As you may have heard, this Friday, April 11, the ThrdCoast crew will be hosting our inaugural showcase concert at Shoestring Press in Brooklyn! In order to get you properly psyched, we’re bringing you exclusive interviews with each of the bands that will be joining us for what is sure to be a hell of a night.
Today, we have an enlightening chat with FLWRS + Maralisa, known to their friends and admirers as Emiliano Flowerman and Maralisa Simmons-Cook. The electro-pop duo discuss inspiration, Maralisa’s enduring obsession with Amy Winehouse, and their upcoming releases.
ThrdCoast: I’ll start with my go-to: what are your respective musical backgrounds?
Emiliano Flowerman: You know how some parents make their kids take piano lessons, and then from an early age they at least have some musical foundation? That wasn't me. My dad is a very talented classical/jazz guitarist, yet never pressured me into touching an instrument. When I was in seventh grade we had to take a music elective, and I chose drums ‘cause I figured it would be easy. Ten years later, I’m still playing the drum set [laughs]. Because I wasn't in the Conservatory [at Oberlin College], playing drums became a little more difficult when my kit and practice space were thousands of miles away in California. I registered for an experimental electronic music course on a whim and fell head-over-heels in love. I've been producing and composing ever since. I even ended up taking some piano lessons at Oberlin in order to learn some theory and my way around the keyboard. Kinda wishing I had that childhood musical foundation now, but it is so exciting to learn new stuff all the time.
Maralisa Simmons-Cook: I was raised on heavy blues artists such as Taj Mahal and Nina Simone, so that was the repertoire running through my head from an early age. I loved the blues and jazz music. Electronic has definitely come as a very recent interest for me, which is what's so interesting about this project. In high school I joined an a cappella group for sight reading and harmony building, and also formed a band with some of my best friends called Brick n' Honey. We brought the soul (or at least tried to). In 2011 I moved to New York to attend The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, where I am just finishing up my degree. Various projects that I am a part of include Space Captain, a hip hop/soul group and The Wali Sanga, a super fun funk and soul group. I'm also experimenting with various collaborations spanning genres, and meanwhile working on my own pieces and popular arrangements ... generally trying to dip my feet into as much as possible! I'll sleep when I die, right?
TC: How did you guys meet, and how long have you been collaborating on FLWRS + Maralisa?
MSC: Emiliano and I grew up together in the same tiny town but lost touch in high school and college, so it wasn't until he visited New York last spring that we formed the idea to collaborate musically (he was working on electronic production at Oberlin College). I had no instinct that this would develop into a consistent group, let alone that he would choose to move to New York. It's probably the best thing that's happened to me since I've been here.
EF: Maralisa was actually best friends with my little sister when they were super little, so yeah, we go way back. I can safely assure you that she has been belting out songs since she was a tyke. As she said, we kind of lost touch in high school, and then a little over a year ago we reconnected through some mutual friends over pizza and art galleries in New York. I had just started putting together some material for an EP and asked Maralisa if she would want to contribute some vocals for it. We started trading tracks between Ohio and New York. The songs turned out so well that we decided to release the project collaboratively and continue working together. It was super weird, because from the time that we reconnected to way after we released our EP, I hadn't seen Maralisa face-to-face whatsoever. We were just communicating over the computer and our phones. And yeah, definitely one of the highlights of my time here in New York so far!
TC: How would you describe your music, and what do you want people to get from it?
MSC: I really take pride in the fact that our music crosses genres and is able to hook in various audiences that I would have never expected. As the lyricist, of course I'll always dig a good love song, but I like to keep the messages and themes open, and I tend to write about whatever feels relevant to me emotionally or whatever crazy shit is occurring in New York on a daily basis. Sometimes I'll play with the vague and poetic route, but sometimes I just want to get in-your-face-Amy-Winehouse with my lyrics. Musically, Emiliano and I come from very different backgrounds, so the pop/electronic production that he rocks so well is paired with vocals in the R&B/soul realm, creating what I consider a bit harder of an attack and intrigue.
