“It’s undeniably the language we speak [R&B], but we’re trying to transcend that language.”
Exiting the downtown café where I’ve just had a chat with Andrew and Daniel Aged - whom Fader ventured might be “the most captivating duo making music right now” - I find myself mulling a few superlatives of my own. It’s the night before the New York release show of inc.’s debut LP for 4AD, the disarmingly gorgeous no world, and the young brothers seem to be gentle souls.
Many of the fans they’ve moved thus far tend to be worshipful, almost, as if they connect with inc.’s music on a deeply spiritual level. But for a young band that has accomplished quite a lot, the internet hasn’t helped to put their work into proper perspective. 2011’s debut 3 EP, an unusually forward-thinking and nonpareil take on new-jack swing and synth-pop, met with dubious accusations of Phil Collins theft, hipster slurs, and a lot of displaced hatred for a couple of fine haircuts. Now, with no world, more are taking note - while yet more are lumping inc. in with perceived R&B trends unrelated to the record, or continuing to talk about their hair.
It was revealing, then, to hear the brothers speak themselves about what has inspired and motivated them so far: music’s salvific properties, ancient Native American song and ritual, a long history of R&B foreign to most modern critics and music fans, and lessons learned as working musicians for some of the biggest and most renowned acts alive.
I guess this is a good time to clarify, creatively, how the band breaks down. Are you the primary lyricist? How does the songwriting play out?
Andrew: Yeah. Generally I’ll bring most of that side, the lyrical side, but pretty much everything is collaborative, and edited by my brother. It’s kind of like he almost edits me on that side, and I edit him on more of the production side.
no world is a very singular, focused album. I was curious how you started getting into that sound. When did that begin? Was it deliberate?
A: It felt like it enveloped a lot of things in our lives. It picked up a lot of things that we’ve heard throughout our whole musical experience, and [we] kind of selected things from that. I don’t know quite how it happened…
Daniel: I think it was a continued progression, ‘cause even now, [our newer music] is starting to sound a little bit different [from no world]; that restraint, you know? There were certain things that were important - we tried to strip away everything that we didn’t want in the picture. Like sculpting, a little bit.
You guys started recording it in late 2011, right? And the recording ended sometime around the following July. Why’s it coming out now then? Mostly just a label thing, or…
D: Mostly label, yeah.
A: Originally we thought it would come out in November. We were kind of feeling it as a winter album, y’know? But it’s still kind of a winter album, it’s still cold out.
I do hear a lot of light and warmth in the record too, though. Stuff like “the place” is very spring - so it’s a good borderline record in that way; maybe the timing worked out.
A: Yeah, totally. “black wings” is kind of summery, a little bit.
For sure. So have you been making more music since then? Or just focusing on getting the live show together?
D: Yeah, mostly the live show, and videos. Been working on some more of those. But a little bit [of new music], yeah.
I saw on your twitter you posted that Meshell Ndegeocello song, “Priorities 1-6.” I found it very interesting, because I’ve been trying to parse your influences for the record, and it’s really hard to scan. Because it feels very R&B, in a way I haven’t heard R&B sound before. So that song was illuminating, but more as a single ingredient than a complete recipe. I’m curious what else you were really listening to when making no world, or if any other primary influences come to mind in some other way.
A: It kind of plays into the question you had about the sound of the album. I was feeling this alternative feeling, just basically what it means to be classically “alternative.” I think there’s this feeling of the music we grew up with, like The Smashing Pumpkins, kind of that era when the notion of being alternative was really clearly defined. It was defined by the guitar sound, the lyrics, the free spirit. Something we were drawing from was a feeling of being kind of outcasted, these little symbols of outcastedness and free-spiritedness. [Our] guitars were feeling watery, kind of grungy, kind of dark… The guitar on this record was important as a thread, and the lyrics worked in that way, too.
D: I think as far as influence goes, I was listening to that album [Meshell’s Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape] so heavily when it first came out. [Music like hers] is really what we grew up on, it’s kind of the language that’s always been spoken to us, and that we speak. That’s where we come from, in one realm. And then in another, I think what really influences us is intention through music - like what the Grateful Dead were doing with their music, what they were trying to achieve through it. Certain healing songs, healing music… Music that is for that purpose.
A: That’s its context.
Like in a Coltrane kind of way.
