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Astronomique: Our lyrics are more honest than they are emo

Astronomique: Our lyrics are more honest than they are emo
Photo by Logan Andra Fongemie

You've heard synth-pop before, but never like this. The folks in Minneapolis band Astronomique don't take themselves too seriously, and that joviality shows through on their debut EP Burning Stars Fade. The band is comprised of former members of the New Monarchs and Satellite Voices and built an album that contains sounds that suggest humanity and heat, whilst retaining the essential delight of a house party.

Gimme Noise spoke with the band before their album release on Friday at Cause to catch up on Dr. Who and to see how this project compares to their past ones.

Band Members: Logan Andra Fongemie - Vocals, Keys, Lyrics, Artwork, Sean Hogan - Guitar, Backing Vocals, Sax, Mitch Billings - Drums, Luke Parrott - Bass

Gimme Noise: Obviously Astronomique's music is different from the New Monarchs, but can you explain to me how you feel it's different?

Logan Andra Fongemie: Well, the most obvious difference is that I front the band instead of Sean. Ha! But really, I'd say that the New Monarchs' music is more punch-you-in-the-face electro rock with an emo edge, while Astronomique writes more chill, dancier synth-pop with a darker/sensual vibe. And I feel like Astronomique's lyrics are more honest than they are emo.

For this band, we started with an idea, and then wrote music to fit that idea. We wanted to create a sound that would emulate the psychedelic/1960s space age-inspired drawings and paintings I make, and also embrace my French heritage in some way. So this sound was going to be spacey, synth-driven, and sensual with a French vibe. We wanted it to sound dark and ethereal at the same time, and be something you can move to. We came by our band name in a French picture book from my childhood, where an illustration of a telescope was labeled with the words "lunette astronomique."

Sean Hogan: As Logan mentioned, having a female vocalist is a significant difference between Astronomique and the New Monarchs, as well as having a full band (live drums and bass) rather than a two-piece electro setup. Astronomique is more grounded in an idea/theme, while the New Monarchs were playing together for so long (eight years) that our writing style and approach to music changed with the times. There was never any central theme or style.

Gimme Noise: How do you think all of your other projects have influenced this new band?

Logan Andra Fongemie: My most recent other project was playing synth in Knol Tate's band, Satellite Voices. Through this role, I learned to build and shape synth lines in a piece of music, kind of like adding layers of paint to a canvas. Writing and performing with Satellite Voices was actually my intro to synthpop, since I was a pianist/vocalist prior to that project. I found that making the switch from piano to synthesizers really opened up a whole world of creativity, and I wanted to start a project that was built around intricately crafted synth parts artistically arranged in a piece -- so Astronomique is that project. I play two Dave Smith synthesizers, the Prophet '08 and the Poly Evolver.

Sean Hogan: Years of guitar playing has steered me in different directions sonically, and I feel like on this EP, you are finally hearing me for the first time. It's been refreshing to collaborate with someone new, and Logan and I approach song writing differently than previous groups I've been a part of.

We also bring out the best in each other, in that our strong suits seem to compliment each other. Since I'm not fronting Astronomique, it was initially a huge change to not be writing lyrics and vocal melodies. However, I am now able to put all of my energy into writing the song structure and guitar parts, which is cool.

Gimme Noise: Why only an EP right now? Do you have other things in the works?

Logan Andra Fongemie: We're a brand new band, and were still in the process of figuring out our sound while writing and recording these songs. We thought that at this point, an EP would probably sound more cohesive than an LP. It also took us a year to write and record this record, so if we were aiming for a full-length, we'd probably still be working on it. Ha! We have been starting to write some new material, which we'll be taking to back to the studio at Signaturetone after our release show. It will likely turn into another EP.

Sean Hogan: Burning Stars Fade is a great introduction to our sound, and the songs were all written within the same time frame. It made the most sense to have it be our first release. At this point, we plan to stick to the EP route, as well as releasing singles, B-Sides, and remixes available for digital download. Sloslylove, who will be performing at our release show in between bands, just completed a remix of "Pretend We're Stars," which sounds amazing.

Mitch Billings:
We wrote and recorded this record before we ever practiced anything just by passing stuff back and forth. The songs we wrote work well together and putting these five on the EP just made sense. We actually didn't have our first official practice until after the record was finished -- so we did things a little backwards.

Gimme Noise: For this project, was the writing collaborative or did everyone bring in their own ideas?

