(Editor’s Note, Aug. 19, 2019: After you read the article below, check out the latest deep dive with Electric Youth in which we discuss their new album, Memory Emotion, their roots, and more.)
You’ve felt it if you’ve ever heard an Electric Youth song. I know I have. Even if you’ve never heard something from the Canadian duo, you’ve felt it emanating from those who do listen to them.
It’s a pervasive and otherworldly sense of connection, an ethereal blast of universality built into each composition — instrumental or vocal, pop or score cue.
The songs are deeper, richer, and often more authentic-feeling than most electronic-oriented music, perhaps because they’re born out of the kind of intimacy that only family relationships or decades-long friendships and romances can foster.
The origin of this quality stretches back to when Electric Youth’s Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin were 10 years old. The two Canadians have been through everything together since they met at that young age, becoming sweethearts in middle school — when they were two youths just trying to make sense of the world, before things got Electric.
“Together, we’ve shared all of our pivotal moments: through childhood, through our teens, into adulthood, to where we’re at today,” Garrick said.
The magical quality was most recently on display on Breathing (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from a Lost Film), their release culled from what was originally a score for a horror film. Each moment of the release reflects a beautiful and compelling journey that transcends even the backstory of how the soundtrack came to be lost, stretches back further than their 2014 debut album Innerworld, before their inclusion in the highly influential film Drive, and before 2008, when they first worked with “A Real Hero” partner and longtime friend, David “College” Grellier of the Nantes, France-based Valerie Collective.
Griffin’s and Garrick’s level of long-lasting, fundamental intimacy exists throughout their work and creates an inspiring vibe that serves to draw people in and keep them there. This vibe — this je ne sais quoi — is present in “A Real Hero,” certainly. It permeates Innerworld, which sits in a timeless, undiluted space. It is why Breathing resonates as it does.
Perhaps especially on Breathing, does it seem as if the enduring story of Griffin and Garrick is expressed through their work. There are a couple tracks in particular we’ll discuss that reflect that. Electric Youth will also talk about how they in general crafted the otherworldly songs on Breathing and will touch on their upcoming follow-up album to Innerworld. We’ll also learn about who they are as people. They’ll also have a special message for fans. In other words, it’ll be a great experience.
(A note before we proceed: There is a companion page to this feature that contains a Q&A and some additional information on recording Breathing. Consider it DVD/Blu-ray extras. Read this piece first, though, or else the extras might not make as much sense.)
‘The Only Time We’ve Ever Recorded That Way’
As has been established, Breathing started out as a score for a film. After director Anthony Scott Burns and producers had creative differences, he left and Electric Youth took their music with them. (They’re working together again on a new project, though, and this time Burns has more creative control.)
But that’s just part of the story. Working on the music that would become the lost soundtrack created a slate of memorable experiences for Garrick and Griffin — and for us, as listeners, if you think about it.
Based on their conversations with the director of the lost film, the pair developed a clear understanding of the road they’d want to take with the music. It would have piano at its foundation, Griffin says, and Garrick conceptualized strings throughout — indeed, there is a bona fide string section with violins, violas, and celli. This would, in other words, not be a straight-up synth score, although synths are certainly prominent.
Starting in the summer of 2015, Griffin and Garrick recorded and created some sound libraries and began writing the main themes for the score. They were working from a script — principal photography hadn’t yet begun. The bulk of the writing, though, would occur during the spring and summer of 2016 as the film was shot, though they were still working on it as late as early 2017. That was before things changed and the score they were working on became Breathing, released in September as part of the Nicolas Winding Refn Presents series on Milan Records.
The immediacy of the recording sessions for “In the Air Two,” a beautifully intimate and subtle cue, highlights one memorable experience. It also, in some ways, captures the essence of their enduring relationship.
Garrick had the main part of the chord progression in his head for a while and had already bought a synth specifically to play on the cue, he said. They brought it in, set it up, hit record, and then he started playing his part live as Griffin played their Rhodes piano.
“It ended up this simple but emotive, improvised, musical duet that really touched the both of us,” Garrick says. “With the exception of the original piano part that became the main melody in ‘The Best Thing,’ it’s the only time we’ve ever recorded that way — playing instruments together.”
