LABS :: Electronic Pop/Rock
I don’t know about you, but it’s not every day that I find a band for whom I would drop everything and sprint to the venue in question if they toured nearby. It’s a great feeling, hearing the first chords of a previously unknown track and instantly realizing that what you’re about to hear is going to resonate with you. On that subject, LABS is an electronic art-rock band based in Victoria, British Colombia, consisting of Lindsay Bryan on vocals, Adam Sutherland on keys and guitar, Matt Longpre on keyboard, and Keenan Murray on drums. I discovered their debut EP, Down, released on February 9th of this year, through another music blog, and was hooked. I quickly related their sound to a few of my other favorite artists (synth-driven trio CHVRCHES, quirky chanteuse Ryn Weaver, and– most strikingly– dark pop duo MS MR), but in all honesty, this isn’t exactly a band you could accurately describe in terms of other artists. From the beginning of the EP, it’s easy to tell LABS are onto something great: BRAVE is a dark, spectral piece rife with themes of love and loss, featuring clapping drums and deceptively understated vocals. “What you don’t know won’t hurt you,” Bryan proclaims, blasted on all sides by glitchy synths and ambient samples. It’s a pleading, thumping dance track that only hints at the splendor of the following track. HOLD SLOW, the song that inspired this review, is radio gold: it boasts a fantastically danceable rhythm, euphoric production, and soaring vocals so expressive that you can feel the nostalgia and reflection in Bryan’s voice: “Old soul humming a new tune / turns out it’s something that I’m starting to get used to” ends HOLD SLOW’s explosive chorus. It’s about a breakup, yes, but in another sense it’s not– it’s about moving on, remembrance, and rebirth. At this point I’m already thoroughly sold, as I’m sure were most of their fans, but the next track– DOWN, the first I heard from LABS, heavily shared on social media– seems destined to become a hit. Preceded by a short, skittering intro, its tempo is slower, but no less exciting, taking no time as it struts casually through blasting bass and buzzsaw synths. The layered vocals in the second half are the real stars here; they leave the listener feeling satisfied and ready to reach for the replay button despite no notable crescendo. The final track on the EP, SCAVENGER, is a nearly five-minute-long closer with slithering chords and gorgeous guitar work, overlaid by breathy vocals and crashing drums. The lyrics are urgently inspirational, and by the time the song coasts into its instrumental final act, you can’t help but feel that the band’s done exactly what they’ve set out to do. The EP is an indie pop victory: addictive, original, and– fingers crossed– poised for widespread success. It’ll be in my library (and on my mind) for a long time to come, as will whatever else these people whip up. Follow them on Facebook here, or support them on Bandcamp here.
I had the pleasure of interviewing the lovely founders of LABS, Lindsay Bryan and Adam Sutherland, earlier today. Keep scrolling to read our conversation.
Rhythm Endlessly: First off, I definitely hear a lot of modern electronic and rock influence in your EP. Are there any artists from whom you’ve drawn inspiration?
Lindsay Bryan: Elements of rock are definitely always present in our style. Adam has produced tons of rock bands as well as played in rock bands, and I think our first love of music both came from rock bands in the 90’s (Foo Fighters and Silverchair were HUGE for me). Over the years we’ve definitely become drawn to interesting sonic styles that come from indie pop music like Robyn, St. Vincent, Kimbra, and Metric… it’s a great genre to draw inspiration from AND to add our inherent rock style to.
RE: No wonder I was so drawn to your material… St. Vincent and Kimbra are huge favorites of mine as well. What kind of experiences led to the creation of these tracks / is there any personal connection to the lyrics here?
LB: For sure. There’s always a connection to the lyrics, but I never know what I’m going to write about until I connect to the vibe of the music/idea Adam sends me to work on. If it’s dark/brooding (like our song DOWN) then I’ll tap in to those feelings within myself and let the music inspire the mood and tone of the lyrics I apply. It’s what I love about the collaborative songwriting process.
RE: It’s always interesting to see how lyrics can be built off of rhythm/mood, or vice-versa; this definitely shows in the way your vocals interact with the production. Speaking of DOWN, do you have a personal favorite track on the EP?
LB: Hard to say, but I’ve always loved our song BRAVE. I can remember how excited I was when Adam sent me the first imaginings of it. It feels really dreamy yet uneasy and it inspired lyrics about losing control, so I played with the concept of having a brave conscience that is willing to take on a destructive lifestyle.
RE: BRAVE is one of those songs that manages to sound leisurely yet intense; the layered vocals and synths really drive it home. HOLD SLOW was the standout for me– I’ve had it stuck in my head for days.
Adam Sutherland: Let’s see, personal fave is probably SCAVENGER. HOLD SLOW is definitely the most epically produced of the bunch. Up until then I had only programmed drums, but I felt that if we were going to have an interesting live show with a drummer, I’d like to use a combination of samples and live drums, so HOLD SLOW was the first song in that direction.
RE: Have you been gigging at all to promote the EP?
LB: Yes, we’ve been playing shows, but so far only locally in Victoria [British Colombia].
RE: What’s the experience been like during those shows?
AS: The response has been very good. We are constantly tweaking things at rehearsal to get them sounding as much like the recordings as possible. We actually rehearse with a pretty full on P.A., subs, etc. It helps put everything into perspective so we know what it should sound like in a club, but louder and with more low end.
LB: I’d like to add that when we first started making this music we didn’t know if we’d ever be able to take it to the stage, but we found 2 great guys (Matt Longpre on keys and Keenan Murray on drums) that helped us make our live show possible. It’s been so much fun and very rewarding being able to share these songs in front of a great crowd.
RE: Sounds like a blast. I can only imagine how invigorating it must be to show off your work in real time. I have to ask: are you still spending time in the studio along with your live sets? Is there anything new on the horizon?
AS: Yes, releasing the EP was intended to just get something out and start some buzz.. We already have more songs recorded/near finished and many on the way. Newers songs are being designed with more of a band mentality and considering aspects of live performance.
LB: We’re also in a unique position where we can do all the writing and production “in house”. Adam has a great studio with all the bells and whistles, so we’re able to constantly work on new material without the uncertainty of our next opportunity to get into the studio. It’s fantastic.
RE: I can’t wait to hear what happens next. Finally, is there anything you find unique or essential about LABS / what do you want people to take away from your work?
AS: I think one of our unique components is the way we use different combinations of sounds; the whole low-fi to high-fi contrast. I think Lindsay has a very unique voice and interesting lyrics that are creative, but also very connectable. I think there are too many cutesy vocalists trying to imitate each other these days.
LB: Good/tough question… I think what’s unique about LABS is that it truly is a collaborative effort between two people that are great at different aspects of songwriting but share an understanding and appreciation what the other is bringing to the table. Adam and I have worked together for nearly 10 years on various projects, but LABS is what it has all been leading up to. I want people to feel the coordination of the sonic vibe and mood of lyrics as well as enjoy our energy when we bring it to the stage. We have a great time working on this project and I want our product to reflect that.