Autolux

By
Photography Daemian Smith + Christine Suarez

Published June 29, 2016

AUTOLUX IN NEW YORK, APRIL 2016. PHOTOS: DAEMIAN SMITH + CHRISTINE SUAREZ. STYLING: GISELLA LEMOS. HAIR: HOLLY MILLS FOR TIM HOWARD MANAGEMENT. MAKEUP: PAMELA COCHRANE AT BRIDGE ARTISTS FOR CHANEL. STYLING ASSISTANTS: BRITIN ROBINSON, MARS JOHNSON, AND ASHA DAVID. SPECIAL THANKS: THE STANDARD, EAST VILLAGE.

In 2001, three multi-instrumentalists came together and formed the eclectic rock band now known as Autolux. Together, the trio has released three albums: Future Perfect (2004, DMZ), Transit Transit (2010, ATP/TBD), and, earlier this year, Pussy’s Dead via Danger Mouse’s new imprint, 30th Century Records, and Columbia. Through these releases, visually impressive live performances, and external endeavors, Autolux has built a reputation as a band unafraid to surprise, experiment, and make exactly the music they wish to put out—never conforming to labels’ requests. The band has toured with everyone from Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails to Beck and Deerhoof. They have also composed songs fit for exhibitions at institutions such as the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

In addition to building Autolux’s catalogue, Carla Azar, Greg Edwards, and Eugene Goreshter have also pursued individual efforts. Azar and Goreshter first met while creating the score for Nobel Prize-winner Dario Fo’s play Accidental Death of an Anarchist. In 2011, Azar entered the studio with Jack White to provide the drums on his first solo record, Blunderbuss, continuing to perform with White’s touring band, The Peacocks. Edwards is perhaps most recognized for his work with the band Failure, which reunited in 2014 for the first time after disbanding in 1997. That same year, Azar appeared in the film Frank (starring Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Scoot McNairy), as the drummer of the titular character’s band.

Shortly after the release of Pussy’s Dead, Gleeson was visiting Los Angeles and stopped by Autolux’s studio, Space 23, to speak with Azar, Edwards, and Goreshter about the record and much, much more. Edwards was outside of the city, so he dialed into the conversation via Skype.

DOMHNALL GLEESON: Greg, where are you?

GREG EDWARDS: I’m at Joshua Tree. We recorded some of the record out here and then some home recordings that made it onto the record.

GLEESON: I’m going to start with what everyone asks, and then I’m going to move on to, “What celebrities have you had sex with?” [laughs] So why do you record an album every six years? Seriously, why does it take so long?

CARLA AZAR: We don’t have that answer exactly. We don’t think about it. We don’t try to take a long time to make a record. With this album, I’m glad it happened because Boots, [who produced the record and has worked with Run the Jewels, FKA Twigs, and Beyoncé,] came onboard later. We may have been farther along if I didn’t go on tour with Jack and we only focused on Autolux, but we still wouldn’t have been happy with the recordings. When Boots came along, that’s when everything truly came together.

GLEESON: There’s incredible atmosphere on the album. How much is the atmosphere and production, how it will feel and sound, decided in advance or when you’re writing?

EDWARDS: We have such specific sensibilities sonically, so any record we make will end up sounding part of one world, one atmosphere. But Boots definitely added another layer of atmosphere, which I think we all agree that this record, more than any of our records, really immerses you in a very specific sonic world. It’s also eclectic; it’s not just one thing. There are songs that are very songwriter-based songs and there are songs that are completely bizarre and it takes you a while to orientate yourself in them. The music that we love takes you on a journey and you can never sit back, rest assured that you know what’s coming.

GLEESON: That’s exactly my experience of listening to it. Normally what you want it to be is not what it ends up being—that’s my experience with films. Oftentimes, what you think you’re creating ends up different.

AZAR: Do you ever go see a film that you were in and feel it’s exactly what you thought it would be?

GLEESON: I had a tiny part in Never Let Me Go and that was pretty close [to] the atmosphere and what I thought it would evoke.

