Video Age doubled in size—and doubled-down on their funk leanings—between their first two records.
“On Living Alone we were experimenting with different ways of recording, and ended up using a cheap drum machine on a couple songs. We decided we liked that sound and wanted to take it further on Pop Therapy,” founding members Ross Farbe and Ray Micarelli explained last year when asked how their 2018 sophomore effort compared to their 2016 debut. “We got a nicer, more versatile drum machine, and based all of the recordings around that. We also had our band mates Nick Corson and Duncan Troast play on a bunch of tracks, which added a ton of energy to the recordings.”
“All of our instruments and most of the recording equipment came from the ‘80s,” they continued. “It’s vintage stuff that has a vibe but it’s relatively affordable and still works. But at the end of the day, if the music makes us dance and feel good, then we like it.”
The New Orlean synth-pop band’s new record, Pleasure Line, is—to an even greater degree than Pop Therapy—founded on that principle. It’s their grandest, grooviest effort to date, and that’s by design.
“Musically, Pop Therapy was more minimal and vibey, and this one is more maximalist, more grandiose,” Micarelli tells American Songwriter in an interview featured below.
“With this new one we approached it a little more loosely and let things grow and blossom,” adds Farbe. “The arrangements ended up being a little more involved and we had a lot of fun with that.”
Pleasure Line, the band’s Winspear debut, is ten tracks of optimistic funk-meets-new wave fare. When Farbe sings “Come on and join me baby / On the pleasure line / I know it might sound crazy / It could be a better life,” in the title track, the lines sound like an invitation not only to enter the album, but also to enter that “better life” or elevated state.
We caught up with Farbe and Micarelli by phone a few weeks ago about their experience writing, recording, and producing Pleasure Line. They also reflected on five artists that influenced the record. Check out the full interview and listen to Pleasure Line below.
American Songwriter: When and where did you write and record these songs?
Ross Farbe: We recorded at my home in New Orleans, Louisiana. I have a small set-up at home. We threw around the idea of renting a space but we ended up just doing it at home because it became a barrier where we were waiting for this perfect place. We were like, ‘We’re just wasting time. Let’s just do it with what we’ve got.’ So we jumped in and made it at my house. As for writing the songs, that kind of happened all over the place.
Ray Micarelli: I would say in between tours, when we were home. I think there were like eight tours overall.
What are some of the acts you played with on those tours?
Ray: Crumb, Anemone, J Fernandez, TOPS, Jackson Macintosh.
Tell us a little about the title track, since it also opens the record. What does “pleasure line” mean?
Ross: The title of the album and the song actually came before either one. The phrase “pleasure line” was something that I said at some point when we were on tour, and Ray was like “Oh, that’s kind of nice” and wrote it down. It’s just one of those ideas where you like the ring to it. It kept coming up whenever I was sitting down to write new songs for this album.
It could mean a handful of different things, of course. To me it became this destination where you can become more open to the love and the beauty in the world, and it starts with self-acceptance and the belief that there could be love and beauty in the world—opening yourself up to the possibility—then putting yourself out there and finding this paradise where it’s a brighter world and you can learn to truly see others and share love.
Ray: We were entering a new frontier in our lives—in relationships, with our bandmates, and musically. It goes back to that destination. It’s almost like you’re trying to get to a honeymoon.
Do you see Pleasure Line as a continuation of what you were doing on Pop Therapy, or were you moving in a different direction?
Ray: Musically, Pop Therapy was more minimal and vibey, and this one is more maximalist, more grandiose.
Ross: It’s a little more loose. With the last album we focused on keeping things as minimal as possible—and there are still some things that I consider pretty minimal on the new album—but with the last album we were really trying to have each thing be really impactful and just keep it minimal. With this new one we approached it a little more loosely and let things grow and blossom. The arrangements ended up being a little more involved and we had a lot of fun with that.
What are the tracks you’re most excited to play live when it’s safe to perform in front of audiences again?
Ross: I’m excited to play “Aerostar.”
Ray: Playing “Pleasure Line” is super fun as well.
What are some influences you register on these songs?
Ross: There are five [artists] that we came up with that we were listening to a lot when we wrote and recorded the album. The B-52’s Cosmic Thing, a lot of different Prince albums, Sade, Parliament, and Janet Jackson.
How do you hear those artists in Pleasure Line?
Ray: [In the same way] we expanded in the arrangements, I think we expanded in the songwriting. With the influences, that’s a pretty wide range and we definitely shopped for things that we haven’t done before. Trying to write a ballad like Janet Jackson, but having the dance feet under it. Trying to get the dance or party effect of P-Funk, or trying to get the smooth mysteriousness of Sade, or the pure joy of the B-52’s—trying to capture that was a pretty fun thing to try to accomplish.
Ross: I think with some of the songs we tried to come at it thinking first about the groove—worrying more about the groove and letting that carry the songwriting, which is new for us. On Pop Therapy most if not all of those songs started just sitting on the edge of the bed with a guitar.
Who else appears on this record?
Ross: The other guys in the band are Nick Corson—live he plays bass—and Duncan Troast, who plays keys live. On the record Duncan played most of the keys, Nick played most of the bass, but we all play a lot of instruments. For this one we had all the songs written [then] we got together and fleshed everything out and worked on arrangements together, so we all contributed a lot to the production.
How long have you been working with them?
Ray: Since the beginning of Pop Therapy. They came in and played all over that one, and that was right around when they started touring with us.
How’d you get connected to them in the first place?
Ross: New Orleans is not a super big city. We knew of each other from other bands we’d been in, and then I recorded a band that they had been in at the time called Fishplate. We spent a week straight together and got to know each other and had fun making that album, then after that I thought of them for collaborating on some Video Age stuff. That’s how it all began.
Ray: I was playing drums with them for a period.
Ross: Not on that album.
Ray: Right, but in live settings.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about this record?
Ray: We’re just extremely thankful for the opportunity to release music during such difficult times. Very, very thankful and appreciative for those who make it possible and might want to listen.
Pleasure Line is out now via Winspear.