Colin Killalea and Jordan Brooks of Ex-poets break down their debut LP 'Too Much Future'
The duo, who most notably worked on The Strokes' Albert Hammond Jr.'s solo project come together to serve a sure-footed debut album with a stunning range of sonic textures.
On September 28 multi-instrumentalists Jordan Brooks and Colin Killalea, who together go by the name Ex-poets, dropped their impressive debut album 'Too Much Future'. It's an album that'll catch you off-guard. 'Too Much Future' might come across as an album for easy listening, one that you put on at the end of a tiring day to kick back and relax. With its laid-back tempo and moody, contemplative melodies, it could have very well been just that but half-way through the off-kilter jazz influenced opening track 'Our Homes', it's instantly clear that there's something much deeper at play here.
Ex-poets draw from a deep sonic pool, flirting with jazz, alt-R&B, psych-rock, and so much more, that it becomes quite difficult to define the album by a particular genre. This versatility and depth makes it an album for all sorts of occasions - whether it's music to listen to on a drive, to silently escape into on a dull evening or as a soundtrack of an absurdist avant-garde film, it offers a treasure trove of sonic delights, all held together by the fantastic chemistry between the two self-proclaimed music nerds.
"Ex-poets just came to me as an image at first," says Jordan Brooks, explaining the duo's curious name in an interview with Meaww. "I was thinking about what it would be like to drop out of the arts, and how a lot of people's creativity gets squashed from a very young age, as a result of how educational systems kind of fast-track kids in different directions in academics and the arts and in sports, and how tragic that is. So the idea [was] that there's a lot of people out there whose creativity is never brought out," he adds.
"'Too Much Future' goes along with that idea," Jordan says, talking about the theme behind the title of their debut effort. "We're often so focused on getting to a certain place, an ideal, that may never be achieved. So it's kind of a call to myself to try to remain present and not rush, not only look forward or back, but to try to enjoy this short life while it's happening."
The tight chemistry between the two artists goes back a long way. Jordan and Colin first met at The New School in NYC where they studied music together. They wound up in a jazz session, with Jordan on standing bass and Colin on the saxophone, and they hit it off immediately. Together they joined forces with good friend and drummer Robbie Sinclair, (who Colin told me now plays with Nick Murphy) and formed the band Pocketknife in 2007.
"We rehearsed down below Economy Candy on Rivington, the Lower East Side of Manhattan - in this quaint old rehearsal space," Colin recalled. "It was so funky that mushrooms were growing out of the ceiling of the bathroom. I think they shut it down now. For reasons probably pertaining to the mushrooms." he laughs. "It was a dank, dark place. I remember my mom coming to visit. I was like 'Mom you gotta see this rehearsal space.' She was practically crying on the street you know," he says as we both burst out into laughter.
"It was great. New York's changed a lot now," Colin says nostalgically. "That was a little slice of old New York, you know..."
The duo performed locally before disbanding and working as players in production for various projects. Colin left New York and moved to his friend's farm (which doubles up as a recording studio) in Virginia. Jordan then went on to team up with Lee Fields, Sondre Lerche and John Congleton while Colin went on to work with the likes of Natalie Prass, Klauss and Juliana Daugherty. But the pair stayed in touch exchanging snippets of music remotely and tinkering around with stuff till they realized that they had enough to make a full album. The pair then teamed up again to record and tour for a couple of years with The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. as part of his solo project, where Colin played the guitar and Jordan did bass.
One day, when Jordan was at a gig in NYC, he listened to something that reminded him of an old song by Colin and that set off the spark to what would go on to become Ex-poets. "He didn't say anything, as is often the case with Jordan," Colin said when I asked him what Jordan said while approaching him with the new prospect. "He just sent me music. He sent a version of a song I'd written called 'Colorguard'. Initially, the song was sorta like The Police's 'Roxanne'. It was that beat," Colin explained, animatedly humming out the 'da-da-da' of the guitars on the quarter note. "It sounds nothing like the version on the album. Jordan is a connoisseur of dub music. So he sent me this other version and he was actually singing over it. And I loved it and I wrote back to him saying 'we don't have to change a thing. I don't' even want to sing on it. It's better having you sing it.' I just wanted to play saxophone on it and call it a day!"
