Premiere: Scores go dark and dancey in their video for “Broaden Out”
Be it their work in Hembree or the Noise FM, brothers Alex and Austin Ward have become known for intensely-catchy, danceable pop songs. Combining forces with CJ Calhoun (Bonzo Madrid, Cowboy Indian Bear) for their latest project, Scores, only brings those elements even more to the forefront. Taking inspiration from the “pulsating bass lines, pounding drums, and heavy synthesizers of the music the trio experienced in clubs” during a “month-long backpacking trip through Europe,” Vol. 1 is dark and exciting. While Scores’ album isn’t due out until July 9, we’re excited to premiere the latest video from the album, “Broaden Out,” and talk with the trio about how this all came to be.
The Pitch: Please tell me more of “the music the trio experienced in clubs across Europe.” I have images of the three of you getting faded in German discos, but assume things might be slightly different?
Alex: Well, you’re not far off. The three of us had talked for years about making music together, and we’d also always wanted to backpack through Europe. Those two things just kind of lined up. We bopped around Europe for a couple weeks, and somewhere in there we ended up at a hostel in Berlin for a few nights. We were looking for really cheap accommodations, and I guess we neglected to read the fine print, because unbeknownst to us the place we booked was classified as a “Party Hostel.” It was all young travelers in their late-teens, early-20s playing drinking games, dancing in the lobby, and doing bar crawls every night. We’re in our 30s, but damn if we didn’t do our best to keep up. On our final night in Berlin we did the full techno experience at an underground club called Tresor. It felt like we were sucked into a black hole. By the time we stumbled out the next morning at 8 a.m. I think we’d all aged a few years and gained a few wrinkles and lines around our eyes, which became the inspiration for one of the first tunes we wrote, “Berlin Lines.”
CJ: Yeah, for me I think it was that at so many different bars and places we hung out at while we were there, I really enjoyed that the music was able to be a part of the atmosphere, conversation, and just general feel of so many places we went, as opposed to just being relegated to background noise. I feel like we did a good job of trying to create soundscapes and environments that allow people to fully dive in and hang out in them for a while, for better or worse! Sometimes I think the music might feel a bit indulgent, but I feel like we were trying to capture a specific vibe and then stay in it long enough for someone to fully get lost in that groove.
Austin: Every bar and club we went to across Europe had such a different musical flavor than bars in America. It felt like every place we walked into was designed to be a dance party. By the end of the trip, we just kept talking about how fun it would be to be in a dance band playing music designed for dancing but still have some darker undertones to it. The dance club in Berlin, Tresor, really was the final straw of making us commit to getting back home and writing some dark dance tunes. None of the music that night was uplifting dance tracks. It all had a very dark, almost sinister feel to it disguised in a dance beat. That’s what we wanted to do with Scores.
The danceable edge is in every band you Ward brothers do, be it The Noise FM, Scores, or Hembree. What does CJ bring to the band?
Alex: CJ, what the hell do you bring to the band?
CJ: Hah, that’s a great question really. I’d say I often have a tendency to write in pretty straightforward song structures, and Alex and Austin have tended to write more complicated and winding song structures than is natural for me. So musically I feel like I brought some areas of, well I guess catchiness, for lack of a better word. Vocally, if I was working on a song idea that started with them, I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to write something catchy to some of the chord progressions and ideas they were sending me. I felt like I really had to push myself to work to get the melodies where I wanted them and still work within their progressions, which was awesome. It definitely made me think through each turn more in-depth and work harder for it. Also, I’m really proud of my lyrics on this record, so I feel like I brought something to the table there too! C’mon guys.
Austin: The most enjoyable part of the project was combining our musical sensibilities and tastes. Alex and I have always had an affection for upbeat tracks, while CJ is such a strong songwriter that a lot of his music is more spacious and lyrical. So combining CJ’s incredible melodies and sense for powerful lyrical content with more upbeat, danceable music was fun right from the beginning. The first demo we worked on together, which became “Alligators,” immediately set the bar for how we wanted to combine dance grooves with powerful melodies. As soon as we got the first demo back from CJ after he had his vocal melodies, we knew this project would work well. We walked away with a pretty unique sounding album that really blends our sensibilities.
