By Zach Collier
At the beginning of the month, dark wave/synth-pop duo New Shack released their second LP, Eingang. As Court Mann of The Daily Herald put it, “Engang builds on the gritty, sticky, retro-future synth sounds of New Shack’s 2015 debut, Shadow Girl, while adding a bunch of new textures and embracing less pop-centric song structures.” The band has been broadly compared to Cocteau Twins and Grimes. We got to speak with band members Cat Leavy and Eric Robertson about the album’s influences, Robertson’s new studio, and Leavy’s time spent in Germany.
In your documentary spot that you did with director Melody Chow, you talked about New Shack’s beginnings: recording vocal tracks, huddled in a bedroom corner in Germany. Why were you overseas?
Cat: I was overseas to get away from things. I didn’t even have a return ticket. I left like, “see ya never” and thought I might stay there. Luckily I was able to really develop as an artist there, though. I guess this was kind of my intention all along, and so when Eric contacted me to work on a project, it was meant to be. The timing was perfect.
How did that entire experience over there influence you as a person? What was your favorite experience? How did it influence your music?
Cat: Being overseas was equal parts lonely, scary, exciting, and inspiring. I had a lot of time to myself. One of my favorite things to do was just ride the trains and read. I think this probably contributed to my knack for wordplay and lyrics.
The name of your new album is Eingang – a German word, meaning “beginning,” “entrance,” or as Cat put it, “go in.” Why did you choose that as the album’s title, and what does it mean to you? Can any other traces of your time in Germany be found throughout the album?
Cat: The clearest traces of Germany can be found in the EP and in Shadow Girl. I knew I wanted my next album to be called Eingang because it was both an entrance to a new phase of my life stateside and a sort of token farewell to the German part. I see this album as a portal for us both sonically and career-wise.
Eric: One of my favorite things about New Shack is that we each do what we are best at, with the other person trusting the other. I pretty much do all the production/mixing and Cat does all the vocals/track names/the design work. She came up with Eingang and I’m pretty much cool with whatever she comes up with.
What was the inspiration for Shadow Girl? Emotionally, are you coming from a different place with this new album? If so, what’s the difference in the emotion you’re trying to convey this time around?
Cat: Just like the name implies, Shadow Girl had a lot of dark and vague influences. I tend to write songs when I’m down or in some kind of mood. I know that Eric is the same way. This is probably why we collaborate so well. While Eingang is coming from perhaps a less dark place, I also think it’s coming from a more complex place. And, as always, melancholy plays an important role. Romantic loneliness is a key theme.
Eric, what differences do you notice between Shadow Girl and Eingang emotionally and sonically?
Eric: The differences between Shadow Girl and Eingang are pretty stark to me. I don’t know if the listeners will notice as much. We introduced a lot of guitars in Eingang. Shadow Girl had zero guitars. Eingang is more epic of an album. The songs are more ambitious. Cat’s vocals are tighter and brighter. I think Eingang is a more wide open album as far as song structure and sonic palettes.
I’m interested to hear the story behind the album art work? Who designed it? Where did the concept originate from, and how do you interpret it?
Cat: The album artwork is by Mariano Peccinetti. We’re a huge fan of his work. It’s frequently sci-fi themed and surrealist at the same time, which seems to correlate perfectly with our sound and approach. We contacted him via Facebook and were lucky enough to hear back from him. I interpret this particular piece as a twisted version of having your head in the clouds.
That’s an awesome explanation. I love it! So Eric, the new Pleasant Pictures Studios is absolutely beautiful. What’s it been like tracking, mixing, and mastering in your new space? How long did it take you to reach the point where you’re at, and where do you hope to go in the future?
Eric: Thanks! The new studio is pretty great. It’s finally set up to make tracking and mixing fluid and fun. My partner at the studio, Chris Burton, gets all the credit for how the studio works. I get the credit for decor and for how many synths there are. [Laughter] I started doing music full time the beginning of 2013. So I guess it’s taken me about 3 1/2 years to get where I am. I am still so far from where I want to be. It’s hard to know what exactly I want to do in the future. It changes quite a bit. I think right now I want to score documentaries and film. And keep working on New Shack, of course.
Cat, I’m not going to lie, I’m a little jealous that you’re in a band with Eric. He’s a great producer. What’s it been like having his experience and resources at your disposal? How did you first meet?
Cat: I’m so lucky to be in a band with Eric! Gahhh. You don’t even know. It’s like all of the good parts of being in a band with none of the bad. Eric and I met through a mutual good friend and worked on another project before I moved to Europe.
Eric: I started writing some tracks and thought that she would sound good on them, so I sent them to her and she a quickly sent back vocals.
Cat: When he contacted me to do something else it was a really “pleasant” surprise (heh heh…) [Laughter]. In all honesty, though, Eric is the most talented producer and dream to work with.
Did you ever think the collaboration would evolve into a more permanent project?
Eric: I had no idea what this would turn into. But im super happy with what it is!
What’s the writing process usually like for you two? If you were to split songwriting duties into a percentage, what’s the split? 50/50? 60/40? 80/20?
Eric: The writing process has been the same from the start. I write an instrumental track and send it to her.
Cat: Eric sends over a track, I write and record a full song to it – AKA vocals and lyrics.
Eric: She records demo vocals on the track and sends it back to me. I say “I love it! Send the real vocals!” Then she records the final vocals and sends them to me for mixing.
Cat: Eric adds glitter and we meet up during the final mixing process to make sure we’re both on the same page. Tada! That’s it. It’s fast. Sometimes we can have a whole song done in an hour.
An hour? Very impressive! That blows my mind a little bit [Laughter]. So Cat. You recently tied the knot with Chris Bennion of Coral Bones. Congratulations!
Cat: Thank you!
What’s it like being married to a fellow musician, and how does music enrich your relationship?
Cat: Well, Chris and I run a studio together where we try to split everything 50/50, so music defines our relationship on many levels. Fortunately for us it’s something that’s quite literally harmonious. We even write a lot of music together and you can here Chris’s voice in the background of several of the songs on Eingang. He essentially wrote the melody of the chorus on “Inside Out.” And I’ve been helping out with the writing on new Coral Bones material.
Okay, this one’s for both of you. What was your favorite thing about the album release show?
Eric: My favorite thing about the show was playing our new song “Dead Lips” for the first time live, and I also liked that we all wore our own band shirts.
Cat: Toss up between Mindy/Alison/Elaine dancing on the front row, the floating heads, or my killer look. Oh, and the shirts are pretty amazing.
Looking forward, what can we expect from New Shack in the future?
Eric: New Shack will definitely keep making music. I’m not sure what our sound will evolve into but it will be cool. At least I will think its cool.
Cat: Only good things. Better things. Hopefully a tour this fall – stay tuned!