In a laid-back, lakeside part of Toronto sits a home in a tree-lined neighborhood filled with artists and others uninterested in the frenetic kinesis of the city’s more urban sections. It’s the kind of place some go to in order to relax. Others go to clear their heads and welcome the muse.
If you climb the stairs to this house and enter, you’ll be encompassed by a minimalist but welcoming space. People live here, but they also create here. And they play here, too. For example, on one side of the living room wall sit three vintage arcade machines. Grab a glass of water and head upstairs. Something almost mystical awaits.
There’s a studio outfitted with a host of synthesizers, drum machines, a computer workstation, and a projection screen — underneath which hangs a framed print of a piece by the late abstract artist Sylvia Edwards. Then you see the magic-maker. It’s the 200-pound Yamaha CS-80, the type of synth Vangelis used on Blade Runner in the early 1980s and which today is a beloved and much-emulated tool for when you want pure emotion out of a machine. Somewhere in the thick of it is a Lexicon 224 reverb device, which like the CS-80 is a much revered and ferociously emulated tool. For all its modesty, it’s quite the home studio to behold.
This small, intimate space is where Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin of Electric Youth have recorded most of the 11-track Memory Emotion, their first studio album since their 2014 masterpiece debut, Innerworld — the record with cuts like “Innocence” and “Runaway” and earlier singles like “A Real Hero” and “The Best Thing.” They’ve been here since 2017, when they moved out of a commercial recording studio in downtown Toronto. In addition to all of the synths and pedals, they brought with them to this room a sampler they built that stores 624 samples of Griffin’s voice. They also have a rare, out-of-production mic they’ve been using for years to capture that beautifully engaging voice.
I caught up with Garrick and Griffin in early July in their home, after they had just returned from Hawai’i, where they were shooting the gorgeous music video for the lush second single, “ARAWA.” They were on a tight schedule overall: They had a week left to submit a fully recorded and mixed album to mastering engineer Dave Kutch of The Mastering Palace, which would set things in motion for an Aug. 9 digital release.
That meant that Garrick and longtime Electric Youth guitarist/engineer Michael Fong were deep into 18-hour days that involved laying down final parts, editing songs, and mixing — in addition to Griffin adding some final vocal tracks — to meet that deadline. In fact, not long after I parted ways with the duo that day, they’d return home to capture some of those vocals.
Also in their studio is a comfortable, cushioned chair, adjacent to their recording desk but facing away from it. Garrick was at the desk and Griffin was sitting on the floor. I sat there in that chair. We all had headphones on, because we were going to listen to each and every song on Memory Emotion — some finished, some missing vocal parts, and most still without Fong’s guitars. All I could do was close my eyes and experience comprehensively the magic of a band that has played such a huge role in my life and my readers’ lives. It was a sacred experience.
In between songs on that balmy day, we had the opportunity to dive into a host of topics that we largely hadn’t covered in our previous in-depth interviews. We discussed how Memory Emotion came about and what it means to the band, talked about their musical roots, tackled their place in the grand scheme of the industry, and discussed their live shows. The topical focus of Memory Emotion loomed large: its more external focus compared to the internal experience of Innerworld.
“With this record, we definitely looked more to what’s going on outside of us — the people around us and the broader scale of what’s going on in the world,” Garrick said during the interview.
(Side Note: Peter Mayes of Empire of the Sun and PNAU, who mixed and helped produce Innerworld, also mixed “The Life” and “ARAWA,” but was unavailable to work on the rest of Memory Emotion because he and his wife were welcoming a new baby.)
Pre-order Memory Emotion on vinyl or pre-add to streaming. A CD is coming at some point. The album is releasing via Last Gang Records in some territories and via Electric Youth’s own Watts Arcade in others.
To the casual observer, it might seem worthwhile to wonder why it took five years for Electric Youth to follow up Innerworld. To be sure, they weren’t resting on the laurels of “A Real Hero,” their blockbuster and historic collaboration with David “College” Grellier that first appeared in late 2009 before showing up as a key theme in Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive and later on Innerworld. They’ve been working on Memory Emotion for a few years.
