ReverbNation Artist of the Month: The Boy and Sister Alma
Sunday Dec. 1st, 2013
The Boy and Sister Alma is the electro-pop project of Montana natives Jennifer Murphy and Lenny Eckhardt. Formed in late 2012, their music is a blend of nostalgic sounds and modern production – mixing styles of synthwave, ’80s pop and electro, italo disco, dreamwave and 21st century synth pop. While tapping into a variety of moods and genres, the group’s material consistently embodies a “new-retro” vibe with a cinematic flare. Their tracks have recently caught the attention of bloggers, producers, and remixers in the retro/synthwave scene, resulting in several remixes and a collaboration with UK producer Sunglasses Kid. The Boy & Sister Alma’s debut EP â€˜T B & S A’ was released July 30, 2013.
Bozeman Magazine: Where did the concept for The Boy and Sister Alma come from?
Lenny Eckhardt: The two of us first started playing music together back in late 2011 with a couple of our other friends in a band called Animal Midnight. It’s kind of an on-again-off-again band-for-hire thing that we do with a repertoire of mostly covers. Jen had some of her own songs that she had been writing and we began messing around with them collaboratively… but with no initial plans to start a real “band”. I was basically just acting as producer, helping her flesh out some of her ideas. We eventually started talking about writing music together as a proper duo and determined we wanted to make a priority of doing something that would be “fun” and “nostalgic”. We attribute both of these priorities to the fact that we’re getting older – too old to want to invest time and energy into music that isn’t fun and old enough to be suckers for nostalgia. We got really into the idea of doing this kind of 80s inspired cinematic electro-pop music as two-piece: something we felt was pretty unique in Montana’s musical landscape. We wrote our first song together right around a year ago. It was a song called â€˜Brightly’ that Jen had started writing on acoustic guitar and we turned it into this strange synth pop ballad thing. It went on to become the final track on our EP. I think we actually coined the band’s name shortly after we wrote that song. We were sitting at a restaurant talking about ideas for names and came up with The Boy and Sister Alma based on characters from the Ingmar Bergman film Persona, which is one of my favorite movies. We also liked the name because it sounded like the title of a classic children’s book that was never written. Within a month or two of officially naming ourselves we wrote the song â€˜Lizard Eyes’ which ended up being somewhat definitive of our sound and was released as our debut single.
BM: Who or what are some of your current musical influences?
LE: The biggest ones for me at the moment are Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. They’re two artists who managed to bring incredible artistry to pop music. I’m a big fan of pop, even some of the mainstream top 40 stuff, but it can of course get overly formulaic and most of it is pretty uninspiring. Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel created these dense, bizarre, beautiful compositions that were unique even by today’s standards and did it in a way that still had this brilliant pop sensibility. That’s the kind of stuff I’m really inspired by and try to channel into my own creative efforts. I’m not one who’s ashamed to cite my influencesâ€¦there are lots of them… many from the â€˜80s (obviously), but several current ones as well like The Knife, M83, Twin Shadow and Bat For Lashes to name a few. The main common denominator that Jen and I share as a musical influence is always Kate Bush. Jen however isn’t quite as shameless in attributing her inspiration to a wide variety of artists. She’s of the firm belief that the only person worth being influenced by is Kate Bush.
Films are the other factor I have to mention when talking influences. Directors like Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kubrick and Lynch are some of my biggest motivators when it comes to making art of any kind and several of our songs are blatantly movie inspired.
BM: What are the members of The Boy and Sister Alma’s musical backgrounds?
LE: My mom had me start taking piano lessons when I was 6 and I continued taking lessons all the way through my freshman year of college. I also took up the guitar when I was 15. I was mostly a musical loner growing up. I started writing my own music at a fairly young age but the only “band” I had ever played with by the time I graduated high school was my church youth group band. After high school I was invited to join a group called Aida (this was in Billings, MT where I grew up). We were a 6 member artsy rock band in the vein of Sigur Ros. We never toured or anything but we gained a nice local following and it was a really great experience for the 3 years or so that it lasted. After Aida I had a little solo project called Crimes On The Solar Station and I played off and on with various other people throughout my 20s but I wasn’t involved in anything terribly serious until we started The Boy and Sister Alma.
