Small Black

Craving Connections

Sep 25, 2013 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Issue #46 - June/July 2013 - Charli XCX
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To kick off work on their second full-length, Limits of Desire, Brooklyn-based quartet Small Black (Ryan Heyner, Josh Hayden Kolenik, Juan Pieczanski, and Jeff Curtin) skipped town to isolate themselves from big-city distractions and temporarily took up residence in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. There, with a waiter at a local BBQ joint as their only friend, they mapped out the bulk of the album.

After a stint writing and recording demos in the beach town, the band returned to Brooklyn, recording tracks at various members' Park Slope apartments. To keep their spirits up during the creative process, a tactic was employed to remind themselves just how far they've come.

"We have a couple of legendary band Pro Tools sessions that we'll play whenever we're feeling sad about whatever we're working on," reveals frontman Kolenik. "We'll pick one of the worst sessions we've had and blast it really loud. Then we'll get really pumped up about the stuff that we're actually working on. You know what? It could be a lot worse."

Their labors yielded an album that splits the difference between the hazy walls of synth and muted vocals that defined their debut, New Chain, and the electronic anthems found in closing credits to 1980s films. Although both Kolenik and Pieczanski profess an affinity for the decade (Pieczanski's brother was a DJ in Argentina during the era, a legacy that he jokingly refers to as the "source code" for his music tastes), both note that nostalgia wasn't their intention.

"It was an era of synth sounds being used in more mainstream pop music," says Pieczanski. "They had all the great early sounds and keyboards. We just picked from that and picked from other eras as well. But it's kind of hard to escape from it to some degree when you're dealing with synth pop in general."

"If you put on New Order, does it sound really retro to you?" asks Kolenik. "I think it just sounds awesome. I think it's some of the best pop music that's ever been made. I don't wish it was the '80s. I feel like we're so lucky in the era that we make music in to have tools at our disposal to take those ideas and take them to a different place."

Limits of Desire was one of the working titles that the band had been considering for the album when they acquired the cover art, a shot of a naked man and woman embracing at the top of a ladder as an alligator lurks below. It was photographed by Scarlett Hooft Graafland, an Amsterdam-based artist who often uses images of nature in her work. Kolenik thought that the photo fit with Limits of Desire, a title that related to his feelings about modernity and the pursuit of happiness.

"You can never be happy with what you have because you're constantly looking for the next thing," Kolenik muses. "The Internet magnifies this drastically. How accessible everything is. People, and ideas, and art, and music. It's always the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. Sometimes it's really hard to take a minute to be calm and enjoy whatever's sitting right in front of you at that moment when you've got something buzzing in your pocket. There's always a bleep or bloop of another door that's opening."

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar's June/July 2013 print issue.]



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