Before Memory Emotion — and while they were working on the album — they were creating music for other projects, too. These included scores for two films directed by Anthony Scott Burns (AKA electronic composer Pilotpriest and the bass player on hypnotic third single “Breathless”). One of those scores became the 2017 lost soundtrack Breathing, released on Milan Records. They also had a noteworthy collaboration with Gesaffelstein and The Hacker called “Forever,” which appeared on the Columbia album Hyperion earlier this year. In addition, they had a beautifully killer remix of “andata” on Ryuichi Sakamoto’s async remodels. (For more on Breathing and the band’s “deeper hidden meaning,” check out this 2017 in-depth interview.)
But even so, they’re not inclined to rush things. Garrick and Griffin seem to have mastered a kind of harmony in which they are variously of the world and outside of it. There’s a careful deliberation to the songwriting and production of Electric Youth. You hear it in the finished product, but it goes all the way back to the inception of each piece. With Griffin and Garrick, you will never get an album, score, or song of slipshod quality.
For Memory Emotion, they are in a place to craft an album that both reinforces and expands their sound. If Innerworld was a chance for them to define who they are lyrically and sonically as a group, Memory Emotion is a chance to more fully come into their own.
To get to Memory Emotion, Garrick and Griffin worked from 800 musical ideas compiled in a playlist on the classic digital audio player WinAmp. Some of them were well-formed, like a four-minute instrumental composition, and others were 10-second “melody reminders,” as Griffin calls them, or, as Garrick refers to them, “bookmarks” to get him “back into the headspace” of those ideas.
The ideas are borne of a certain provenance: “The initial ideas come really fast — like lightning in a bottle or whatever you want to call it,” Garrick says. “Songs pop into my head almost finished.”
From there, getting songs to an album-ready state can take a while. However, it’s not because they work slowly, so much as tweaking things to reach a level of quality you’d expect from them isn’t something that happens quickly.
“It’s that last 20 percent of things that is really what takes us long,” Garrick said.
But before they even get to that 20-percent point, Garrick and Griffin put the ideas to a test: Does any given concept have the potential to truly be a full composition? Which of the ideas has the most potent melody to be a full-grown Electric Youth song? (I might add: Which will ultimately be imbued with that quality that makes you feel a sense of interconnectedness with all things?)
The final 11 songs sound as fresh, engaging, and memorable as they do because, as Garrick says, they had to “battle out” the 789 other ideas. Basically, that’s a reason why the balmy “ARAWA” engages you so comprehensively; and why, for example, the driving “Now Now,” the hypnotic “On My Own,” and the yearning of “Through the same eyes” will never leave your soul. Their first single, “The Life,” one of their most kinetic tracks, has an urgency that fuels you.
Another part of the filtration process involved Garrick and Griffin running the songs by trusted people. This is a new development for them. In the past, they would keep songs close to the chest until absolutely necessary, they said.
“We set out on this record to involve people we know who are our toughest critics but with good taste,” Garrick wrote in a followup email. “We knew it would make it a harder road creatively but that at the end of the day, the material would end up that much stronger for it. We knew if it could pass through the standards of our creative filters as well as theirs, that we’d come out of it with something that much more universal than if we showed nobody until we completed the album.”
Take, for example, Garrick’s oldest cousin. The two grew up together and he’s like a big brother to Garrick. He’s always been tough on his younger cousin’s music — few songs seemed good enough. However, the process taught Electric Youth a valuable lesson.
“He’d always have some comment of what could be done better, but the most bothersome part of it used to be that usually he was right, and deep down I knew when that was the case,” Garrick wrote. “So eventually, I stopped showing him things until they were already released, because I couldn’t fully handle the criticism. But occasionally he would like something. Like “A Real Hero” — he knew that song was going to eventually have an impact, before Drive ever happened, back when it had only sold a few hundred copies.”
They’re more mature and secure in their craft than they were in the past, and they’re also willing to take into consideration which songs others connect with in a meaningful way, according to Garrick.
“There’s something to be said about something you like, that everyone else also reacts to, versus something you like that others don’t see anything in,” Garrick wrote. “As long as we feel just as strongly about the thing that everyone else likes as well, we’re happy to go with that. We don’t get a kick out of being contrarian… most important to us is always being ourselves and coming from a place of true emotion in what we do.”
Two Pure Hearts
The recording of the bulk of the instrumental elements of Memory Emotion occurred in the modest but profoundly consequential studio in which we were sitting; although, as she has with past releases, Griffin tracked most of her vocals in the living room of their apartment in Venice, where they spend some of the year. (When they first moved there, they figured they’d stay in the apartment for a year and see what happens, they told me. That was at least seven years ago.)