Vol. 1 was recorded at a cabin in Fort Scott, which sounds as far away from this style of music as possible. Why record in such an unlikely location?
Alex: The entire recording process for this record was different from how any of our other bands have operated. Austin, CJ, or myself would have a fragment of an idea that we’d record at home then email to the others Postal Service-style for their input or to see if it sparked any inspiration. We went back and forth sending files to each other for a couple of years not really sure if anything would come of it, but the songs just kept evolving. Eventually, we started getting excited about the idea of a full record, but we wanted to avoid the pressure of going into a “real” studio, because that always stresses me out. We wanted an environment where we could be fully immersed in creativity without worrying about budgetary constraints or time limits. My parents have a little cabin on the lake in Fort Scott, Kansas, and they let us convert it into a makeshift studio for a couple weeks. We always (semi-jokingly) reference Incubus recording their Morning View record at a Malibu mansion overlooking the ocean as the dream recording scenario. A tiny cabin overlooking a small lake in Kansas is even better.
Austin: This project was never meant to be anything other than just fun. When we finally decided to record some of the demos we’d been sharing, we all agreed it would have to be in a completely “safe space” where we could creatively do anything we want and never judge or dismiss any of our ideas. Our buddy Greg Panciera was the producer and engineer for the 4 songs we recorded at the cabin and he was just as eager to record a project free of creative constraints. Every day in the cabin felt like a new day to make whatever weird song we wanted and that’s exactly what we did. 4 days, 4 songs.
CJ: Yeah, at that point it was about unplugging and just taking a few days to focus on nothing but creating. From morning to night we just tried out ideas which ended up turning into half of this record, but going in we weren’t specifically planning to “make a record” necessarily. We had no idea if we’d end up with anything worth listening to, haha.
Austin has done the videos to all three singles so far. Where do you find the inspiration for these visuals—like, both “Broaden Out” and “Talk Flood” really focus on faces?
Austin: The forced stay-at-home Covid break really opened up my schedule to focus on videos for all the songs. From the beginning, we wanted to treat this project less like a band and more of an art project. All of us are huge film lovers, so when we decided we would eventually release these songs into the world, we all agreed we’d want some sort of visual element to accompany every song. Covid put a lot of restrictions on what we could film, so I ended up diving into more trippy and psychedelic visuals using editing programs I had rarely used before. We wanted the visuals to mimic the feeling we felt in the European clubs where you can’t see anything except pulsating lights and fog, but you can’t help but groove to the music even if you are a bit overwhelmed at times. The use of faces for both “Talk Flood” and “Broaden Out” was an easy way to ground the video a bit more to keep the viewer tagging along even if they start feeling overwhelmed by the intense colors and trippy elements.
Hembree’s got a new album coming, The Noise FM put out a new single last summer, and now Scores. Is this pandemic productivity, or something else?
Alex: It’s more coincidental than as a result of pandemic productivity, because honestly a huge chunk of the pandemic was spent drinking wine and rewatching Lost. CJ, Austin, and I spent a hell of a lot more time playing Call of Duty online than working on anything creative. We’ve been sitting on this Scores record for a couple years just trying to figure out what we wanted to do with it. Hembree already had a new record in the works for this year, and The Noise FM has about a record’s worth of material that has been sitting on the shelf since before the pandemic. CJ has an entire record ready for release as Bonzo Madrid. So there’s a lot of music coming from our camp in the near future that was written pre-Covid. If the pandemic did anything for us though, it was reminding us not to be so precious about holding on to this music and waiting for the perfect time to release it. We just have to put it out, and people will either find it and respond to it, or they won’t.
CJ: Most definitely not pandemic productivity for me. I can honestly say throughout the pandemic I felt as uncreative as ever, really! But I love music and will certainly keep making it in the long term. I do have a second Bonzo Madrid record that is in its final mixing stages, so I’ll have that to release, and maybe some more Scores stuff as well down the road, who knows! I just invested in some new home recording gear so I’m itching to get tinkering with that now… I definitely agree with Alex though, I feel much less precious about holding on to recordings. I think the idea of just making stuff we can feel proud of and getting it out is something that appeals to us all at this point.
Scores’ Vol. 1 is out Friday, July 9. You can find all of the group’s other singles on Bandcamp.