Beaches, sunshine, convertibles, palm trees... and punk-funk, disco-influenced bands? While the may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Los Angeles, De Lux are set to change that with their debut album, Voyage. The duo of Sean Guerin and Isaac Franco craft catchy songs that fuse inspiration from Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem, Daft Punk and Chic mashed up in a way that's fresh, immediate and doesn't sound like what anyone else is doing at the moment.
When you factor in that they're only in their early twenties and how quickly the project came together, it's obvious, they are doing something very right.
It's three in the afternoon in LA when DJ Mag interviews Sean and Isaac, but they've only been up for an hour after a long night in the studio writing and recording. These late-hour sessions seem to happen most evenings for them and they admit that they prefer to spend almost all of their time working on music instead of going to bars or parties. Not what you expect to hear from a 23 year old at all, but these guys are far from average as their steep, sudden upward trajectory demonstrates.
Although they didn't meet until later on in high school, the duo started dabbling in music separately while getting into records from the age of 15. “I was really into a bunch of mid-2000s indie bands like Wolf Parade and Arcade Fire,” Sean reminisces. “The Spinto Band was also a favorite, as well as a little bit of Bowie. My older brother pushed all the old stuff on me. He was in a pop-disco band around 2008, which started getting me into disco before Isaac showed me all of his music.” Isaac came from a different background: “I was always big on disco during high school.
I guess I was more into older music because I was making a lot of hip-hop beats at the time, and they would sample from a lot of older soul, funk and disco records, which got me into it.”
From the moment Sean and Isaac were first acquainted, they started jamming in each other's basements to various degrees of success. “We were doing some disco stuff, but it was really bad,” Sean laughs. “This is when Sean couldn't really sing that well,” Isaac agrees with an audible smile in his voice. “We were trying to copy the Bee Gees and it just didn't work.”
“So we did that for a bit straight out of high school, but then we didn't write for a while and did our separate things,” Sean continues. “I started getting into looping on pedals and performing on the streets of Los Angeles. After doing that for a bit, I also started working with a girl singer on a project called SeanShan.
I brought Isaac in as the bass player and that indirectly began to fuel everything. During that time, Isaac started to learn more about making music as well as recording. I have my own system of recording and he's adopted it from me and made it completely his own thing over the years.”
SeanShan went on to release a few singles while playing the bar and small venue circuit around Southern California, until one fateful day messing about before practice. “I had come up with the bassline for 'Better At Making Time' and Sean thought it was sick so we recorded it,” Isaac remembers.
“Then he quickly came up with some guitar parts and loops that we threw over it. It happened so quickly and we just hit record and kept it because it was all immediately there. We thought maybe we should show it to the girl and then decided not to. It's funny, because it would have gone another direction otherwise. She was moving in a different direction from us stylistically and this clicked in a way that felt more serious... and we were ready to go for it.”
It's easy to see how “Better At Making Time” convinced Sean and Isaac to break away and start their own band. The bassline sounds like something Bernard Edwards would have played but with a touch of David Byrne in the vocals, a slight MGMT feel to the synths, and percussion and guitar licks that draw on so many influences they end up sounding largely original, yet completely accessible and familiar.
“We don't want to feel like we're following trends,” Isaac makes a point of saying. “It's not like we're trying to do something that no one else is doing... we just create what we enjoy making. It is just music that we're drawn to.”
“It's also a combination of not thinking about it and knowing what's out there,” Sean explains. “Obviously nothing can ever be completely original, but you can hone in on something that's you don't hear very often that's also enjoyable. Anyone can make something original, but it doesn't always sound nice to your ears.”
Over the next couple of months, Sean and Isaac wrote a few more songs together before they actively decided to make an album and release it as De Lux. “It happened to be that we were just lyrically writing about things that melded well together,” Sean says. “Voyage has ended up being our voyage to realization.
It's a collection of little things we've realized over the years and put into song.” A little over six months later, they had a cohesive nine-track LP recorded and ready to go. Besides “Better At Making Time,” other standout tracks include the synth-heavy “Love Is A Phase” and infectious “It All Works All The Time,” which nods to The Talking Heads without sounding contrived.
“When we wrote 'Love Is A Phase,' the various layers and ideas came together faster than most songs on Voyage,” recounts Isaac. “It has this Bowie feel, but a lot of people are comparing it to Duran Duran, which is funny because I don't listen to them at all. I think people compare anything with '80s sounding keyboards to Duran Duran, but we were on a Bowie vibe.
I like the structure of it a lot as well, since the ending builds up and becomes very dynamic. 'It All Works All The Time' was also quick to flesh out. I remember we had the feel immediately, but it was one chord away from totally coalescing that we spent an evening trying to figure out. It felt so good when we got it. We always describe writing as this puzzle you have to solve, but it's harder because the puzzle is something you've created yourself.”
Although Voyage is in many ways a pop record, it avoids a lot of the pit-falls of over-production that many modern indie-dance fall into. This is due to De Lux's preference for mostly using initial demos of parts, rather than re-recording them. “If it sounds good enough in the moment then it's good enough,” explains Sean.
“There's something about that first take that's in the moment and sounds like a demo. Maybe I like it because I'm used to the sound, but I think it's nice. Doing this also shows the human element. There are some small imperfections on the record and it's nice to keep them and show that it's not the end of the world if things sound real instead of perfect. We also mix everything ourselves as we write it, layering a few mastering plug-ins over the tracks so we know what it will sound like as a final product.”
The duo's insistence on recording Voyage to sound like a finished release from the get-go paid off when a friend of a friend who happened to be sharing their rehearsal space heard it and asked if he could master the album and send it to some labels. Someone at Stones Throw liked it so much that he wanted to become De Lux's manager.
It wasn't long before there was a lot of interest from well-known labels around the world, but Isaac and Sean ended up going with local luminaries, Innovative Leisure, who boasts Classixx, Rhye and Nosaj Thing amongst others on their roster. “I don't know how long this process takes, but it feels like it's been pretty quick,” laughs Isaac. “It's really cool. We have an ongoing joke about how we're just waiting for cameras to come out at any moment and this all to be a prank since it's come together like this.”
De Lux's live show is also in a relative stage of infancy; the expanded five-piece band has been rehearsing for just a year and has recently played its twelfth gig. They've already made a name for themselves in LA though, selling out a headline show at The Echo and playing in front of a thousand people opening up for Cults at House Of Blues.
This show was recorded and streamed online, via the Huffington Post, and shows a band that already gels together with the confidence and prowess of a more experienced and seasoned act. Having also just played five showcases at SXSW and got an agent, it won't be long before they're also traversing the length and breadth of the country and beyond.
Never ones to be satiated with their meteoric rise or rest on the laurels of Voyage for long, Sean and Isaac are already busy recording again and are deep into the making of their second album.
“We finished Voyage last March so, while its still new to play it live, it already feels a touch dated because of all the writing we've done since then. We've also acquired some new gear and I've been influenced by a lot of old music composed for Sega games lately and their space vibe.” Although Voyage is far from dated to the rest of us who are just hearing it now, we can't wait to hear what comes next for De Lux. The real voyage is just beginning.
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