If how cool you were in high school is determined by your prom date, then coolness in college is probably defined by your best excuse for having to miss a final. In their final semester at Oberlin College last year, Teengirl Fantasy's Logan Takahashi and Nick Weiss won the prize: They just had to go on tour with Animal Collective. And since then, the Brooklyn-based, degree-holding duo's electronic dance music has taken them across Europe and the US.
The band produces the customary throbbing, danceable beats, but unlike many of Teengirl Fantasy's rising-EDM brethren, they also know how to carve a danceable moment and hold onto it for a seven-minute song (like their very first single, "Cheaters," off 2010's 7AM) and a whole set. Their second LP, Tracer, arriving on August 21 via True Panther Sounds, is every bit as body sway-inducing as the last and with a healthy dash of pop references to keep things interesting.
Interview chatted with the pair when they had just arrived back in New York from Europe and were about to hop onto a plane for the West Coast.
JENNY AN: A lot of dance music today is going into a more psychedelic direction. What do you think?
NICK WEISS: Yeah, a lot of it is a resurgence of more '90s rave sounds, which are pretty out there.
AN: Is that what you listen to?
WEISS: A lot of it. We both listen to all different stuff. But I listen to all of the artists R&S Records [Teengirl Fantasy's European label] used to release.
AN: There's also a lot of more mainstream '90s music—R&B, hip-hop, and pop—has been influencing music lately, too, and the other way around. How did you see that playing out for you guys?
LOGAN TAKAHASHI: I still think our music is too weird or something to be mainstream successful. But, I do think that the mainstream or whatever's tastes are getting weirder, and they have a weirder taste than we give them credit for. Dubstep is pretty weird. And Top 40 pop is really weird.
WEISS: I think its kind of a circular thing, where our music—if we wanted it to be seriously mainstream, we'd have to change almost everything about it. But I think we both are really into pop radio music and a lot of the stuff we do is influenced by radio hip-hop and R&B—stuff that's pretty different from what we make but we still find interesting. In the same way, a lot of those major labels are having to catch up to this world of underground music makers. A lot of big artists now are looking to the underground and taking pieces they find interesting and reformatting it so it's a little more glossy.
AN: Rihanna works with some great producers.
WEISS: Yeah, and I think Rihanna's whole team—whether she's paying attention to whatever—her whole team of stylists and producers have to be keeping up with what's going on in the underground, so that she seems fresh and current even though they make it much more palatable to a wider audience. As much as people say pop music doesn't change, if something is staid and from five years ago, the public will throw it out. I think it feeds both ways. Hopefully it'll last and still sound fresh in the future.
AN: You also do some writing and producing on the side. How do you see that as being different and similar to Teengirl Fantasy?
WEISS: I think what makes our band our band is just the two of us. Working with other people will inevitably sound and feel different, but it's not like between us we strive to keep one sound. This is just what naturally comes out.
TAKAHASHI: This also the most job-like music project. [laughs] But this is like the best job.
WEISS: "Job" sounds like a not fun word, but once you get into that level of commitment, there is annoying stuff you have to do. But in the end, getting to travel and play music for people is so insane. It feels like something you should not be allowed to do.
AN: You use a lot of collaborators on the album. Do you start out by inviting them, or is it something that evolves?
TAKAHASHI: With Laurel Halo, we were recording at the same place, she was working on her album as we were working on ours, and it was just a matter of being there and coming in and laying down some sounds. Noah [Panda Bear of Animal Collective] we know from touring and stuff. Romanthony was the only one that was proactive, reaching out. Even then, we talked to him on the phone. He wrote his part for that song really fast. What took longer was just emailing with his publicist and managers and stuff.
AN: How did you know that he was the one who should sing that?
TAKAHASHI: I mean, it's Romanthony. [laughs]
WEISS: We knew that if we were going to have a vocal house track on the album, we wanted it to be a really joyous singer, a big house vocal. And that kind of vocal is a thin line. It can be really cheesy and really bad, but that can also be a really good part of it. Something in the character of his voice has this quality that is so insanely positive in a way that feels genuine.
TAKAHASHI: And really identifiable.
WEISS: Yeah, identifiable. Just because he's had such big tracks with Daft Punk and his own productions. If we were to think of a big-name house vocalist, he would be the one. And we were like, why not try to get the biggest, just for fun.
AN: Were you surprised that he did it then?
WEISS: Yeah. It was totally a pipe dream.
AN: So in college, Nick, you studied film. Will you be bringing any of that out on tour?
WEISS: We have before.
TAKAHASHI: But we're lucky enough on our next tour to be touring with people who do a better job, or that's all that they do.
WEISS: Thunder Horse Videos. There's going to be some visual surprises.
AN: Any hints?
WEISS: Something you'll see in a car lot, a used car lot.
AN: How do you see your relationship with the crowd? When you're opening for a band and the audience might have never listened to you before, how do you bring them into the set? What do you do if they're kind of quiet?
TAKAHASHI: Not really. [laughs]
WEISS: We just try to give out positive energy. It's different because we don't sing or rap.
AN: Will you ever sing or rap?
WEISS: Me, personally, I don't think so, but I'm just speaking for myself. I'm not good at either. But I think we give out energy in other ways, just with our body language and I definitely like to dance while we're playing. I just do it naturally. It does really depend. If the audience isn't giving anything, it definitely feels different.
AN: It seems like electronic dance music has gained a lot of respectability.
TAKAHASHI: I think it's been at that level for Europe and so much of the rest of the world, and for us, for a long time that it feels pretty normal for the States to be finally coming around to it.
WEISS: I think it's all cyclical, in the way that disco got big and there was a huge backlash. And now we're having another resurgence. I know that in the mainstream, it can only last so much longer. I think rock will definitely have its moment again; there's no way it can't be dead forever. It's a back and forth, unless it just all merges. I'm not saying people will stop liking dance music, but in the mainstream, this huge EDM bubble will burst at some point and there will be some return of grunge and some shit. In an underground sense, I don't care what respectability is.
AN: You play a lot of shows in Europe. How is being out there different than the U.S., Brooklyn and elsewhere?
TAKAHASHI: Europe is great. As far as playing the spaces here, we play a lot of shows that our friends are at, which is a nice thing you can only get here. But generally, I think people who haven't heard us before in Europe are a lot more receptive. The way people party in some parts is really different to New York. New York is pretty tame. We just played this show in Serbia, and it was this outdoor festival with thousands of people, and we went on at like 3:30 a.m., and by the time we'd finished playing, the sun was rising and people were just out until 8 a.m., still going so hard. It was very Eastern European. I guess there are spots in New York that are like that, but most places close at like 4.
AN: What's the most tiring part of playing a set?
TAKAHASHI: Getting all the gear there. Taking all the gear out. [laughs]
WEISS: One you're on stage and the music's going, no matter how tired I am, I usually feel a burst of energy. But yeah, we use so much gear. We're not DJs. We don't travel with just a laptop or USB stick. We have hundreds of pounds of synthesizers and we carry it all ourselves. It's really insane.
AN: So how big do you have to be to get a roadie?
TAKAHASHI: That's a good question.
WEISS: We hope to get to that point soon.
TEENGIRL FANTASY'S TRACER IS OUT TOMORROW, AUGUST 21. FOR MORE ON THE DUO, VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.