PREMIERE: Pillow Talk – “Make You Real”
Pillow Talk find themselves at the intersection of several burgeoning movements in post-hardcore. Based out of Memphis, Tennessee, the band is part of a groundswell of punk and emo bands in the upper South, which include groups as diverse and compelling as the intense, literary Sinai Vessel, the dreamy It Looks Sad, the expansive, astral Comrades and the spiky, revivalist Museum Mouth. At the same time, Pillow Talk’s particular aesthetic – a brand of emo soaked through with hazy atmospherics, New Wave moods, and lush, time-worn soundscapes – is becoming increasingly au courant; one need only look to the aforementioned It Looks Sad, or Kite Party, or Lilac Daze, or even the more washed-out passages of Balance and Composure’s 2013 breakthrough The Things We Think We’re Missing to see this gauzy aesthetic rolling in like low-lying fog.
Perhaps it’s because of those twin (and not unrelated) movements that Pillow Talk are so focused on figuring out who exactly they are as artists. Recreational Feelings, the band’s first EP, was a very good debut that nevertheless arrived with salient echoes of Brand New, Slowdive, and the aforementioned Balance and Composure. Now the band seem wholly intent on erasing those early traces and sketched outlines — “Make You Real”, the band’s first single since Recreational Feelings, moves past those recognizable forebears and working models. With “Make You Real”, the Tennessee five-piece have begun the process of honing “Pillow Talk” as its own aesthetic, its own sonic space. Stream “Make You Real” and read my conversation with the band below:
Pillow Talk – “Make You Real”
“Make You Real” is our first listen after Recreational Feelings. How did the song come about? Is it for a stand-alone thing or would you characterize is as a first step toward a new record?
Josh: It’s definitely a step toward whatever we release next. Before we released Recreational Feelings, we were constantly playing and touring on those songs because it was all we had written. After the release, we had a moment to reflect on the EP, and I think we all realized that it just wasn’t the kind of music that we wanted to be writing. We decided to put on the brakes and take our time figuring out who we are as a band, and “Make You Real” was one of the first songs to come out of that. I’m really stoked to keep writing.
Sam: We all felt we could write something better than our last EP, and I think “Make You Real” is a product of that. I know this song is definitely an indication of our sound in the future.
Barrett: I think that it’s a song that we were happy with and just wanted to share with people. As far as a new record, who really knows if that’s the plan or not. I think Pillow Talk is just worried about writing new music currently and sharing it with people, how that happens is still up in the air.
It seems as though Pillow Talk is very much focused on the next thing, on finding even more new ground after your last EP. How would characterize the shift from Recreational Feelings to “Make You Real”?
Josh: There are moments on Recreational Feelings that I listen back to and wonder how they happened. Some of the other songs had moments that touched on the direction we’re moving now, but overall, I think we should have taken more time to figure out who we really are as a band – and that’s something that we are doing now. A lot about Recreational Feelings was rushed. We were anxious to put out some music and get on the road, which led to a half-hearted release, I think. I can still listen to those songs, but it isn’t the music I’d like to be playing. Now we’re just enjoying the process of being five friends writing music. There’s no rush, and there’s no desire to place ourselves in a genre of any sort. We’re just writing music and seeing what happens.
Sam: I think it’s shifted in the sense that we’re writing much more genuine and heartfelt music. Our EP left us wanting more from ourselves, so we cracked down on writing this summer and spent a lot more time developing each song we have so far.
Barrett: I think the shift came from us just learning how to play with each other, and getting comfortable with each other. We have a better idea of how to do that now.
What did you learn from making Recreational Feelings? How do you see those lessons showing up in “Make You Real”?
Calvin: When we started the band, a small label hit us up and we felt like we had to get a release together as quickly as possible. I think at first we were just doing what we thought a band in that position should do. However the last year has been a huge life lesson for us all personally and musically. We played SXSW this year alongside some incredible bands. That was definitely a wake up call. When we got home in the spring we all kind of had to figure out if the band was still going to work, and eventually I think we just all luckily got on the same page and stated writing music that is genuine and very purposeful, rather than just throwing together songs for the sake of being a band. “Make You Real” was the first song we completed after this revelation, we spent a lot of time writing and doing several demo versions just to really find a sound that works for us. I think this song has definitely inspired us to have our own direction musically, which we plan to continue on with for future songs.
Josh: We definitely learned a lot about being patient and taking our time. To really not settle just because we want to put something out. We toured a bit on Recreational Feelings and had a lot of fun playing those songs live, but when I listen to that EP next to “Make You Real”, I realize that through taking our time, we’re finally getting to a better place as a band. We’re learning more about being songwriters rather than just five guys going through the expected motions of a band.
Pillow Talk seems quite focused on trying to carve out its own aesthetic. What bands do you look to as examples of that kind of ambition and commitment?
Josh: All of us have extremely different influences and music tastes, so you’d get different answers from everyone, which I think brings a lot of dynamic to the table. I really love Morrissey’s solo stuff and I’m a huge Smiths fan. I love The Cure. I think The National’s Trouble Will Find Me is one of the most brilliant records ever written. I really dig Jay Reatard. I’ve been listening to Big Star a lot lately, and I think there is a drive and hard working mentality in Memphis music that has existed since and prior to Sun Studio opening up its doors. Memphis musicians have always rolled up their sleeves and put everything into making music, and I really respect that. We tracked “Make You Real” at Ardent Studios, and it was awesome recording where so many of my favorite artists have made incredible records.
Calvin: Like Josh said, we currently all listen to different music. I feel that plays a big role in creating the sound we have now, we aren’t all trying to pin down one sound or fit into a single genre. But as far as myself goes, a lot of 80s music with clean, dreamy, chorus-y guitars have really influenced my tone and style. The Smiths, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, are all big ones for me as far as my own playing goes. However I would say my songwriting style is currently really influenced by bands such as Pavement, and Dinosaur Jr. The only band I think all 5 of us really like is Brand New. So they have been an obvious influence from the start.
“Make You Real” strikes me as more spacious and concentrated on mood and ambiance than the songs on Recreational Feelings. Was that a conscious choice, to leave a bit more room?
Barrett: Maybe more subconscious. I think the mood came from the place we are all at right now in our lives.
Calvin: I think it was both an effect of Josh no longer playing guitar alongside Kevin and I, and just us maturing musically. With just two guitars now, Kevin and I both try to write to each other, we like to be melodic without stepping on anything else in the song. In the past we were just into turning up really loud and being as full as possible. I guess there’s a time and place for that, but I think at least in this band, we have grown past it. I feel the empty space behind “Make You Real” actually accents the songs mood a lot more than just cramming 10 layers of sound behind everything at all times.