18+ “We’ve instinctively begun integrating our own bodies and our own lives into the visual elements of 18+.”

18+ don’t exist. Okay, that’s corny: they do exist, but for three years now, the music of the L.A./New York duo has been so thoroughly packaged in stereotyped avatars and sleazy images that our conception of “Boy” and “Sis” (or Justin and Samia) was more an outlet for our private and collective fantasies than a truthful representation of two living, respiring human beings. Maybe we prefer things this way with our musicians and artists, and maybe, in an age when we all seem much more comfortable under the cloak of digital media, such a fictitious identity couldn’t be more appropriate for the band.

Yet after a run of three tantalizing mixtapes, 18+ are on the cusp of releasing Trust, their debut album on Houndstooth, and as part of this newfound legitimacy, they’ve emerged ever so slightly out of their own decoys, sharing their first names (or have they?) with their public, appearing live with more frequency, and posing for untreated photographs. Moreover, as part of this process of glasnost, they were relaxed enough to talk with us at Tiny Mix Tapes, passing through a diverse range of subjects, such as signing to a label, anonymity, appropriation, identity, playing in Europe, commercial success, their geographical influences, and privacy. And even if their candor might seem to jeopardize their seductive mystique, there’s the possibility that this rationing of information is intended purely to suck us further into their rabbithole, to offer just enough reality to assure us that our idealizations and illusions aren’t completely incredible.

How did your teaming up with Houndstooth materialize? Was a record deal something you’d hoped or planned for from the beginning of the band’s existence, or was it an opportunity you pragmatically seized?

Initially, a record deal was the farthest thing from our minds. We didn’t think anyone would be listening to, let alone buying and selling, this music. This swiftly changed. Almost immediately, record labels and other “music business professionals” began filling our inbox. We responded to what seemed appropriate, most didn’t write back. Some did. We refer to these people as “phishers.” We’ve been in long correspondence with major and independent labels, but the relationships all soured for one reason or another. At some point, we thought labels just weren’t for us, which seemed fine. Houndstooth wound up working due to their professionalism and lack of affectation. Though backed by Fabric, Houndstooth itself is new; they’re hungry and they’re continually releasing well-respected music. Seemed like a perfect fit.

What was selection criteria for the tracklisting of Trust? Did you simply want to provide a broad overview of your output, or do its 14 songs have more in common with each other thematically than they do with, for example, those that don’t appear on the LP?

We like to think of work as never finished; we also like to think of past works being repurposed into new works. We think this is how memory and personalities work, constantly drawing upon a past to construct a present, so why wouldn’t art reflect this? To us, listening to Trust from start to finish is like listening to a brand new work; it has its own narrative and its own personality. The intent for Trust was to provide a primer for 18+’s past, yes, but we also expect it will be experienced as a wholly new experience for most of its listeners.

With the avatars, there was a very overt depiction of a constructed identity; as we proceed to use our faces and bodies, we can dig a bit deeper into more nuanced forms of the same issue.

Did copyright and clearance issues at all constrain the pool of songs you could choose from?

Yes, this was definitely part of our process, of all our 50 or so songs, we chose maybe 25 and then went about tracking down the rights to publish them, which was of course never something we had intended. Some songs didn’t end up on the album that we regret, but that’s just how it goes.

Beyond the album, have you begun writing new material? Is there a particular formula or even agenda you act on when writing?

Absolutely, we still have songs that didn’t make it into MIXTAP3 that we love and listen to all the time. We’re almost always working on new material; the way we make songs is impulsive and spontaneous, as was the way we used to release things. The way we have matured the most is in our ability to curate our own work. So we’d like to say a new album is on the way, but we honestly don’t know how long it will take, but our intuition says soon.

Now that you’ve signed to Houndstooth and begun peaking a little out of your former anonymity, does this mean you intend to move away from the well-documented appropriation of visual and virtual iconography that you often hid behind?

We’ve instinctively begun integrating our own bodies and our own lives into the visual elements of 18+. The “Crow” video is a good example. Most people tend to assume it’s largely found footage, but it’s quite a candid view into our lives, depicting our homes, our friends, our families, our pets, and our lovers. Anonymity was content for 18+ due to its original means of distribution: the internet. Now that we are playing shows so often and becoming the physical front to this project, we have to pivot a bit. It’s almost as if we are now the avatars, and 18+ is the user, which has been and continues to be a very surreal reversal.

In what ways would you say that that the appropriation of computerized imagery connects with the sexual and relational nature of your music? I ask this because it seems that, to greater and lesser degrees, we often have a tendency to idealize our partners and even reduce them to avatars for our fantasies.

The use of computerized imagery was intended to reflect the materials of 18+’s creation and distribution: all our works were being made on computers, uploaded to web platforms to then be experienced through computers. Humans have a tendency to idealize everything; it seems to be how brains want to work. It’s a helpful, if not comforting, simplification.