“To us, that’s our favorite part of town, near the beach,” Garrick says.
Venice is an easier place for them to record vocals, whereas Toronto is fertile ground for the instrumental side of things.
“It’s easier for us to focus in LA, in part, because we’ve only been there seven years, which means we have fewer friends there, and none of our family is there,” Garrick wrote in a followup email. “So it’s easier to stay in the bubble necessary to get that work done there. But while we love LA and the area we live a lot, it never really inspires us as much as it puts us in a good headspace to find inspiration within ourselves. We find California as a whole to be that way for us. Whereas Toronto is a place we find external inspiration in, and that was a bigger part of the music side on this album.”
Longtime friend and collaborator Michael Fong factored heavily in Memory Emotion, as he has with other Electric Youth releases, but there were also two other collaborators on the album. They contributed instrumental parts and lyrics.
As mentioned earlier, Anthony Scott Burns played bass on “Breathless.” He’s been a friend of Griffin and Garrick for some time, in addition to working with them. It was his recent film that he and the duo would leave over creative differences and which would later yield Breathing. For “Breathless,” a cut with all the good chords that put you into a blissful-but-energized trance, Burns really went at the electric bass.
“He played until his fingers bled,” Garrick said.
Burns first met Griffin and Garrick when he initially reached out to them as a fan and fellow Torontonian, but they soon learned just how much they clicked.
“They are the nicest people on the planet,” Burns said on The Vehlinggo Podcast in July 2018, adding about their songwriting: “They’re so great at threading emotional pieces.”
On the liner notes for Milan’s vinyl release of Breathing, Burns has an elaboration.
“Every once in a while, you truly connect with people who speak your language. They love the same art, books, and films, and share a world vision so similar to your own, that it almost seems as if you’d been linked somehow in a past life — that these people must be your lost tribe,” he wrote. “This is how I felt when I first met Austin and Bronwyn.”
Another album collaborator is filmmaker Howard Duff Gordon. Griffin and Garrick met him when he was shooting the behind-the-scenes documentary for what would be the film that Electric Youth and Burns would leave. They subsequently hired him to do a behind-the-scenes doc on the making of Memory Emotion, shooting the entire process from the utmost beginning of the album’s inception to its completion over a few-year span. Over time, it became clear that in addition to his visual talent, Gordon is also a gifted songwriter. He has a bank of about 10 unreleased, full-length records, according to Garrick. He and Griffin said Gordon is essentially a secret musical genius.
At some point, the duo were working on an instrumental track entitled at that point as “Forever,” when Gordon set in motion a collaboration that led to “thirteen” — one of the high points of Memory Emotion. It has a warm, heartfelt vibe that permeates the song’s classic, romantic melody.
“He’s been watching us work for some years now — he’s heard songs when they were just getting started,” Garrick said. Gordon asked them to send him the instrumental so he could try something out.
He sent the lyrics back the next day and eventually they had the only song the duo have lyrically co-wrote with someone else. The words hit home for the renowned middle-school sweethearts.
“He’s been in a very long-term relationship, so the sentiments of his words rang true for us,” Griffin says.
The end result is a breathtaking ballad, with Griffin taking on the part of a narrator asking a romantic partner not to give up on what they’ve been building for so long: “We’re two pure hearts/since we’re 17.” It’s the kind of song you slow-dance to in a warm embrace, wrapped in an energy of love. It creates a pure and deeply moving moment on the album.
“It just dawned on me that two of the only outside collaborators on [Memory Emotion] are filmmakers first and foremost,” Garrick says with a laugh.
Fitting for a band so tied to the visual medium, even if on Memory Emotion they’ve made a special effort to bifurcate their work so that the cinematic tendencies are kept in the realm of their score work and their songs stay with the albums.
‘As Restless As We Are’
It’s easy to hear a song and infer that a certain influence must have been at play when the artist was creating it. Music reviewers, such as yours truly, do it all the time and aren’t always or often on the same page as the songwriters. Listeners will take from a song what they will, regardless of the creator’s intent. It’s the nature of art.
In the case of Electric Youth, they typically don’t wear their influences on their sleeves — aside from a few earlier cuts, it’s not always clear specifically what artist or era they’re drawing from musically. Nevertheless, they’re not necessarily going to correct a listener’s interpretation.
