By Thomas Dunlap
Selfsteam is a soft, smooth and sensual musical outfit comprised of members Vince and Christopher. Currently based out of Vancouver, the duo met in Chile in 2015 during a family trip to Santiago. The two were introduced through Christopher’s sister, who was in a relationship with Vince at the time. The pair soon discovered that they shared many things in common, specifically musical interests, and eventually agreed to start a band. Both had a vast appreciation for the works of artists such as Mac DeMarco and John Frusciante, and enjoyed the back-and-forth nature of exposing each other to new music. Christopher returned to Vancouver with Vince soon following suit, and the two friends began collaborating on a musical endeavor. Drawing heavily from their musical inspirations, they composed several songs that came create their specific niche of lo-fi indie pop with their release Summer Singles in 2017.
Summer Singles is a collection of five foggy tracks, all constructed of distorted vocals, spaced-out synths, and groovy guitar riffs. These cloudy tracks sound cold and lonely, creating a temperamental and moody atmosphere. Each track is related to the other, sharing the same despondent musical tones and gloomy instrumentation. The introduction to this short but solid EP is the melodramatic track “Fate Is.” The beginning of this track is like walking into a small and crowded venue during a band’s soundcheck, complete with dissonant chords and a background full of murmurs. The strumming of melodic chords and the mumbling of a crowd are suddenly cut short with the dramatic eruption of an emotional guitar riff and warped vocals singing “I need you…” The brooding guitar and contorted vocals continue until they are interrupted by a breakdown of inconsistent percussion and a warbling synth. The same guitar and vocals return once more for a reprise, and shortly later ending the song with a bopping synth that spirals upwards before halting to an abrupt hi-hat finale.
The next installment of Selfsteam’s sensual Summer Singles is the upbeat track “Isn’t It All That There Is…?” This track is a brief amalgamation of a stuttering but sticky guitar riff, a bouncing drum beat, a blues-like walking bass line, and vocals as mysterious as the song title. Clear connections can be drawn between this track and Homeshake’s “He’s Heating Up,” and their interpretation of this musical idea is delivered as equally as satisfying. The funky guitar playing circles in and out as twisted vocals croon barely audible over the hesitant instrumentation. The seemingly angsty nature of the quiet vocals is personified in the lyrics “Yeah, I guess so” –– words that end the oral additions to the track. This buoyant track fades away as quickly as it began, ending with a final groovy guitar lick and a winding down bass line.
The conclusion transitions flawlessly with the beginning of the next track, “Tell Me.” The sampled drum beat that is persistent throughout this track is an elegant homage to one of their most influential musical inspirations, Mac DeMarco. Not only are the drum tracks identical, but the structure and sound of this track bear obvious resemblances to DeMarco’s “Chamber of Reflection.” After an instrumental intro of bass and percussion, a sharp and icy synth pierces over the soundwaves, accompanied by an underlying and unwavering airy synth note. The heavily filtered and distorted vocals are barely comprehensible, and act more as another melodic synth than a lyrical message. Summer Singles’ total runtime is just shy of ten minutes, and “Tell Me” is one of two tracks that exceed a length of two minutes.
“When I Forget Who I Am…?” is the climax of the project. The track begins with two rippling guitar chords that flow over each other in waves to create a murky and downtrodden atmosphere. Hazy vocals warble over the misty instrumentation, quietly singing the lyrics “the day’s burned up, morpheus is calling.” These lyrics are an elegant and somber analogy for a day’s end, beautifully illustrating the setting of a sun as well as the mood that such a sight inspires. A sunset is an appropriate scene for this climactic track, as the sun sets on the EP with this song. Despite the amnestic title, “When I Forget Who I Am…?” stands apart from the rest of the tracks and demands to be remembered, somehow always creeping back into either my head or my “up next.”