Typically, Garrick plays and Griffin sings and it’s not recorded concurrently. This is a pretty standard way to do it, because it allows for greater control over each of a song’s tracks when recording the music and preparing for release.
“[The song] captures us and our story in a very true and emotional way.”
However, asynchronous multi-tracking was no match for the force of a couple decades spent forging an enviable bond.
“Somehow, ‘In The Air Two,’ this simple, improvised instrumental duet of sorts, captures us and our story in a very true and emotional way,” Garrick said. “It wasn’t something we consciously did at the time we were playing it, but ever since we first listened back to it, that’s what it’s been to us.”
The pair did end up overdubbing strings onto their improvised collaboration — to great effect. In the film’s original cut, the cue played during the most emotional scene “that brought some people to tears in early screenings,” Garrick said.
A Sound Design, or: When the Forest Becomes Your Instrument
A track that takes on a very different tone — one that more readily suggests that Breathing was once a soundtrack to a horror film — is “Here It Is.”
It’s a fascinating cue, primarily because it is a rough-edged march that has a palpable aggression to it and it’s pretty much not like anything Electric Youth has ever released. There were more cues like it when Breathing was still an operative score, I’m told, but they removed them for this release because they were largely out of context for what the body of work became.
“How can we take it over the top?”
According to Garrick, the cue is another example of how working on the soundtrack allowed them to explore the reaches of the spectrum of their sound — going beyond what they might experiment with for a studio album.
“That’s a big part of our creative interest in scoring films,” Garrick says. “[‘Here It Is’] is a perfect example of an instance like that.”
Specifically, Griffin says, “Here It Is” highlights the sound design work the pair undertook when recording the soundtrack — especially the percussive elements that hit with such force. Had the film, as they knew it, not been lost, they would have used more of this style of percussive sound design.
“We went out and recorded forest sounds for this cue, because we knew we wanted the moment in the film to be very real,” she said. “The idea was planted by the director.”
Garrick elaborated: “[Burns] had this great idea for all the percussion sounds in the film to be the sound of wood, part of the connection being that wood is the framework of an old house and that [wood] starts in the forest. So we took that and thought to ourselves, How can we take it over the top?”
Griffin’s sister lives north of Toronto and has a forested area on her property that ice storms had damaged the previous winter. There were some large, damaged trees that were to be cut down. This unfortunate circumstance proved fruitful for art.
“We went in and recorded the sounds of the trees being cut down [and] falling to the ground; the logs being piled; the crunching under your feet when you’re walking over the forest floor; and many different stick sounds,” Griffin said. “We wanted to create a feeling of paranoia and panic, as if someone’s hunting you.”
Like the Wind
“Here It Is” and a lot of other cuts on Breathing feature sounds that at first blush seem like synths, but they aren’t. The truth is much more fascinating. It’s another instance in which the countryside surrounding Toronto played a role on Breathing.
“We created a large wind instrument for this score that made different tones depending on the speed of the air passing through it,” Garrick said. “… In order to get the full range of tones, it requires driving in a car at different high speeds, with the air intake of the instrument sticking out the window at a certain angle.”
“So in order to use it, we would speed up and down country roads outside of Toronto late at night, with a recording setup inside the vehicle to record it,” he continued. “The result gave something distinctive and unique to the sound of the film.”
‘Still My Love’ and the Secret of the ‘Deeper Hidden Meaning’
Disco guru Nile Rodgers has worked with and/or influenced scores of artists — his work with Daft Punk on Random Access Memories is only one of many examples of his enduring presence in modern music. But it’s in some prose he wrote that Rodgers touched upon some insight into the enduring magic and sense of wonder attached to Electric Youth songs, even if he hadn’t realized it at the time.
Many years ago, Garrick and Griffin read Rodgers’ autobiography Le Freak, and were intrigued by a philosophical element Rodgers described that’s tied to creativity. It’s called “Deeper Hidden Meaning,” or DHM, which Griffin says the duo adopted to describe feelings you can’t explain.
It’s the sensory experience this writer personally gets when listening to virtually any Electric Youth release, especially songs like “Still My Love” from Breathing or “Runaway” from Innerworld. It’s also a feeling Griffin gets when experiencing her partner’s musical talent during the creative process.
