You may recall my review of Ugly Bunny’s first two singles, “Compromise & Sacrifice” and “Tokyo,” from earlier this month. If not, well, let’s just say that this hot new duo’s sugary electropop confections are sweeter than any treats you’ll ever receive from the Easter Bunny. That said, I can promise you that you won’t get sick of these delicacies no matter how many times you indulge in them. (And, unlike bubblegum pop, they won’t lose their flavor.) You might get addicted, of course, but the point is you’re just going to want more and more. Fortunately, as we revealed earlier this week, the duo are gearing up to release their debut album, which will also be entitled Tokyo. In the following interview, which was conducted by E-mail earlier this week, I catch up with vocalist/keyboardist Gwendolyn Giles and producer/vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Camryn Nichols and score details galore about the album and all things Ugly Bunny…
How did you first meet each other? What were your first impressions of each other?
CN: We were both in punk bands at the time, and we were playing a lot of the same venues and booking with the same agent. We just eventually crossed paths and immediately clicked. The first thing I thought when I saw Gwen was “Wow, she’s way shorter than I thought she’d be.”
GG: Haha! My first impression was “He doesn’t look like his profile picture on facebook!”
You have a professional booking agent and manager already, meanwhile your music is fantastic, putting you in a great position as a new duo. If Ugly Bunny takes off, do you think you’ll still finish high school or might you stop going to school in order to tour and promote the album?
CN: That’s been a big question for both of us. I still have two years of high school left and I’ve come to discover that a LOT can happen in two years.
GG: I’m almost done with highschool anyways but I’ve found, touring with my other band, there are plenty of opportunities to tour. Like winter break, or summer.
Are either of you planning to attend college or will you be focusing on your music instead? If you will be attending college, will you be studying music as your majors? Also wondering, have you been accepted anywhere yet?
CN: I’d love to go to college, but my passion for music kind of drives my actions, so we’ll see where I end up. I really have no idea. If I did, I don’t think I’d study music. Maybe, uh, business?
GG: I plan on majoring in Business at Cal Poly but music will always be a huge part of my life whether I’m in school or not.
Does the fact that you’re so young ever prevent you from playing certain places, like clubs that only allow people 18 and up or 21 and up, for example?
Both: Yes, most bars or clubs in Sacramento don’t allow underaged musicians to perform.
You’re based out of Sacramento, California. Were you both born there? Have you lived there all of your lives?
GG: Yes! Sacramento born and raised!
CN: I was born in the Bay Area and moved to Sacramento when I was around 5 or 6.
What’s the music scene like in Sacramento? For example, are there a lot of other electronic artists, or is there a huge garage rock scene or something else entirely?
Both: The Sac scene is extremely diverse and plentiful. Rock & Roll is probably the most common genre here though. That’s why we shied away from that when creating Ugly Bunny.
Are there any other Sacramento artists you think we should check out?
CN: I know it’s a completely other genre, but I LOVE this band called The Kelps. They remind me of what a punk band would sound like from the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600’s.
GG: Kepi Ghoulie & Pets!! Their live sets are always super exciting.
Have you played Los Angeles much? If so, where? I’m curious because I lived in L.A. for three years myself.
Both: We’ve yet to explore the land of Los Angeles. But we have some good friends up there in a band called ‘Night Club’ who say the scene is really vibrant.
Are you doing headlining club shows or opening for other artists (or a bit of both)?
Both: Since we’re a new band, we don’t feel the need to headline anytime soon.
Do you do any covers during your live shows?
CN: Ahh! I’ve wanted to cover ‘Policy of Truth’ by Depeche Mode for so long. For some reason, we just haven’t integrated many covers into our live sets yet. We definitely plan on doing so, though.
Do you have any other musicians who perform with you when you play live? I ask because your sound is so rich that I would think it would be difficult to replicate it live with just two people.
Both: Yes! We have an amazing band put together right now. Our drummer, Ricky, is a mad machine!
Where do you record Ugly Bunny’s music? Does one of you have a home studio? (I ask Camryn some other production-related questions later.)
Both: We record in Camryn’s home studio.
How do you usually go about writing your songs? Do you come up with parts independently or do you get together and actually write everything together? Do you both write music and lyrics or does one of you do one and the other the other?