A: Yeah, definitely… Opening doors, opening things. I think also hearing a lot of electronic music, you know, going to a club - [though] we still don’t really know how that’s contextualized [in our music]. There was something tribal we were feeling [for no world], there’s something tribal about what we’re doing, in a way. It’s a message, and voice, and drums, low drums… I don’t know if that comes across, but I know that’s kind of the context we work in. Towards the end [of making the album], or maybe even afterwards, in retrospect, we started understanding it in that way.
D: I think the thing for us is that our music is not really aesthetic, or something… It’s like a spirit for us, a feeling. That’s what everything’s going through: lyrics, the sound, our instruments, decisions we’re making. It’s all being filtered through the spirit of what the music is for.
If I need to clear myself, I’ll often listen to Native American music, basically religious, sacred music, that I’m not even allowed to hear, really…
Speaking of contexts, people often talk about inc. in terms of R&B. What’s some of your favorite music from that realm? Or do you not see yourselves in that light?
A: I don’t think we really do… In a sense, like Daniel said, it’s undeniably the language we speak, but we’re trying to transcend that language. Ultimately, it is the culture we come from, and growing up that was the music we came into and studied. But it’s something we’re trying to free ourselves from, or through… Voodoo sounds like that, to me. When I hear the “Africa” demo, where it’s just D’Angelo playing piano, to me it just sounds like he completely transcended all. When he plays, you hear slavery, you hear Western harmony, you hear in his voice, in his piano, the whole history… He completely freed himself, he just was free.
Free from the constraints of genre.
A: Yeah, or culture, even. He turned it upside down - he made something sad beautiful. I think that’s why we love gospel. It actually comes from such immense struggle…
I feel like the two biggest stylistic breaks in the record are “Your Tears” and “Nariah’s Song,” so I was curious if you could tell me a little more about those tunes and how they came to be, because they’re pretty distinct in the context of the album.
A: Basically, we were still writing [“Your Tears”], and playing it in rehearsal, that was our first take, so it was really raw. [Those songs] were both spontaneous moments that we felt somehow should leave the parts untied, and maybe present a skeleton of what we’re doing. ‘Cause the other one, “Nariah’s Song,” was Dmile, our drummer - at the time, we didn’t even know he could play keys. [laughs] We knew he came from church so he probably could, but he kinda sat down at this keyboard we have, and was just playing. So we basically took what he [improvised] and edited it, Daniel did some stuff with it.
D: Put some sounds on top.
A: His daughter was there, she was a baby, and she’s named Nariah.
D: We kind of liked the album having breaths like that between songs. We saw those more as interludes, in a way.
Yeah, for sure. Do you do that often? Record while you’re jamming, or trying a song out for the first time? [They nod.] Where do you record, mostly?
D: When we did this album, we rented a room, just a big empty room, near our house. And just set up there for… eight months, something like that. But normally we just use our house.
So is Dmile also the guy playing the organ in the recording of “Swear” video?
A: That was a different guy, actually. Charles Jones. We went to college with him, and Daniel toured with him for a while. We have a good amount of friends who come from a gospel and church background, actually… D-Mile will be playing tomorrow night [at Le Poisson Rouge], he’s one of our main drummers, [as] we have two [live].
Do they ever play at the same time onstage?
A: Yeah, pretty much the whole time, actually.
I was reading your interview with Dazed Digital the other day, and it was nice for me to see that grunge was an influence for “black wings” - I had been hearing that sound in the guitar. Which is, I think, a bit of a surprising influence, maybe, for people who listen to the album as a whole, or just having read about you on a blog. Are there other inputs like that on no world, that one wouldn’t expect?
A: When I say there’s a bit of tribal element [to what we do], what I really mean is an indigenous element, indigenous music… It’s kind of where we go for certain personal healing. Like if I need to clear myself, I’ll often listen to Native American music, basically religious, sacred music, that I’m not even allowed to hear, really… But, y’know, people have put it on, you can find it. I know that’s one thing for me, we’ve been in a lot of those ceremonial experiences, and that’s definitely shaped our context, to see music [in that way]. In those ceremonies it really is sacred, every sound, your senses are so acute, you give yourself up to every vibration… But we’re not trying to bring that to the “blogosphere,” or whatever - [laughs] - it’s really kind of its own thing.
You mean Native American music?
A: Yeah, and even experiencing it with South Americans - we’ve been able to be in the ceremonies where[in] they play this music.
