Hailing from Halifax Nova Scotia, welcome to the lush and summery electro synth world of Southern Shores. Recently signed to experimental pop label Cascine, Jamie Townsend and Ben Dalton have crafted the very image of exotic summer in their recent EP, Atlantic. Its sample-laden six tracks combine ’90s electronica snippets with steel drum synths and Scandinavian/Italian-pop production, to leave you reminiscing of the best night of your life - beach parties, sea foam, dancing through the night, watching the sun go down and up again - until suddenly it's not the Fahrenheit or the far away that matters, but just being right where you are.

We caught up with the guys on the eve of the EP launch to talk about their blissful new release, ping-pong play-offs in Berlin and why Italians do it better.

 

First up tell our readers about yourselves? How do you know each other and how did you come to start making music?

Jamie: Ben and I know each other from High School, but didn't start creating together until a couple of years ago. Before we started SS, Ben and I, with a couple of our friends, would always talk the talk about starting a lame italo disco project as a kind of joke but it really was just something to riff about while drinking. Though at the time I was actually itching to start getting outside of my own production thing and doing something new, and to have something to focus on. It turns out Ben wasn't totally joking about doing something as well, so ended up just being us making music together.

Ben: Jamie's right. I think the whole project developed from a mutual desire to actually produce something we could creatively stand behind; it just took us a while to naturally center ourselves creatively. Our first incarnation was an icy dance music outfit. It was called 'The Drip' and of course we thought it was going to be awesome. We recently went back to some of these earlier demos and just cringed, relentlessly. Turns out the music was almost as bad as the name. But for some reason we kept at it, and when we couldn't find ourselves a vocalist we started trying to incorporate soul samples into the music and I think that's when things finally began to get interesting. Those songs are also pretty unlistenable but were an important stepping stone for us in understanding the emotive power of the human voice. This need to really feel something began to push us in new, brighter directions and a year later we had grown comfortable enough with our ideas to begin trying to form something cohesive.

So you mention the Italian disco thing joke, is that an influence on the EP at all? If not, what or who else has inspired your work?

Ben: Well a few years ago there was this brilliant compilation called 'Italians Do It Better' that I really fell in love with. It was a sound that I hadn't really been exposed to until then, and here were all these groups with a similar aesthetic, and the whole sound was so transporting. I had no idea who these people were and how they made their music but it was compelling, like artifacts from a bygone era. I loved that the music was danceable but that it had a real melancholy aspect to it. I think those are the best dance songs; look at Robyn's 'Dancing on my Own' for example: such an anthem yet so heartbreaking. Moves your feet and heart at the same time. 

Jamie: During the making of the EP it didn't ever feel to me that we had big influences or artists to reference for sounds or ideas. I always had the feeling when mixing and trying to shape sounds that it wasn't clear what it sounds like or should sound like, which was exciting. Obviously our ideas and influences came from somewhere but to me they were vague and ambiguous. I was and am more inspired or influenced by the energy and fresh ideas new(ish) artists like Ford and Lopatin, Jensen Sportag etc.. bring to pop music, even though they probably won't influence our sound specifically.

 

I'll have to check out 'Italians do it better', sounds like it could be the name of a moustache-heavy porn series. Jokes aside, the influences are very solid and apparent in the EP. I've read that living in Berlin played a big part in your transition and ideas - tell me about that.

Jamie: haha and wouldn't the perfect band to score this series be 'The Drip'?! 

Before Berlin we had some momentum as we started to actually figure out what sounds and ideas we really thought were important and we were starting to be able to actually finish songs. Once we were there we had all our time to focus on music with little distractions except the amazing and exciting city around us, which actually wasn't distracting at all, really more motivating and inspiring. Within days of arriving we had written 'Grande Comore' and Ben had a pretty good idea of the sound and direction for that track, we tried to just keep working and working. The biggest thing the city gave us was the freedom in our lives and time we could dedicate to music.

Ben: In a certain sense, picking up and moving to a foreign city where you know no one and can barely speak the language isn't nearly as scary as letting yourself place music as the number one priority in your life. Yet the two decisions seemed to compliment each other; why not move across the world and devote yourself entirely to the creation process? There's a thrill in that. I think that we stopped second guessing ourselves as much after arriving in Berlin. It was like, 'well we're here to make something so let's really commit ourselves'. Not having jobs made things pretty easy for us, except that life slowly becomes more stressful as you watch your funds deplete. Thankfully beer is really, really cheap in Berlin. We ended up settling into a great daily routine which began with ping pong in the park (every little public park in that city is peppered with these fantastic stone ping pong tables), followed by a healthy dose of Club Mates (Yerba Mate soda pop), then music making. Setting aside that time every day was essential, even if sometimes we wouldn't get anything accomplished. It's the only way to actually finish the ideas you start, you have to be persistent.

 

I love the sound of your daily routine - who was the overall ping pong champ out of the two of you?  When you guys are making tracks who does what - are there certain things that you do Ben and other bits that James does?  How does the partnership work?

