I’ve been telling everyone that The Colder Sea has saved me from being cynical about music this summer. However, I had no idea that The Colder Sea did something far more noble: It saved the marriage of Daniel and Sarah Egger, the Hanover, Germany-based duo behind the project’s beautifully haunting, 80s-inspired retro synthpop.
Their debut EP, Future Skies, has been a welcome salve during a hot summer in which very few new releases have inspired me. The seven compelling cuts offer a rewarding and complex experience.
But it did much more for the Eggers, who were friends long before they got married and started making this beautiful music. In 2012, the two were going through a rough time in their relationship. But then Daniel’s hardcore band had broken up and the two had started making music together at home, they told Vehlinggo recently.
“It was just an acoustic guitar and our voices, and it somehow really saved our marriage and our friendship,” Sarah said. “We wrote our first song, recorded it through the built-in mic of a laptop, and decided to upload it to YouTube [it’s still there].”
It wasn’t yet the synthesizer-driven music they make today, but they were sowing the seeds of their particularly touching intricate and beautiful songs. The synth music would come soon enough though, thanks to Sarah, who had seen Drive and told Daniel how great of a film it is.
“I instantly fell in love with the music and the vibe that movie radiates,” Daniel said, “and we naturally started writing music that would somehow be able to get across that feeling we both got when we first heard [College and] Electric Youth’s ‘A Real Hero.’
“It’s a little bit like starting to skateboard because of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater,” he said, “but Drive was what really got us into making synth music.”
So, armed with a range of influences from Electric Youth and Johnny Jewel to Future Islands and the biggest British synthpop groups of the 80s, the Eggers eventually set forth to create Future Skies. It was, as they said, “a crazy experience.”
“We did almost everything at home without really knowing anything about proper recording and production of electronic music,” Daniel said. “We just went with it and did everything in the way that felt right for us.”
In keeping with the healing spirit of the project, it is important to Sarah and Daniel that their music is intertwined with their relationship.
“That means it is [borne of] our love — the friendship and the struggle that we go through together,” Sarah said. “In this manner, we try to write music that is able to touch our own emotions, and we hope that it can do the same for other people.”
They often, but not always, try to have the lyric to a new song finished before they start on the music.
“But the way we write our songs is really slightly different every time,” Sarah said. “Sometimes there’s just a synth line and we go from there and the lyrics are written in the process. Some songs [start] on an acoustic guitar. We’re still learning and finding the best way.”
For his part, Daniel kicks it off with programming beats right away.
“Most of the time I then continue building the instrumental parts alone, and show what I have come up with to Sarah and see if she likes it or not,” Daniel said. “Sometimes it’s really hard to find stuff that we both equally like, but I think that’s what makes our music special.”
All of that gets tangled up with their love for the music and movies of the 1980s.
“There is something really timeless about some of the art that was created in that era,” Sarah said. “Like that you will still be able to listen to Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ in 20 years and it will still touch you.
“That is one of our main goals… to maybe write something that will keep its relevance and doesn’t just fade with the next emerging musical trend,” she added.
The Big Shift
For Future Skies, they spent a year engulfed in the recording and production process. Some of the songs were already partly finished when they decided to rewrite and overhaul all of them.
“We learned so much during that time,” Daniel said.
In the beginning they were only using soft synths, but then during the process he bought the Korg PolySix and the Yamaha AN1x and got an old Roland MC-303 Groovebox, a nice addition to any electronic musician’s tool chest.
“One thing that’s really important to us is that we try to use as much hands-on analog gear as possible,” Daniel said. “I can’t find joy in programming software synths, although I am in awe of what other people accomplish with them.”
A downside of making the switch to hardware is that they had to redo pre-existing songs in order to use the new toys, he said.
While they were toiling over the EP, Daniel and Sarah listened to a couple key albums. One was Electric Youth’s debut album, Innerworld.
“[Innerworld] came out in the middle of our journey towards our debut EP,” Sarah said. “We had the vinyl pre-ordered and listened a lot to that once it arrived.”
They also listened to Future Islands’ acclaimed Singles record several times after seeing the band perform in Germany last year.
Getting the EP to the finishing line was not without its challenges. Although “T T TOUCH H H” was an easy song — “we wrote that song in a one-night session and it sounded good right away after recording and a rough mix” — those pre-existing songs were actually the toughest to record.
“The harder songs were the ones that we had already recorded and mixed before starting the EP,” Sarah said. “It was a lot of work to rewrite them and find a sound that fits the rest of the EP.”
They were also working full-time during the experience. As anyone trying to balance their art with a day job, the Eggers sometimes found it difficult to maintain the creativity and grit they needed.
Another challenge is finding the right people to help out.
“We needed someone to help us mix the record, and we are super happy that we found David Deutsch, who really did a great job and devoted a lot of his time to this project,” Daniel said. “Also, we found a great graphics designer and photographer in Sebastian Weiß. Both of them became our friends and we are still working together.”
Johnny Jewel and Sky Beach
Since releasing Future Skies in June, the Eggers have found that people are really responding to their music. I’m not surprised. The nature of their project is one that is centered in the most basic of human experiences, such as loving and struggling and optimism and uncertainty.
In Germany, and especially Hanover, they’re even getting a good response to their music from Daniel’s former hardcore crowd, they said.
“I have to say the guys and girls from those scenes have been the ones that bought most of our records so far and show continued support,” he said.
They’re in the studio right now working on new songs, either for their own release or with someone else.
“A split 7-inch release with some other great artist would be a dream,” Sarah said.
They hope to get to a point where they can collaborate with some of the other artists who also mine the synthery of the 80s for inspiration.
“There are a lot of really great DIY producers and releases out there at the moment, and we would love to collaborate, feature, remix, or get remixed, so get in touch,” Daniel said.
One of the songs that blew Daniel away recently is “So Dark” by Sky Beach, which is a collaboration between Tommy Hutcherson (AKA Mythical Vigilante) and Nikko Hana, he said.
Going bigger, Daniel said that they dream of working with Johnny Jewel. Both he and Sarah love his various Italians Do It Better projects, especially Chromatics.
“His way of producing and delivering music is a real inspiration for me and I would love to learn some stuff from him,” Daniel said.
Dreaming even bigger, they “would like our next album to be produced by Vince Clarke and Martin Gore,” Daniel said.
They’re also looking into opportunities to tour around Germany, but it isn’t easy.
“There’s not much of a scene for our music in Germany, so it’s not easy for us to find shows where we really fit in,” Sarah said. “We hope to see that change in the future.”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who hopes they branch out into other EU member states with an ultimate goal of America. New York awaits the Eggers.
I think they can do it, too. Ever since they became friends and fell in love on a road trip years ago, they’ve braved the world together — and they’ve found an extraordinary way to do it.