We Are The Brave are what happens when a singer/songwriter (Jess Chalker) gets together with a hip-hop producer (Nathan Cunial aka OXY). The Australian duo came together over a mutual love of a number of things that seem like they would be of very little interest to a singer/songwriter or hip-hop producer. Their debut, Noctua, dropped in September. It boasts classically poignant songwriting, amidst a haze of spacey, ethereal synthetics. It rings of the soundtrack to the most intimate kind of dance party. I recently got a chance to chat with Jess Chalker, who explained to me just how this bizarre amalgam came to be.
Izzy Cihak: The two of you both have somewhat different musical backgrounds. How is it that you actually got together?
Jess Chalker: Both of us were working on other solo projects for a while — me in the folk scene, Nath in hip-hop — and were looking to do something a bit different. I was getting right into recording at the time, so I went into a music store Nathan was working in to get his advice on some gear. Before long we were having this amazing conversation about different sounds we liked, from vintage synths, down to underground musicians and visual artists we both loved. I was curious as here was this hip-hop producer who was right into artists like Kate Bush, Bowie, and David Byrne – all artists I am a bit obsessed with, too. So we ended up deciding to meet up and have a jam to see what might come out of it. I remember driving over to Nath’s studio for the first time; it was completely freezing and pouring with rain, one of those nights you don’t feel like doing anything or going anywhere. But within a couple of hours, we had written a track called “Wolf Instinct” (which will be on the LP). Based on that first writing session, it was hugely exciting to realize what potential the two of us might have together creatively.
IC: This is still a relatively new musical project. What do you feel is most important that fans and potential fans know about We Are The Brave?
JC: All of what you see and hear is pretty much us. The music, production, recording, and mixing, as well as all the art direction, concepts, styling, and management is all Nathan and I. At this stage we haven’t had the confines of a third party to consider, so everything we have done has come from a very genuine, non-consumer driven place and that has been really nice.
We’ve also been tremendously lucky to work with some great artists who have really grasped our vision and helped to enhance it. Berlin-based artist, Matt Heath did beautiful work on the Noctua cover, and James Chappell, an emerging young filmmaker from Sydney did an incredible job on the Bladerunner-sque video for “Sparrow.” It’s wonderful being part of an emerging community of international artists, all supporting and promoting one other.
IC: What were Noctua’s biggest influences?
JC: Old sci-fi movies, teenage angst films from the ‘80s, and underground artists we find online, as well as classic ‘80s pop really influence us. Bands like Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, and artists like Laurie Anderson, etc. A heavy dose of classic Aussie rock inspired a lot of the Noctua writing, too, in particular bands like The Divinyls, Eurogliders, MidnightOil, and INXS, with their big songs, bold choruses, and charismatic lead singers. The actual gear we use has played a big part also; you can hear old synths, fender jag basses, drum machines, and Stratocasters throughout our recordings. On a visual front, we’ve both been getting into vintage CGI short films of late. They look like artworks and fit the themes within our music perfectly.
IC: You generally draw comparisons to artists of previous generations, so I’m inclined to ask if there are any things currently going on in music that you find to be especially interesting.
JC: Hmm. Good question! There is a lot of great music out there, but there’s also a whole lot more white noise, so the really brilliant stuff is harder to find, particularly good hip-hop. I think it’s maybe harder for artists to make a living these days but, conversely, the internet has also bred a generation of even more avid music fans who are spending huge amounts of time seeking out new music and sharing it with friends, which I think is great. Some of the bands we’re into at the moment are SBTRKT, Haim, Ariel Pink, Bat for Lashes, Fever Ray, John Maus, Chromatics, Deltron 3030, The National, and Dirty Projectors. All are doing things we love sonically and aesthetically. Ariel Pink, in particular, keeps moving and trying new stuff, which is cool. We love how much he divides people with what he does.
IC: What are your plans and hopes for 2014?
JC: Based on the positive feedback we’ve been getting for Noctua, we are really excited for 2014. We have an LP on the way – so far it is sounding amazing… It’s more varied than the EP, with some really synth-heavy songs, beautiful interwoven colours, and some nice classic ballads, too. There will be more videos and touring… we’d love to get to the US. I was in New York recently, meeting with a bunch of amazing people who are keen to get on board, so a trip stateside is definitely in the cards at some point. Guess we will just have to cross our fingers and see!