“I guess you could say we’re at least not consciously influenced by other music,” Garrick says.
However, on the track “Higher,” Garrick and Griffin had a blast crafting a sort-of homage to the vibe and feel of Giorgio Moroder’s and Donna Summer’s historic disco pairing.
“There was this certain zone that [Moroder] was in with [Summer],” Garrick said. “I mean, they did so much together, but there was this particular production sound he had — this formula he had for this moment — and we thought it would be really interesting to pay homage to that.”
They originally called it “the disco track” and it was, as Griffin says, “just a lot of fun to record.”
“It was the most fun we ever had recording a song,” Garrick added.
The lighthearted nature of disco made it a blast, according to Griffin.
“It makes you want to move,” Griffin said. During recording they had champagne and had Robert Klane’s 1978 disco film Thank God It’s Friday playing in the background — Summer won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for her contribution to that film. “It’s a cheesy, but great movie. We just got into the feeling of it all,” she said.
The end result has the percolating percussion, kinetically driving groove, and ethereal vocals of the Moroder-Summer pairing, albeit with an unmistakable Electric Youth quality. You hear the crystalline dreams of Garrick’s compositional leanings and the breathy, celestial pipes of Griffin’s well-honed vocal styling. There’s also a sophisti-pop vibe laced throughout this disco track.
During production, Griffin played a larger role in Memory Emotion than she did on Innerworld. She and Garrick worked side-by-side for much of it and “Higher” might be the first track where she is credited individually as a producer along with Garrick.
“She played a huge production role on that song,” Garrick said in a followup email.
Other areas of the album have a bit more nuanced approach and lyrical intent. Consider “ARAWA,” which means “as restless as we are.” Like many of the songs on the record, the instrumentation and composition have a laid-back feeling befitting Garrick’s and Griffin’s predilection toward beach life. You could easily play this song on a lanai and it would complement your experience. However, the lyrics tell another story.
“It sounds like summer, but lyrically a lot of the inspiration for that came from seeing what the California wildfires [of recent years] did,” Garrick said. “Places that are naturally beautiful got wiped out.”
They were in Toronto and when they returned to California, they were driving through the hills in Malibu “and we had no idea what effect [the wildfires] had on the land,” Griffin said. When, coincidentally, they were driving near the burn sites and the impact came into full view, Garrick said, “it looked like hell on earth in certain places that were so beautiful.”
“This paradise-land had just turned into black,” Griffin said. “When we were driving through, we got this feeling of dread — this feeling of just how much death went on there. Think of the wildlife surrounding those trees in the hills: [They’re] gone.”
However, some months later, life had quickly bounced back. In Mother Nature’s grand plan, destruction gives way to creation.
“Everything was already so green,” Griffin said. “If you listen closely to ‘ARAWA’ you’ll hear it in the song.”
The duo say they prefer when their records have that depth — that a cut like “ARAWA” is not merely a sunny song with sunny lyrics, but that it engages something grander and deeper.
(As an aside, astute readers will also recognize “ARAWA” as the name of an erstwhile music blog that went out of service in 2012. All that seemingly remains is this archive on Tumblr.) As Garrick mentioned in a tweet, ARAWA was where the duo first discovered the musical genius of Suzanne Ciani when they were first starting out as Electric Youth.)
Other songs are bit more tethered to the personal, such as the hypnotic, 808-driven dream pop of “Evergreen 143,” although the ideas in the lyrics are universal.
“That was written just in moments of — despite how much great stuff you have going on, or how many friends you have, or how much love is around you, there are moments of extreme self-doubt at times,” Griffin said. But in the face of that is the comfort of “knowing that you have somebody there who can tell you, ‘I’m there for you and you can feel that way in front of me’.”
For part of the chorus — which is Garrick’s favorite of theirs to-date — Griffin sings “So lean on me, 1-4-3.” It’s a nod to Mr. Fred Rogers’s favorite number and the words associated with it: one being “I,” four being “love” and three being “you.” After all, spreading love was one of Mr. Rogers’s key underlying principles. (Side Note: Garrick grew up watching Mr. Rogers; Griffin watched Mr. Dressup, who is considered Mr. Rogers’ Canadian counterpart.)
A notable fact about “Breathless” is that it was, in part, inspired by Jim McBride’s 1983 remake of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film Breathless. (The Richard Gere-starring ‘80s version moved the story from Paris to LA.)