After a short interval of silence that concludes the previous track, the music thematically returns with the encore to Summer Singles — “The Little Things.” This track is stripped-down and simple compared to its predecessors, but still successfully manages to foster a melodramatic and solemn disposition. A lone synth progression introduces the song, followed by a skipping bass line and crashing percussion. These elements continue for a brief refrain before abruptly ending with the quick cessation of the song. This abrupt ending seems to parallel the fleeting nature of the EP as well as its titular season, since Summer Singles seems to be over before you know it.
I reached out to the members of Selfsteam via their Instagram (@selfteams) to see if they could answer or comment on a few questions. To my surprise and satisfaction, they replied not long after my initial message, and we shared a quick introductory conversation. The following is a copy of our small Q&A session that was conducted over email.
Your music has a very refined and specific sound. Was the idea to create this certain style of music set forth from the beginning?
Most importantly, something we discussed in the beginning as a “philosophy” to shape our sound was to create landscapes without one instrument or element have a protagonist role. We didn’t want to create guitar music nor vocal music, etc… so there wouldn’t be a need to be so phallic with your instrument and instead become a part of the picture.
In terms of the actual style of the music it was more of an experiment where through trial and error we’d find different elements we would want to put on the table, e.g.: decide to put a sad laid back vocal on a funky ass trap beat (fate is). But it changes wildly song to song, specially with the new material we’re writing and recording.
The tracks in Summer Singles are pieced together quite well. How do you go about creating a cohesive album where the songs all sound like they belong together?
It’s funny because the idea was more to just release the songs we had made more as a singles package than a cohesive album. We find it flattering to hear that it works and appreciate you saying so. For our new release we’re giving more care to how it’s glued together.
Do y’all have any live performances coming up soon?
We’re working with a local Vancouver booking agency and on the horizon there’s a San Francisco gig cooking up in partnership with a close friend of ours, head of indie label Color Station. Shout out to Troy! We’re also gearing up for a North American tour, keep your eyes peeled.
As a duo, do y’all stick to your respective instruments when in the studio? Or will y’all trade the helm of certain instruments back and forth?
We’re both multi-instrumentalists and the roles we might take depend on the session. Sometimes we fully collaborate together and generally will grab any instrument to add to a song while we just jam it out. On the other hand, we could come with a song to our ‘show and tell’ sessions and there we give feedback, and might tinker. When it comes to live performances we swap instruments around as the show goes on.
I loved the new single, “Sushi.” Could you please tell me about the creative process for this song from inception to release?
Actually, “Sushi” was one of the many songs that didn’t make it to Summer Singles. At the time we only had the guitar and bass riff laid over some real s**t drums. The concept of the song came from discussing wanting to write a racy love song, but have it lyrically hidden in whatever sushi-related terms we could conjure. Once we started working with Delicieuse Musique we went back into the vault and re-worked an oldie which thankfully turned out to be a goodie.
Please tell me about your relationship with Delicieuse Musique.
We are signed to Delicieuse Musique and release our music through their indie-pop division Nice Guys.
What tracks are currently in your daily rotation? What are some tracks or artists you think deserve more attention?
Chris: I’ve been getting into Aldous Harding quite a bit lately. I especially like watching her live session performances. The subtlety in her vocal performance and eccentric facial expressions make it an emotional experience I seek out to. From watching her interviews she gives me the impression she is, or honestly attempts to be very free of deceit. One of the things I value in music. I also really enjoy watching the NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. A couple out of many highlights would be ‘Noname’ and ‘Tank and the Bangas’ check ‘em out if you haven’t.
Vince: Lately I keep finding Matthew Dillon Cohen’s videos impacting me deeply.
Gus Dapperton’s ‘’I’m just snacking’’ & Joji’s ‘’Will He’’ are crazy. They hit me at the right time.
The soft, smooth, and sensual music that Selfsteam seems to so effortlessly curate is a must-listen for all fans of bedroom and indie pop. Despite it’s sad and somber tone, the music inspires a calming and blissful experience for listeners. Selfsteam’s Summer Singles as well as a selection of standalone tracks are currently available on all streaming services.