April 1, 2016 marks the date of the debut release from electronic duo Starwalker. The album is entitled Starwalker and will be released on Prototyp Recording & Bang ehf via Sena ehf. mxdwn had the pleasure of speaking with the two humorous members of the duo, Jean-Benoît Dunckel (of Air) and Barði Jóhannsson (of Bang Gang). We chatted about the new album, their bi-country recording techniques, the harmonious sound their vocals create and the future of Starwalker.
mxdwn: Your self- titled debut album is to be released on April 1st. Last we heard of you both was with the video “Blue Hawaii.” How does it feel to release your full album in entirety?
Dunckel: It always feels good!
Jóhannsson: I think it’s a great feeling because when you’ve worked on something for a long time and it’s finally in public, it’s great!
mxwdn: And how long were you working on the album?
Dunckel: Despite Barði living in Iceland and that I’m living in Paris, we wanted to meet for real and so we met in Paris to record more and I went to Iceland too and then we recorded another few songs in Paris. We didn’t like distance recording. We recorded a few takes when we were not with each other in the same room, but most of them were recorded for real.
Jóhannsson: We think it’s quite important that when you are writing and everything, to be together. I’m not sure if that chemistry reflects in the music…
mxdwn: It definitely does and what’s so refreshing about your music is its diverse use of instruments and synths that blend effortlessly and then you top it with the dreamy vocals- I would say that that’s a reflection of your personal styles. How would you guys say that your personal styles have affected the way you both approach this band?
Dunckel: I think we were very surprised by the fact that our voices were working together. When we sing exactly together with different notes, our voices are very harmonious. It’s very rare, but important to have that. And the fact that Bobby, our songwriter, agreed was great because we could add our talents together to make it more versatile.
Jóhannsson: I think our voices really, like JB said, work together because sometimes people ask “who is singing on this song and who’s singing more on this one?” I think people don’t know the difference very well, but I think we have quite different voices, but together they sound something special like one voice.
mxdwn: They do blend harmoniously together! You both are from different countries: JB you’re from France and Barði from Iceland. Growing up, what were your main interests that drove you into music? What sort of art and music were you into?
Jóhannsson: I think everybody has their own way to do things. [laughs] Firstly when we met, we wanted to try to make one song and see how it worked and we both had time in and out of the studio and then we had something that we thought was really special and great and then we wanted to try another one and then another one and then another one and then another one until we had like 13 and then we tried another one. [laughs]
Dunckel: [laughs] okay… I think we had more than 13… 16. I think that each song is so different, each song is a different flavor and I think that is why the album is so good. We have up like tempo tracks and some really down tempo tracks (great ambiance) and we tried to not repeat each other. It’s a real concept album. And I like that the vinyl is white, I mean the wax is white, and it reminds me of the Iceland snow and I like that a lot.
Jóhannsson: Yes, it gives quite a freedom working together because especially if you have a new band, you have no history so you have so much freedom.
mxdwn: Each of you have had various personal successes in the music industry before forming Starwalker in 2013. How and when did you decide to add Starwalker to your accolades?
Jóhannsson: Like two years ago… three? Time goes by so quickly.
Dunckel: It was really exotic because we had to travel to Iceland and Paris and it’s really exciting to travel and to meet different countries. I met Iceland and I just loved it and it was really inspiring to me.
Jóhannsson: And it didn’t sound so good. We decided not to work separately because we wanted to give the real feeling of us together and this made us work really intensely for 10 days and then nothing for maybe 4 months and then again. We had intense sessions, but then long breaks in between, which also gave us time to value the work we had done and question what we could do better. Like, “ do we want to rerecord this song?” So we always had time to think about it in between.
mxdwn: That’s a great way to approach it, that way you guys could make any necessary edits when you came back together. Were you to friends before deciding to make music?
Jóhannsson: We had just briefly met and we had one coffee before, which was promising, and we shared a similar humor… that’s always a good sign!
mxdwn: Definitely! Starwalker is aptly named for its spacey robotic out of this world futuristic vibes and sounds that make you feel like you are on a constant Space Mountain ride loop- which is amazing to say the least. What kinds of sounds and effects did you use to capture these feelings?
Dunckel: Effects… technique effects. [laughs] We used not so many digital effects. We had some real unique effects and so it’s half modern, half effects and it was cool to mix the two. I think we were really obsessed with the beats, we got some real jamming beats and we had the chance to work with Sarah Jones who is the drummer of Hot Chip and we wanted to have some groove . Sometimes I’m not into the groove, I’m more into the past, but we really wanted to have some groove, you know! It’s more like an occidental groove and it works well.
Jóhannsson: It’s like the female groove!
mxdwn: From my understanding, you have your first performance for the album in France on February 27th. Is that true or have you performed already together?
Jóhannsson: We have performed together in Iceland a year ago at the Sónar festival and it was great, it worked really well live. We are doing radio sessions, like two or three songs, and we plan to play concerts if there is demand from the people.
mxdwn: That’s awesome! Are you looking at doing any international tours? Will we be able to catch you here in LA or would it be more of an European tour?
Jóhannsson: If we have enough people in LA who demand a show, we will do that!
mxdwn: And what does a show for Starwalker look like? What does it entail? Do you guys have special surprises that you do?
Jóhannsson: We do a lot of doubling of the voices. JB’s studio is amazing! He has everything you can dream of, so there’s a lot of little things. But yeah, there’s almost no digital effects on this album. If there’s an effect it’s something coming from an amplifier or something…
mxdwn: At your shows in the past, what’s the general environment? Are people dancing or just singing along?
Jóhannsson: We have different people. I think that people both chill and dance… it’s a little bit like life. We have some long dark songs and then we have up tempo songs, so it’s like life in that you go a little bit down and then go up and then you can dance and then you can not dance…. You can even fall asleep. [laughs] At the end of the album, you can just fall asleep… in the last one minute.
mxdwn: do you have any interesting fan stories?
Dunckel: I don’t know if it’s good to meet the fans, really, because I think that our image has some mystery and I think that sometimes artists have a better image than they are in real if and it’s really important to stay mysterious and to stay in the shadows because the character and the reality are different. I think that sometimes people are disappointed when they realize that you are no more than them, that you have a mind and that you have your weaknesses. I think that they are expecting something, so it’s better to just stay in the shadows.
mxdwn: What’s in the near and far future for Starwalker?
Jóhannsson: We have started!
Dunckel: We are always working on something. I think that Barði and me are always working on a new track… there is always a new track somewhere… there’s always a new project in the back!