Video Age :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

New Orleans duo Video Age are associated with rhythmic, dream pop pallette, but with their latest album Away from the Castle, songwriters Ross Farbe and Ray Micarelli augment new wave gloss with a heavy dose of tuneful, guitar-based pop—think Real Estate in a particularly sunny mood or Whitney on a heavy Beatles kick. With all that jangle and strum comes a rededication to their core friendship, complete with “Better Than Ever,” a number that works like a platonic love song. Ahead of the album’s release on October 27, Farbe and Micarelli join us to discuss how they rediscovered their love of guitars. | j woodbury

Aquarium Drunkard: I really like the way Away from the Castle reimagines your sound. It leans into a zone of classic pop songwriting. What prompted the change?

Ross Farbe: We’ve always been obsessed with songwriting; that’s always been at the center of what we do. The synth-heavy kind of sound was something we went to just because it was exciting and different than what we were used to, [which was] writing on guitar. That became the sound of this band for the first few albums, was kind of an odd thing for us. That was why it was so fun. For this one, we knew we didn’t want to do that again exactly, but we didn’t have a specific new thing in mind. It wasn’t clear to us what it was going to sound like when we started. So we just dove in with the songs like we normally would and let them guide where we went with the production and everything. 

Ray Micarelli: Exactly, we went to a cabin, a little cottage in Eunice, Louisiana with no sonic plan. 

Ross Farbe: I think we were trying to decidedly go in an opposite direction from rigid grid-based songwriting. 

AD: Did you just feel kind of burnt out on that?

Ross Farbe: I think so, essentially. 

AD: You went to the cabin and played live right? Basically you took your on-stage band into the process?

Ross Farbe: Yes, Nick [Corson] and Duncan [Troast], our bandmates, have been in the band for about five years. We’ve been playing together for a long time. All four of us went out and that was the start of everything. We would set up in a way that we could jam live. We had never recorded that way before. It always started with a drum machine and then building on top. So it was really fun to try the opposite end of it. 

AD: What was the vibe like at the cabin?

Ross Farbe : It was so fun. When we first got there, we spent half of the first day just talking about what we wanted to do and getting on the same page. It’s nice when everyone is going for something together. Since we had always worked in a different way we had to talk about what was important about the new songs and how we wanted to go about them.

AD: What were some of the more inspirational elements of the record? I love the chiming quality of the title track.

Ross Farbe: I think we were both re-inspired by guitars. We made that recording and came up with that riff the day that Tom Verlaine died, rest in peace. We were talking about Television—that was on our minds. I think we were really just into getting back to the basics. 

AD: That makes the Beatles joke of the “Better Than Ever” video especially hilarious. I hadn’t thought about that layer. I was so obsessed with Get Back. It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. I really loved watching your take on that. 

Ray Micarelli: It felt so fun to pretend. It sounds so childish, but when you watch Get Back it’s like, “oh my god I wish I was doing that. With the lighting and everything, it was a dream—super fun. 

AD: I like that film in part because it presents the Beatles as, for lack of a better term, normal dudes. And it is surprisingly lighthearted. Is that what it felt like you guys were getting to indulge in by starting fresh with no template?

Ray Micarelli: Yeah, it’s kind of cool, their backs are against the wall. They had to create something. That’s the way we felt when label tells us we need to make a video. We’re like “Of what?” We made the song. So we decided to do a very mini -ersion of that feeling of having to create something and capture it. 

AD: You worked with Drugdealer a lot prior to this record. Did that collaborative process reveal some kind of breadcrumbs for you guys on what you wanted to accomplish with your own project?

Ross Farbe: Definitely, one thing that was so cool was hanging out with Michael Collins and working on Drugdealer’s Hiding In Plain Sight. We met him at a show and he invited us to come to the studio the next day to hang out. He asked us to be his backing band. It was very old-fashioned, we just set up and learned his songs. It was so fun. It reminded us that playing together is something we had never utilized in a recording. We’ve done things on previous records where a couple of things were recorded at the same time to try and get the live feel. But I think we were really inspired by playing together in the room as a core. It’s something that we really enjoy and are good at. Same with the other artists I’ve worked for from a producer standpoint. Like the Esther Rose record that I worked on recently, it was almost entirely live. It just felt so refreshing and the opposite of the thing that we did for Pleasure Line where were in the living room and everything was direct in and multi-tracked layer by layer. Still super fun, just very different. 

AD: You guys have played together for a really long time right?

Ray Micarelli: It’s been around ten to twelve years, maybe more.

AD: That’s a really considerable amount of time to be in a collaborative project with somebody. It feels like the song “Better Than Ever,” lyrically is like a high-five between you two.

Ray Micarelli: That’s a good way of putting it. That’s really nice. 

AD: It’s like a platonic love song. How did that one come together?

Ray Micarelli: That was the first one on the album. It’s like, you’re feeling stuck. “How am I going to make something new that people dig?” One time, when I had some writer’s block years ago, Ross told me to just do what I like. He said to start from there and don’t worry about anything else. That’s so true. If you just start with something you believe in and build on that, it’s the best course that you can take. I’ve always really appreciated that and it seemed like a nice way to start the album, just appreciating the people that we work with. It’s fun to do a nice ode. We’ve really never done that. I read a book called Hound Dog which is about Leiber and Stoller, two songwriters. It’s interesting because it’s such a lonely vocation. You just have to sit in a room and do it. Then when you realize that someone else digs it, it’s the best feeling ever. 

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