Rodney Connell and Brandon Duhon, a relationship that was created on tragedy, progressed into a thing of beauty, known as the synth-pop act Night Drive. This duo is reviving the classic sound of the 80’s and incorporating the distant rhythms of the universe in their first, self-titled album set to be released June 2017. To get a sneak preview of this album as well as an insight into this eclectic duo, keep reading and may the words be with you…
When man finally reaches the worldly, long time goal of landing on Mars let’s hope the fortunate astronaut is a music lover, beyond any type of aeronautical training. Because once the explorer lands they will find a commune of Martians (the natives of Mars based on classic films) who amongst other living habits have developed a fascination for music. The rocket man will first come across a mature venue with a David Bowie impersonator present, as this music will be before the travellers time, they will move onto a gritty looking scene where the intelligent life have long flowing tentacles and are listening to the guitar riffs of Muse. After passing a variety of 80’s inspired clubs, the music fan will arrive at a place where native UFO’s are playing and grooving to Night Drive. The spaceman will stay and continue to listen and once arriving back on Earth will urge for an out of this world tour immediately (first class spaceships of course).
On the set list will, of course, be their self-titled album, with music more prominent than vocals, when listened to from start to finish can be interpreted as a soundtrack or even a musical about a jaded and complicated love story. Taking inspiration from the best science fiction films which were made around the 1970’s and 80’s, when listening to Night Drive, the music has the individual imagining shaggy heads of hair, actors in overheating alien costumes and original storylines.
This fable begins with Hyperion, the introduction to the album which would roll nicely over the opening credits. With ominous notes to embody the theme of all imaginative science fiction stories “what if?” The synths in this track would have tested out the strength of the volume of newly purchased speakers in the 1980’s, whilst the Night Drive signature bass is showcased more blatantly than usual to highlight its value on this album. As this audio is going, the visual in the eye of the beholder is the Uber of the night skies, preparing for take-off or progressing slowly toward its destination.
Trapeze Artist Regrets kicks in as a great song for the 21st-century listener, it has a beat that is similar to music grooved to at isolated festivals, where physically the patrons are dressed like models from another planet and in their minds are probably strutting around at their very fashion show. The vocals, particularly in the verse, are brought to light to the point that as well as dancing, listeners can nicely sing along, all while the lyrics indicate the anticipated fear ahead.
Easy to Lie, which is the weakest out of the singles, can be described as progressive or a driving song, making the mysterious man travelling in a motorbike perfect for the video of this song. One thing Night Drive are great at is delving into the core of situations lyrically, but the music did not align in this scenario. The track is moving but not hitting that melodic hook or climax that provides an eargasm to listeners, unlike the leather-bound, drifter toward the end of the video. The subtle guitar part in the bridge can be noted as a nice point of difference.
Rise and Fall starts off with a similar a pattern with the small intro and advancing verses, yet the passion of the vocals in the chorus emphasises the emotion conveyed in the peak of this fairy tale in a galaxy far away, not to mention a change in Rodney Connell’s voice. The guitar is exercised more thoroughly in this track and fits better not only with Connell’s vocals, but the ferrous dispersing of two lovers as the track descends.
After the singles have been provided, the deep track of Arboria picks up where Trapeze Artist Regrets finished off. The bass that is not credited enough in Night Drive songs is at its best in Arboria, which dares the listener not to move their body. There are elements of Matt Bellamy throughout this track, particularly in the tone of Connell’s voice and its arrangements, which combined with the low speaking sections and vocal enhancer encapsulates the discovery of the final frontier within this science fiction soundtrack. This unearthing is further described “as I am peering out my window,” in Sky Machine, with a backdrop more 1980’s and Flock of Seagulls than the rest of the album (which says something). The chorus provides great melody too with its simple and emphasised lyrics, giving the dancing listeners the same charm of Trapeze Artist Regrets and prevents them from having to reach for their smart phone to check what the name of this song is. Strange Telepathy is almost like part two of Sky Machine, as it continues with the theme of the insanity, with similar musical values offered as the previous tracks, with the exception of the ray gun noise, which almost signals a potential heart beating intergalactic war.
At this point of the album, the listener struggles to find variety, Unsaid does have a likeable off-beat chorus, with a catchy melody and the overlapping vocals in the verse is pretty cool (an acoustic version of this song could work between the duos). But before the LP is discarded, Young Rivals starts playing with a synth intro that Coldplay would have to acknowledge and builds up to be the song of the album, the last song of a concert, the best single. It’s a feel good song, it’s melodic, but not corny, it acts as an original or theme song as opposed to one listed on the rest of the soundtrack. This track attracts the dance and alternative enthusiasts bringing back classic modern sounds that resembles The Killers.
