AIVIS are Aidan and Travis, a brand new electropop duo from Scotland/USA. They’ve spent the past couple of years writing and recording songs, culminating in the release today of debut single “The Wilderness”. I totally love it: it’s catchy and modern and a wee bit world-wise. Glasgow-boy Aidan Smeaton’s vocals command this post-breakup tune, with its metronomic rhythms and intricate percussion; I’m sure I even heard some sleigh bells at the end….! With a cool 4K ‘mercan video, there’s comparisons with Lorde, Bastille and especially Chvrches (and not just due to the shared Glaswegian origins of Aidan and Lauren).
The PANSENTIENT LEAGUE spoke to AIVIS to find out a bit about them and their plans…
I assume the name AIVIS is from your first names, like ABBA right? Do you worry about people confusing you with a car rental company? 😉
A – An ABBA comparison! That’s a good start. Yes, it’s Aidan + Travis. We spent a long time mulling over options and just couldn’t agree on one. We wanted something that was short, represented both of us, and made us easy to google. Then one day Travis just said “AIVIS” and I was like “That’s it. That’s the one!” Now every time I see the car rental company I always think they’ve spelled it wrong 🙂
Were either of you in a band before AIVIS?
A – No, I’ve never been in a band until now. In my early 20s I had a solo project called Little Flare, where I would produce electropop instrumentals on my computer and then go to a studio to record the vocals over it. Over the next few years I really worked on improving my voice, my lyric writing, and my understanding of sound design and music production. Then AIVIS happened.
T – Electronic music was kind of an accident for me: I started out playing guitar and piano when a friend introduced me to Fruity Loops 5. I was tired of trying to depend on other people to make music so I started writing myself. While mainly using FL as a place holder to eventually record on instruments, the control and ease to create exactly what I wanted kept me on FL.
You live on different continents. How did you end up working together?
A – I hit a plateau in 2014 with my solo project and wanted to work with someone with a better ear for beats, basslines, and who enjoyed the production aspect of making music more than I did. I looked on Reddit for collaborators and started a few projects that never took off. I found a track Travis posted and luckily he’d used the same software as me, so I sent him one of my tracks and he played about with it and made it sound amazing. So, even though I was in Scotland and he was in Ohio, we were able to work on our projects by sharing files back and forth. Over the next few years we spoke a handful of times on Skype, but mainly just chatted over Facebook Messenger and shared files via Google Drive. The Internet is a wonderful thing!
T – I had posted my song ‘Airports‘ on Reddit and Aidan sent a message saying he liked my work and wanted to collaborate and I thought, why not? Our first song together was ‘Metamorphosis‘ which is exactly what these last 2.5 years have been. We lucked out. I think doing this online has helped because our schedules are so different and we can both maximize our free time to work on this without having to actually meet up.
Who are your musical influences or heroes?
A – I always feel a bit embarrassed answering this question because I’m so uncool. I grew up in the late 90s and early 00s when pop groups dominated the UK charts. As a kid I listened to Steps, S Club 7, Vengaboys, Spice Girls… the cheesier the better! When I became a moody teenager I listened to James Blunt, Delta Goodrem, Yellowcard, Avril Lavigne and My Chemical Romance. That was as angsty as my poppy personality could go! Since then I’ve been influenced by the likes of Mika, Robyn, La Roux, Bastille, Lorde, Lady Gaga, Clean Bandit, Fun, Hurts, Grimes, Marina and the Diamonds, RedOne, Max Martin and Sia.
My favourite band for some time now are CHVRCHES, partly because they’re Glaswegian but mainly because their songs are just so fucking amazing. They’re definitely heroes of mine and I look up to them for their songwriting and for their authenticity as artists.
T – I’ve taken a lot of influence from groups like Tool, Animals as Leaders, Modest Mouse, Emery. Emery’s been my favorite band for the last 10 years. I think often what I take out of music is the way it makes me feel so I may not sound like any of these groups but I put that feeling it gave me into the things I create. Then there are random songs by groups that I don’t particularly listen to a lot of that will strike me and influence me in a big way. CHVRCHES has definitely been the biggest influence on AIVIS though. Our music taste doesn’t overlap a whole lot but we both agree 100% on CHVRCHES. I think one artist I look up to a lot is Matthew Morden of Bubblegum Octopus. It’s just some dude from New Jersey with a tiny fanbase but he doesn’t give up. He’s always touring and making ends meet doing what he loves and that’s absolutely inspiring to me.
How would you describe your music to people?
A – Catchy emotional insidious glitchy electronic pop.
T – I’ve always had the toughest time trying to explain my music to people. Lately I’ve been saying think of Lorde with a male vocalist and darker vocals but more instrument heavy.
What is your typical songwriting process?
A – I’m basically the provider of pop: song structure, lyrics, vocals, melodies, and harmonies. Travis is the devil for detail – beats, basslines, glitches and instrumentation. We really complement each other’s skills. For the first album, we chose songs that were originally part of our solo projects. So half of them started out as my songs, and the other half were Travis’s. I’ll rearrange the elements of the track and flesh it out then send it back to him to polish it up. While he does that I’ll write vocal parts and lyrics and I’ll record demos with my PreSonus Studio One mic and audio interface. Each song goes through countless iterations until we’re both happy with it, but many of them are just abandoned.
Once we have a decent backing track with lyrics, I’ll take it to Elba Audio Studios in Glasgow and work with the very talented engineer Phil Feenan, who helps me get the best takes of all the vocal layers I’ve written. I can have 20 vocal layers in one song so it can take days to complete. I used to be a shite singer but doing that definitely helped me improve my technique over the years! Once we have a finished backing track and vocal stems, we send everything away to Chris Graham in Columbus, where his team mix and master it.