AZAR: You were saying that you originally wanted your character in Star Wars to be a gentle soul…  

GLEESON: [laughs] They totally ruined my take on that. I thought he was really going to be the heart and soul of the whole picture! And then I watch it and I’m a megalomaniac. That’s not fair. That’s not the way it should go.

EUGENE GORESHTER: Someone finally captured you, though. I thought, “Okay, finally! Nobody ever sees that!”

GLEESON: [laughs] My true soul. That’s me on the weekend, screamin’ at people!

EDWARDS: But for you, as an actor, I would think it’s very hard to have any sense of the atmosphere of a final edit of a movie when you’re filming detached scenes with a crew around. Maybe you do have a sense of it, but it must be very strange when you see the finished film.

GLEESON: Yes, there are so many different things that happen in between. Also, there’s a year where you have no contact with the piece of work. You’ve moved on and maybe done three other things.

AZAR: I noticed that scenes that I thought were great got removed or edited out.

GLEESON: Yes, “That was my whole character in that scene!” It’s totally true. But you guys don’t have that—you’re there throughout the whole process.

EDWARDS: But you can’t be too precious about anything. I’m guilty of that all the time, but it never works to your advantage. That scene will either exist and not have the same meaning it should, or it won’t be there at all. It’s the same thing with a record and songs. You might have a part you love, that you think is the coolest thing, but ultimately it doesn’t serve the song and it has to go. You have to be ready and open to that, and just let it go.

GLEESON: Not being able to see the wood for the trees sometimes is a real problem. You think, “This is what it has to be,” when actually, if you were able to take two weeks off and come back, then you’d say, “Oh, okay, I understand, it doesn’t need to be exactly the way I had it set in my head.”

AZAR: It’s the same for making a record.

EDWARDS: Yes, as long as you are all talking about the same forest.

AZAR: The same country even.

GLEESON: I was trying to think what the roles are in the band are, but there doesn’t seem to be the mum, or the dad, or the baby—is that the case?

AZAR: We have roles, but they seem to rotate.

EDWARDS: Yeah, we cycle through all those roles. Doing this is not a casual thing for us, so we’re all so invested and in the moment it’s everything. It becomes almost like life or death in that little enclosed, insulated environment.

GLEESON: Do you feel competition when you hear something awesome that someone else does?

AZAR: When I hear something really groundbreaking and moving, two things happen: I’m usually inspired, but then I also get a little depressed. When something’s really great, I get jealous in a positive way that comes from being inspired and that probably pushes me to be a better musician unconsciously. It makes you work harder. It’s positive in the end. It’s not coming from wishing I had done that or wishing they hadn’t done it.

GORESHTER: We feel that what we do is such a specific thing and nobody else really can do what we do. So if another band rises up and we love that band, we’d just be happy about it.

GLEESON: Yeah, I really wouldn’t know who to compare you to. I gave the album to my brother and he asked, “What kind of music?” and I didn’t know what to say. Some of it’s heavy, some of it’s light, some of it’s really melodic, some of it’s really hulking. Some of it is like The Beatles, lots of it’s not.

EDWARDS: That’s the best description ever, “Some of it’s like The Beatles, lots of it’s not.” That should be in our bio.

GLEESON: When they ask you to describe the music that must be the worst.

AZAR: It is the worst.

EDWARDS: I always have a really hard time if an Uber driver or somebody like that asks me, who maybe has no idea of the musical world we exist in. I always end up saying—

AZAR: —a rock band.

EDWARDS: It’s rock ‘n’ roll. It makes my stomach turn to say “alternative rock.”

GLEESON: I wanted to play the album to my Uber driver on the way here and see what he thought of it, but I got in the car and he was screaming at all the other drivers, so I thought, “Now is not the time!”

GORESHTER: Were you really going to do that?

GLEESON: Yeah, and ask if he had a question for the band. But he was too angry.

AZAR: Domhnall, do you like being here?

