INTERVIEW: Talking with vocalist Brooke Austen of Prismatics

INTERVIEW: Talking with vocalist Brooke Austen of Prismatics 2

New wave/dream-pop/post-punk band Prismatics recently released their sophomore EP, Endlessly, a six-track collection of gorgeously evocative music reflecting the complexities of the modern world.

Made up of Brooke Austen (synths, vocals), Josh Clark (backing vocals, guitar), Jo Bossi (bass), and Ben Stenberg (drums), Endlessly delivers dazzling, shimmering sonic textures highlighted by Brooke’s deluxe voice, at once gracefully posh, sumptuous, and beguiling.

XS Noize spoke with Brooke Austen to find out more about her influences, the Prismatics’ songwriting process, and the evolution of the band’s sound.

What’s your favourite song to belt out in the shower or the car?

In the shower, probably either “Moving” or “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush. In the car, anything by Prince.

Who is your favourite music artist?

I have a lot. I am notoriously bad at answering this question. Prince is way up there. Peter Gabriel. Kate Bush … big fan. There’s three. And Echo & the Bunnymen.

Who are you listening to right now?

I’m listening to a lot of Talking Heads and also Ella Fitzgerald.

How did you get started in music?

I’ve been singing forever. I’ve been singing since birth. But when I was about seven or eight, I started entering small talent shows in my hometown. And singing a lot of Broadway show tunes. I wanted to be a Broadway singer.

Which musicians/singers influenced you the most?

Listening to Aretha Franklin made me want to sing. And later on, musically, my first influence instrumentally would probably be The Doors.

Did you ever try to sound like anybody when you first started singing?

Not overall. There have been certain periods when I’ve been listening to someone more than others and I have definitely been influenced by them, but I don’t know if there’s ever been a constant, singular influence in that way that I’ve tried to emulate.

Is there one primary songwriter in Prismatics? Or does everybody contribute? How does it work?

We all contribute. We will switch back and forth on writing lyrics. In particular, I wrote most of the songs on this EP, but we all consider ourselves lyricists, and we all write the instrumental parts equally.

So I’m assuming that the band is a democracy, where majority rules. Rather than one person’s a dictator and says, “This is what we’re going to do?”

Yes, very much so. It’s a democracy.

What was the inspiration for the new EP, Endlessly?

I would be wrong if I said our quarantine situation didn’t inspire us. We had been listening to a lot of Echo & the Bunnymen, a lot of post-punk and new wave artists, which we always are. But we were kind of getting into a darker realm as we were writing Endlessly. But really, I think we were inspired overall by self-reflection on this EP – being forcibly confronted with ourselves during isolation.

How is Endlessly different from your previous EP, New Emotion?

I feel like we’re settling into ourselves more. When New Emotion was written, we were fairly new. We had just started writing music together in that incarnation. Josh and Jo had been in bands together for a long time before that, but I had just come into writing music with them recently, around the time of New Emotion; so, this time I think we were starting to figure out how we each work, and it was definitely a … I don’t want to say it was less rocky because it wasn’t rocky last time. But Endlessly was a smooth process as far as songwriting goes in comparison.

Over time, especially since the first EP, is the band getting tighter?

I think we are. We’ve always been very precise with our playing anyway. We’ve been very precise as individuals, so I feel like now that translates within the band, but we are certainly getting better at writing together, and it’s a more concise process right now. We haven’t been able to play a lot together since the pandemic. But how that translates in real life is yet to be seen, but I’m confident it will translate.

How much performing did you do together before the pandemic?

We had gone on two tours together, I believe. We play in Texas a lot. That’s one of our places to go and perform. And we had another tour planned that we had to cancel because of the pandemic.

My understanding is that the recording process for Endlessly was a little different. You each recorded from your own homes, right?

Yes. Our first recording before Endlessly we had recorded in a studio together. So not only was this the first time we had recorded ourselves, but we were also entirely remote. We were all in our own houses, in our own towns because we didn’t live in the same town at that point. And I didn’t have anything to record with at the time, so I just threw together whatever I could. Josh would mail me recording equipment. It was interesting.

How did Prismatics get together?

Josh and Jo had been in bands together before Prismatics. And I was also in my own band. We met while we were all in different bands, and we were all wanting to do something different. They wanted to add a vocalist and a synth player. We befriended each other and eventually, I joined their band. After that went on for a while, we decided we really wanted to start something new that we all created together. And Prismatics was born.

Is Prismatics’ sound evolving? If so, in which way?

With songs we’ve been writing post-Endlessly, I feel like we’re getting more experimental. We’re constantly evolving because we have so many influences collectively that we can’t help but change our sound a lot. But we like to find common ground. I feel like dream-pop will always be an influence for me. I wouldn’t say we’re making a massive stylistic departure before we wanted to write modern, new wave sounding, post-punky songs in an accessible way. Now I think we are dropping a bit of that desire to make it ultra-accessible so that anything can happen.

Are there any special or specific recording techniques you like to use?

While recording on our own, remotely, I discovered certain things that I tend to prefer. I like to be entirely alone while recording vocals. I like to isolate myself. I think Prince used to do this – he used to sit down and record. And I recorded vocals while sitting down for a lot of this EP and I really enjoyed that. There’s a special magic to doing it alone.

Do you practice singing?

Kind of. I’m singing all the time, so everything is practice in a way. As far as sitting down and saying, “Okay, I’m going to practice now,” I do that rarely. I will try to improve on certain vocal techniques at times, but I’m more likely to be just singing songs I like all the time.

Why do you make music?

I feel like it’s something I have to do. I don’t think I could emotionally process life without doing it. And sometimes I refer to that as a curse – the curse of being a musician. It’s like it’s something against my will because it just happens, and I need it, and I have to have it. As far as the function it serves outside me, I like to know other people enjoy it. I like to know other people can see themselves in it and connect to it and that it improves their lives in some way. But I don’t feel like I have the power to absolutely change the course of somebody’s life through my music. I think that would be a little conceited. But I think it’s enjoyable when they feel something. It’s nice to elicit some sort of response out of people. That’s a major factor in it for me.

When you sit down to write music, what is the process?

I tend to shift between methods rapidly, depending on what kind of mood I’m in. I can’t entirely speak for them, but I feel like the rest of the band tends to write the music first, and then lyrics later or add vocals later. But since I’m a vocalist at my core, I tend to get a melody in mind. Sometimes I’ll write the vocals first and add music to it later.

How do you know when a song is finished?

I think all of us in the band have personalities that make us want to keep going obsessively back and perfect something. But we’ve learned to put a stop to that at a certain point, realizing we’re getting a bit neurotic over it.

For me, and really for all of us, I suppose we take a maximalist approach to the initial writing process and recording process. We put in every idea we have, and then we start taking away. So, when we’ve taken away everything we need to, while still keeping the song intact and it still has whatever feel we’re trying to get across, that’s when we know it’s finished.

Will Prismatics ever put out an album?

We’d definitely like to. There’s a convenience in putting out singles and EPs, but I think we all see a lot of value in putting out full-fledged albums. We like a lot of conceptual artists, and we like a lot of prog. It’s in our blood to put out a full album. I’m certain we will.

Listen to Prismatics ‘Endlessly’ EP – BELOW:

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