Following the release of their latest EP ‘Pink Haze’, a glowing sad take on adolescence, EXNATIONS chat with Atwood Magazine about the enduring influence of the 1980s.
In EXNATIONS’ “John Hughes Movie Soundtrack”, synth hooks and a punchy drum machine-style beat set the scene. A sumptuous moodiness akin to Simple Minds, Echo & The Bunnymen, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, bands that have played their part in the iconic status of John Hughes’ films (in this case, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink), are mixed with that overall danceable glow of the new wave music the director/writer pioneered. While all unequivocally 80s, the song is less about paying homage and more of a natural extension of what EXNATIONS do. The Brooklyn-based band, made up of Sal Mastrocola, Taylor Hughes, and John O’Neill, have exemplified this in their latest EP, Pink Haze (released 28 June). A follow-up to their 2018 debut Tiny Sound in the Dark, it’s a gathering of six songs glittering with nostalgia, youthfulness, first signs of love, and an air of sadness.
Picking at her plate on a Friday night
Mom and dad are starting to wonder
Why she’s got no plans
Doesn’t she have friends
Running up the stairs turn the TV on
Gonna spend the night in detention
With all the pretty boys and all the pretty girls she loves
In the quiet of her room
With her headphones on
“John Hughes Movie Soundtrack,” EXNATIONS
The lyrics read like a teen movie and the sound and accompanying visuals are like a haziness pervading reality. The pink isn’t really rose-tinted, as could easily be assumed, but the luminous pinks and purples of a sensually beating heart. As Mastrocola sings yearningly in “Floating on a Pink Haze”: ‘New love blinding love/ Floating on a pink haze baby/ New love blinding love/ Blushing apparitions but it’s still so strong today.’ There’s something about the colour, whether baby or garish or blending into another with ombre affect, that immediately connotes innocence. It’s a theme throughout Pink Haze, not just in the title and overall mood but in the lines of songs too. For example, ‘The pink fog surrounded us and everything/ I never said I’m sorry’ in “Dreaming Still” which suggests a blur of young love overriding the situation. Using a colour in this way means a distinguishable aesthetic can be established as well. The cover art for each release is all neon font and immersive background, blends of black, pink and purple that are nighttime energy and technological- both of which being a retro dreaminess bringing an element of fantasy to everyday life. It’s the same with music videos and a majority of Instagram posts. For the band, it’s not just about the music but the appearance and marketing- Everything coincides to form an immerse experience for the listener.
I kissed you in the rain,
Your lips were cold and your eyes weren’t blinking
I kissed you in the rain
The grass was wet on the cemetery green
I miss you when it rains
But in my dreams I can fix anything
And I can say I’m sorry
– “Dreaming Still,” EXNATIONS
We were both 20 when I first saw you
I find a photo and the flashback’s rolling
Computers in our pockets, it’s all brand new
I think I like where this is going
You’re looking like a dream
I see a common theme
With you and me together
– “Tether,” EXNATIONS
What relevance or power does referencing the past have? As well as creating instant familiarity (even if not alive in a certain decade, people recognise the associations and can feel affiliation), there’s the ease of processing stuff. Plus, 80s new wave and indie music has a way of balancing sadness with a desire to dance. It’s a juxtaposition that’s perhaps hard to achieve, hence the longevity of channelling this sound. In “Modern Kids”, the mood shifts slightly. It’s slightly more lively, a little more optimistic, when the chorus arrives and the words ‘we’re born innocent/ Now we’re taking bets/ On which one of us is going down next’ makes way for the thumping of ‘we know, we know/ we know more than you think we know.’ It’s about living in the moment, rewinding time to put oneself in the position of youthfulness again (if now grown up). This is followed by the sparse, melancholic “Dreaming Still”, a closing track that implies its not the end and that the pink haze continues towards a never ending horizon.
The most poignant parts of life can be like a movie, or at least we can acknowledge them like a movie by detaching ourselves from the situation and replaying it in our minds. Pink Haze, altogether, is its own soundtrack to this. Atwood Magazine caught up with Sal and drummer Taylor to find out more about the EP and the influences behind it.
Listen: Pink Haze – EXNATIONS
:: A CONVERSATION WITH EXNATIONS ::
ATWOOD MAGAZINE: YOUR MUSIC HAS A REAL ‘80s FEEL. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE DECADE THAT MAKES YOU WANT TO PRESERVE THE SOUND FOR THE PRESENT DAY?
“JOHN HUGHES MOVIE SOUNDTRACK” IS AT THE PINNACLE OF THIS, RECALLING THE MUSIC OF BANDS THAT FEATURE IN HIS MOVIES WHILE ADDRESSING A NARRATIVE OF RELATABLE TEEN LIFE. HAVE JOHN HUGHES MOVIES ALWAYS (MAYBE SUBCONSCIOUSLY) BEEN AN INFLUENCE WHEN IT COMES TO SONGWRITING AND, IF SO, WHAT IS IT ABOUT THEM THAT’S SO ENDURING?
IN ”FLOATING ON A PINK HAZE“ THERE’S A DREAMINESS COMBINED WITH MELANCHOLIC TUG OF EMOTION, SOMETHING THAT’S REPRESENTATIVE OF THE EP AS A WHOLE. AS A SELF-IDENTIFYING ‘SAD’ BAND, WHAT POWER DO YOU FEEL MUSIC HAS IN ADDRESSING PERIODS OF SADNESS?
VISUALS- THE RETRO NEON- ARE A KEY PART OF EXNATIONS, ESPECIALLY THE PINK, PURPLE AND BLACK OF THIS EP. WHAT WAS THE DECISION PROCESS BEHIND THIS AND HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU FEEL AN AESTHETIC IS IN PROMOTING/ PRESENTING AN ARTIST AND THEIR MUSIC?
COULD YOU TALK BOUT YOUR INSTRUMENTATION/ PRODUCTION METHODS? WHAT DO YOU USE TO ACHIEVE THE ‘80s AURA AND HAVE YOU RESEARCHED A LOT INTO MODELS ETC THAT WERE A PART OF THE PAST?
THERE’S NOSTALGIA THAT DRIFTS THROUGH THE EP BUT THEN IN “MODERN KIDS” THE MOOD SHIFTS, THE CHORUS BEING SONICALLY BUOYANT AND POPPY IN A MORE ‘CURRENT’ WAY- SOMETHING THAT FEELS FITTING GIVEN THAT IT REFERS TO ‘MODERN KIDS’ AS OPPOSED TO THOSE OF RECENT PASTS. WHAT MEANING DOES THIS SONG HOLD IN COMPARISON TO THE OTHERS?
PINK HAZE IS THE FOLLOW-UP TO YOUR 2018 DEBUT TINY SOUND IN THE DARK. HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED SINCE THEN IN REGARDS TO MINDSETS AND AND INSPIRATIONS?
ARE THERE ANY LYRICS IN PINK HAZE THAT HOLD PARTICULAR SIGNIFICANCE OR YOU FEEL REALLY SUM UP THE MESSAGE OF THE EP?
FINALLY, NOSTALGIA AND DREAMINESS ARE OFTEN A SATISFYING WAY OF DEALING WITH HARD TIMES. WHAT DO YOU HOPE LISTENERS GET FROM LISTENING TO PINK HAZE? ARE THERE ANY OUTLOOKS YOU HOPE THEY TAKE FORWARD WITH THEM?
? © Adele Sakey