Feature: Tanlines

Published in the April 12-19 issue of NOW Magazine

What does an 80s-rock-indebted, tropical-inflected, electronic pop record sound like processed through the same sampler as Ginuwine’s lustrous single Pony?

Pretty shitty, concedes Jesse Cohen, one-half of Brooklyn duo Tanlines alongside Eric Emm. 

Still, the band couldn’t help but give it a try when they found themselves sitting down with engineering legend/Timbaland collaborator Jimmy Douglass, who mixed their debut album, Mixed Emotions (True Panther).

But there are, in fact, parallels between, say, Timbaland’s idiosyncratic style and Mixed Emotions’ lush, precise soundscapes. 

“We use a lot of percussion from all over the world,” says Cohen. “We play live instruments on top of samples. [When we started out as a band], we knew Eric’s voice was going to be a huge part of what we do. That’s the palette: a mix of real and fake sounds.”

Tanlines formed in 2008, and Mixed Emotions took four years to materialize. In that time, Cohen and Emm built a steady following through singles like the indefatigable Real Life, which they later remixed with vuvuzela effects for the World Cup. 

Taking the time to set sonic parameters was equally about defining their sound – “existential pop,” Cohen jokingly says, pointing to Emm’s diarist lyrics and elegiac delivery – and reining themselves in. 

“Part of the problem with making music in the digital age is that there are almost no limitations to what you can do. You can just keep working, looking, chasing sounds.”

Plus, Emm, who isn’t into doing interviews, is a bit of a perfectionist and needs those limits, says Cohen, describing his bandmate as “amazing and complicated.”

Cohen’s the showboat: in charge of stage banter, recognized by the Village Voice for his prolific tweeting, comfortable analyzing last night’s dream about Young Money’s iPhone app. 

But he’s also quite earnest, and that bruised honesty is reflected on Mixed Emotions. 

“I hear one thing when I listen to our music and someone else hears something, and the truth is somewhere in between,” he offers. “When it was time to write the album, we wanted it to have meaning for us and for anyone who listens to it – for as long as possible.”