracks and five transitions, the album listens like a linear story line where the songs are separated by ambient sounds from the studio and everyday life and voicemail simulations of android “Britany.”

So, to talk technology, their concept art, changing sounds, and their future, Atwood Magazine chats with The Britanys frontman Lucas Long and drummer Steele Kratt.

Listen: 1-833-IDK-HTBA – The Britanys

A CONVERSATION WITH THE BRITANYS

Atwood Magazine: I guess I'll just to launch into it, how are things going in general? Where are you guys at right now?

Steele Kratt: Well, we just went through England, which was our first proper foray into the country. It was a good time, and a good way to extend our reach on the other side of the world. We’re back now and we are just going to sort-of rendezvous, do a few more events, and write more songs and record stuff.

Nice. I guess with your most recent work, 1-833-IDK-HTBA, you said in another interview that it is neither an EP, nor an album, so what would you consider calling it?

Steele Kratt: A mixtape.

Cool. So, I guess that kind of goes into my next question, you know, the mixtape kinda has a whole retro gaming vibe to it, so how did that start originally?

Lucas Long: I don’t think it was something that we ever really thought about. Maybe it’s the artwork that gives it that feeling. It’s really just about experience, and what you are able to create with the budget that we have.

So it's just making the best you can, and it just happened to have this kind of retro vibe to it?

Lucas Long: Yeah, I don’t think there’s really anything retro about it.

I was thinking that because I was doing the driving game that accompanied your song 'Yer out of Control' and it kind of reminded me of Mario Kart and being on Rainbow Road.

Lucas Long: Yeah, that’s just what we were able to afford. We wanted to create it and have it be a racing game but we kind of had to limit ourselves with the amount of money that we are able to spend. I don’t know though, it’s like an interactive music video. I don’t think there is anything really retro about it.

Watch: “I Don’t Know How to Be Alone” – The Britanys

On your album cover there are a lot of references to other bands, so what were the references for? Were they inspirations for the album? Or just paying homage to a certain extent?

Lucas Long: The things in the room?

Yeah.

Lucas Long: Yeah, that was kind of like a bibliography. That was the idea of just kind of having a bibliography of the recording and of the story. It reflects how we made it. Half of it really was made in different bedrooms with one guy at the computer and everyone else just sitting around and trying different parts. Yeah, the posters and everything else…. the Gorillaz. We were listening to a lot of Gorillaz. A lot of Talking Heads. I think all of that is kind of like a bibliography.

Steele Kratt:  Yeah, everything that is there is something that we have sort of drawn from.

Absolutely. Correct me if I am wrong, but the whole album there are some themes that run through it about navigating modern life, and tech, and the idea of always being on your phone. How did you want that reflected in your music and your accompanying art?

Lucas Long: I don’t think humans are really looked after on Instagram or these programs that are made to distract or made to hook you in not any real ways. I am a victim or that for sure. I think everyone probably is. What we are really just trying to do is try to create these different places online that each is kind of a rabbit hole of different places were humanity and people are thought about differently. I think technology is kind of a natural evolution to everything, but how far necessarily do we want to go into that?

But also, at the same time as a band you have to rely on these social media sites to sort of get the word out, and get followers, and cultivate a brand. So, with all of that in mind, how do you get that balance of branding yourself online and not getting trapped in it?

Lucas Long: I don’t know. It is a really tough dynamic. I don’t even think that even that social media is the right indicator of what your audience or you whatever is. I think a lot of that is skewed information that is meant to keep you in those areas. Yeah, we haven’t taken his bold step of saying ‘We are not going to use this.’ We are still figuring it out. How do you use it in an artful way? How do use it in a way where you are using it and it is not using you?

The Britanys © Aysia Marotta

The Britanys © Aysia Marotta

For me, the beauty of you guys creating these programs is not like you are on a social media platform. The very act of you guys creating these programs for your mixtape is a reflection of you guys and sort of how you approach everything. Would that be correct?

Lucas Long: Yeah, it also plays into the idea of just thinking about the whole experience of the song. It’s almost like it’s hard to have people’s attention and you need to create that full experience in order to really grasp somebody’s attention and have them experience what you are trying to put across. And also, how to do that in the most humane way possible.

Lucas Long:  Yeah.

It seems that is the direction that the music industry is going towards, and all the theatrics outside of the song. It does speak to the music industry to a certain extent.

Lucas Long: Yeah, who knows.

The Britanys’ Raw & Lonely Helpline, “I Don’t Know How to Be Alone”

:: PREMIERE ::

So going into the mixtape itself, you have six full songs and five interludes, what was the thought process with having these interludes?

Lucas Long: Yeah, I think it just ties into everything else, it was the idea of thinking of it as kind of a linear story. We wanted to make like a mixtape music video or something like that.

Steele Kratt: Also, we talk about the subject matter of technology and humanity, and how the two work together or don’t work together, rather. I think that those interludes help convey the emotions that we write about in a way. And then also, and I can’t speak for Lucas, but when he brought up the idea to add interludes, I was really into it because a lot of the albums that I really, really like have interludes that connect all the songs.

Lucas Long: I think when we write we talk about different places and or like different….like “Oh, yeah I am walking down this street in this instance.”

Steele Kratt: Little vignettes that tie things together that are might not necessarily be a whole song’s worth of music.

Lucas Long: Yeah, that was totally it. We recorded it all live, we didn’t even have any metronome.

Steele Kratt: We re-recorded a couple of songs on that, so they were kind of disjointed, so these ones connected everything together and kept things fresh.

And when you are talking about the album about it being 'linear,' are you just talking about the passage of time? Because you have the repeat of the track title 'Under Neon Lights' twice, obviously the last one has everything in the brackets, but what was the process of that?

Lucas Long: For me listening to it, there is kind of a linear story from the introduction to the last song. It could be a day. It is sort of a linear story in that sense. A lot of our cases with something we are working on, well actually just me personally, is overthinking and that kind of “critical mind” that can be dangerous. Me personally, I rethink songs all the time…

Steele Kratt: All the time!

Lucas Long: … I’ll think of like twenty versions of a song. It was like doing that, and kind of catching myself doing that and having a quite literal representation of doing that (with two versions of “Under Neon Lights.”)

Steele Kratt: We did the first version of Under Neon Lights, and we were set on that, and then a couple of months before we were putting out [the mixtape] and we had all of the interludes down Lucas was like “I don’t like this,” and so we just sort of fucked around and spent a day in my room on Garageband. We weren’t originally going to do much with it, we just wanted to see what we could come up with, and I think we liked it better so we just added it on there.

The Britanys © Aysia Marotta

The Britanys © Aysia Marotta

Do you want people to interpret the stories in the album in different ways? Or is there a clear-cut interpretation?

Lucas Long: I think there are many different stories that can be told from it. I don’t think there is necessarily is just one natural one. It was written across a year that was made up by many different experiences and memories.

Awesome. So before we end this let me just ask one last question: what is just one thing out of this mixtape that you don't want people to take away from this album?

Lucas Long: We have no judgment.

Steele Kratt: Just stop saying that we are The Strokes. When we were in England one of the places we were at this lady put our music on and she was like “Oh, you guys sound so much like The Strokes.” Stop recycling things.

Absolutely. Well, thanks guys, I really appreciate you guys taking the time to talk to me. Best of luck in the future and I hope you guys kill it moving on.

Steele Kratt: Thank you, we appreciate it.

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