D: It’s incorporated with medicine, basically, the music is medicine. And you take medicine, a plant medicine, and the music’s purpose is to guide you, to help you through that experience, to heal yourself.
A: And the songs are considered gifts, they’re medicine songs, they come from the medicine, and the people who sing them sing them the same every time. A lot of them are really ancient, a thousand years old…
D: Only, there’s no written word for it, there’s no written music… It’s not even supposed to be recorded. You sing it, only for that purpose.
A: Like sometimes, afterward, an American guy will come up and be like, “Hey, can I learn? Can you show me what you’re doing?” And they’re like, I don’t even know how to teach it, it won’t sound the same…
Just that kind of feeling about music is really eye-opening. Like how Miles Davis said, “Play to pray, pray to play,” you know, like you said, Coltrane too… Or Sufi music, or-
D: Tibetan chants… That kind of transcendence, I guess. Healing.
A: Seeing sound work like that is pretty powerful.
D: It’s probably our biggest influence, really.
A: Even the blues, when I hear the blues now - I grew up playing blues guitar, [and] when I hear it now, it really hits me in that way. Almost goes straight to that place, you know. Gospel too. Sitting in that room when they go there [musically], and people fall on the ground, speak in tongues - this has happened in every city, in gospel churches across America.
On that very topic, I’ve noticed a lot of spiritual themes, if not outright religious ones, on the album. What is your faith? Or whatever fills that space in your life?
A: I guess we each could say our own thing. I know myself, I’m not really sure what it’s called. [smiles] I just need a certain - I’m best when I’m open, and I try to stay that way, however… I can. Music is one. I guess I consider it what they call tantra, which people often think of in sexual terms, but there’s a whole realm of what we consider tantra that’s a certain spirit, that invigorates openness. And I find those things are really good for me, whether it’s music, practicing music in a certain way, or plant medicines.
Would you call them herbal medicines?
Psychedelics, basically. Mushrooms, cactus… Experiencing it in a ceremonial way, from an elder. It’s been, ultimately, a guiding force for me.
[Getting back to my faith], I’m not sure, I don’t know what it’s called, particularly. It all kind of connects - like if you read a gnostic text and a Christian text, they’re both teaching the same lesson. I don’t have any fear about religion, per se - I’m pretty open to all things. It’s like when you listen to music, you’re probably hearing all different kinds of things, and it all kind of connects [for you] if you like them.
So, I’m to be decided. [smiles] I don’t know what it’s called - like music, it’s the same search.
D: Yeah, I think similar, for me. There’s something I’ve been woken up to, shaken, in a way… It’s just a process, I guess, a growth. Finding my focus is something very important to me.
A: I also feel young, too. It’s cool - I don’t know where it’s gonna go.
A: Yeah, we’re still students, definitely.
So your last name, I’m not sure how it’s pronounced…
A&D: “Aged.” [like, say, wine]
What’s your heritage?
A: Our mom is French-Moroccan, and our dad’s American, Canadian, Irish…
I’ve been noticing, on the internet and among my friends, how people are having a very powerful response when listening to your album, appreciating it very deeply. I was curious if any memories come to mind, in particular, of people listening to your music and you feeling really humbled or moved by the way they internalized it.
D: That’s a cool question.
A: These are all really good questions, yeah… I think all of it. It wasn’t an album that was easy to make, it wasn’t without struggle. So every bit of [positive reception] for me feels like, “Wow, I’m so glad.”
Traveling has been really good. We went to France, and the interviews there - they were really interested in the lyrics, and that was interesting, because it was a different language. That was a good feeling - we went to Japan, and it was like that there, too. It was cool to feel some of that universal quality to it. It felt like that, inside us, when we were making it, so to feel some sense of universal connection [with the album] felt really good.
And our peers, we’re really grateful for all our musical peers who seem to like it…
Yeah, there are all different kinds of musicians out there who are really into it. Zomby, Arca, Skream, people who come from a different place musically but still seem to be really struck by the record…@LilInternet, I guess.
A: Yeah! We just hope to build, to keep bringing everyone together.
I think there’s this feeling of the music we grew up with, like The Smashing Pumpkins, kind of that era when the notion of being alternative was really clearly defined… Something we were drawing from was a feeling of being kind of outcasted, these little symbols of outcastedness and free-spiritedness.
