Chat with Musician Aaron Pfenning (Of Chairlift, Rewards)

Recently had something like an interview with the very talented Aaron Pfenning of Chairlift and Rewards.

Interviewed Aaron who happened to be at a coffee shop, Aaron’s view:


me: Shall we begin?

Aaron: You bet. I haven’t done any interviews in months.

me: Well then, feel free to talk/spill/ramble all you want. What current projects are you working on now?

Aaron: Right now I’m focused almost entirely on a solo project, which at first was going to just be Aaron Pfenning, then I decided to use the moniker Rewards.

I might actually just put Aaron Pfenning and Rewards as the text on the album cover, and leave it ambiguous as to which is the album title and which is the artist title.

me: Why Rewards?

Aaron: Rewards for two reasons. One is because of this quote I read by a scientist from Stanford.

“The enhanced functional and effective connectivity between brain regions mediating reward, autonomic, and cognitive processing provides insight into understanding why listening to music is one of the most rewarding and pleasurable human experiences.”

And two, because on a recent tour in Australia, the bartender kept calling me Mr. Rewards, and I liked it.

I mean, the bartender in one of the hotels. There wasn’t a “constant bartender.”

me: Rewards seems fitting, I like the quote too. How is Rewards different than Chairlift?

Aaron: Yeah it’s an awkward decision for me to make, choosing between using my name or using a moniker. The possibilities seem more bendable and expandable by using a moniker.

Aaron: I think there are many similarities between Rewards and Chairlift. This is a good question. I haven’t really thought about it yet. The Chairlift album is an album I very proud of, but with Rewards, my goal is to take it to the next level.

I almost want to move out of Brooklyn for awhile because I feel like Chairlift has been so tightly tied to the Brooklyn music scene, and while I find that to be a really great thing, I also don’t think the Brooklyn music scene is necesarily something me as a person, or me as a creative creature, is closely bonded to. My friends are here, but the places I look at in my mind when writing are usually in fantasy worlds like Netflix streaming movies, or desert atmospheres.

me: Also by using your name you’re kind of only expected to make that sound afterward.

Aaron: Right, unless you’re able to forge a path like Neil Young, but that’s a rare thing.

Neil Young

me: What’s your favorite Neil Young record?

Aaron: Oh gosh. It’s either “Landing On Water” or “On The Beach.” It’d be cool to do a chopped and screwed version of those albums and call it “Landing On The Beach.”

me: You should do it!

Aaron: I admire Neil Young immensely, I don’t know if I could touch his songs like that, you know, without permission.

Like, asking your girlfriends parents for permission to marry her.

General Music

me: How old where you when you started making music/knew you knew how to make music?

Aaron: I’ve been asked this before, and I pinpointed it to about 8 years old, when I found a tape recorder in the basement. I would record my mom chopping onions, the cat sleeping, various house noises, and then mash them up into sound collages. So, perhaps that doesn’t exactly count as making music, but, playing with sound and having a genuine and unlimited fascination with sound began around 8 years old. I played the trumpet throughout school too.

My approach to music is usually through recording, instead of sitting down at a piano or with a guitar and “writing a song.” It usually starts with recording something then evolves from that point. Lyrics are the hardest for me and I do that last usually, and spend the more time on lyrics than anything musically.

me: Do you ever add weird (cat noises, etc) to your stuff now? Or the trumpet?

Aaron: Of course! In fact, there’s a track on the Chairlift album that’s entirely and instrumental piece I did with just an organ and trumpet. It’s called “Chameleon Closet.”

MP3: Chameleon Closet – Chairlift″

me: Very awesome.

Aaron: I’ve been writing with Dev as well. Which really puts me out of my comfort zone because he’s such a damn good musician! He’s been helping with the Rewards album. He and I wrote a song about Winona Ryder.

Well, I think it’s about Winona Ryder, I’m not sure what Dev thinks it’s about.

Film/Film Scores

me: Haha. Speaking of Winona, what are some of your favorite films or favorite things to watch in general?

