Patrick Wimberly sounds a little distracted when the Straight reaches him in the parking lot of a Radio Shack in Burlington, Ontario, but he has a good excuse. Well, two excuses, actually. "We're building something for the stage, and we're also doing some work on our van to protect our gear," says Wimberly, who plays drums, bass, and keyboards in the synth-pop duo Chairlift. "I'm sorry; I'm doing both of these things at the same time. It's actually really nice, when you're on tour, to have these very domestic problems, like chores, you know. It makes me feel like I'm at home."
Home, for Wimberly and singer-keyboardist Caroline Polachek, is the Brooklyn hipster hub of Williamsburg. Chairlift began elsewhere, though. Polachek started the band with guitarist-vocalist Aaron Pfenning in Boulder, Colorado, in 2005. The pair moved to Brooklyn the following year and recruited Wimberly in '07. As a trio, Chairlift tasted success when Apple licensed its bouncy but bittersweet song "Bruises" for a 2008 commercial announcing the launch of the fourth-generation iPod Nano. In September of that year, the group released its first full-length album, Does You Inspire You.
Its follow-up, this year's Something, finds Chairlift a duo again, as Pfenning made his exit between albums. The official reason is that he wanted to work on his own project, Rewards, but his romantic relationship with Polachek ended at around the same time. Whatever the story, Pfenning's departure helped Chairlift focus and streamline its sound, and the new album is a confident collection of songs that sit on the right side of the line dividing accessible pop from art-school pretension. On hook-barbed winners like "I Belong in Your Arms" and "Met Before", Polachek adds her powerful voice and impressive range to Wimberly's sparkling production.
"It was a lot more direct between Caroline and I," he says of the duo's newfound creative process. "We wrote the whole record in the same room with each other, where a lot of the last record was written individually, and then songs were brought in and then we'd arrange them together. But this one was very much a collaboration between Caroline and I, writing all of the parts together."
Something has spawned two videos so far, for "Amanaemonesia" and "Met Before". The latter, directed by Jordan Fish, is an interactive affair that allows the viewer to make choices affecting the on-screen action. This isn't the first time Chairlift has been on the cutting edge. Three years ago, the band's clip for "Evident Utensil" pioneered the use of datamoshing (compressing visual information to create a trippy, pixilated effect) in the music-video format.
"The idea is not 'How can we make the most innovative video again?' It's more about just finding an idea that works and that we're excited about, and that we have the resources to do," says Wimberly. "Sometimes it does come down to that: How much time do we have? How much money do we have? Who is going to help us right now, and what's our idea? We're talking about a video for 'I Belong in Your Arms', and we have a lot of ideas, which is good."
Maybe-just maybe-one of those ideas will be sparked by something purchased on a whim at the Radio Shack in Burlington, Ontario.
Chairlift plays Electric Owl on Friday (April 6).