With their Delusions record, Selebrities have crafted a sparkling collection of timeless guitar-pop gems
When Crack was compiling its end of year top 100 albums list, the iTunes selections of the various inhabitants of Crack Towers were raided for albums that may have passed our ears by. Like a credible X-Factor panel minus the Botox and bloated sense of self-worth, gaining a four-way thumbs up is a rarity in these parts, especially when the music you’re peddling is 80s-obsessed guitar pop.
Meet Selebrities: Maria Usbeck (vocals), Jer Robert Paulin (guitar, bass) and Max Peterson (keyboards). This Brooklyn three piece, aside from looking the part, have crafted (in our opinion) the 12th best album of last year with their wonderful debut full-length Delusions.
Denying all pretentious stereotypes associated with the genre and bringing the sound right back to acts who crafted uniquely special pop music with consummate skill, such as Blondie and The Cure, Delusions is a wonderful ten track charmer. Each track clocks in at around 3.30 and a number of the songs on offer, had they been released 25 years ago, could have earned them millions. Blame boy bands. We do.
Of all the genres to withstand the battering of time, the pop song is surely the most resilient and on Delusions you’re spoiled. Yet Selebrities’ take on the genre is a darker, single string punctuated effort that doesn’t sit alongside the schmaltzy, happy-go-lucky guitar pop anthem. The opening title track and the hypnotic and sinister Secret Garden guide them into territory where new-wave influences provide a real sense of depth.
Sublime yet cynical chord progressions and repeatedly catchy verse- chorus patterns stick like glue throughout the album and suck you in. Maria Usbeck’s haunting and brilliant vocals permeate each track with a soft sincerity and the whole thing is topped off by never, ever becoming overblown in any way shape or form. It’s a consistent attention retainer.
Living in Brooklyn has certainly aided their progress. New-wave capital and artistic epicentre of New York, Selebrities’ slightly art-school image and retro sound mean they are in the perfect place to push their music. Crack found them in an appropriately enigmatic frame of mind, preferring to answer our questions as a collective rather than any form of individual response. Different. Selebrities, everyone…
After Crack was first handed Delusions, a week-long period of stereo addiction ensued. Friends have had similar experiences. What do you think makes it such an insatiably addictive record?
Well we think the album has a dark, kind of glamourous energy to it that really draws people in, but it’s also pop so it comes over easily. The songs are short and sweet which bumps up the replay value. Those are our favorite types of albums. Short and sweet.
Were you guys grounded in new-wave sensibilities from an early age, or is it a style of music you’ve grown into?
We all grew up listening to late 70s and 80s post punk/pop and new-wave music. This definitely influenced the band from the very start, but we do draw from other genres for inspiration.
Surely The Cure and Blondie must have been staples in your listening over the years?
It’s funny that you mention The Cure because Maria and Max listen to a lot of The Cure, but Jer really doesn’t. But people feel the guitars have a real Cure feel. We just have an overall ear for a certain sound that the 80s just crafted perfectly.
You seemingly straddle the poppy elements in your sound with skill. It’s a fine line in treading the catchy guitar riff and infectious rhythm without crossing over into cheesy territory. How do you see your place in the guitar pop world and how have you ensured a successful balancing act?
There’s been a second coming of simple power chord rock and single- string melodies, which was a big thing back in the early 80s to the 90s. Sometimes simple notes can just grip you and that’s what we try to do. Pop music has been completely blown out, with computers and auto-tune and whatnot. We just try to get back to the basics.
For the uninitiated, how did you guys meet and how did you bond musically?
In the beginning, around 2007, there was only two of us (Jer & Maria) and we created demo versions of Time and Audition. It was just a kind of side project while attending art school. In 2009 we moved up to New York not even to pursue music, just to work. Jer met Max at some nameless crap job where he played him those demos. Max retooled them, and added new synths, bass and drumbeats. He just wanted to produce us, but we twisted his arm into being the third member. It was inevitable.
There seems to be a real renaissance in quality pop music coming from the States at the moment with the likes of Best Coast and Real Estate. Do you think people’s tastes have changed at all, or do you think the standard of guitar pop has got better in recent times?
It seems people’s and the music industry’s tastes are all over the place right now. After the whole ‘The’ band era ended, it just seems like a free for all. It’s weird what makes or breaks a band. There’s a lot of good stuff right now. And it’s all different.
What are your plans for the coming year in terms of playing live? What can we expect from a Selebrities live show?
We’re touring all over Europe at the end of February, along with releasing a new single on Cascine, which we’re really excited about because we think we’ve done something different then our previous efforts. After that’s over we’re not quite sure, but we definitely want to come back. As for our live set, Maria puts on quite a good show, and the electronic drum set and guitars hit harder then you’d expect.
Why an S and not a C?
Jer had a book full of old comics, and on one page there was a drawing of a kid with a painted sign. Celebrities was spelled incorrectly and it for some reason it stuck. I kind of like how a band can take a word and give it a totally different feel.
Delusions was number 12 in Crack’s albums of 2011 list. What were your favourite records of last year?
First off thanks so much for putting us on your list! Our favourites were Forget from Twin Shadow (2010) and M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.
How much of an influence has Brooklyn been on your music and development as a band?
The music scene here is quite big, going to shows and watching bands we love play certainly made us want to get serious about becoming a band. Also it was easier to book gigs as a starter band in the area, since there are tons of venues always looking for bands to play. New York in general is so open to booking shows, because there’s nothing more exciting than discovering something new.
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Tune: Secret Garden
Photo: Eleny Ramierez