“I’m still in awe of Austin’s natural ability to compose,” Griffin says. “He makes every note count… It hits you in your soul.”
DHM, with its soul-pairing character, could also be “like love in a split second” or those moments when “vibrational frequencies of the music are matching the vibrations of your atoms,” Griffin says, noting that even those descriptors might not be adequate. “There are no words. Whatever it is, it also explains why some people feel our music and others don’t. We all have different frequencies.”
“Still My Love” is in some ways a classic Electric Youth track: a powerful, synth-driven number with catchy melodies and Griffin’s emotionally genuine lyrics, which she performs immaculately and with profundity.
“He makes every note count… It hits you in your soul.”
When I first heard the song, I had to stop everything and just experience it. I believe I was walking down the sidewalk on a Brooklyn street and had to step aside and just be with the song, living in that moment as hundreds of people walked by, going about their day. For the creators of “Still My Love,” it’s a powerful song, too.
“It’s one of our favorite songs we’ve ever made, because it gives us so much of that DHM…,” Griffin says.
The song’s coming-together was a deeply personal experience for them.
“Most of Bronwyn’s vocal on that [song] was done in one take, which isn’t the way we usually do it,” Garrick said. “But the emotion and feeling was really true in that performance, so much so that we both felt it was best to leave it as is.”
Behind that one take was a disagreement over the nature of the lyrics that Garrick wrote.
“The process was a bit of a struggle for me,” Griffin says, “because Austin had very specific, real-life inspiration for this song — one in which I won’t go into detail, but I absolutely didn’t agree with his point of view on the matter.”
So they both wrote lyrics for the song in order to try out an alternative approach. But, ultimately, Griffin felt that Garrick’s words were the best fit.
“… Because his lyrics pulled from such an honest place, they were the ones we ultimately decided on,” she said. “But I wasn’t happy about it, because I had to sing these lyrics that I so strongly disagreed with.”
However, something happened when it came time to record. It was one of those amazing moments, laced with DHM. Or maybe it was just the kind of music-making magic that happens between people who’ve been inextricably linked for so long.
“I had practiced the song more than usual,” Griffin said. “When it came time to record the lyrics, I was able to connect with the emotion of the song so deeply in the moment that all my opinions changed. It’s like the song cured me of this cognitive dissonance I was experiencing; of my unwillingness to see a situation in its true light. And that made for a beautiful expression of the truth.”
Garrick says the resonance one gets from a song like “Still My Love” is often the “ultimate goal” for the duo when writing a song: “to create something that people can really connect to and really feel — something that resonates.”
(Note: For more behind-the-scenes discussions about Breathing, check out the companion page. There, you’ll find a brief Q&A with Electric Youth and a short story about writing the cue “Breathing.”)
A New Album Is Coming: What You Should Know
Electric Youth’s debut album, Innerworld, came out in 2014, featuring new songs such as “Runaway,” “WeAreTheYouth,” and “Innocence,” along with a few previously released singles, such as “A Real Hero” and “The Best Thing,” which features some additional production from Vince Clarke.
It was loaded with the DHM vibes, creating a songwriting and sonic experience that to this day blows minds in Vehlinggoland.
“Our intent with Innerworld has always been for it to unfold over time,” Garrick says. “We’re now three years from when it debuted, and as an album we’re still as happy with it as when it first came out.”
They also wanted to establish their sound, which is often one of the key goals of a debut album. In doing so, they created an album that Garrick says has a strong linear, “sort-of oneness to it.”
“We’re focused on making the greatest songs we can.”
With that in the rearview, they’re able to expand on their sound a bit more on the next album, which should be released in 2018. Although, Garrick says, it’s “not a departure by any means.” Given that people thought Breathing was a true followup to Innerworld, rather than the lost soundtrack that it really is, that interjection is important to note.
Garrick pointed out that with them getting score work and having such an outlet for cinematic inspiration, the new album will have less of the cinematic than Innerworld.
That “leaves our studio albums to be rooted in real-life inspiration that much more, which is what this second album will be,” he said. “We’re focused on making the greatest songs we can for it.”
One way the new album will be different is that it will be enjoyed in a different setting than Innerworld.