Outer Lines follows the previous theme of the abyss of the new world, with the Night Drive funky bassline, atmospheric synth’s and built up passion in Connell’s voice to match. But thank the Gods of whatever universe for Ghost Craft, the dark tune that could be played over the closing credits when viewers are more focused on the music, due to the visuals being removed. Like many albums, there is one song that conveys such stripped back beauty and that is the closing track on this self-titled album. This is brought on by the sincerity of the piano riff and minimal Digitalism, this is Night Drive exposed and naked, which portrays a fantastic sight.
When it comes to building atmosphere and conveying stories, Night Drive are far from slouches, their love of science fiction films and composition experience is obvious after listening to this album. Even if it was not intentional, they have built a soundtrack out of their first album that does not only take you to another planet but has you imagening you are viewing a Night Drive impersonation show, portrayed by extra-terrestrial beings (that mimic the group perfectly of course). They have revived the sounds of the 1980’s, which is a pleasure to the ears of any mature listeners or young people with that style of music innate in their musical makeup. By the time Mar’s is as common a holiday destination as Hawaii, it would only be right if Night Drive are allowed not just a tour of the red planet, but a regular gig spot.
Night Drive was kind enough to sit down and answer the questions we felt had not been answered.
Rodney, you grew up in the suburbs north of Houston, to what I am to believe was quite sheltered and limited, can we know more about your life before moving away and how music was a part of it?
I was into music from a very young age. I always kinda knew that was what I wanted to do. My first band was in 7th grade and we mostly did originals because we only knew how to play power chords (which is kinda funny). My grandmother turned me on to Sinatra and my dad really liked Roy Orbison. It gave me a real appreciation for great vocalists. I’d spend hours in my bedroom trying to mimic whoever I was into at the time. Culturally, growing up in the suburbs is just terrible and unless you have an outsider to turn you on to other things, its a barrage of mainstream radio and chain stores. My childhood was fine but I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
On the other hand, Brandon, you grew up in the music-filled New Orleans, tell me a bit about your early years, especially starting out jazz as a drummer.
In New Orleans, I was a little goth kid into painting and illustration. I loved music but never considered playing an instrument myself, perhaps because several of my close friends were classically trained musicians and I just assumed that one needed formal training to go into music. Spending just one day behind a drum kit and a keyboard taught me that this is definitely not true. I found out by accident that I could play the drums, and some of my friends in a jazz band needed a drummer. They were surprised that I had zero training or practice and could play the drums, I can’t explain how I knew how to do it. Jazz isn’t exactly my cup of tea so I didn’t stick with it, but I quickly realised that I wanted to play music from then on.
Night Drive, regularly gets classified as 80’s pop synth and is frequently compared to acts from this era, what is the 80’s to the both of you?
The 80s was an era when synths and other instruments for making electronic music became accessible to the
general public. Anytime something egalitarian like this happens, it is usually an explosion of creativity and new ideas. It was also an era when traditional drum-guitar-bass bands decided that they didn’t need solos and other guitar wankery in their songs – which became expressed in post-punk and other movements that had their origins in the 80s.
This era was known for its off-beat and outlandish fashion, tell me, is there any piece of bizarre clothing that you admit to wearing, or any item that you would consider a favourite?
When we first started this project, we really perceived it as performance art more than a band. Our first several shows were at art galleries rather than music venues. Those were experimental times and we would wear outlandish outfits, I remember one show we dressed how we imagined Amish punk rockers would dress.
Part of the way you two met is quite sensitive, so to keep it brief, was the name of the band inspired by this incident and has this scenario been written about or referred to in any of your songs?
Many of our songs refer to it in a roundabout way, but we haven’t yet written a song that is specifically about that incident.
I know you are both huge science fiction fans, what is your favourite movie and director? Why?
We’ve noticed many sci-fi directors are hit-and-miss, so we tend to like individual movies rather than a director’s entire filmography. Some of our mutual favourites are Beyond the Black Rainbow (which inspired one of the songs in our new album), Gattaca, Under the Skin, THX1138, Blade Runner (of course). As you can probably tell, we like those movies that are heavy on style and atmosphere.