EF: I think it is always hard for artists to describe their music, because they have very specific (and often varied) ideas of where their sound comes from. That being said, I think our music is fairly unique because Maralisa and I are influenced by very different music. I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop, indie-rock, funk, and electronic music. However, Maralisa and I do overlap on a lot of music. While I definitely don't have the same appreciation for Amy Winehouse (few do, really), we both love artists like D'Angelo and Erykah Badu. Rhythm has always been really important to me and I definitely think that comes across in my production style. It’s funny, at the beginning when Maralisa originally asked me if I wanted any themes in her lyrics, I asked her to make the lyrics vague and not really about anything. Obviously there are some pretty awesome lyrical themes on the EP, and as a result I have started really paying attention to lyrics both as a musician and a listener.
TC: So who are your biggest influences?
EF: While putting together the instrumentals for the EP, I was listening to a lot of Grimes and Ryat, two producer/vocalists that I think are astounding. I actually tweeted at Ryat after the EP came out and she favorited my message, so maybe she even listened to it [laughs]. James Blake's first album was also a huge influence, as well as Flying Lotus' music. I've heard my production style compared to SBTRKT as well, which is an enormous compliment since I was devouring his self-titled album while learning to produce. Maralisa and I also get compared to Purity Ring all the time, which is similarly huge praise.
MSC: My earliest influences, from what I can recall, included Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Leonard Cohen, and all those other artists my parents considered the vegetables of music (that is, better for me than hits from NOW That's What I Call ____). I developed a tremendous love for Amy Winehouse in high school, and since moving to New York have dipped into artists of all sorts of genres. Some of my favorites include Gregory Porter, St. Vincent, Hiatus Kaiyote, Jose James, Sharon Jones, and many more! My cat loves Pearl Jam, so that makes two of us.
TC: What's on your iPod these days?
EF: Beyoncé, duh [laughs]. Also enjoying Childish Gambino's latest, I think it’s a lot better than Camp. Gerard [Marcus, ThrdCoast co-founder] made me buy Darkside's album Psychic on vinyl, which blew my mind. Volcano Choir and Haitus Kaiyote are two bands whose albums I always listen to all the way through … incredible. Jai Paul is constantly on rotation. I mean, if his "leaked" album of demos is this good, I simply can't wait for the real thing. I've been listening to this dude named Kaytranada for a little while. His beats are huge, I can't get enough. I've been listening to Son Lux and St. Vincent on my way to work a lot. Also some people hate on Haim, but they're super catchy and the album is so well produced. I'm a sucker for good production [laughs].
MSC: Everything! Jesus, I guess it just depends how emotional my day has been. Sometimes all I can stomach is Pavement, and other times Odetta does the trick. RIGHT now, I'm listening to St. Vincent's new album and earlier on the train I was semi-dreaming to Daughter.
TC: Any big projects coming up on the horizon?
EF: YES! We're working on the follow-up to the EP, not sure if it is going to be a longer EP or a full-length yet. But we’re constantly writing and putting new stuff together. Gerard [Marcus] and I just started the mixing process for the first few songs, so hopefully we're looking at a release sometime in the near future. It's been really fun to work directly with Maralisa on the new tracks, as opposed to sending them across the country to each other. Also, I feel like these new songs better reflect my and Maralisa's influences. We've got a better idea of what works and what we want our sound to be. I really can't wait to share some of these new tracks with the world.
MSC: Emiliano and I are very, very excited to start recording our new tracks this summer, and we do have plans to release a slightly longer project in the fall, hopefully on vinyl. Our sound is constantly shifting, and I cannot wait to hear the final product of this new project.
TC: Anything else you'd like to talk about?
EF: Thanks for having us! I can't wait to see Edo Lee and Butterflytree live, I've been wanting to see them FOREVER and I can't quite believe we get to share a stage with them on Friday. Shout out to the whole ThrdCoast crew, you guys do some amazing work!