The title of Boy Harsher’s new record Careful permanently entered the duo’s life at a show in 2014 that they thought would be their last. Disillusioned in their romantic relationship and their creative partnership therefore untenable, Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller decided to end it all with a purge. A press release for the new record describes the scene – lit candles went flying, their noise-scuffed pop songs were played, and Matthews got a word tattooed across her back “CAREFUL.”
Back then, Matthews explains over email, she meant it as an admonishment – that you need to be cautious who you give your heart to, lest they bruise it. It’s become important in that way over the last couple of years as Matthews and Muller have reconciled and rebirthed their collaboration – a visible reminder of the times gone by and of how the two can continue to move together through the world with care. Careful, which is out February 1, deals with that understanding of the word, in part. Muller and Matthews’ claustrophobic approach to downcast synth music (drawing on noise, techno, EBM, among other dusky sounds) highlights the intertwinedness of love and loss. In the productions, there’s this sense of fragile beauty, that any pleasant moment may soon be interrupted by chaos or terror.
The subject matter mirrors it – Matthews wrote some of this record centred on another part meaning of the word “careful.” She thought a lot about grief and death, after losing her stepfather and watching the emotional toll that loss took on her mother. “The Look You Gave (Jerry)” is propulsive and sad, an evocation of the way death can keep us mired in the rhythms of grief. The song repeats, the cycles start again and Matthews sings of remembering: “I close my eyes and I can almost see…” It’s heavy and heartbreaking, a reminder to hold those you love close while you can – to be careful, because existence is fragile.
Before that record comes out, Muller and Matthews put together this week’s Noisey mix, which they say wasn’t put together with any specific theme in mind, but tends to draw on music that’s similarly dispositioned. There’s lots of swelling songs about romance and death, and clattering instrumentals that tend toward emotional overwhelm. It’s beautiful, broken stuff, which is exactly the sort of soundtrack you need after a long hard week. Listen below, alongside a conversation with the duo about the heaviness that informed the record.
Noisey: How are we meant to enjoy the mix? What's the perfect setting?
Gus Muller: I think it’s pretty casual – good at home, in the car.
Jae Matthews: It felt great in the car for me!
Is synaesthesia a real thing and if so, what colour is this mix?
Gus: I’m getting this vibe.
Was there any specific concept to the mix?
Gus: nope just grabbed a bunch of stuff we’ve been listening too. Also wanted to highlight some of the amazing freaks who we’re touring with this year.
Jae: I think there’s a ‘battling winter’ vibe to it – the songs I selected are my kinda’ power anthems. That Valerie Dore song is an essential staying-warm number.
Do you have a favourite moment on this mix?
Gus: I love the Earles and Jenson / Boan mashup.
Jae: I love when E Saggila’s “Viper” leads into Thoom’s “Spit, Swallow.” That’s the peak of my heart-rate. Also, hearing Mhysa call out into the darkness with their Beyonce cover is truly spiritual. Such a lush reward.
I’m especially curious about the quotes from The Sopranos that you weave throughout – could you talk about what that show – and those moments especially – mean to you?
Gus: We’ve been watching Sopranos lately. I think the sound bytes add some narration. It makes it more cinematic.
Jae: In The Sopranos, the narrative between Dr. Melfi and Tony Soprano really resonated. Outside of Tony leching on her all the time, I related to this ~ tough spirit ~ being confronted by their flaws and weakness. It’s a broken, confusing connection that they share but I love it. I wouldn’t be anything but a ball of linty mush, without my therapist, so to present their relationship in mainstream television as a (somewhat) positive necessity is cool.
The press release talks about the significance of the word “careful” to the two of you, could you outline your history with it? What has it meant to you over time, and what does it mean to you in the context of this record?
Jae: It’s explicitly significant to Boy Harsher as I got the word “Careful” tattooed on my back at what I thought was our last show. At that time, I understood it as that warning within love – Careful (!) who you give your heart to, but now I understand it in this far deeper context. Sometimes it feels like you keep losing people and that feeling makes you tense and tired. This is what Careful means now.
