Fascinating new Brooklyn/LA band Drinker is quickly earning accolades for its intricately beautiful, understated soundscapes bolstered by tight, compelling songwriting.
Today, as more and more people become fans of the group, Aaron Mendelsohn and Ariel Loh (composer of the analogue, ambient The Eyes of My Mother score) release their first EP, Happy Accident. It’s available digitally everywhere via Dollar Slice Records.
To celebrate, they did a Q&A with Vehlinggo, offering up an exclusive demo version of “Sinking/Feeling,” the new single off the EP. The interview is below, edited merely for clarity or concision. Read on to hear that demo and to learn more about these guys.
Vehlinggo: Describe how you made the EP — how’d you write and record it, and to what extent did you rely on each other’s past work for inspiration?
Loh: The writing and recording process was very collaborative on this project. We spent about a few days a week for about two months working together on this EP. Aaron came to me with the songs mostly written and we would work together building the arrangements and refining the songs. We wanted the music to be dark and visual, and definitely drew inspirations from film scores for the colors and emotions.
Mendelsohn: I wrote most of the songs over the summer of 2016 and into the fall. The basic ideas came together quickly, but I wanted to leave room for them to grow in the recording process. I used to bring songs at about this stage of completion to my old band, Isadora, and see where they’d go, knowing the colors it would bring and the instrumentation we’d use.
This time around I brought songs to the sessions with Ariel and the tools were analog synths and samples rather than traditional rock band instruments in a group of five people. Having it just being the two of us in the studio allowed ideas to transform and take new shapes more easily. It was fun.
“Sinking/Feeling,” one cut on the new EP, stands out. What’s its theme? What’s the theme of the rest of the record?
Mendelsohn: A sinking feeling for me is a pit in your stomach, an emptiness where it shouldn’t be empty. It can be desperate and I think I was feeling that way around this time, October 2016.
The song is about leaving an era behind you, and not feeling so sure about what happened. I’d rather people listen to the lyrics and feel what they feel than try to explain them — I don’t think they’re that hard to get something from. But I will say it does represent a recurring feeling on the EP, kind of a hazy walk through life, with an effort to make something beautiful.
It’s interesting for me to listen to the older version that we’re sharing in this piece and see how the lyrics evolved over time. It’s almost like the combination of the lyrics from earlier version and the newer one make the message clearer.
How did you two come together to form Drinker? What is the driving force behind your collaboration?
Loh: Aaron and I use to play in rock bands in New York and I always really liked his songwriting and vocals. After both of our bands dissolved, we talked about working together and spent a weekend out of the city with a small recording setup and a bunch of instruments.
It was the first time we ever worked together. We both wanted to do something different than our past projects and we worked together on a new idea that eventually became the opening track, “Dog Years.” We were both intrigued with the sound we ended up with on that track, and both agreed to keep exploring the collaboration further.
Mendelsohn: Ariel was a friend of mine for a few years and we kept up with each other’s music. After hearing his past production work and The Eyes Of My Mother score, I asked him if he’d be down to try to record some songs. I think we were both surprised at how smooth of a collaboration it turned out to be, and quickly it evolved into more of a partnership than a solo project.
Where did you grow up and what impact did that have on how you got into music? When did you know that music would be your life?
Mendelsohn: Playing drums growing up in New Jersey, I found a world I could kind of escape into that I loved. I had some really powerful experiences at shows I saw from a young age. Shows by acts like Green Day and Rage Against the Machine had me feeling some kind of way I wasn’t finding elsewhere.
My interest in songwriting developed a little later on and performing my own stuff became really important to me. In a similar way that seeing those shows growing up hit me, writing and playing out is a way of connecting with people that I don’t get anywhere else and I really value it.
Loh: I was born in upstate New York, but moved to the suburbs of Chicago when I was 8 and did most of my growing up there. I never really liked playing piano, but took lessons as a kid. My friends at the time were into rap and hip-hop, and I started making beats when I was a teenager. I found that a much more enjoyable way to “do music.” I always liked how producers like J Dilla, 9th Wonder, and DJ Premier reimagined samples into new songs.
Eventually, I got into recording and pursued it as my major at SUNY Purchase, and to this day I always love the process of reimagining songs from the ground up with the different artists and music that I work with.
Aaron lives in LA now and Ariel is in Brooklyn. What impact does the geographic difference have on songwriting — is there any tension between the vibe of one coast versus the other?
Mendelsohn: If there’s one way the distance has changed things for us, I think the biggest impact is on the lyrical content of the songs themselves. The next batch of songs is very reflective on the move I made out to California.
The distance also allows us to work in the same type of process as we did for the EP that’s coming out now: I’m still writing and taking songs most of the way, and we work on them when we make visits every couple months. Now that Drinker has established our footing as this recording duo, Ariel has also been writing instrumental pieces that are turning into new material. Stay tuned…
Loh: It’s also a low-pressure way of working, as we can’t physically collaborate until we’re in the same city together. It allows a healthy amount of time in between our marathon sessions to let the ideas steep, and to revisit with fresh ears. Also, it’s given me a great reason to visit LA more often now!
Who are 5 artists/bands with which you’d love to collaborate?
Mendelsohn: For me, I’m pretty happy with our current collaboration and I’m not usually able to get to the same places that really mean something to me unless I’m writing alone. That being said, I’ve been thrilled with both remixes that have come in so far: CLOVDS’s version of “Which Way Is South” and Elliot Moss’s take on “Fake It.” It’s awesome to see another artist’s vision of your work without being asked to compromise your own.
Loh: I think if we expanded our collaboration, a few people that would be really cool to collaborate with include Dave Harrington, Ry X/The Acid, and Douglas Dare. We have had some collaboration with other musicians on the Drinker recordings, including Aaron Hamel, who played drums on “Sinking/Feeling” and Cody Rowlands, who played horns on our new tracks that won’t be out for awhile.
How would you describe what it’s like to do what you do in the sphere in which you do it? Is it easier/harder than when you started out? Just different? Basically, what is the zeitgeist of the music business right now for you?
Mendelsohn: For me, being in a band always used to seem like the only way to do things. Nowadays I’m more interested in being self-sufficient as a musician. As we move through our lives and careers, the pressure to make money and set yourself up makes you want to have more control, so being in a band only makes sense if you get really huge.
It’s also easier to collaborate with fewer people. Ariel and I are seeing eye to eye about sounds, so it’s good being in Drinker.
Loh: I think as I learn more and gain more experience, it becomes easier in the regard that you know how to anticipate, embrace, and manage the unexpected things that inevitably come up during the music making and recording process. There is an element of constantly adjusting and shifting the personal process, as well as taking in the surrounding musical landscape. The music industry has changed a lot and continues to, and personally I’m always looking to try keep ahead of that curve.
What are the next steps for Drinker? (and for you two individually)?
Loh: Right now we are working on the next batch of songs, which we’re not sure will be a second EP or a full-length. We’re looking to play some more shows in both LA and NY when opportunities arise, but our primary focus at the moment is on the new recordings.
“…I’m pursuing more film work…”
Outside of Drinker I’m pursuing more film work — hopefully some for Drinker too! — as well as producing/engineering/mixing the other bands that I work with (such as Plastic Picnic and Glassio).
Mendelsohn: Yup, and after the first EP drops, we’ll have a remix coming from an artist/drummer we’re both very excited about, Ian Chang. And our first music video will be coming for the song “Dog Years.”
The EP is out today. For more information on Drinker, read a Vehlinggo review of previous single “Which Way Is South” and check out their website.
Feature Photo Credit: Lincoln Lute.