With the release of their fourth LP, Uncanny Valley, COIN set out to explore the reaches of what it means to be human.
Stream: ‘Uncanny Valley’ – COIN
I was having this moment where I was thinking, like, everything’s coming together exactly as I wanted. And my well was dry.
“I’ve been as vulnerable as I can be at this point after 2020 and having the plug pulled on my whole life. I just need a distraction,” admits COIN frontman Chase Lawrence.
He was reminiscing over his first meeting with producer Julian Bunetta ahead of production on COIN’s fourth full-length album, Uncanny Valley (released March 25). They discussed a documentary they’d both seen called AlphaGo, which explores an AI program that’s infamous for consistently beating the world’s best players at the game Go.
“It got both of our wheels spinning about what it means to be human if science keeps progressing this way? Then it’s going to be very unclear and blurry, what it means to actually be a human.”
At the time of the album’s conception, Lawrence was in a confused creative place following an outpour of work at the beginning of the pandemic.
“We wrote probably 200 songs in 2020 just trying to control anything we could pretend to have control over. We wrote so many songs, and we put a lot of them out for an EP series called Rainbow Mixtape, which was kind of an exploratory project, and just kind of embraced what we loved and what we’ve wanted to do over time… I said exactly what I wanted to say. And I did exactly what I wanted to do. But it left me confused. I was having this moment where I was thinking, like, everything’s coming together exactly as I wanted. And my well was dry.”
“And I met Julian Bunetta, whom we made this album with, and he told me something really valuable. He said a great creative expression is when who you are meets who your audience thinks you are. And I had a That’s So Raven moment where I zoomed out and I realized I can’t deny my past, I can’t deny my present, but I can’t deny myself of where I need to go.”
Under that mentality, they began work on the album’s opening track, “Learning.” After the emotional burnout of the last few years, “it was a device that we used to distract ourselves to tell a story from a more objective standpoint,” Lawrence says.
Taking on a vocal tone that even T-Pain would call robotic, the song is rooted in that original idea of the human versus the artificial. The line “there’s no algorithm for intuition, you just know” capitalizes on the song’s illusions of an AI program attempting to understand what it means to be human.
COIN pursued that image a bit further, trying to grapple with what a program’s understanding of the human experience would be like, mixing elements of classic rock with more electronic tones. “[Julian] started playing this guitar riff, and it sounded kind of like the Rolling Stones’ ‘Start Me Up,’” Lawrence explains. “And we thought, ‘okay, what if we write a song from the AI perspective of the human experience? What does it look like for a first kiss or something so acutely human, so normal?’ What if we are essentially the input for the AI?”
But COIN didn’t want to make a sci-fi album. Unlike Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino or Rush’s 2112, there was no hard stance or warning on the dangers of the record’s themes; rather it was a persona that aided the album’s development.
“It’s like creating this imaginary character, a character standing next to me helping me realize my first emotional memories,” guitarist Joe Memmel mentions.
“It’s set out to be a more narrative-based album,” Lawrence says, “but it really ended up being a way to kind of unknowingly do emotional surgery on myself.”
In focusing the character of the album within the confines of artificial intelligence, COIN broke through to the deeply human journey of self-reflection and emotional processing. It makes a strange amount of sense, given that what’s often thought to be the opposite of human learning is computational learning. Yet when tasked with breaking down elements of being human into core memories and feelings, it only illuminates the severely human experience of emotions and the importance of the events that sparked them.
Or in Lawrence’s words, “It’s like going to a therapist and being like, ‘oh, yeah, I don’t really have anything to talk about,’ and an hour later you’re bawling.”
It’s set out to be a more narrative based album but it really ended up being so much about a way to kind of like unknowingly do emotional surgery on myself.
The album’s title, Uncanny Valley, culminates the record’s intentions in its bringing together the familiar and the foreign.
The name refers to a region of emotional response when robots are too alike to humans. “We thought, what’s it look like to live in the uncanny valley if it were a place?” Lawrence says. “I’m not sure there’s a human version of the uncanny valley, maybe middle school? In this idea of being misunderstood, being so clear of your objective and understanding where you need to go but at the same time something’s slightly off but wanting to be better.”
The song “Plug Me In” enters the uncanny valley holding a great deal of dual meaning, particularly in the line “just because it works doesn’t mean it’s not broken.” The song was born during a snowstorm in which Lawrence sought refuge at his sister’s house. “I did the writing session for that day in my nephew’s room in what was like a Hot Wheels bed, and I said during it, ‘Well just because it works doesn’t mean it’s not broken.’ It was coming from a very human place but then I started thinking about how it marries into the global theme too.”
“Cutie” is a track that touches on the human side of things, on the sensory memory one associates with another. “It’s like this idea that you can, you can taste this person or you can you can feel this person or you smell a perfume that reminds you of them but you’re not acknowledging this person might have changed their perfume,” Lawrence notes. “They’re the version of them that you remember. You’ll always be my tangerine, but in reality, maybe I was never a tangerine. I could be an apple for all you know.”
The song is upbeat, it feels summery and groovy and emits a citrus-y vibe. It gives equal presence to the rock and electronic elements and creates this balanced, bouncy track that pays equal reverence to the classic rock and indie-pop influences of the album. It grasps to that idea that sensory memory lasts regardless of whether the subject of the memory changes. The song looks back on a past relationship but still feels happy, as though the person is still the one they made the memories with.
Julian Bunetta’s role in the creation of this album cannot be understated, not only in his contributions to the songs themselves, but also in the support that he gave to the band.
“After a year of being so in my head and confusing overthinking for progress, he allowed me to, he gave me a space to overthink,” Lawrence shares. “He really brought our band closer together and made us better. He pushed us to just say what we wanted to say, and it wasn’t hurtful, it was beautiful. For so long, I think we’ve been shrouded in metaphors and felt like nothing was ever beautiful enough. But he taught us that there’s a power in simplicity. That became such a massive theme for the album, even down to the artwork. So his legacy touches everything we will do in the future.”
Bunetta, who is best known for his work with One Direction and Maroon 5, gave COIN the space to confidently experiment, giving guidance to what the band wanted to achieve. “It was like someone standing right above us, who can see our career in a full landscape and is trying to finish the scene and can see the full picture of what we’re trying to create.”
Uncanny Valley is one of COIN’s most stylized records to date.
It uses a narrative of the inhuman to break down the truly humane and does so in a way that’s fun and easy to listen to. When asked about what their goals were, COIN was steadfast.
“Before we kind of put up music thinking, ‘I hope this reaches people and I hope people connect with it,’ which is always the number one goal. And that’ll always be the goal for COIN,” Lawrence says. “We’ve had these vision boards and they’re very much about who we want to connect with, who people perceive us as, what people want from us. But we had pictures of actual Grammys all over the studio making this album. I can’t say if it’s going to happen but I have to be honest with people around me and say that’s our goal.”
Uncanny Valley is available today wherever you get your music. They’re set to tour with 5 Seconds of Summer this spring and are headlining Omera in London on April 1.
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