GORESHTER: Carla, this isn’t a Domhnall interview. He’s interviewing us.

AZAR: It is, it’s Interview magazine. Andy Warhol. The whole deal.

GLEESON: I’m trying to sell myself. The only reason I’m doing this is to get myself out there, guys.

EDWARDS: The reason I was looking forward to this is that it is back-and-forth right?

AZAR: He’s interviewing us, I think.

GLEESON: I don’t really know how to do it. This isn’t my day job.

AZAR: You’re doing a great job. Keep it up, Domhnall.

GLEESON: Thank you very much. That’s what I was waiting for.

GORESHTER: Carla, it’s all about you.

AZAR: No it’s not.

GLEESON: Oh lads, don’t have an argument in an interview. Carla, I haven’t talked to you in about a month. Carla is one of the most amazing people for keeping in touch, for actually remaining your friend. That has to help the band. I’ve known people in bands that aren’t friends anymore, and there’s that quote, “If you want to lose your friends, start a band.”

AZAR: That’s a good quote. I only keep in touch with people I like. There are plenty of people I don’t keep in touch with. They know who they are. [laughs]

GLEESON: But you guys actually hang out when you’re not working. You have so many interests outside of music. When I was talking to you about the fact that I was doing a film about AI, [Ex Machina,] you knew way more about it than I did, even after I had researched it.

EDWARDS: Let’s talk about that movie while I have you here. Was that a singular experience for you as an actor? The spaces, the momentary beats between reacting were amazing. Alicia Vikander was also incredible. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that kind of interaction between actors in that specific scenario.

GLEESON: Nearly all of that was in the script, to be honest. Not the stuff about the way she’d move her head, but the way you talk about the spaces between the lines, you could feel that in the script. It’s very sparse dialogue.

EDWARDS: But even the look in your eyes. Was there a person in your life, for instance, that you were so suspicious of that you crossed the uncanny valley?

GLEESON: [laughs] No! The way you say that, it sounds like maybe you do…

EDWARDS: I’ve had moments with people, where you’re waiting for them to reveal themselves as not being entirely human.

GLEESON: Those moments ended up being more with Oscar. He was behaving in a more inhumane way than she was. She was interested in love and connection, and he seemed to be interested in bullying and making me uncomfortable. I used to listen to “Sugarless” when I was doing that movie, and “Ingenue.” I have a playlist for most films. “Ingenue,” I know, is not one of your songs, it’s Atoms For Peace, but those were the two. So, do you all have the same interests in science?

AZAR: Yes, especially in that world, and everybody loves films. Greg and Eugene are well beyond me in regards to their knowledge in films and filmmaking.

EDWARDS: Film is the ultimate art form to me because it brings everything together. It’s like being at a great concert, symphony, and in a museum; it’s the only time you can have all that at once. For instance, a director that we all love, Andrei Tarkovsky, his movies do that to me. There is this meditative trance where you are forced to appreciate time and space and images. In a few of his movies, he has scenes where his character is looking at a big, beautiful art book, and the camera is filming these beautiful paintings, just hanging on them and forcing you to look at them like you’re in a museum.

GORESHTER: Have you seen Night At The Museum?

GLEESON: [laughs] You just made a Night At The Museum joke.

EDWARDS: Night At The Museum popularized the Tarkovsky technique. So, what’s your favorite song on the record and what’s your least favorite?

GLEESON: I like ‘”Anonymous” and “Change My Head.” I used to listen to the start of the album and not make it all the way through, because you start listening to it on the DART—the Dublin Area Rapid Transit, for those of you who don’t know—or the bus and you don’t make it all the way to the end of the album. So now I’ll start it halfway through if I know I’m going to be on the DART.

EDWARDS: We consciously put the weirder songs in the front half, so you have to make it through those. We did that on purpose—

AZAR: —to eliminate people from buying our record. We did the opposite of anyone that’s successful.

GLEESON: How similar was the music you were playing in other bands to the music you started playing when Autolux got together?