Sean Hogan: Initially, Logan and I wrote all of the songs on our own and had intended on just being an electronic duo. When we completed our demos and brought them to the studio, we decided they needed something more. At that point we recruited Mitch and Luke, who then brought their own style and talent to the project.

Logan Andra Fongemie: Now each song typically begins with Sean and I collaboratively writing/recording a skeleton of a demo, usually on a drum machine and keyboards. Then I will add a vocal melody and lyrics, and send the demo to our other band members so they can write their parts. Each person writes their own parts, although we all provide input and feedback to each other.

Mitch Billings: Logan and Sean wrote a rough version of everything to start. They would send it to me and I would get a drum part ready. After that, we'd head to the studio. It was an interesting way to do things because each of us comes from a slightly different musical background. What came out sounds exactly like what we wanted, but there is also a hint of our own individual taste throughout the EP.

 

Gimme Noise: Can you tell me the story behind "Pretend We're Stars"? Where did it originate from?

Logan Andra Fongemie: This song's lyrics are a reflection of my take on what the world has shown me to date. I'm a Masters educated nurse, and the majority of places I've worked and situations I've found myself in have really showed me the nasty side of society and human nature.

However, I've traveled a lot in my life and have also been in some really beautiful places. I feel like I've experienced both ends of the spectrum, so when I wrote the lyrics for "Pretend We're Stars," I wanted them to echo this duality. The song acknowledges the futility of someone who works hard, but feels like what they do goes under the radar (a sentiment I'm familiar with, due in part to my career path). But the lyrics also emphasize the ease and luxury of bringing yourself into a better state, just through imagining, forgetting about daily life for a bit, and living in the moment with things that actually matter -- like your feelings for someone.
 

Gimme Noise: Any favorite tracks off of this album?

Logan Andra Fongemie: "Pretend We're Stars" is probably my favorite track, in terms of both music and lyrics. It's our most upbeat sounding song, and has the fastest tempo on the record. It's an energetic song, and it's fun to perform. I had been watching a lot of Doctor Who at the time I wrote this song, so there's actually a Doctor Who synth line buried in the final chorus. Ha!

My other favorite track is "Painting Silhouettes." This song gave us the opportunity to explore a more haunting and dynamic facet of our sound. The lyrics are an emotional equivalent of me stripped down and naked, standing in front of everyone, but they served as an outlet to rid myself of some negative emotions still hanging on from a past relationship.

Sean Hogan: If I had to pick, I would say it's a tie between "Shaded Gray" and "Push Rewind." "Shaded Gray" is a favorite track of mine because it was the first song that Logan and I worked on. When we completed the demo we both knew we were on to something cool, and everything we've worked on since has had that same feeling. "Push Rewind" is my other favorite track because I love the guitar parts I wrote for this song. Adam Tucker (Signaturetone Recording) and I spent a lot of time in the studio finding the right amp and tone, and what we ended up with sounds totally awesome.

Mitch Billings: My personal favorite is "Painting Silhouettes." I come from more of a rock background, and on this song, I really get to hit hard and play loud. I love the more technical aspects of the rest of our songs, but I'm happy we have one where I get to let loose a bit.

Gimme Noise: What can we expect to see at the album release show?

Logan Andra Fongemie: We produce a big sound live, with rich textures of synths, rhythmic guitar and dreamy vocals. Bass and drums drive the heart of our music, and I'm an energetic singer and keyboard player. We generally set a dark and sensual mood, with a good groove. I draw and/or paint an original poster for every show we play, so you can expect to see a limited number of these given away for free. We will also be playing alongside some other killer musicians at this show. Sloslylove writes this awesome synth/sample-based chillwave that sounds like it's inspired by 1980s movie soundtracks. He did this rad, trancey remix of "Pretend We're Stars."

Dan Mariska and The Boys Choir will be opening the night with their solid down-tempo alt rock, which is fronted by Dan's expressive vocals. They generally rock the sh*t out of any room they play. And Bollywood will be closing with their grungy, psychedelic art rock. Awesome trippy visuals projected on stacks of old tube TVs will be part of their performance.

Mitch Billings: It's a great, eclectic line-up. There should be something for everyone. Logan makes great artwork, and we'll have a show poster available along with the EP.

Astronomique will release Burning Stars Fade at Cause on Friday, May 23, 2014 with Sloslylove, Dan Mariska and the Boys Choir, and Bollywood.
21+, $5, 9 pm

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