I personally feel today, science fiction movies are lacking and this can be attributed to the writing, what is your opinion on this matter and are there any sci-fi movies you have seen in recent years that stood out?
We tend to agree, but there are always some gems to be found in any era. Like the aforementioned Beyond the Black Rainbow and Under the Skin, which was both in the last decade. Some others would be Ex Machina and Upstream Color.
I am lead to believe you have a large hand in your videos, which resemble short sci-fi films and Rodney you have stated that you would love to work with Wes Anderson or David Lynch, is making films in the not too distant future?
We’ve always been close to film from the beginning. Many of our songs from the upcoming album began as
instrumentals for a short film that we were working on, in fact. That film may come to light sometime in the future when we have the budget to complete it properly.
You have provided music for certain films and television shows, can you please list those credits and will we see more of this kind of work in the future?
I can’t remember all of them off hand but we had songs in MTV Award campaigns, video games and a movie called That Awkward Moment. We hope to do a lot more films in the future. Ultimately, we’d like to score an entire film one day soon.
Night Drive has an unusual song writing process, Rodney you live in Austin and Brandon you live in Houston, you both work separately most of the time, yet seem to be more productive when you work in the same physical space, Rodney why don’t you move back to Houston? Or both of you move a bit closer?
We’re tied to our current locales at the moment, but it is a hassle to drive back and forth. Things are working out as they are for the time being, but if in the future moving in the same city made sense then we wouldn’t hesitate to do it.
After both playing in big bands and working so well as a team, you were content on keeping Night Drive a duo. What was it about drummer Gibran Nassif that made you change your mind? Especially for you Brandon (being a drummer originally)?
Actually, from the beginning we’ve always had the intention of bringing a drummer on board, just not right away. Gibran contacted us with a youtube video of himself playing drums along with our songs. We thought to ourselves, this guy clearly already knows our songs so why not try him out? We brought him on for the next show and he knocked it out of the park, so we decided to keep him. It’s also always been our intention to eventually bring a live bass player into the band, but we’re in no hurry to find one. We’re fine with a 3-piece for the time being.
It has been awesome to hear that you are fans of Australian act Cut Copy and that they have been an
influence on your music. Have you collaborated with any other Australian artists?
We’re big fans of Cut Copy, and that mid-2000s wave of Australian synth bands in general. So much good music came out of Australia in that time period. One aspect of Cut Copy that we like is their successful merge of older and newer sounds, which is something that we aim to accomplish. We’ve worked with a few other Australian artists – we were recently part of the remix package for Miami Horror’s single Stranger. We also did a remix for another Australian act called Gold Fields, but because of label issues I don’t think that remix ever saw the light of day.
David Bowie is not only an artist that you mention frequently and are a fan of, but I can feel the legends undertones throughout your music (even the face paint in the After Dark video reminds me of Ziggy Stardust). Who was Bowie to you?
David Bowie was a true individual and an artist in the purest sense of the word. His sensitivity and distinction was apparent in anything he did, whether music or acting or visual art.
Brandon: My favorite Bowie song changes because there are so many, but at this moment it is Strangers When We Meet.
You have mentioned one of your favourite places to take a “night drive” is in Tokyo and I feel similar to David Bowie, the hustle and neon lights of this city run throughout your music and videos. Is Tokyo a favourite location of Night Drive or served as an inspiration?
Tokyo is definitely a favorite locale for this band. We love places where two polar opposites meet to create a beautiful or interesting result, and Tokyo surely fits that category. We hope to return as soon as possible.
I have heard that you have a giant, abstract purple chest you use to store your electronics in while you are touring and due to this heaviness, have come up with ways to avoid moving it. Is that true and do you still have it? Is there any stories behind this chest?
Yes, that chest is a true story. In fact, our equipment now consists of 3 purple chests in total. But that original chest is a monster, it weighs well over 100 pounds. We actually have to remove items from it when traveling by plane, because airlines will not carry items over 100 pounds. Many of our games on tour involve coming up with ways to avoid moving that chest.
The lyrics of Rise and fall go into depth the feelings of a breakup to such an extent, that this must be based on a real situation. What event influenced this song?
Its actually not based on a real situation. I just wanted to write a song about the moment you know something is definitively over. We’ve all gone through it in some way whether it be a lover, a partner or a friend. It’s a bit confusing and lonely, and ultimately, out of your control. You just have to come to terms with it.
Pre-order the Night Drive LP here or buy or stream the album on June 2016.