Boy Harsher’s forthcoming record, Careful, follows a period of time when the couple – Jae Matthews and Gus Muller – weren’t on speaking terms. Taking time to deal with their differences and the difficulties of life outside of their relationship, the record is rooted in the idea of love marred by fear, pain and space.
The resulting body of work wrapped up in Careful not only relates to an erotic love but the love that morphs and fluctuates over time, the love that lives within complications and is understood through loss. Rather than simply re-enacting these stories, the album narrates and explains the before and after of those intense feelings – providing an escape as much as a personal reflection.
At large on the DIY circuit, yet still selling out huge shows (including an upcoming sell-out at London’s Electrowerkz), the duo has managed to retain their mystique in the face of extensive touring. Developed at home in Massachusetts with a minimal set-up, their ethereal sound is sourced and balanced by the push and pull rooted in the duo’s own relationship.
Clementine Zawadzki: Jae, tell me about your tattoo, ‘careful’. What did it mean to you at the time and how has that evolved into being the title of your new album?
Jae Matthews: I got the tattoo when we were performing live, before we had ever recorded anything, at what I thought was our last performance because we weren’t really speaking, we weren’t on good terms. At the time it was really meant as the axiom of being careful, like a warning. I was really wrecked when Gus and I split the first time and I felt like I wasn’t being diligent and protecting myself. So years later we decided we wanted to call the series of songs Careful, and it relates to a similar feeling of being protective of your heart. It just seemed to really resonate when we were writing. What do you think, Gus?
Gus Muller: Jae is primarily in charge of the lyrics and the content in that way, so when I put meaning to her words it’s more my take on it. But when we were writing the album, Jae was dealing with a lot of stuff with her mother and some family stuff, she lost her stepdad at the time. So, for me, Careful started to evolve just past young love or something like that… it could be applied to investing yourself in any relationship.
CZ: It is said people either operate from love or fear. How did you learn to work with the shadow side of love on these songs?
JM: We’ve just become less intense [laughs]. I think we figured out a way to neutralise the emotional experience, because we are still – I think – experiencing the intense levels of pain, lust, happiness, and sadness, but I guess the difference now is we’re at a point where we trust one another.
” I was really wrecked when Gus and I split the first time and I felt like I wasn’t being diligent and protecting myself. So years later we decided we wanted to call the series of songs Careful, and it relates to a similar feeling of being protective of your heart.”
CZ: Do you find it easy to talk about such personal feelings through your music?
JM: I think it’s easier for me to write what I know – asserting my emotional experience into the narrative of the songs we’re writing. I think most of our content is cryptic and pretty nuanced, so I don’t feel totally vulnerable. I mean, the vulnerability that comes out of expressing one’s self in this way is maybe what people can connect to. I don’t feel like I’m giving away my social security number or anything. I’m re-living these pretty universal moments that everyone has gone through: the feeling of rejection, devilish lust, being resentful, totally wild; and when people connect to our music, that’s what I see them connecting with.
CZ: How about your creative relationship? How do you push each other and has this changed at all?
GM: I think it just comes back to the trust that’s grown between us. So if I’m feeling down on something, Jae’s there to motivate me and tell me that it’s going to work out, and vice versa.
JM: Yeah, the writing and recording of the past was pretty tumultuous, but now I think we’re a little more patient with one another which is also super important, and we wouldn’t be able to be where we are without that patience and understanding, respect, you know, the basics.
CZ: In what ways does Boy Harsher use honesty and escapism?
JM: I’ll let Gus talk about musically, but thematically, it’s just cathartic for me and it feels good to be able to fantasise. I’m asserting this character as someone who’s free and who is constantly chasing something. I guess for me, it’s not as much a confession as it is an attempt to just escape myself, and that feels really good. In all our work, if we’re able to transmit some of that energy that I have, which has forever been restless… I’ve never been someone who can find any form of calm and complacency easily, which is unfortunate, but great because I’m able to really act out my feelings with Boy Harsher.
CZ: I want to ask you about the visual side of Boy Harsher, because I know you’re both former film students. How does that aspect interplay with the music? Do you sometimes use a video to express a different story to that of the song, or an unexplored, hidden side of a song?
GM: Yeah, definitely. I mean it’s been sort of different for every project. With some of our early music videos we were working very closely with the directors and basically working on the treatment with them and deciding the visuals, but for this new album we’ve kind of been taking a step back and letting the directors insert their vision a little bit more, but we’ve found it’s been extremely in-line with what we were thinking, which has been interesting. The newest video Fate, which was directed by Bryan Ferguson, he pitched this vampire idea to us and we thought it was cool, then when we got it back, what was going on with the character was almost dead on to what Jae had described the lyrics to.
CZ: Sonically speaking then, why does a minimalistic approach work for you?
GM: It’s always been a minimal set-up and, for me as a musician, that helps because it takes away so many other options. I was having this problem before when I was playing guitar and first starting out, I had guitars and synths and I just couldn’t decide on a sound. It’s like, when I sold everything and just got this first synth and only made our first album with that, that’s when we were able to make this really cohesive sound. It’s a combination of it being the easiest way to do it and we haven’t upgraded in a long time [laughs].
JM: I also think this album is maybe more complicated, even though perhaps sonically it doesn’t feel that way, but to me, it’s so much more produced at least than Lesser Man…
CZ: What is your writing set-up like in Massachusetts?
GM: We are living with a friend right now in his house, and we have a small extra room that we have as our studio set-up, but it’s basically a bedroom with a desk and some monitors.
JM: It’s cold. I think in our dream set-up we’ll have the ability to really section it off, like a synth and instrument area for real writing, because Gus wants to start getting into scores. So he can have his own zone and I would love to have a giant table made out of wood that would be my project surface where I could work on this and all the other projects I always seem to pick up and have a lot of trouble finishing. But I think we fantasise about having a big old space that’s just a studio space.
CZ: You’ve done a lot of touring. Does that make it harder to set-up somewhere, or do you just go with it?
GM: We’ve been deciding where we wanted to live for like five years [laughs]. So we’ve been in a temporary situation since we were a band…
JM: Yeah, actually, we’ve never had a place…
GM: We’ve always been, “This is a temporary spot.” So I think touring has definitely been the reason for that.
JM: It’s easy to get on the road when you don’t have a home, so we find a familiarity with travelling, which is depressing [laughs].
CZ: How about taking this album on the road?
JM: We’re trying to work that out soon. We took a short break from working, but we’re back in the groove and we’re going to try and come up with a new set and I think we’re incorporating some lights, which will be new for us.
GM: I feel in the last year or so we’ve really locked down our live set and it’s really different from our recordings, it’s like much faster and noisier and aggressive, so we’re going to just elaborate on that.
Boy Harsher‘s new record Careful is out 1st February via Nude Club.