As Boy Harsher, Jae Matthews and Gus Muller traffic in the abject. Abject: as in outside society, as in cast off by a lover.
The duo's new album, Careful, shines brightest in the underworld of the transgressive and taboo. It moves, seamlessly, from the sweaty warehouse party to the late-nite drive, from the punk bill to the sleazy motel room.
Careful, like the best of Boy Harsher before it, is music from and for an outsider underground, a record for all manner of hedonists, heathens and whores.
Is it synth-pop? Darkwave? EBM? Do the minutiae of genre taxonomy even matter? Boy Harsher call themselves "dark electronic," and that's as good a description as any. There are synths and drum machines, repetition and movement. Matthews' vocals creep up on the morbid edges of the ethereal. It's apparent that they like Suicide, and Chris & Cosey, and also This Mortal Coil – but Boy Harsher operates in the sweetest spot, the holy territory of the familiar-but-not-derivative.
Via the popularity of "Pain," a seven-minute "freak dance song" that's become a hit in a way only really possible post-Youtube, and a series of gorgeous, cinematic releases, Boy Harsher have ascended from best-kept secret to electronic-divine. In anticipation of their Orlando appearance, Matthews and Muller spoke to Orlando Weekly about place, film and Careful.
Orlando Weekly: How did you meet?
Jae Matthews: It was at the American Legion in Savannah. We were supposed to meet to talk about my film – but Gus had to leave suddenly or something? There was a rush to the whole interaction. The second time I saw him it was at a warehouse party, dancing to New Order. A very special moment in my mind.
I've always thought of your music as being oriented toward some sort of Southern Gothic, but Careful seems distinctly West Coast. What drew you to Los Angeles?
Gus Muller: We live in a small town in Massachusetts. L.A. represents a fantasy or escape for us.
JM: I think Lesser Man and Yr Body Is Nothing were impacted by living in the South, yes. The humidity, the lust, the way I felt about myself, my interactions. I was far away from home. Those first two albums reflect that time in Savannah, whether intentional or just part of my internalizing a place. Careful is the residue of missing a place while craving another. I was grasping at my desire to be somewhere else, but trying to reconcile home and place.
So much of the conversation around this new record, and the band in general, touches on the literary and cinematic.
JM: We both wanted to be filmmakers, so I think we often write toward score or a more atmospheric experience. We try to stay with sounds that evoke visceral feelings – which is cinematic in its own right. I like movies that make me feel strange or scared or aroused for no definitive reason. Content that is in no way explicit, rather abstract, but somehow totally instinctive and real.
GM: I love science fiction films. But it's not something I reference while writing. Sometimes a song will remind me of a film. "Last Days" off Yr Body Is Nothing was named after the Gus Van Sant film. Also, I couldn't get To Live or Die in L.A. out of my head when writing "Face the Fire."
You work together creatively, and run a label, Nude Club, too. How does your personal relationship bleed into these art/work contexts?
JM: I don't think we ever predicted how much the Boy Harsher world would grow and ultimately consume our lives.
GM: We live together and we work on the band constantly. We're making an effort to set boundaries so we have more personal time.
I've heard "Pain" everywhere from Berghain in Berlin to New Wave club nights in Florida – did you ever anticipate it'd be such a staple?
GM: Never. It was originally released on a tour tape. I was self-conscious about it, wasn't sure people would like it.
JM: Not at all. I remember I gave a tape to my friend (one of the 50 home-dubbed ones that we made shortly after recording) and was just totally embarrassed that he would play it at work. I didn't really think anyone would like that album, much less a ridiculous seven-minute freak dance song.