Both: We both write everything. As far as collaboratively writing, some songs will be completely written by one of us and sometimes we co-write. The process is different every time. Some songs start out acoustically, some start with a lyric hook. It really depends.
On “Tokyo” and “Everytime” you both sing, but Gwen sings “Mountains” and “Compromise & Sacrifice” alone. How do you decide who is going to sing which songs or parts? Do you ever get into serious arguments about it?
Both: Haha! No arguments here. Whatever sounds the best is what we go with. We try to keep in mind what will work live and what parts overlap that way one of us isn’t doing all the work.
How is the singing going to be divided on your album? Is it about 50/50 or does Gwen do more singing or…?
Both: Hmm. It’s probably about 50/50.
Your bio mentions listening to the Eurythmics, Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears while planning to write for Ugly Bunny. When I listen to those artists I feel very nostalgic, being that those are some of the artists I grew up with. How were you exposed to them? Through your parents? Also, how popular are these artists among teenagers today? Are a lot of people your age into ’80’s music now?
CN: I grew up on classic rock. So my parents didn’t have much to do with my discovery of those bands. However, my mom did introduce me to the Eurythmics. (She loves Annie Lennox). I’d say I latched onto bands like that when my friend’s dad, Craig, introduced me to them. He’s a huge new-wave lover!
GG: I believe the majority of kids our age don’t listen to 80’s music although it is growing more popular amongst the “Hipster Crowds.”
Who are some of your modern influences?
CN: Some of my favorite modern artists are Grimes, Charli XCX, Phoenix, and KITTEN!! Kitten is my favorite though. Chloe Chaidez really knows how to channel the 80’s.
GG: Ummm, I really like Ty Segall, The Babies, Mikal Cronin, and Natalie Ribbons’ new project, Tele Novella.
“Compromise & Sacrifice” makes me think of electroclash artists like Felix Da Housecat and Miss Kittin? Are either of them influences?
Both: We actually love Miss Kittin. Haha! We probably wouldn’t say that was an influence for ‘Compromise & Sacrifice’ though.
Was Ladytron a source of inspiration when you were making “Everytime”? The music and the sound of the vocals makes me think of their music.
Both: Ladytron is amazing. Definitely a huge inspiration for us!
“Mountains” never quite has those “wub wub” sort of sounds that dubstep is known for, but the beats and various sounds still make me think of dubstep. It kind of strikes me as what it might sound like if a dubstep artist did a ballad. Do you have any dubstep influences? Were you thinking of dubstep when you made this song? It also has a bit of a trip-hop vibe like Morcheeba or Massive Attack. Were you going for that?
CN: Mountains is actually MY favorite song on the album. It was originally written for Gwen’s other band ‘Dog Party’ so when we decided to do it instead, I was really excited. I got to take that song and just turn it into this huge production. I definitely tried to channel a more modern, dark sound for it, which may have come across as dubstep inspired but as far as being a dubstep fan…
“Mountains” is a very poetic song. I love the lyrics. Did it start out as a poem, by any chance? Also, is there a story/experience behind it that you might tell us about?
GG: I did write the lyrics before I wrote the song so I guess you could say it was a poem. It’s basically just love song with a LOT of symbolism.
When are you hoping to release your album Tokyo? Will it only be available digitally, or will physical copies be available? I think your style of music would sound especially good on vinyl…
Both: It will be available digitally on December 10th and physically in early 2014. We’d love to eventually do a vinyl release as well.
What do you think of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora? When Spotify first launched here in the U.S. I read quotes from quite a few musicians who were insulted by how little they pay the artists, but since I’ve started asking artists about it, it seems most are starting to embrace Spotify. (Being a music junkie who’s always bought music for many years now it seems so odd to me that people would just want to stream stuff. I feel like I have to own all of the music I listen to, if only digitally. But that could just be because I’m old!)
Both: It’s cool that people can discover new artists through those sites. However, we find ourselves shying away from the usage of those sites mainly because of what you said: we like to own the music we listen to.
QUESTIONS FOR CAMRYN:
You can play keyboards and guitars AND produce. How did you learn all of these things? Did you take music lessons when you were younger? If you took lessons, did you truly want to or did your parents just force you to at the time and it paid off later?
