A couple of weeks ago, Brooklyn's Young Heel (trio of Clay Bassford, JT Norton, Stephen Greenberg) shared a mix of songs on Youtube that inspired their sultry new four-track EP, Tuff, premiering today and streaming below. It's a good preface to the imagination on their EP, a soulful mixture of pop and pulse, more immediate than James Blake, but in a similar camp of elusive synth pop/R&B. The EP comes out today on Sounds Appropriate Records, available for purchase on Bandcamp. Over the long weekend, we caught up with the trio's Clay Bassford over email to get a better feel for what they're trying to do, and where they're headed.
What was your process like putting together this EP?
With the Tuff EP, I wanted to create an alternate reality that is different from our current experience in a disorienting way, but that still runs parallel to the life we're in right now. So the goal was to fuck with the listener's sense of balance–audibly and morally–while still sounding present and more forceful than we have before. In terms of the sound, I really tried to keep things minimal and use negative space.
How much of your songwriting happens in the production phase? Do you value collaboration with outside producers?
The production and songwriting happen simultaneously for us. JT (lead vocals) or I will have a riff or loop, usually an idea for a section of a song, then we'll flesh it out, picking sounds and textures at the same time we write the actual music. For this EP, we recorded JT singing spontaneously, then I'd go back and splice up his vocals into the patterns that made sense to me. I'd then write out phrases that I thought he was saying, massaging them into a theme that we liked, and then we'd develop a story around that, with the music as a base to set the mood for the story.
What was the best show you ever played and why?
Kevin's Bar Mitzvah in '06. So bananas… But really, we're just excited to play shows. Our release party at Glasslands is basically our first show in six months, so we're really pumped for that.
How did you guys get together as a trio?
Young Heel started as a attempt to condense my musical interests and habits into a tighter pop format that still had a spacious, dreamy quality to it. I asked JT, who was my roommate, if he wanted to sing and play synth with me in the band– something we were doing already– and he was like, “hell yeah!” Shortly after, we both graduated college and moved to New York. About two years ago we added Steve as a synth player/bassist/producer/audio guru. Around that same time, JT and I were feeling like we needed to move towards a new version of our sound, which is what resulted in the Tuff EP, and we decided to pare the project down to its most utilitarian form with synths and drum machines. That made us into the trio we are today. Live, that means JT on lead vocals, synths, and drum machine, me on synths, vocals, and sampling, and Steve on bass synth, sampling, and vocals.
What are your plans now that the EP is out?
There's a lot more material we're organizing for a future release, possibly as a follow-up companion EP to this one that we'll continue to refine as we play shows this summer. Ultimately there's the goal of a full length, but we're waiting for the right moment to get into that.