“It’s a favorite of ours and a really underrated film — I imagine… that people couldn’t look past the fact that it’s a remake of a Godard classic,” Garrick wrote in a followup email. (He wrote about the films five years ago for an article for The Criterion Collection.)
“If you treat the remake at face value, though, it’s a really interesting contribution to film from its time,” he added, noting that because much of it was shot in Venice, it adds evokes a more personal feeling for them. “But as it usually is when a film inspires part of an idea for us, it’s more so the real-life situations that we see reflected in the film that the inspiration really comes from.”
For “Breathless” the song, Garrick and Griffin found inspiration from seeing people struggle with a fear of committed relationships and “knowing that everybody is imperfect but deciding how much imperfection is too much.”
“The Breathless remake is an imperfect film, but the cumulative effect of its greatest aspects are strong enough to make it something special,” Garrick wrote. “Some people are that way, too.”
In general, when it comes to writing lyrics, Griffin and Garrick each take different approaches. Songs like “Evergreen 143” and “Higher” show the products of Griffin’s method. She lays down lyrics and then continues to build on them with rewrites until the song is the best it can be. Garrick’s method centers more toward waiting for creative epiphanies.
“For me, the easiest lyrics to write are the ones that come from the truest emotions,” Garrick wrote in that followup email. “They usually happen fast when they come, but the moment can’t be forced.”
Songs like “A Real Hero” and “The Best Thing,” and Memory Emotion cut “Through the same eyes” were that way for Garrick. “It’s like breathing once they come — natural and totally un-compromised. But they all took months of waiting for the moment,” Garrick wrote.
As Griffin and Garrick touched on in the interview we did in 2017 — when they first began talking about what we now know as Memory Emotion — they mentioned that, in general, this album would have more of an external focus than Innerworld did; at least in terms of lyrical content. Essentially, if Innerworld lived up to its name, then Memory Emotion is an Outerworld.
“… For this second album, we’re focusing on creating something more environmentally versatile,” Garrick said at the time.
He added during this recent interview in Toronto: “Musically, you kind of get to know yourself better, and we had certain objectives with the first record with establishing the sound and laying those things down. On this record, we felt like we could expand more.”
‘…If We Make It Down This Road, We Can Make It All the Way’
The seeds of Electric Youth were, in some ways, sewn in the 1990s. Griffin and Garrick go way back — they first became friends as kids in Hamilton, a city on Lake Ontario southwest of Toronto, and are famously middle-school sweethearts. They both had deep interests in music, but it would take some time for their musical expression to converge into a cohesive force. There was a period in which they didn’t really even talk with each other about music-making at all.
Growing up in Toronto with a St. Vincentian father and a Poland-born, Greek-Russian mother — and later living in Hamilton — Garrick got into music early. His father, Roy, was the drummer in a popular Canadian reggae band called Messenjah. Garrick got into his father’s craft at a young age — performing live when barely in elementary school. By the time he was in middle school, Garrick had played drums on stage with Messenjah at an event featuring Nelson Mandela before 50,000 people at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. It was an early education in the art of music-making and performance.
After leaving school, Garrick spent time in New York City — living for a brief period of time in Williamsburg before returning to Toronto. After that, he would make regular trips to NYC with a producer friend. He was building his music career. That scrappy motivation would eventually lead to Garrick producing songs for Def Jam artists such as Redman, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Joe Budden, just as the latter was coming off his 2003 hit “Pump It Up.” He did his work under the name “Watts,” which he still uses for one of Electric Youth’s incorporated musical entities, Watts Arcade.
It was an amazing gig for a 17-year-old Garrick to get — certainly an accomplishment for anyone at any age — but it would need to be an early chapter and not the final one. We all have had those stints: They’re inherently crucial to our development, but they are by no means the end.
“There was such a level of creative compromise that needed to happen for me to make things work and place records in that world,” he said. “At least the level I was at, I wasn’t getting the big singles. I was producing album cuts.”
Griffin, with great pride in her partner, points out that even then Garrick was onto something with his music.
“What’s so cool about that period in his life, though, is that Austin has a back catalogue of thousands of beats,” Griffin says. “It’s so incredible, because he was so forward-thinking. The stuff he was creating then, you’re hearing now [in music] 15 years later. It’s the coolest shit and I’m like, ‘You did this when you were a teenager.’ ”
“He’d spend 12 hours a day making beats; day after day,” she continued. “His work ethic was insane. I’d be like, ‘Can we go hang out with some friends?’ and he’d say, ‘Sorry, I’ve gotta work.’ We were so young!”
