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Introducing... The Values

Across the Pacific, there's been a rise in indie music. Spearheaded by the like of LCD Soundsystem and The Strokes we're seeing a generation of Americans inspired by these bands. And whilst The Values are nothing like either of those bands, their infectious electro-come-power pop is something to behold. And yet whilst delivering such a sound they never shy away from the harsh topics - delivering views on abortion and domestic violence it's clear that this is a duo who are ready to stand up for what they believe and ultimately staying true to their name. The phenomenally talented couple have just released their EP 'Civil', which sees them produce a fantastic cover of Bruce Springsteen's classic. I got to chance with Evan and Mason regarding their latest EP, Mason's illustrious vocals and their plans to play Madison Square Gardens...

Question. I think The Values is a name that could be laced with meaning depending on the person, what does it mean to you and where did it come from?
We always wanted something that sounded good and had a punchy feel. When we started this band we didn’t know exactly what sort of music we’d end up making so I didn’t want anything that would tie us down to any certain sound. I think people’s values are very subjective, but I also believe in certain universal values like not judging someone on race or creed or gender equality. While we definitely like to get strange with sound, we try to adhere to some universal “values” of music like a danceable drumbeat, honest lyrics, and thumping bass lines.
Mason: I guess you can say we express our own “values” in our lyrics, and I've always tried to practice the kinds of things we preach in our songs. Take "Mass Destruction", for example, off our EP "Civil", or "Zombie", a song I wrote about abortion. I'm not going to write and perform a feminist song at shows if we're not a band who also do our best to fundraise for Planned Parenthood and the Anti Violence Project or to play with as wide a variety of humans as possible.

Q. How did you establish your sound?
We’ve experimented with some different instrumentation, and the one we have now sort of developed organically out of what we needed as a duo. We both like fairly full arrangements, so it was a matter of getting the drum machine, learning Ableton, etc. to be able to write the kinds of songs we wanted to write.
Evan: A lot of what we do was originally done out of necessity. We didn’t want to have to rely on other people when it came to touring or recording so we use Abelton, a drum machine (the Korg Vucla Beats), and a variety of synths (namely our Alesis Ion and our Novation Bass Station II) to write our music. I also really like using samples and have a pretty solid library that I’ve been collecting for a while. On a conceptual level we’re trying to make music that’s really danceable and at the same time emotionally vulnerable and confessional.

Q. I love the story of how you guys met, but for the readers could you just recap it for them?
We were both nannies for kids who went to the same school in downtown Brooklyn. Evan approached me in the school yard at pickup and asked me where the fourth grade classes got out. It was the closest I’ve been to love at first sight, but we were both seeing other people at the time. Shortly after we started dating, then I joined his band singing backup, and The Values evolved out of that.
Evan: What Mason didn’t know for a long time was that I had been nannying kids at that school for a while for I fully knew where pick up was! I just had never seen anyone so beautiful and before I knew it I was standing in front of her with no idea what I was going to say. I felt pretty stupid but we started talking and it became pretty clear after about a week that I was falling for her. I ended things with the person I was seeing at the time and we started dating and I’ve never looked back. She’s the greatest person I’ve ever met and she brings the best out of me.

Q. Were you always looking to introduce a very synth heavy sound or is that what you've naturally progressed to?
We’ve always incorporated a keyboard or synth in the songs as my musical foundation is classical piano, but we’ve only gotten into actual synth design in the last year or so. I’ve learned a ton!
Evan: Yeah, I’d say so. Guitar was my first instrument so I’ll always have a special place in my heart for bass and guitar, but I’ve been obsessed with synths since I heard the first MGMT album. That was a game changer. I was always in punk bands growing up so that was my comfort zone. I always thought that I didn’t know enough to use drum machines and synths to make crazy and wild dance music. Being with Mason has really given me the confidence to pursue this new avenue.

Q. How often are you going into the studio to record?
We get into the studio every four to six months. We live together so we have the advantage of not having to schedule practices, which means we end up doing a lot of writing at home.
Evan: Yeah, every 6 months. We typically go into a recording sessions with a bunch of extra songs and then pair down what we want to record. We’re going into the studio in August and we’ll probably go in with 14 songs and pick the best two.

