For the first single from Future Elevators self-titled debut, frontman Michael Shackelford found inspiration watching old episodes of Carl Sagan’s legendary documentary Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The celestial visuals—planets spinning in space, clusters of stars imploding—inspired the song’s zero-gravity groove: It’s a space jam powered by a roomy dub beat and shimmery indie-pop synths, which makes “Modern World” an apt introduction to Future Elevators’ anything-goes aesthetic.
Cosmos also posed some intriguing philosophical questions, which Shackelford pondered as he pieced the song together at the local studio owned and operated by Communicating Vessels (a label that is revitalizing Birmingham’s music scene and releasing Future Elevators). “Think about all the crazy shit you can do these days,” he says. “You can fly around the world at a moment’s notice. In the past hundred years, technology has made everything seem possible. I wanted to write a pop song that was universal, and at the end of the day the thing we all have in common with one another is that we’re all on this rock going around in circles.”
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Between production gigs and touring jobs, Shackelford spent a year piecing his debut album together at the local studios owned and operated by Communicating Vessels (a label that is revitalizing Birmingham’s music scene and releasing Future Elevators). Recording with him was Lynn Bridges, who has worked with Devendra Banhart and fellow Alabamans the Dexateens, and the album was mixed by Darrell Thorp, best known for Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief and Beck’s Grammy-winning Morning Phase.
Shackelford played all the instruments himself, which was less about maintaining control and more about getting ideas down as quickly as possible. “Sometimes I feel like there’s a radio station playing in my head, and if I can tune in to it, I can hear all these arrangements. If I don’t act on the idea when it comes to me, I can lose it forever.”
Translating those phantom radio waves into real music lends Future Elevators a sense of urgency and spontaneity, yet for all its ambitious arrangements, the music operates on a distinctly human scale. The impression of a real person comes through on these songs: the undying wonder of an enthusiastic musician, the fears and joys of a new father, the worries of a normal guy living in a world that seems beyond his control.