Mission Zero are the kind of band that I would’ve fucking loved during my teen years but who, in my adult life, are still quite satisfying. They’re popularly angsty and danceably dreary. The New Haven duo are comprised of brother and sister David and Chenot. This April saw the release of their Sky Candy EP. The EP displays an avant-garde dance pop aesthetic of the 1980s (along the lines of The Sugarcubes), coupled with the punk passion of this century’s new wave revivalists (a bit like The Sounds). Calling them an exploration of trip-hop and dream pop as directed by Siouxsie Sioux would also seem appropriate. Mission Zero have already played Philthy a few times this year, but they’re currently on their “Lounge Tour 2014” and will be playing Third & Girard Bar on July 22nd. I recently got a chance to catch up with Mission Zero’s loveliest member (of two lovely members), Chenot (vocals/keys/guitar), to chat about touring, bro/sis musical combos, fashion, food, and how and why these siblings came to finally embark on a musical project of their very own.
Izzy: So I realize it’s a cliché, but whenever I interview a sibling act, I always have to ask them if they have any particular favorite sibling acts of music history. So, do you? The Stooges and Bauhaus will always hold the crown for me, but there have been a handful of really great ones recently, like He’s My Brother She’s My Sister and The Staves.
Chenot: I think what makes sibling bands special is the stuff they can do that other, unrelated, people do with less ease, things like communication that borders on telepathy, and the ability to create impossibly tight vocal harmony. Take two people with shared DNA, and add a lifetime of shared musical influences and experiences, and you have bandmates who make scarily similar choices in live performance. We both love the Everly Brothers. The blend of their voices is about more than pitch; it’s shared timing, and inflection. It’s magical.
Izzy: And how would you characterize your process of working together?
Chenot: We start out by bringing kernels of songs to each other, and then we sit down in the studio and flesh everything out together, adding whatever seems to be missing. The process is a blast, because we have such similar musical sensibilities, and we genuinely like hanging out with each other. The only time we get truly stuck is if we’re trying to write lyrics together. We’ve spent hours eating stupid amounts of cookies in thoughtful silence trying to come up with five more words for a song.
Izzy: You’ve each been in a number of musical projects prior to Mission Zero. What have been the highlights of this particular project?
Chenot: All our other projects have been primarily about playing other peoples’ music, which is great for honing our chops as musicians (David plays with Ritchie Blackmore, the guitarist from Deep Purple and Rainbow, and I play in a few cover bands). But Mission Zero allows us to make everything completely personal and fresh and new. We own everything we put out there, and we’re proud of it, so it’s always a rush to play it live.
Izzy: Do you have any particularly significant non-musical influences, whether artistic movements or just certain aspects of life?
Chenot: Definitely. David just got into welding and recently built a base-plate hardware system for his stands out of reclaimed junkyard steel. Everything fits together the same way every night, and nothing moves – it’s very cool. We both think a lot about how to make our stage setup more efficient and elegant, and we plan on incorporating more visual elements to our live show as time goes on. I’m a theater director, so I focus more on our stage presence and how to make the show compelling for the audience. If there’s nothing happening on stage between songs, I get antsy. Both of our non-musical art forms probably find their way into our songwriting in subtle ways too, but they certainly help us with the live presentation of the music.
Izzy: You have very cool music videos and also a very cool sense of fashion. What is it that currently inspires the visual facets of Mission Zero, both cinematically and sartorially?
Chenot: Thanks! We love making videos. If we had a zillion dollars we would probably make one every week, but right now we’re inspired by what we can do on the cheap! I shot the videos for “When the Morning Comes” and “Royals” in our houses with my phone. Sartorially, I’ll be honest here, I don’t get it when a band shows up and it’s clear they put zero effort into getting dressed. You get to play your music in front of real live people! Show them you give a crap! I’m not saying we wear costumes, but it’s not radio, you know what I mean? Be visually interesting and people will remember you, and be able to find you in the crowd later.
Izzy: I really love the fact that you took the time to name your current tour (Lounge Tour 2014), something which seems largely like a thing of yesteryear. What led to that particular name? Is there something specific you’re hoping to convey on this string of dates (or just your live shows in general)?
Chenot: Our last tour was named after our new album, the Sky Candy EP. This tour is named after the fact that we’re completely coincidentally playing four shows at places with “Lounge” in their name! (Flask Lounge in Portland, Maine; Treehouse Lounge in DC; Lizard Lounge in Lancaster, PA; and Velvet Lounge in DC.) Maybe our booking agent was having a laugh there, I should ask.
Izzy: And what are your hopes and plans for after this tour wraps? Is there anything you’re especially anxious to delve into?
Chenot: More videos! New album! Next tour! No rest! We’re both feeling a great amount of momentum. Yeah, a new video is first on my list.
Izzy: Finally, since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, I must ask: Do you have any significant thoughts on or favorite memories of the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, as we call it? You’ve played here a few times recently, right?
Chenot: Yes! Food! Philly has been so good to our stomachs. The people we’ve met there are wonderful about taking us to the best places to eat in the neighborhood. A girl came to our last Philly show with a giant paper bag of breads and cookies she’d just gotten at one of your amazing markets, and she shared with as many people as she could. So to us, Philadelphia means Brotherly Love and Sisterly Food Sharing.
*photo by Dawn Kubie