Q. I'm completely in love with your cover of "Dancing In The Dark", you evolved the sound of that record whilst also staying true to the original. How did that come about?
Ev and I both came up listening to Springsteen, so we decided to cover “Dancing in the Dark”. When we first started playing it live, we did it fairly faithful to the original. When we made a demo to play for Oliver Ignatius, who recorded and produced the record at his studio Holy Fang, I mentioned that I was concerned we were about to record what was basically a karaoke version of the song. I wanted to delve a little deeper into the frustration that’s evident in the lyrics, so we sort of experimented in the studio with the Korg volca beats drum machine to get that epic delayed snare, and found some fresh harmonies in the synth pads that gave it a more wistful sound. Then we arranged it as more of a slow burn, which gave me space to really get intimate and vulnerable with my vocals.
Evan: I grew up in Shanghai, China until I was 18 and Bruce Springsteen was a huge part of how I related to America and Americans. Still to this day he’s an incredibly important musician to me. We were listening to Dancing in the Dark on the way home from a gig in Philly one night and we were looking to pick a new cover to start playing. We just kinda locked eyes and knew it’d be the perfect one to do.

Q. So, your new EP, Civil, has been out for a while now. What has the response been like?
It’s been pretty great! I’ve loved hearing from people about which is their favorite song on the EP and why. Each song has a slightly different vibe so it’s interesting to see which resonates with each unique listener.
Evan: I feel really good about it. People really like it, out friends keep saying that ‘Civil’ is they’re new favorite song of ours. We have a music video coming out soon for it that’s one of the best things we’ve ever done.
Q. I've only seen positive review for it, but how would you take criticism for something?
I also come from a theater background, and being able to take notes is built into the acting process, so I try to utilize that skill. It also comes in handy when Evan and I are working on a song, bringing things we’ve written to the table and allowing them to be picked apart for the good of the final product. When it comes to media of course, there are times when you’ve gotta just ignore certain criticisms and do you.
Evan: I’d be pretty stoked to be honest. If we got big enough to where someone felt the need to take us down a peg with a bad review I’d take that as a victory. Regardless of what someone says, I try to internalize criticism and use it to make what we’re doing better. Unless they’re being a prick.

Q. "Civil" the title track, is such an empowering anthem. Did you feel that you needed an anthemic chorus for it or did it just evolve?
Honestly that song just sort of poured out of me without much thought. I wrote the first verse and the hook all in one go, and it just became obvious that “I’m trying to be civil” was going to be the focal point of the song.
Evan: I really wanted that song to feel like an anthem that people could sing along to. I always imagine when we play Madison Square Garden that’s the song we bring up all the house lights and the whole crowd sings along to.

Q. Do you feel that coming from New York has inspired your sound at all?
Absolutely. We often get compared to the famous New York City electro pop bands like LCD Soundsystem and Yaz. A lot of New York art has this sort of untouchable air of cool, but I’d like to think we bring some sincerity to the sound.
Evan: Fo shizzle. The whole buzz and energy of the city really gets under my skin and can give me a lot of anxious energy which I purge with lots of little blip-bloop sounds, arpeggiators, and those phat Justice style bass sounds. Also, the bands in New York are generally very good. I’m always running into people doing amazing, interesting work that’s inspiring me to work harder and make better shit.

Q. Mason, your voice is quite simply perfect for these indie pop bangers. Is that something you've had to work towards or is it natural talent?
Thank you! I put in a lot of work to keep my voice in good shape. I did a lot of musical theater growing up so when I first started singing in bands I was self-conscious about sounding too Broadway, which most people think is so uncool. Then I realized that musicals had taught me how to live the words of a song onstage, and that that skill actually gave me a leg up on most vocalists. Now I just try to sound like me and tell the story of the song, and it usually works itself out!

Q. As many bands argue during the creative process, do you feel that being in a relationship helps to get through those times?
Being a couple definitely means that we already have constructive modes of communication in place. When we used to play with other people, it was a lot more difficult to navigate those arguments.
Evan: Yeah I think so. I can get frustrated and emotional pretty easy so I end up needing to apologize more than most and Mason is really gracious about that so we can move on from arguments pretty easily.

Q. What's next for the band following the release of the Civil?
More writing and recording! We’ve written maybe seven or eight new songs already since the release, so the plan is to pick the very best ones and hone them for another EP.
Evan: We have a ton of shows this summer so check out our Instagram or our Facebook for info about that! We’re getting back in the studio in August so we’ll have a n.ew EP out around November!

Q. What is the ultimate goal for The Values?
Play, write and record for a living, without needing a day job. Give people some catharsis through dance music and poignant, socially conscious lyrics. Add a little more good to the world.
Evan: Madison Square Garden. Although, we recently saw Jungle at Brooklyn Steel and that’s definitely the best venue in NYC, so maybe five sold out shows at Brooklyn Steel.

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