Jamie: Overall Ping Pong champ would have to be the 70 year old man that destroyed us both!  When making a track we work together mostly, bouncing ideas back and forth in terms of sounds and instruments etc, Once we have an idea we want to capture Ben will usually play the parts on synth or guitar to record it. With Ben's input I am usually the one to physically mix, arrange and design the sounds. 

Ben: What's most important about the partnership is that every single creative decision is one of consensus. There's never a crippling amount of pressure for either one of us to conform to the others' ideas if the intuition is lacking. In the beginning, when we were far less sure what we wanted the project to be there were a lot more arguments over tones and textures or how far to take certain ideas. At this point in time we've worked together so much I feel we're steadily moving towards having the same answers for problems, more easily agreeing on the proper sound for parts in a way that was entirely lacking even a year ago. This makes me very happy. On a practical level Jamie spends far more time in front of the laptop screen. Without his attention to detail and infinite patience, our music would be much, more sloppier and not at all in a good way. This usually leaves me free to pace about in a distracting manner and keep the coffee brewing. I thought we had perfected this balance until yesterday when Jamie spilled an entire cup of hot java right on our one and only computer. I'm considering outlawing coffee in the studio until he learns to be a bit more responsible.

 

It sounds like a good arrangement you've got going - you mention the early days of the creative process and the arguments over tones and textures. How did you resolve these?  I always find that a good old wrestle can sort things out or a bit of rock-paper-scissors.

Ben: Well I think the beginnings of our collaboration were difficult because neither of us really knew what we wanted the music to be, specifically. That's the biggest lesson I've learned over this past year: the clearer the idea, the more focused you can be in bringing it to life. At first all I had were a selection of songs that inspired me and a desire to bring together those specific qualities that I felt so deeply into something novel and unified. So the first few months consisted largely of experiments with bongos, drums and horns. A few of those first ideas actually did make it onto the record, albeit in drastically altered forms. I think the more we created, the more in tune we became with our overall direction. An important trick we learned the hard way was to just walk away from songs that we were disagreeing on. Often times we'd come back the next day, completely forgetting what we were arguing about in the first place and immediately move forward with fresh inspiration. We learned to always have as many ideas in progress as possible for this reason, and our daily process became just jumping back and forth from song to song, always trying to keep things as fresh and free as possible. I believe completely in this schizophrenic creation process and have no plans on changing it up anytime soon.

Jamie: In Berlin we definitely handled disagreements on the ping pong table. Really I would say we just have a mentality of trying each others ideas out with patience even if they don't seem like good ones. We don't dwell on disagreements much we just kind of move on and see if they matter tomorrow.

 

So how does the live show work - do you use any other musicians and in what ways does it differ from the studio environment?

Ben: We knew from the start that if we were going to perform as a band we had to deliver something richer and more expansive than just the two of us standing in front of a laptop while the music played. We realized that to do it all live would be a little ambitious at this point because the music itself would probably suffer, so I think what we have now is a happy medium; we enlisted my younger brother Seamus on drums which makes a world of difference live; to have a live set of drums complimenting the digital ones brings an element of tangibility and makes everything so much more dynamic. We also brought in our good friend Paul Conrod on guitar, and he helps bring some textures that we wouldn't even have conceived. It's important not to overload it all with too many sounds and we're always trying to maintain that delicate balance. We're working on incorporating some beautiful visuals into the whole setup so hopefully given a few solid months to get it all together we can start taking it on the road. Wouldn't that be a total blast?

 

That sounds awesome - so do you guys have any plans to hit the road with the EP, any live dates booked in?

Jamie: We don't have many future dates confirmed right now but we are working towards getting things together forsure, hoping we can do some touring with this EP forsure.

 

Cool, so the EP was out on 12th July - can you describe it for me in 10 words?

Jamie:Designed to turn your nasty nor'easter's into blissful beach sunsets.

Ben: Six soundtracks for days half-remembered and nights still to come.

 

Are you working on any new material now that the EP is finished?  Is an album in the pipeline?

Jamie: Yeah we are always working on new material. We are also in the process of editing a lot of tracks that were made pre EP to include them in the live set and possibly releasing them in the future.  There is most definitely a next record in the plans but we're not sure at this point whether it's an LP or EP.

Ben - Were very excited to get back into the creation process. After being in that headspace for four straight months I'm now constantly afflicted with the feeling that I should be being more productive. After you finish the record this kind of helplessness sets in where you realize that you no longer have control over the material. You have to let it go and that's hard to do after spending so much time with it, even though the two of us are very happy with the final product. I'm absolutely itching to just start ten new songs and have that total freedom, knowing you can go in any direction at any time. That freedom is essential to me and is the main reason that even though I come from a guitar playing background I've ended up making electronic music.

 

Sweet - looking forward to hearing the new stuff.  Finally guys, if you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life what would it be?

Ben: Endless Summer by Fennesz

Jamie: I'd have to go with a record a grew up with: Paul Simon's Graceland