I’ve seen your lyrics described as having “dark overtones.” Do you agree?
A – Haha, I totally agree. I’m generally a happy and friendly guy, but I guess my dark side comes out when I’m writing lyrics. The lyric part of songwriting can be quite cathartic and I suppose that’s one way I express and deal with those unpleasant emotions. Plus, I’ve always been attracted to music and art that taps into the darker side of the human experience. Black Mirror is my favourite TV show by far. Writing about going clubbing or falling in love or hating someone is fine, but it’s boring. I’m more interested in writing about the feelings I don’t feel comfortable talking about or about my views on society and humanity. I’m such an emo!
Your debut single “The Wilderness” is infectiously catchy and probably the first song I’ve ever heard with the phrase “molly-coddled” in it 😉 Is the song about or dedicated to anyone in particular?
A – Thank you! Everyone picks up on the “mollycoddled” lyric, I love it so much. ‘The Wilderness‘ is probably the first song I wrote where I really decided to express how I was feeling in a completely honest way. I actually feel very exposed and uncomfortable when people close to me listen to it because they know who it’s about. I wrote the music years ago, but only started on the lyrics last year during my first ever break up from a long term relationship. It’s hard to describe how scary it is being single at 24 when you’ve had the same boyfriend since you were 15, and how the process of finding yourself again is equally difficult and rewarding. Having to deal with the mixed feelings of regret, relief, abandonment, freedom, loneliness, hope, anger, and forgiveness in ways most people deal with for the first time as teenagers.
We don’t speak any more sadly, but I’m happy that we’ve moved on and I don’t hold any bad feelings against him. I held on to a lot of guilt and rage for a long time, and I’m glad I’ve moved past that. I probably won’t be ready for another relationship for a long time. I guess I’m still trekking through The Wilderness, paving my own way now though 🙂.
Where was the video for “The Wilderness” shot? How involved were you with the whole process and did you enjoy the experience? And who’s the girl?
A – The video was shot in Joliet, Illinois, where our director Dan Lotz is from. Michael Downing from Signal-to-Noise posted a link to his band’s music video and I loved it. I got in touch and asked if he’d be interested in doing the video for ‘The Wilderness’. Travis and I came up with the concept for the video and pitched it to Dan. We felt like we had won the lottery when he said yes!
So because I couldn’t get a cheap flight out to the States for another couple of months, Dan got his team together and started filming the story part of the video with the actors first (the fantastically talented Chelsea Rambo and Caleb Harris). They worked with cinematographer Noah Harris. The shots in the woods are stunning and both Chelsea and Caleb perform so professionally.
A few weeks later I flew from Glasgow and Travis drove from Columbus to Chicago, where we both met in person for the first time. That was really weird because we’d been working together for over 2 years, talking daily, we wrote an album together, and yet we hadn’t physically met! So we spent 5 days in and around Joliet and Chicago getting to know each other better, doing touristy things, meeting Dan and his friends, filming the studio parts of the video in Dan’s apartment, and then editing the video. It was strange because we were so used to working in different places at different times that we didn’t really know how to work together in the same place. We ended up mostly sitting on our own computers in opposite ends of the room working as we normally do!
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing a new band like AIVIS?
A – The main challenge is geographic. Because I’m in Scotland and Travis is in Ohio it’s just not practical for us to gig right now, which is super important for new bands to do. But, in fairness, we’ve always done things unconventionally and over the Internet. Perhaps there’ll be some way for us to virtually gig until we’re able to do live shows!
T – Definitely living on the other side of the planet from one another. It’ll put an extra challenge on us when we start playing live shows since we haven’t been able to practice sets together. Though on the bright side it gives us a wider audience. You know how people can be about their local bands.
Who was the last band or singer you saw live? All-time favorite gig?
A – The last gig I went to was Malcolm Middleton at the Art School in Glasgow. His latest album is great and I listened to ‘Music Ticks’ on repeat for weeks after it. I’ve been to loads of amazing gigs, but the standout one for me was probably CHVRCHES at the Hydro in Glasgow. I think it was just a very special gig because you knew it meant so much to the band. It was the largest venue they’d headlined at and it was in their home town. I may have shed a tear during ‘Afterglow’.
T – I saw Moon Hooch this last October with Honeycomb and a couple other beatboxers and it was a spiritual experience. It was definitely the best show I’ve been to yet. The energy was through the roof and it was just absolutely wild. Though I’m seeing Animals as Leaders soon and they’re one of my favorites so that may take number 1.
What can we expect from the album? Any particular themes or styles/genres? Any song you’re particularly proud of?
A – Hooks, hooks, and more hooks! The album is full of electropop earworms. Most songs touch on a dark theme but in a fun way, such as abandonment, envy, obsession, blind faith, or state surveillance (yes, there’s a song about state surveillance!). Others are more uplifting or nostalgic. I’m particularly proud of the track ‘Flick’ because it’s one of the first songs I wrote as part of my Little Flare solo project. I rewrote the lyrics and Travis completely reproduced the track for the album so it’s it’s definitely a cool throwback.
T – You can expect to feel happy, to feel sad, to feel reminiscent. There’s definitely a familiar theme to all the songs yet they’re all quite different. There’re lots of groovy basslines, sultry harmonies, glitches, and a tinge of 80s synthwave. I think the biggest accomplishment for me so far is the song ‘Record and Surveil‘.
The Pansentient League is a blog from Edinburgh-based writer Jer White (also known as Afront). It's mostly about music-streaming service Spotify, with a dose of synthpop music, Google Android, and the odd post or two about gadgets and science fiction.