“We love that Innerworld is a great record to really listen to on your own in reflection and to go into your own world with; or [listen to] with people you’re close to,” Garrick says. “But I don’t think [it] is necessarily an album for listening through at a party or something like that — I think it’s probably too contemplative for that sort of an environment.”
Innerworld was tuned to a particular experience, exemplified in the way Electric Youth would test the album throughout its production: on drives down California’s gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway (AKA “Hwy. 1”).
“We would drive… at dawn to listen to it, on our own or with people we’re close to, to test it and get all the final touches right,” Garrick says. “So it was really tuned to the context of that atmosphere.”
“But for this second album, we’re focusing on creating something more environmentally versatile,” he added.
Therefore, to some extent, the followup to Innerworld could be more Outerworld.
It’ll also be about creating work that can stand alone outside of the context of visual media like films and television, according to Garrick. Remember that even before they started getting hired to score films, Electric Youth entered the mainstream with “A Real Hero,” their classic collaboration with friend Grellier that Refn used twice in key scenes in Drive.
The visual context is “why our music has continued to have its biggest successes in those worlds,” Garrick says. “A large part of audiences have needed that context, and our inspirations have always been very cinematic, so in some ways it’s been that way by design and we’re grateful for it, because it allows us to continually create on our own terms.”
With the soundtracks providing the visual outlet for their studio albums moving forward, “we’re focused on songs that can thrive standing on their own, as well in those particular contexts,” he said.
“We’re truly grateful for anyone that connects to our music, regardless of what they see in it.”
The new record will have synthesizers, although Garrick asserts that he and Griffin aren’t necessarily synth artists. Although they are often lumped into the same synthwave category as artists who mine 1980s pastiches — and earlier Electric Youth cuts like “Replay” did have those vibes — Electric Youth isn’t about that and Garrick and Griffin grew tired of the pastiches pretty quickly in the early years of their project.
Instead, “our songs come from a real, human place,” Garrick says.
For example, “Another Story” from Innerworld was inspired by Garrick’s grandmother’s childhood experiences surviving war in Poland and Russia in the 20th Century.
“We use synthesizers because we love how they sound, but that’s not what our music is about to us,” Garrick says. “We really don’t personally relate to some of the stuff we get compared to, but we’re truly grateful for anyone that connects to our music, regardless of what they see in it.”
Of course, people will take what they will from art, despite the artist’s intentions. When people internalize a piece of art — a painting, a song, a film, a book — and make it their own, they contribute to its enduring quality.
“In a lot of ways, we’re still just getting started with what we’ve set out to do.”
When you’re Electric Youth, and you write such compelling songs that are filled with meaningful lyrics, catchy musical expressions, and seas of DHM, you look into the world and see people enjoying your music in a spectrum of different ways.
“At the end of the day, the perception of art is entirely subjective,” Garrick says. “And synthesizers will continue to play the role they do in our music, but really for us it’s about the song at its core. It could be any sound we use, by nature, we’ll always do it in the Electric Youth way.”
“In a lot of ways, we’re still just getting started with what we’ve set out to do,” he continued. “All the more reason we’re so excited and inspired for our second album.”
Going forward, the bond of Garrick and Griffin, forged over several years from the innocence of childhood in Ontario all the way to Hollywood and the California sun, will only deepen. Their dynamic will become even more imbued with the magic of DHM. That’s a beautiful thing for them and the best thing for us.
The pair’s devotion to their work has sometimes led to them not being as involved with their fans as they’d like. Griffin assures people that she and Garrick are aware of the love.
“Just to anyone who reads this, thank you,” she said. “Know that we are completely aware of our limited participation on social media, but we do read everything you post. If you’re reading this interview, that likely means you’re interested in what we do and who we are. I’d like you to know that we’re grateful beyond words for your interest, love, encouragement, excitement and support. I recognize we get to live as artists, making the music we love most, for a living, because of you. So, thank you.”
For those DVD extras I mentioned earlier — a Q&A with some more information on Breathing, along with some other stuff, check out the companion page.
Update – Aug. 9, 2019: Check out the latest in-depth with Electric Youth, looking at their roots, the creation of Memory Emotion and their live shows.