Public vs. private is and will continue to be a huge issue for 18+. We’re becoming more public and in some ways much more private.

The tones and voices you both affect occasionally seem to be quite stylized and caricatured, as if you’re quoting the personas and gender stereotypes we adopt during relationships. If you move away from the appropriation of simulacra and digital readymades, does this also mean that you’ll become “rawer” — that is, more expressive of and faithful to your personal selves? Or is it precisely that you find the whole notion of being “true” to yourself questionable?

This is more to the heart of the matter. The “characters” or “voices” we use are intentionally exaggerated versions of ourselves or our reactions to each other’s characters. This points more toward the malleability of identity than anything else. We both change given the context. Adaptation is our most valuable skill. With the avatars, there was a very overt depiction of a constructed identity; as we proceed to use our faces and bodies, we can dig a bit deeper into more nuanced forms of the same issue.

Continuing with your signing to Houndstooth, did you ever worry at any point in your life as a band that the explicitness of your lyrics and subject matter would effectively bar you from commercial or mainstream success? Or is that kind of success not something on your radar?

Commercial success and mainstream attention has never been a concern; thinking about those sorts of things rarely helps you achieve them. Now with Houndstooth, there is the option for radio play, so we make a radio edit, nbd; it’s just another version. We love versions. Sometimes we prefer radio-edit versions of songs due to their ability to abstract the song in unexpected ways. Also, the heterogeneity of our work allows us to have our cake and eat it too. If we present one type of extreme in a song, it is usually followed by its counterpoint. This is something Tiny Mix Tapes picked up on in the review of MIXTAP3 that is very important to us: song pairings.

Is such a concern for offending mores anything to do with how you seem to tour more through Europe than through the arguably more prudish United States? If not, is there any particular reason why you gravitate toward the continent?

We can only speculate. Sometimes we think it has to do with Europe being more supportive of the arts in general. We’ve been paid more for one show in Europe than all the shows we’ve played in North America. It could also be about exoticism. Rarely is a prophet accepted in their home village lol. We like to think it’s changing. We’ve been getting played recently on a radio station here in L.A., so something might be happening.

When listening to 18+ for the first time, it’s quite easy for some of us to fixate on this explicitness and assume that your music is narrowly focused, but how far do you think the prism of sex can be used to explore the human condition in general? One wider phenomenon it seems to touch on for me is interpersonal control and the notion of sex as leverage. To what extent do you believe that relationships are fundamentally antagonistic, that they’re a constant tussle between people for power over each other?

The extended metaphor of human sexuality is pretty expansive. The power struggle you mention is a great example of that. Relationships are how you make meaning in the world; one thing informs the other. So examining the relationships between individuals can lead to broader implications. We would say that these relations aren’t and shouldn’t always be tumultuous, and with that we often depict moments of peacefulness and quiet beauty.

With the highly sexual nature of your music, I wonder if you’ve ever encountered any fans who’ve been a little too effusive and over-familiar?

There have been moments, but we’re both pretty good at setting, enforcing, and teasing boundaries with people.

It’s almost as if we are now the avatars, and 18+ is the user, which has been and continues to be a very surreal reversal.

Are you at all concerned that, by dealing with such ostensibly intimate subject matter, you’re potentially encouraging your listeners to assume that they have license to intrude into your privacy? Was your use of Second Life graphics and CGI partly an attempt to avoid such an erosion of the barrier between the public and the private?

It definitely functioned as a shield, allowing for privacy. But public vs. private is and will continue to be a huge issue for 18+. We’re becoming more public and in some ways much more private.

Despite my laboring over your association with the internet and its virtual placenessless, I’ve personally developed a habit of listening to your music at night while travelling via foot or public transport to some bar or gathering. So for me, it now has a strong connection with the particular cities I inhabit and have inhabited. Does it come from a specific geographical place as far as you’re concerned, or could you have been the same band in almost any town in the developed world?

We both have very vivid connotations with songs based on the places we make them, including the events in our lives that might have influenced them. But we’re very mobile, so these locations don’t last. We’d like to think it could have been created anywhere with the help of the internet, but we’re not sure if that’s true. We both grew up on the Pacific Ocean, so maybe that’s the location that could define us.

And speaking of more traditional connections, do you regard yourselves as having any particular peers in music and art, or even as belonging to something like a “scene”?

We’re not so sure. Something like that would benefit from the retrospective lens of history. We have many friends participating in the creative fields who we are continually drawing inspiration from; there are also people who we continually see from city to city to city for some reason. Initially, the scene we caught interest from was the shared group of friends we had access to from school and social circles online, though as 18+ has progressed, we’ve continually been surprised at the reach and differentiation in our audience. A lot has changed.

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