Discovery: PillowTalk

PillowTalk are three friends residing in San Francisco who like to layer ’60s and ’70s soul classics over relaxed house beats. The result can be anything from slinky disco love songs, like “Weekend Girl,” to their reworking of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny,” which is sure to become a dance-floor classic. They’ve yet to release a full-length album, but they do have two EPs—The Come Back EP (Life and Death), and Far From Heaven, out via Wolf + Lamb, the boutique label through which minimalist house prodigy Nicolas Jaar also releases his songs.

Interview recently spoke with the three gentlemen of PillowTalk, who have decamped to Berlin for their international tour, about adoring fans, pillows, tattoos, and their music.

AGES: Ryan Williams: I’m 30
Michael Tello: I’m in my Jesus year. I’m 33 with a bullet.
Samuel Doyle: I don’t want people to know how young I am. It’s really embarrassing to know I’m so successful at such a young age. [laughs] I’m celebrating my 18th anniversary of my 21st birthday.

HOMETOWN: San Francisco, CA.

CURRENT LOCATION: Berlin, Germany. Doyle: You can’t give our address out because we don’t want our adoring fans to beat our door down and ask us to sign their backs.

STYLE OF MUSIC: Doyle: Something your mom would like. A lot of our friends always say, “You know, my parents really, really love your music.” I think that’s pretty cool, that you’re pleasing a wide range, a wide age range of people. What’s the age range at our shows? I see, like, 15, 16-year-olds that probably shouldn’t be there, some people in their mid-20s to late 30s, you get a couple 40-to-50-year olds.

FIRST MEETINGS: Doyle: We met in San Francisco just in the music scene, through friends. Me and Mikey [Tello] were neighbors in 2000. We were in the same kind of music circles. We were good friends with Ryan [Williams]’s brother, Davey. We all met Ryan through Davey. Did we cut Davey out of the band? Well, no. Davey’s actually a fantastic DJ, he lives in downtown LA, he throws his own parties. Davey’s cool. I like Davey. You should meet him. He’s big into the fashion scene. He actually goes back and forth to New York all the time. He’s in that scene—the fashion scene and the DJ scene.

CHILDHOOD AMBITIONS: Williams: As long as I can remember, honestly, I wanted to play music. Since I started listening to music, I wanted to do something with it. For sure. So I’m very happy with where I’m at right now.
Doyle: When I was five, I think I wanted to be what my dad was—an Evangelist, a preacher. Either a preacher or I wanted to play in the NBA. I wanted to play basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers. I was fantastic at basketball. But, you come to an acceptance point—this really difficult point in your life when you know your limitations are going to hold you back and you just come to terms with a lot of the things in your life—like, “This is my passion, but I have to give it up.” It’s one of the hardest moments you have to face in your life, to give up something you know just isn’t going to happen. And the NBA was one of those points for me; when I went from sports to music.
Tello: [Sammy]’s a baller, no pun intended. For me, believe it or not, I wanted to be like Michael Jackson. I wanted to be an entertainer. I can’t say I wanted to be a musician—I loved dancing, I loved singing, I loved making people laugh, I’ve always been really entertaining since I was a little tiny boy. So, I just always saw myself as some sort of entertainer, and Michael Jackson was a big inspiration for me.

STARTING A BAND: Tello: I was living back in LA and I would come up and Sammy and Ryan—Sammy just moved into this place called The Unicorn Garden and they had a music studio right above him, so they got a space. When I got back, I was kind of in transition trying to move back and it was kind of appropriate. I do the engineering [all laugh]. So, they’re the musicians, I’m the writer, so it kind of was the perfect blend seeing that we’re all friends.
Doyle: We all decided to work on music in the studio that was above my apartment in The Unicorn Garden, which I actually renamed The Olive Garden [all laugh].

DECIDING DISAGREEMENTS:  Doyle: We arm wrestle. [pause] We vote on it. It’s democratic. That’s what great about having an odd number of people. We try to stay as harmonious about it as we can.

REWORKING ‘60s CLASSIC, “SUNNY”: Williams: That’s been a favorite of ours for a while. It just kind of came about when we were doing “The Real Thing.” We’ve always been a huge fan of Bobby Hebb. Just Bobby Hebb generally, jazz music particularly [all laugh].
Doyle: Do we know the story behind the song? Oh yeah, it’s a pretty sad story, but it was his way of probably breaking out of his grief. Trying to find something positive in this world to help pull him out of his misery.

IF YOU ONLY LISTEN TO ONE SONG… Tello: I would start with “Soft.” It was kind of one of the first songs that we did that was fully original. It spoke to everyone and anyone, and I think that’s what made that song so special. [Maybe] “The Come Back” but it had samples. It was an homage to a couple of tracks that we really liked.
Doyle: I would say “Weekend Girl.” I would play “Weekend Girl” because it represents “Color Me Badd,” and a really good time in my life. It also really depends on the type of person we’re with. Like, let’s say you’re with a girl that stayed for the weekend, then you would probably play her “Weekend Girl.”

SPIRIT ANIMALS? Doyle: Mine would be a kangaroo pouch. [all laugh]. It’s part of an animal. Okay, fine, it would like a squirrel or something. A Mexican lima bean.
Tello: Mine’s a lion. [all laugh]

ADORING FANS: Doyle: They make pillows for us. We’ve had sewn pillows thrown at us on stage. It’s great. They knit pillows. I’ve been using them cause I hurt my ankle and I’ve been putting my ankle up to elevate it on the pillows. Do we wash them first? That’s a good idea. Maybe we should’ve
Williams: They knitted pillows that say “PillowTalk” on it and that say “pillow fight” on the other side.
Tello: Are you going to knit us a pillow?

TATTOOS: Williams: Someone got a tattoo of “Soft” on their arm; they sent it to us on Facebook. It’s somebody from Italy, I think, and that was one of the coolest things.  I think it was amazing.
Doyle: I thought it was crazy. It was funny because he actually got a tattoo of the remix; it was missing a couple lyrics from the original. So that was kind of funny, but his heart was in the right place.