"There is a little bit of history 'cause it was at this old place in Brooklyn called Glasslands Gallery and we used to play there. I guess it was the last night for the venue and I'd already moved out of New York," Colin continued. "I think Jordan went home that night and was a little inspired. And that is what sparked the record that is 'Too Much Future'". The project initially started off as a Virginia-New York collab, Colin revealed. "I was working up in New York so I'd take the train up, we'd get together and mess around with some stuff. Our good friend Robin McMillan has a great little studio in Williamsburg, which is where I'd say we did most of the record," Colin says, before quickly adding, "Another wonderfully dank recording space!"
"We'd go [during] off-hours, hole up and mess around. Maybe play some percussion on a track and some piano. We'd try to take these beats that started as very simple little bits and make them a little more organic by adding a human feel to them. Then we had great friends and musicians to help us with that too," Colin added.
Featuring artists on 'Too Much Future' include Frank LoCrasto (Cass McCombs) and Jon Natchez, who has most notably played with The War on Drugs. "Jon is such a great musician. Such a great horn player and just an all around great pair of trusted ears. Like a bird dog!" Colin said of the collaboration.
I congratulated Colin on the great sonic depth in the album and pointed out how there is such a wide range of instruments doing so many things, yet the album doesn't feel cluttered during a single moment through its 11 tracks and 34 minutes. I asked him for some instruments from the album that might surprise me.
"On 'Too Much Future', the title track, I play what sounds like trombones, but it's really just a Yamaha DX7. If you know those things, they're really whacky," Colin said. "There's that part where the horns are playing off the downbeat. That's the DX7 sort of in a closed voicing harmony arrangement. I ended up using my OP1 [Teenage Engineering's flagship synthesizer] on a lot more stuff than we expected. It's a great little synth. Then, of course, we got Brian Wolff on live drums. He's got such an incredible pocket. It's so hard to tell between what's live and what was programmed. So Jordan sampled in Bernard Purdie's groove for 'Still Waiting'. That was relatively a tame track. The beat was already taken care of. Jordan plays bass, I sing. And I had one of those old Moogs lying around. So I'm doubling that melody... it's a single note... it's a monosonic melody, and that's the Moog and I'm doubling it in a falsetto."
"There were other times when we were getting layers upon layers of synth between the Juno [the Roland synth] or the Prophet-5 at Robin's studio. He has a lot of great analog synths, one of which is called a Crumar. It's really beautiful...I think they're Italian and we ended up using that on a lot of stuff. So there are a lot of sonic layers," Colin added.
'Too Much Future' was mixed and engineered by multi-Grammy-winning producer Elliot Scheiner, who has worked with the likes of Beyonce, Dave Matthews, Eagles, Beck and many more. "Elliot took everything we gave him and brought it into such a tight focus. It was unbelievable," Colin offered when asked what Elliot brought into the mix.
"He is not heavy-handed with his mixes. He does very little, which is the hardest thing to do. If I'm given tracks to create a mix, I do too much to it. I get a recipe for a cake and I judge it to the point of... something else. Which is fine, I guess. But Elliot's a master. He's really true to the music and what he's given. I guess we gave him enough good stuff that he didn't have to throw it out the window, which is nice. But he put it into such focus... I'm thinking half the stuff here are not even songs. These are just little ideas that hopefully are a nice backdrop. A listening experience that you can just go through and not think too much about. You know, 'don't focus too much on the lyrics too much' kinda thing. Elliot made me wish that I'd gone back and worked more on the lyrics," Colin added with a touch of modesty.
Despite Colin's modesty, the lyrical themes of the album are vast. From the futility of ruminating about the future as the present slips away ('Still Waiting'), to a song inspired by the unwitting suicide of a rooster in the bodega behind Colin's NYC apartment and everything in between, the songs touch upon many absurd, fleeting moments that form this strange journey that we call life. Combined with the previously addressed infinitely deep sonic textures, 'Too Much Future' is a genre-bending debut effort that makes you stop and notice.
"Too Much Future" is out now via Text Me Records. Listen to the full album below via Apple Music.