Aaron: They lean mostly toward “mind-bending, dark, sci-fi, thriller-fantasy.” Which means, “Blade Runner” “Mulholland Drive” “A Scanner Darkly”. I watch a lot of movies, I enjoy and take a lot of inspiration from soundtracks.

Vangelis, the composer who did Blade Runner and the Chariots of Fire theme – he’s a giant. A giant genius.

I think the music for that film (Bladerunner) flawlessly aligns with the themes and imagery. What makes us human? That is a great question to make a soundtrack for. What does art do for you? That’s another good question.

me: What does art do for you?

Aaron: Well I was asking you, actually!

me: As for making it- keeps my mind going, I’d probably go crazy if I couldn’t get all of my ideas out of my head. As for experiencing it, it also keeps my mind going. Now you!

Aaron: Yes, exactly. I think of art as fuel for one’s soul. Different souls require different fuels too – unleaded, diesel, biodiesel, solar power…different music or paintings or photographs fuel people in times of stress or mental breakdown. If you look back at history there’s almost always been some record of art, and it’s importance to a human being. When art speaks to you, whatever it may be, it re-asserts your values, and makes clear to you the YOU that is you. I think without art we would all be machines.

Aaron: Man, that sounds dark. But I think it’s true.


me: What other things are do you have planned?

Aaron: I’m going to be on the Nickelodeon show Yo Gabba Gabba this season…

me: No way!

Aaron: I haven’t seen it yet, but I can’t wait. I think it’s a brilliant show for kids. I wish something like that existed when I was young.

me: I was actually just looking up old nickelodeon shows the other day. (said at the same time) Are You Afraid Of The Dark, etc. They’re so funny to watch now.

Aaron: whoa! yes exactly!!

Aaron: I’m DJing at Pianos tonight…any requests? You always play such good tunes.

me: I’d been listening to this really odd band called The Penetrators a lot lately.. Shopping Bag is a fun song. (Not sure how well the crowd might react)

Aaron: I’m looking it up.

me: Hurtin’ Kind by The Bittersweets; Send Me A Potscard Darling – Shocking Blue; Spirit in The Sky – Norman Greenbaum

Aaron: Oh man, Spirit In The Sky is such a classic.

me: It’s fun to play in bars, always save that one for when the drink specials are..

Aaron: It’s frozen margaritas tonight! Writing a classic song like that, man, that’s the dream.

me: You need a choir for backing vocals! I wish I had a choir handy.

Aaron: Very true. I really enjoy this one fact about the band AIR: One of their songs called “How Does It Make You Feel“, they spent something like $10,000 recording the choir for that song, and $500 on the computer that does the narration….and the computer is way up front in the mix and the choir is mixed in the deep back.

me: Oh my. That’s the most expensive choir story I’ve ever heard, and only.

me: So any touring this summer then?

Aaron: Yes! I’ll probably go on tour with We Are Scientists in July. They’ve been super supportive of Rewards. That would be an American tour.

me: Nice.

Aaron: I admire those guys a lot. I think they write extremely infectious songs, and I didn’t expect them to like my Rewards at all, but they’ve been genuinely more supportive than anyone else around me.

Aaron: I want to do some unconventional touring as well…playing on yachts, bodies of water, small towns, forests, schools, golf courses… maybe the Everglades?

me: Yes! Then I can come! Assuming I’m still here (Florida) by then.

Aaron: Exactly. You could just come on tour with me. That’d be fun.

me: Oh man, that would be awesome.

Aaron: i’m trying to get We Are Scientists to tour with a frozen margarita machine, constant margaritas.

me: That sounds like the best summer tour ever.

Listen to Rewards here. Buy Chairlift’s album Does You Inspire you here. ❖


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One Response to “Chat with Musician Aaron Pfenning (Of Chairlift, Rewards)”

  1. Summer Show Mini-Guide 2010 « zDanz Says:

    […] zDanz Danz & Computer Magic. « Chat with Musician Aaron Pfenning (Of Chairlift, Rewards) […]

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