CN: I’ve never taken lessons for anything. My mother is an amazing musician and I guess maybe I got lucky enough to inherit some of that. Music’s never been something I felt the need to ‘learn.’ I’ve always just wanted to create it.
A lot of electronic and pop artists shy away from guitars these days, but you really seem to embrace them. Is it difficult to make them mesh with the sort of music you’re doing?
CN: Not at all! Guitars can create such an amazing atmosphere within a song. Shying away from that is really dumb, actually. You should always keep an open mind.
Is there a certain program – like Pro-Tools or Acid Pro – that you use to produce? Or do you do it the old fashioned way with tape machines or something?
CN: I use Logic Pro, HaliOn Sonic, and I just got Ableton which I’m super happy about!!
Do you create all of your own beats and loops or do you do sampling as well? If you’ve used samples, what songs have you sampled?
CN: I usually create all my own beats and loops. However, there is one song “Lotus” that I did sample an oriental orchestra on. That’s probably one of my favorite songs on the album.
How many tracks does the average Ugly Bunny song end up having? I tried counting all of the different instruments, loops, etc, that I heard in “Compromise & Sacrifice” but I kept losing count. You’re definitely brilliant with layering sounds on top of each other, including details you don’t even realize you’re hearing until you’ve listened to the song 20 times.
CN: Oh god…some songs have 10 tracks while others have 50. It’s pretty crazy.
Are you in any other bands or do you any solo material?
CN: I was in a punk band called ‘Those Meddling Kids’ but as of now, Ugly Bunny is my only project.
Have you produced anything for other artists? If so, anyone you think we should check out?
CN: I haven’t really produced other artists. But I would love to!
QUESTIONS FOR GWEN:
You’re also in a punk band called Dog Party. When did you start that band?
GG: Dog Party started in 2007.
Dog Party is actually a duo, correct?
GG: Yes, my sister and I.
You are the singer in Dog Party, too, correct?
GG: My sister and I both sing.
What’s the name of the other woman in Dog Party? Who plays what instrument(s) in the band?
GG: The other “woman” is my sister and her name is Lucy Giles. She plays the drums and sings and I play the guitar and sing.
Do you have other musicians perform with you when Dog Party plays live?
Listening to Lost Control, I’d probably categorize Dog Party as punk pop or pop punk – whatever the appropriate term is – because your vocals are pretty and the songs have great melodies. Who are your influences when writing music for Dog Party?
GG: Oh God…haha! X, The Ramones, The White Stripes, etc.
Who produced Lost Control?
GG: It was co-produced between Lucy and I. We recorded it at the Hangar with Chris Woodhouse who has worked with Ty Segall, Wild Flag, etc.
How does Lost Control differ from the previous Dog Party albums? (For example, is it heavier, slightly more pop, etc, etc.)
GG: It’s definitely more raw than the last couple releases!
How popular is Dog Party? I know you recently toured Europe, which would give one the impression that you’re pretty successful over there.
GG: Since we toured Europe two summers ago and did a full U.S. tour this last summer, we have joined Asian Man records and have seen an increase in our popularity.
Do you have a bigger fanbase in Europe than here in the States? Which different countries have you played? Is it hard to squeeze in touring when you’re in school or do you just tour during the summer?
GG: We definitely have a larger following in the U.S.. When we toured Europe, we played in Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. We usually just tour during the summer.
Does Dog Party have a record deal in Europe? Or in any other countries?
GG: Nope. Just Asian Man records.
How did you come up with the name Dog Party? What’s the story behind it?
GG: We were in 4th and 6th grade and at the time, it seemed like a good idea.
Is it difficult to write electro-pop songs when you’re so accustomed to writing punk songs?
GG: Definitely not! Dog Party plays acoustic music as well and some of the Ugly Bunny songs are just acoustic songs that we’ve converted.
What about singing – is it hard to transition into singing in a pop manner after doing so many albums and tours singing punk with Dog Party?
GG: The music is definitely different but as far as singing goes, I don’t feel like I’m making any sort of effort to change my vocal stylings to accustom Ugly Bunny.