November’s Album of the Month noted the surge of electro-pop bands in Seattle—scaled-down, digitally-enhanced outfits that “branch out from hip-hop or house/downtempo beat construction and striving for tight, catchy tunes.” With 10 or so of these bands in operation, it’s clear that electro-pop is the current sound of the city. And the Flavr Blue might be grandfather of them all.
Which isn’t to say the Flavr Blue, the trio of singer/producers Lace Cadence, Parker Joe and Hollis Wong-Wear, is at all old, just that they came before the rest. All three climbed out of Seattle’s hip-hop scene to come together in a zone that was, until recently, relatively unexplored. Their debut full-length, 2012’s Pisces, staked the territory with R&B vocals and slick, Euro-dance-style production. Last year’s Bright Vices EP came on the heels of Wong-Wear’s superstar turn singing the hook to Macklemore’s “White Walls” and suddenly the group was selling out venues in Seattle and touring cities on both coasts.
This Saturday they return from their latest West Coast jaunt, which took them from Vancounver, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico and a slew of stops in between, to play a homecoming show at Neumos. We caught up with them for a couple of unfortunately garbled phone conversations while they were navigating their Yukon XL to the Red Bull Mansion deep in the wilds of the Hollywood Hills. Shitty cell service there.
City Arts: How’s the tour going?
Hollis Wong-Wear: We just got into LA and we’re driving towards Hollywood. The gig tonight is in Silverlake at the Satellite.
And what about Tijuana?
Wong-Wear: Honestly we haven’t been able to get ahold of [the venue] about that. We’re going either way!
What size rooms are you guys playing?
Wong-Wear: 300-400 capacity rooms. We’re doing smaller rooms because if you get enough people in a smaller room the vibe is always good. Yesterday we went to San Diego for the first time—50 people there and arguably the most rabid fans singing along to every song. We’d much rather play shows to 50, 75 people, have it not be full but have people really into it and participating.
Wong-Wear: Sorry man. We’re driving this Yukon XL and trying to find this house that Red Bull rented for the month to do this 30 Days in LA series. I’m gonna pass the phone to the guys.
Phone cuts out. Wong-Wear calls back 15 minutes later.
City Arts: What’s this Red Bull mansion situation all about?
Parker Joe: There are a number of other bands here. It’s a huge crash house and everyone is in and out. Just since getting here I’ve seen like 15 different people, but I don’t know what bands they’re in. Red Bull’s good to musicians like that. They’re doing an initative called 30 Days in LA; our show is unrelated but since we’re [Red Bull] Sound Select artists they help out where they can.
So this is the first West Coast tour you’ve done?
Joe: Yeah, it’s a culmination of spot dates we’ve been doing for a year. It’s an attempt to bring everything together and instead dipping out for a spot date in LA, make it all happen at once and create as much hype around it as possible. A tour like this, it feeds its own energy.
Seems like the electro-pop sound you guys have been doing for a minute has really caught on in Seattle. Have you noticed it?
Lace Cadence: Well, let me ask you this: Was anyone doing that in Seattle in 2011? Not to take too much credit, but it was a big deal to take a leap into some undiscovered Seattle stuff. As hip-hop artists in Seattle we reached a ceiling and this was an untapped genre. And this was a way for us to be vulnerable in trying something new. It’s hard to not come off cocky but it was a big deal for us to do something that none of the homies are doing.
And now it’s kinda trendy.
Cadence: We’ve definitely noticed that. But our background was a big deal with that because a lot of bands making that music didn’t grow up in the hip-hop community. We bring that aspect of old-school hip-hop. It’s just naturally there because that’s where we came from. I grew up on Bay Area hip-hop like Hieroglyphics and E-40, plus East Coast stuff like Mobb Deep and A Tribe Called Quest, earlier hip-hop that a lot of young kids don’t know about. That’s a big part of what makes us different. We like to incorporate that old-school stuff into our music without making it sound like it’s hip-hop.
Who are the homies these days? Who are your peers in the Seattle scene?
Cadence: We like Nightmare Fortress fortress a lot. We really like Katie Kate, and she’s doing the show with us on the 29th. I feel like we’re kind of fresh on figuring out what’s popping in seattle. We have a lot of long-term friends and hip-hop support in Seattle.
What I like about what you guys do is how performative it is—you’re using technology for production but still singing and moving around a lot on stage. And the way you mix genres feels really natural in a way that would’ve felt forced just a few years ago.
Cadence: I agree. I think the music industry has changed a lot in the last five, seven years. It makes new genres available to people. You just make something in your room and get it out. New genres are popping up all the time with people being able to experiment on their own.
You said that you found a niche that wasn’t being explored in Seattle. Is that how you came to your sound? Was it kind of strategic, like, Let’s fill this niche because nobody else is?
Cadence: Nah, that hasn’t affected us much. We go into a session and sit down and start from scratch together. Whatever happens is what we’re feeling at the moment. We don’t reference songs or think about a certain genre because that limits you creatively. It’s part of our recipe to not think about things beforehand and just make what comes. It keeps coming back to that hip-hop background. We all know how to bounce ideas off each other and push each other creatively and not just do what’s comfortable for everyone.
And how has that changed since you guys started out? What new directions are you pushing each other in?
Cadence: We haven’t played our new stuff for many people but the peope who heard it are into it. From Pisces to Bright Vices and from that to now, the evolution is important to us. We wanna feel like we’re creating new-feeling music. It’s different form what we’ve done in the past but it is in some ways the same. It’s us. It’s evolving, which we always wanna do. But it should also sound and feel like us.
That’s a tricky balance for an artist to walk! But it’s crucial.
Cadence: It is tough but I think we all notice how tough it is, and things that are tough to do end up being better. Stuff that’s easy is probably something someone else is doing.