It’s frustrating, because every fucking article that gets written about you guys - sorry…
A: It’s all good. We do say “fuck,” too. [laughs]
Just playing it safe! But every article mentions Prince, and I think it’s just excessive - because if you listen to your music, it’s like, sure, these guys like Prince, but… I actually got kind of obsessive about it, I have pretty much everything Prince has ever released, and when I was listening to no world I went back and relistened to all of his stuff, looking for even just one particular song that clearly influenced you guys. And there wasn’t anything obvious at all.
A: Right, right.
There are certain techniques and things, I think, that are subtle influences, but on the whole it’s very unfairly pigeonholing.
D: Yeah. I think it’s easy.
To be honest, a lot of people, when they’re writing an article, will just google, read another article and be like, “Oh yeah, of course, Prince.” There’s not a lot of good or fair music journalism out there, generally speaking…
A: Yeah, it’s few and far. It’s funny, yesterday our friend texted me asking if we were listening to PJ Harvey a lot, and I said yeah, for sure. But mostly after [we finished] the album, strangely, and quite a good amount. That album, To Bring You My Love…
D: That was weird, too, actually. When we made the album, there were all these things we were doing, things we were going for, but the influences came after. Like, I was listening to The Joshua Tree recently, and I was like, “Oh, there’s so much on here that I love,” but I had never really listened to it before. There were a few things like that that came around after, like time wasn’t linear when we were making [no world]. I don’t know…
Retroactive, in a way.
A: The young unconscious. [laughs]
D: I didn’t mean to interrupt you, though.
A: No, you didn’t really. I was just saying there’s been a few direct ones that our friends heard - like when this friend finished [our] album, she listened to [PJ Harvey]. We never talk about PJ Harvey, but somehow she immediately went there. So there are, like yourself, you know, there are people who… I mean yeah, there will be a few who choose easy routes. But in due time, I think - maybe by album two, or three, whatever people need.
I really love the 3 EP, but that’s definitely very different. I was curious what you guys think about that stuff now. Will you play it live again, or do you think you’re moving past it now?
A: Yeah, we don’t really play it live… It feels cool when I hear it. We were in London and I heard it, I was in a bathroom and it was being played, and I was like, “I haven’t heard this in a really long time.” [laughs] But it’s cool, it’s interesting. It definitely feels more transitional - we were going through something to get somewhere else. When I hear [no world], I’m still there. It does feel like the past, in a sense, but… It’s cool, you know, you gotta move on. We’re just marching forward, so I don’t think we’ll play [the EP] live again.
Lastly, I was curious if your background as touring and recording musicians for other artists has influenced you, or is in any way still a part of your process or approach. It’s a ridiculous list of names that you’ve worked with…
A: Yeah, I think a lot of ways, even in immediate ways: Daniel met one of our drummers on one of those gigs. [speaking to Daniel] I know that was a big experience for you, like playing with the guitarist who was the musical director for Destiny’s Child, and being on the same bus touring with Parliament-Funkadelic’s horn section.
D: Yeah, that whole band was a really good band.
Sorry, whose band?
D: Raphael Saadiq. Yeah, it was fun - I learned a lot. And he was always one of my favorites, growing up. Because he was a bass player, too. And he produced Voodoo, so I was like…
A: And we really like Instant Vintage.
D: I even liked the Tony! Toni! Toné! stuff, growing up. So when he asked me to play with him, I was happy about that, you know… And it was cool, it felt like the work was paying off. Because I had spent so much time just playing, for so long, and that was just what I loved. Even in the time when it wasn’t cool [in the mainstream] anymore, I was still so obsessed with it, that style of musicianship, and bass playing, especially. Because it’s so simple, not flashy at all - it feels really good, but there’s no… It’s like a secret language or something.
When I first started playing with [Saadiq], I was learning a lot directly from him, just ‘cause he started off playing bass with other people - like Prince, Sheila E., all these people - and then soon after, when he was still young, he started to do his own project, and he continued from there. So he understood when I left, too, saying “I can’t do this anymore” - he was cool with it, because…
A: [smiling] He left [Prince] to play with his brother, too. As the bass player.
D: Yeah, so… The whole band, there’s a lot of history in the band. They all came out of harder times and harder places and really, through the music, freed themselves. They’re some amazing musicians and people, really humble…