Lots of people want to be in a band. Some actually put one together. Fewer still persevere thorough the endless practice sessions, interminable van rides, and nearly empty venues to actually make a go of it. Prefix’s Artist to Watch series highlights bands at this critical point in their careers. Boy Friend is Christa Palazzolo and Sarah Brown, operating out of Austin, Texas. The duo layers atmospheric guitars with vocal harmonies to create a dreamy sonic environment that borders on ambient without forgetting its pop sensibility. Band member Palazzolo took some time to chat with Prefix before SXSW about the importance of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth to her art, the problem of maintaining creative control in the face of economic pressure, and the need for long term planning despite having an artistic disposition.
For those who don’t know you, who is Boy Friend?
Boy Friend is myself, Christa Palazzolo and Sarah Brown. We’re from Austin, Texas. We’re longtime friends, and have been in some other acts together, but Boy Friend has been the ultimate manifestation. We’re kind of still growing and experimenting. We used to be in a band called Sleepover, and decided to part ways. Egyptian Wrinkle is our first album as a duo.
You’ve tagged your album as dark dream pop, etc., but also put R&B on there. That wouldn’t be the first adjective I’d use. Where does it come in?
You know, we’re probably just more interested in R&B. It’s a big influence for us. If it doesn’t come through in the music, it’s definitely the biggest inspiration in the vocals, my vocals especially. A lot of the beats are R&B and hip-hop inspired as well. There are inspirations that we draw from, but we try to take it to another place when we’re writing a song. It’s not particularly R&B, but it’s inspired by that sound.
When you say R&B sound, that could mean a bunch of different things. What are some things you listen to?
We listen to a wide variety- Aaliyah, Mariah Carey, some of the earlier Sam Cooke, some of the Motown stuff. We’re also drawn to anything with a smooth female vocal. You can follow that into Eighties pop, where you had Madonna and Pat Benatar singing these songs with big vocals- those big super ballads. Those are big influences. We honestly never know what to say when people ask us what we sound like, because we draw on so many different influences.
A more obvious comparison is to the Cocteau Twins. Is that a good one to make?
We get that one a lot. We also got it in our last band a lot. Cocteau Twins and Beach House. I like the Beach House comparison better, because the Cocteau Twins are a little harder, more shoe gazey, and experimental in their work. I think we try to stay away from that comparison just because it’s so easy to make; even so, it’s a totally inspiring band.
What is your most out there influence, one that people might not guess?
I think the influence that people wouldn’t guess, and it’s for myself and Sarah, are the country roots that we have, and even a little bit of reggae. I think the reggae stuff is easier to see, especially with the beats, but I don’t think people would guess that the country is just below the surface. We are from Texas, but our music doesn’t sound country at all. It’s still there.
You’ve also said that you pictured Egyptian Wrinkle as a soundtrack to a sci-fi film. How did that translate into the recording?
We drew really heavily on films that we grew up with, from The Neverending Story to Labyrinth. Those are huge, soundtrack-based films. Sarah’s a huge sci-fi buff, and she draws me into that world. The record was actually mostly written before we committed to that idea, so we want to explore even more with the next record, going further to give it the soundtrack feel. Since this one was halfway done, it feels like an amalgamation, because we wanted to get the songs that we’d written onto the record, but we were also being drawn into this dreamy space we wanted to explore.
So you feel like the band is still growing into its mature self?
Oh yeah, sure. Sarah and I learned, and are still learning, a lot in all our different musical projects. If we didn’t keep learning, it would be sad. We have a lot of different areas where we want to grow, and there are a lot of different styles that we want to explore. We want to experiment more with different percussive elements, but we’re also excited to have gotten the music we’ve been making out on an album. At the same time, we’re really stoked to sit down and write another one and see where we can take it.
You did have some film making experience recently when you directed your first video. What are the ups and downs of that?
It was an immensely frustrating experience, mostly because it was just bad timing. I’d had a friend that died recently and was about to have surgery, but there was this video and we had to get it done. We’re very proactive about doing things ourselves. We have a lot of talented artist friends, but we didn’t want to pin that on them because the deadline was so short. We figured that it was something important for us to learn, and that it would be dreadful, but that we would get through it. In the end, it was kind of an awesome experience, just because there was no one else calling the shots. We had to be the deciders, and at the same time be learning the language of a new medium. I know there are lots of bands that make videos all the time, and I’ve always wanted to do that. And, despite the circumstances, we got our chance.
I wouldn’t even know where to start if somebody told me to make a film.
We were actually really lucky that Sarah’s boyfriend had a lot of the film making software on his computer already, so we would just spend late nights working on it. And once you start working on one element of it, you find a visual that you can tie in to other scenes. Once that’s out of the way, you can really start putting the finished product together. In the end, I guess it was a lot of fun.
Is it important to you to maintain a large amount of artistic control over your product?
It’s important for me, because, as I’ve been told many times by many different people, I’m a control freak. I totally admit it. I’m also a visual artist, and in every band that I’ve been in, I’ve been very protective of the visual presentation. I want to feel proud of every element that gets put out there. I know there are lots of bands that are talented in a bunch of different ways, and that some people might be able to do some things better, but it’s a good feeling to put out music, videos- even photography- that’s yours.
How do you negotiate the business versus the artistic part of your career? Can you maintain control and still be successful?
That’s a really good question, and the answer is that I think that I can. Sarah maybe a little less so, just because she’s so chill about things. We’ve both had bad experiences in the past when we’ve let go of our material, so we decided that at this point we want to maintain a pretty tight rein on things. As we grow as artists, I think it’s only natural that we begin to cede a little control to other people. I’m totally into that idea. And I would like to be a full-time musician in the future. Right now I’m twenty-eight, and Sarah and I are both working full-time jobs in addition to being in the band. I would love to make money and be able to do my craft full time. That’s the goal.
Where would you like this band to be in five years? Do you even think long-term?
I’ve been thinking more long-term recently; usually things are pretty immediate with the band, but I’ve had to some time recently to stop and think. I see the band growing and changing. We might add members or be playing completely different instruments. Really though, I would love to have the band at a point where all the friends and family who have supported us can see that we’ve been successful.