Small Black singer Josh Kolenik has been a fixture at local shows since long before the genre he's now heavily associated with was even just a pixel in a blogger's eye. In advance of the release of his band's anticipated debut, New Chain, we grabbed a burger and chatted between bites about the new record, changing listening habits, the decline of eclecticism, and the deep and awesome weirdness of Ariel Pink. And, of course, we tried to get to the bottom of this whole "chillwave" thing, once and for all.
One of the most common adjectives used to describe the music you guys are making is "nostalgic." I never got the sense that you are nostalgic for the 80s in the least.
Josh Kolenik: No, not at all. I was a 90s hip-hop kid. When we did the first EP, the main thought of it was: I love this Casio keyboard and I think it sounds really good and I want to make songs with this, because it sounds better than any of these keyboards or this guitar that I've had.
Well, you'd have to admit that, for a new band, getting tagged with some ridiculous made-up genre name is good for business these days.
Yeah, I think we're the only band that is like, "I guess being called chillwave helps."
It has to, right?
Well, there's just so much stuff out there. To be in this little group of bands, someone finds out about this one band, and then they find out about you from that. In the internet era of two zillion bands, any little classification that sets you apart and drives people your way is awesome. All you're asking for is a chance for people to hear it.
Exactly, because you are grandfathered into so many articles, like "chillwave bands: including... and there's a link to your web page.
And I like all those bands. Obviously we toured with Washed Out. And Tori y Moi is great. Memory Tapes is great. So it's cool to be in the same company with them, but I don't exactly feel like we're too similar to them.
But do you, without even knowing it, become a stand-in for this nebulous thing? Do you feel like you have to defend something that someone just made up three seconds ago? I mean, you're in the picture when Jon Pareles is having a rant about it in the New York Times. And it's not like you stayed up late at night typing out the Chillwave Manifesto.
Yeah. It's not like you set out to do it. You see writing about the band, and it's "This is so chill," and I'm like, "What are you talking about?" Listen to the record. It's really not. The worst thing is just the "summer" thing. I mean, that's worse than "chill." I've seen it even psychoanalyzed to the point where people say, "In times of Recession we need to return to a womb-like atmosphere." People just make up some bullshit, man. The summer thing drives me crazy. I don't think it fits at all. I never had that in mind ever, doing anything. The only thing you could ever say is that we used my uncle, who's a surfer, in the video. That was one reason I almost didn't want to do the video because it's so overdone. But that was just his life. The whole seasonal evaluation of music is just absurd. We've done both these records in the dead of winter. There's no "When you hear this at the beach, it's gonna be reeeeally good!