AZAR: It was different than anything I’d done before. In the beginning of Autolux, Greg was playing bass and Eugene was the guitarist. At one point, they switched instruments and it sounded so strange and beautiful. Greg was making strange sounds on guitar and Eugene had a different approach to bass. It sounded more unique. The way they approached the instrument that wasn’t their main instrument was more interesting to all of us.

GLEESON: Do you talk about what you want the next record to be like beforehand?

AZAR: We all had a conversation about this record, about wanting the songs to have more immediacy to them than our previous albums. We didn’t want songs to take a long time to develop into to something you could actually wrap your head around. We also wanted to make a shorter album. I think it’s 39 minutes long. Apparently that’s a classic album length.

GLEESON: The show I saw you performing on, [The Late Show,] was super cool. All the projections were amazing. Did you plan the projections, or is it the same as you use for the live shows?

AZAR: We have projections at our live shows and we talked about it the week leading up to [the performance]. We have a really talented fellow who does all of our visuals. He’s very improvisational live. For The Late Show, he rearranged a few things and we told him to do all the coolest shit because it’s going to be on TV. He takes a lot of acid, for real.

EDWARDS: How come actors, when they do the [press] junkets, always talk about how generous everybody is? Is that code for they hated everybody? [laughs]

GORESHTER: It’s “generous” and “brave.”

GLEESON: [laughs] “You’ve been a very brave performer!” I’ve said that for sure. Bands are known for bawling people out. It’s never inter-band stuff.

EDWARDS: I guess, in movies, it’s difficult to talk shit about other people.

GLEESON: You can’t.

AZAR: Obviously, there are really selfish actors. They only care about their character, they only care about how they come off. There are musicians that behave like that.

GLEESON: Yes, you listen to a song that has a solo on it and it has nothing to do with the song! It’s an awesome solo, but it still has nothing to do with the song. I think like-minded people find like-minded people. Wes Anderson does that. He’s got an ensemble. My guess is none of those people are selfish, but you can’t say, “I hated that person.”

GORESHTER: I heard Gene Hackman was a selfish nightmare on The Royal Tenenbaums.

GLEESON: Oh, yeah, I remember hearing that. Here’s the thing though, I bet no one on that movie would take back the experience and replace him with anyone else, even if that was true. We don’t know if it was true.

EDWARDS: With some brilliant people, you don’t want them not to be cunts.

AZAR: Stanley Kubrick wasn’t necessarily the nicest on set.

EDWARDS: Stanley Kubrick is a great example. Whatever’s he’s doing, however he’s demeaning the actors and treating them like cattle, it doesn’t matter because the end result is worth it.

AZAR: I’d rather struggle to do something great than it be effortless and mediocre.

EDWARDS: People talk about, “It’s the process, it’s the journey,” and I agree with that. If the end result is what you want, then the hell that was part of making something is worth it.

GLEESON: Then it’s worth the struggle. Let’s talk about the album title, Pussy’s Dead. I feel like the titles for your two previous albums exist in a different world.

EDWARDS: I first saw those words on a page in the book The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which is the last book Dickens wrote [and] was unfinished when he died. One of the things that appealed to me is what you said: Future Perfect and Transit Transit had a similar feeling and I wanted something that had nothing to do with that.

AZAR: Pussy’s Dead is the last thing you expect this band to call a record. That was one appeal to me. It was off-putting at first and I think that’s why I wanted to see it in writing, attached to our album. Pussy is a pet name for a character in the book.

GLEESON: “Pussy’s Dead” were not the last two words Dickens wrote, were they?

AZAR: There are some great quotes in the book: “If I could choose, I would choose Pussy from all the pretty girls in the world.” Greg was thumbing through this book in a bookstore and the book was talking about Pussy’s dead grandmother. He saw those two words together, so that’s where the title ultimately came from.

PUSSY’S DEAD IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON AUTOLUX, VISIT THE BAND’S WEBSITE.