While Garrick was working on these projects, Griffin was getting more involved in singing, but also still going to school. Singing as a full-time job didn’t yet seem viable.
“I always knew I wanted to be a singer and involved in music,” she said. “But it is a classic example of parents thinking you need a backup plan.”
She went to a university in Ontario and finished with a commerce degree.
“I’m glad I did it,” she said. “It gave me a certain work ethic that helped me along the way. You’re under so much pressure — you don’t get that in certain environments in life.”
But did Griffin see herself getting into business? No way.
“I spent almost two years in an office and thought I was going to die,” she said, adding that she knows that for some people the office environment is fulfilling but “I wanted a career with creativity involved.”
Finding Their Sound
There was a time — before Griffin went off to college and before Garrick’s production career — that they shared their first musical memory. A period of parallel-but-rarely-intersecting musical interests had ended and kicked off a fascinating time in their lives. It was but a glimpse of what would come.
When they did decide to make music together, it didn’t sound like Electric Youth. They were 15 or 16. There was a studio in Toronto — one whose name they can’t recall and a place they surmise might no longer exist. They got studio time together with some friends of theirs. Eventually, they caught the attention of the late Haydain Neale, frontman of jackSOUL, one of Canada’s biggest R&B groups.
“He had heard us working in the studio and really saw something in Bronwyn’s voice and something in me.”
Neale had “a sort-of Al Greene voice,” Garrick said, with Griffin adding that it was “very beautiful.”
“He had heard us working in the studio and really saw something in Bronwyn’s voice and something in me,” Garrick says.
Garrick wrote an instrumental for Griffin, and Neale offered up laudatory words for her voice, but told the duo that he wasn’t clear what her voice was for yet. They had to find their sound, he said. The sound of their art leaned toward R&B, which was closer to the world that Garrick was immersed in at the time.
“It just wasn’t natural — it just wasn’t working,” Garrick said. “It felt contrived.”
For her part, Griffin grew up in a home painted with the music of Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, the Police, and Carole King.
Somewhere in that blend were the seeds of Electric Youth — germinating slowly, true, but they were there. They were onto something. For example, there were hints of their magic in Garrick’s beats.
“When I was producing hip-hop records, I was always trying to find a common ground with the music that really was where my heart was at,” he said. “I would sample records that I really love and that was how I tried to find that common ground with the music I really wanted to make but felt like I couldn’t.”
They started Electric Youth when Griffin was in her second year at her university, around 2007-2008. This was about five years after Griffin and Garrick’s first musical memory in that studio. It was also a couple years before Electric Youth would take precedence over Garrick’s production work.
“Electric Youth was always creatively fulfilling from the start,” Garrick said, “and once it got to the point where it was also financially fulfilling, my time was better spent on it. These records I was doing elsewhere — at that point it just didn’t make sense to put so much time into them.”
Garrick never made an overt, conscious decision to stop producing for other artists. “It’s just that I only do it when it makes sense for us now,” he said.
“Time is always so limited,” Griffin added.
Electric Youth gave them a platform to home in on what they really wanted to do. Even then, it took a few years to really get momentum. It wasn’t until “A Real Hero” and “The Best Thing,” their song co-produced by synth-pop pioneer Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure), that “we really started to feel like we’ve got it.” (For more on the story of “A Real Hero,” read Vehlinggo’s feature on the fifth anniversary of Drive, which includes interviews with Garrick and Griffin.)
“That’s when I said I wasn’t going to pursue a [typical] career, I’m going to pursue singing,” Griffin said.
The first full Electric Youth song ever released — the first non-collaboration — was “Faces,” an energetic cover of the famous song by 1980s Italo Disco outfit Clio. In fact, the version that’s out in the world, as a single and as a part of the storied 2009 compilation Valerie and Friends, is really a demo.
“To send that to [the Valerie Collective] we had to take ‘demo’ off the [file name],” Garrick said.
They look back fondly on that early time. It was that crucial point when they were learning that they weren’t alone in their love for living in their sound. (For more about their discovery of the profoundly influential Discodust blog, which led to them meeting David “College” Grellier, read Vehlinggo’s Valerie Story on College’s Secret Diary album. That record features “She Never Came Back,” the first College-Electric Youth collaboration.)