I had become interested in recording and production when I was in high school and ended up studying music production and technology through the Berklee College of Music Online Program. I began assembling a home studio in my early 20s which eventually outgrew the home and turned into a real-life digital recording studio that Jen and I now share.
Jen is a self taught multi-instrumentalist and is largely unencumbered by musical norms and confines, which makes for a great production dynamic between the two of us. She sang in choir during high school and played with a couple different Helena bands including a Pixies-esque band called Pink Fuzzy. Jen is an amazing out-of-the-box songwriter and she’s actually finishing up work on a solo album as we speak.
BM: What is the projects short term and long term plans?
LE: Our most immediate short term plan is to finish up this Christmas track that we’ve been working on for about a month and a half now. Nobody told us it’d be hard to write Christmas music in October. Anyway, that’s been difficultâ€¦ but I think it’s a good, albeit weird original Christmas song that we’ll be releasing next month. That one may get included on a Christmas compilation that a whole bunch of new-retro synthwave artists are contributing to (if it’s not rejected for being too weird, which is entirely possible). After that we’ll be in the studio working on new material with ultimate goal of releasing our first full length album at some unforeseeable point in the future.
Our most ambitious plan for the next year is to redesign our live shows. We’ve always imagined our shows being this big theatrical type production, almost like performance art rather than your typical band-standing-on-a-stage concert experience. There are plenty of bands out there that already do this kind of thing but we think it’d be something pretty unique and cool for the local Montana music scene. So we plan to recruit a full backing band and hire some people to help us design and engineer this whole grandiose live experience. We’ll probably use a crowd funding platform like Kickstarter to make it possible (something we’ve avoided thus far but will likely be necessary in this case… (since we’re poor).
LE: Our debut EP â€˜TB&SA’ was released in July and is available to stream in it’s entirety on On Reverbnation of course. [reverbnation.com/theboysisteralma], on Bandcamp [boyandalma.bandcamp.com] and Soundcloud [soundcloud.com/boyandalma] along with our single “Tom’s Cruise”. You can also purchase the music from our Bandcamp page as well as on iTunes, Amazon, emusic, gogoyoko, and all kinds of internet places. And I believe you can find most of our stuff on Spotify, Last.fm and Rdio. The track we did with the extraordinary British producer Sunglasses Kid called “Come Back To Me” can be purchased from his Bandcamp page at sunglasseskid.bandcamp.com and the rather popular Silent Gloves remix of “Tom’s Cruise” can be downloaded for free on our Soundcloud page.
BM: What is your songwriting process?
LE: Typically I come up with a rough musical idea on the keyboard that I’ll develop into a basic skeletal song structure. From there Jen and I will start working on it collaboratively. Jen often writes lyrics and vocal melodies. Sometimes I’ll attempt to come up with a vocal melody on the keyboard which occasionally works great and a lot of times does not. I’m always attempting new approaches to songwriting: using different instruments that I’m not as comfortable with, starting with a beat instead of a chord progression, etc.
Jen is pretty integral in the production process. She has a really good ear for things and brings a lot of ideas to the table that I would never come up with on my own. She’s also quite good at helping me strip things back later on in the production process, since I tend to be a maximalist and layer on lots of elements that aren’t always needed.
There’s a lot of experimentation that goes on in the studio. I’m rarely talented enough as a producer to know exactly what a song needs for it’s potential to be realized, so there’s a great deal of guess work involved in the process.
BM: When can we expect you to come to Bozeman?
LE: Hopefully next year! But not until the fall most likely, since we don’t plan to play any more shows until we’re up and running with the new live incarnation of the band. It’s going to take a lot of time, planning and money to get it all together and we tend to get things done slowly as it is since we both work and Jen is in school. So late Summer / early Fall of 2014 is about as early as we can hope for. We’ll keep you posted!
BM: Great, we look forward to that. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We will be in touch to help spread the word about your â€˜summer tour’.