“It was the MySpace era and we were starting to see for the first time that there was this world of people celebrating music that we had loved personally; and that we weren’t really seeing people in our immediate circle [listening to],” Garrick said. “We started to say, ‘Wait a minute, there may be a place for the music we want to make.’ That was our first foray into it and so we thought, Why don’t we start out light and cover something?”
Letters to Clio
“Faces” was an easy choice. Garrick and Griffin knew the song and were fans of Italo Disco. Furthermore, the song didn’t sound too far afield from where music was at in the late 2000s.
“We wanted to be pretty faithful to the original, but just sonically do a few things that we felt gave it a place in the moment,” Garrick says. “So that was the statement part of it that we wanted to make: You actually don’t even have to do too many things before this song becomes something relevant for now.”
One challenge was tackling the lyrics, according to Griffin. See, most Italo Disco cuts of the ‘80s were sung in English with thick Italian accents. It lent an endearing quality to the music, but it makes it tough to suss out the words without a lyric sheet.
“We still don’t know what the real words are to that song,” Garrick said.
“Faces” has gone on to become one of Electric Youth’s most beloved numbers. A few years back a European advertising agency licensed the song for a major car campaign, but the big opportunity almost didn’t happen for Electric Youth. With the passage of time, it became harder to track down the people behind Clio and “Faces” in order to get their approval for the placement.
“We wanted to be pretty faithful to the original, but just sonically do a few things that we felt gave it a place in the moment.”
The licensing company asked Electric Youth to help find them, saying “we basically have two days or this sync is not going to happen,” Garrick said. “So we searched and searched, and it turns out the guy who wrote the song, wrote it when he was like 20 or something like that, and now he runs a salsa label and has a completely different other life. I think he was pretty happy to get hit up and get a nice check for this thing he’d kind of forgotten about.”
After our interview, I did some research, including going back into the Vehlinggo archives. It looks like the writer and primary producer behind Clio, Roberto Ferrante, started Planet Records, which over the years has indeed focused on the Latin market — with offices in places like Miami and Havana. The singer behind Clio, Maria Chiara Perugini, and Ferrente apparently only ever did about three songs for the project. A blip in the careers of Perugini and Ferrante became a full-force gale of influence on the musical landscape.
In 2011, a few years after “Faces,” Electric Youth would get mainstream attention with their “A Real Hero” collaboration and subsequently release the Right Back to You EP in the absence of a full-length album — in order to keep the momentum going. That would snowball into what we know today. But in that early period, they helped revive an Italo classic and found their sound along the way.
To this day, their work is notable for its immaculate structures and nuanced composition, along with Griffin’s ethereal vocals that at times recall the likes of Enya. Their songs aren’t always verse-chorus and their chord progressions don’t always rely on the most simple of combinations. But it would be a huge assumption to think that Garrick is schooled in music theory. (Full disclosure: It was an assumption I made for years.) His long history with music — dating back to the late ‘80s when he was around two — has not translated to a classically trained, academic musical comprehension. And, for him, that’s a benefit. In fact, he’s made sure he never gets bogged down in the weeds of musical theory. He calls this drive his “creative paranoia.”
“I’ve always been paranoid with the idea of getting to know too much to a point where it starts to negatively affect my creativity,” Garrick says. “For me, I know, when I’m going to play these chords, I hear them in my head and I have to go find them.”
As Griffin puts it, it’s the “fear of the ‘thinking mind’ taking over.”
That level of musical discovery occurs naturally and without prescription. It works better that way.
“It probably would help me [to know more music theory and the technical side of production],” Garrick offers, “but I don’t want to take that risk.”
‘Flipping the Switch’ on Live Shows
With the release of Memory Emotion, Griffin and Garrick have on the books a tour to support the record. That will happen in 2020 in the spring or summer. But first, there’s a Brooklyn gig coming up in nine days. On Aug. 17, the duo will play a one-off show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the site of their last New York show in November 2014 during the Innerworld tour. (Note: Vehlinggoland will remember this as the show that occurred within a week or two of College’s gig in Chelsea and around the time of the founding of this website.)
Even with a previous tour and other live gigs behind them, Garrick and Griffin aren’t always the most comfortable playing live — at least at first. When you’re two introverts, putting yourself out there in a vulnerable way in the public sphere can be daunting. They’ve always preferred the comfort of the studio over the tour hustle. Because they’ve been able to get film and commercial placements, they haven’t had to tour as much as some of their contemporaries.
“I have pretty bad stage fright, so I end up having to rehearse a lot,” Griffin says. “Preparation is the best cure.”
“You’d never know that’s how she feels,” Garrick says, as Griffin quickly adds, “Inside, it’s like I’m dying.”
If you’ve seen Electric Youth live, you know how it looks: Griffin commands the stage and has the audience hanging on every syllable she sings. Whether she’s stationary and singing a particularly emotional part, or dancing on stage enthusiastically, her performances are eminently engaging.
That’s because the foreboding doesn’t stick around.
“What it comes down to is flipping a switch and putting myself into that really uncomfortable position,” she says, “and it’ll take me a few minutes on stage to really get my bearings.”
After that few minutes, it’s easier to breathe and bask in the moment.
“It’s like all the fears and anticipation of what could happen — they melt away — and I see everyone’s smiling faces and I’m so grateful that everyone is there,” Griffin said. “I can tell that they’re loving it.”
She says she ultimately really enjoys performing live.
Garrick has it a bit easier. Although he plays most of the instruments on an album, when they perform live there are a couple people handling keys duties. (For the Brooklyn show and the Memory Emotion tour, Michael Fong returns on keys and guitar, but this time his brother, Matthew, will also help on keys.) That leaves Garrick behind the drums.
“I have so much admiration and respect for how she pushes through those feelings and nerves,” Garrick says.
When asked if they structure their sets to accommodate the initial rush of nerves, they said they do.
“The first song strategically is something that, for the crowd, is a good opener, but also allows for warming up a bit,” Garrick said.
The Polyphonic Aftertouch of Life Experience
All of this work, time, travel, and study they invested more than a decade ago and thereafter have contributed heavily to where they are now, and where they’re going. Whether it was Garrick’s early exposure to a challenging industry or Griffin’s attempts at the cubicle life, it helped provide a sustainable path in music. It all guided them through the Drive soundtrack, Innerworld, Breathing, song licensing, collaborations, and other things. They’ve been able to create and promote Memory Emotion in a stronger place for putting in all that hard work. And it will guide them as they continue recording albums and composing film scores for the decades to come.
“I had a perspective and level of experience with the industry… we’ve been able to make good decisions along the way that have allowed us to make it work for ourselves and do what we love — and live comfortably,” Garrick said. “We wanted to take that as far as we can go with it — as big as we can — without having to compromise creatively. That’s always been the goal.”
They’re by no means a massive act or a household name, but they have found a level of success most artists can only dream about. And they have been a part of projects beloved by both critics and fans and have collaborated on releases that include household names such as Americans Pharrell and HAIM and fellow Canadians Drake and The Weeknd. Oh, and they get to do what they love with the people they love. Not a bad deal at all.
It was time to wind down the interview. For hours we’d listened to most of Memory Emotion and talked extensively in between cuts, and now there was but one song to go. It was the final song on the album — the title-cut that is an all-too-brief outro. But like some of the songs at the time of our interview in early July, “Memory Emotion” was not yet finished. Griffin still needed to record the lead and backing vocals, which they’d do later that evening.
I was still sitting in the chair. Garrick was still at the desk. But Griffin was preparing to sing.
To complete the experience of hearing this final song, Griffin offered to sing the wordless backing vocals live along with the recorded instrumentation, which temporarily had a CS-80 emulator in place of the real CS-80 that Garrick would add later.
So we all put on our headphones, Garrick hit play, and on cue Griffin began to sing: “nah nah nah-nah…” My eyes were closed, so I didn’t see what was happening during the song, but I could hear and feel the magic. The earnest, heartfelt songcraft that invigorates their deeper-hidden-meaning vibes was made visceral in those 90 seconds. It’s one thing to hear their masterwork on a record or live in a venue, but in a small in-home studio with just us? Witnessing the artistry at that level is one of life’s unrivaled experiences.
When the last note of Griffin’s voice trailed off, the silence breathed a life of its own. Nothing could ever really be the same again.
If you’re an Electric Youth fan, Memory Emotion will live up to the wait. Those five years will have been worth it. If you’re not yet a fan, you will be.