The band almost dissolved at one point. Could you talk a little bit about what happened? How did you make the decision to stick it out?
Jae: There was this sad period for Gus and I – we weren’t working as a couple and because Boy Harsher was in its infancy, we just decided to call it all quits. I moved away and stopped talking to him. After months of (his) persistent attempts – we did reconnect. But, we moved so slow and did the opposite of what we had done before, which was absolutely envelope around one another. Then, I had a rather profound three-day mushroom trip and figured out how to forgive the situation and just get on with it. A lot of content on the first album comes directly from the chaos of that break / subsequent reunion.
The record deals heavily with loss – both in a personal and more universal sense. Can you talk about what distilling those feelings in your music does for you?
Gus: Playing music is reactionary for me. I’m just following my intuition. If it’s something heavy or dark it still came from a honest place and feels natural.
Jae: Similar to Gus, I write with immediacy. Whatever is on my mind (consuming me) tends to land in the lyrical content. When it’s a tough time – we’ll have some bleak content. Luckily it does feel cathartic to get it all out there – to let it live outside of you so to speak.
How easily does the musical side of things come together when you’re working with subject matters that are so personal? Is there a lot of care given to reflecting the feelings that you’re addressing lyrically or are those processes kind of separate? What’s the mandate for the production on a song like “The Look You Gave”? There’s a brightness to some of the synth sounds that you might not expect, knowing what the song’s about.
Gus: The music typically comes first. That song in particular was tragic to me even before it had lyrics. The lyrics Jae wrote for it really capture the feeling I had towards the music. It’s heartbreaking. In terms of the brightness you’re referring to, the saddest stuff to me is something with a hint of beauty or sweetness.
Jae: Yeah, I feel like we always knew that one was going to be about Jerry’s death and myself and my mother’s grief. I can’t really remember the build mechanics, but I know that I wanted to accent the sort of ‘chorus’ (“I close my eyes and I can almost see/..”). It’s a recontextualisation of my mother’s grief, as she couldn’t stop seeing her husband die and we spent a lot of hours talking about thinking about this. It was a very sad time and the song that came out of it feels very accurate to me.
1. Staring through the ceiling - Pamela_ and her sons
2. Cardiocleptomanie - Pas de deux
3. Avenging Imogene - Earles and Jensen
4. Menitras - Boan
5. Young, Gifted, Black, in Leather - Special Interest (TØNE REMIX
6. Hold Nothing - Kontravoid
7. Viper - E-Saggila
8. Spit, Swallow (feat. Scim) - Thoom
9. Complet Brouillé - Essaie Pas
10. Working the Midnight Shift - Donna Summer
11. Au Fond De Mon Coeur - Nouvelle Phénomène
12. PEA_06 - Parole e azioni
13. Speaking in Swords - The Grateful Dead
14. TONIGHT - Mhysa
15. Out to Lunch - Grun Wasser *** HARD START
16. Take me to Your Heart - The Eurhythmics
17. Get Closer - Valerie Dore
18. T.V. Sky - Ruf Dug & Jack Doepel
Boy Harsher tour dates:
February 01 New Haven, CT - State House *
February 02 Brooklyn, NY - Elsewhere * SOLD OUT
February 03 Philadephia, PA - Johnny Brenda’s *
February 04 Richmond, VA - The Camel *
February 05 Raleigh, NC - Kings *
February 06 Baltimore, MD - Metro Gallery *
February 07 Cleveland, OH - Now That’s Class *
February 08 Chicago, IL - The Empty Bottle * SOLD OUT
February 09 Minneapolis, MN – Loring *
February 10 Chicago, IL - The Empty Bottle *
February 11 Detroit, MI - El Club *
February 12 Toronto, ON - The Garrison *
February 13 Montreal, QC - Bar Le Ritz *
February 21 Hamburg, DE - Turmzimmer # SOLD OUT
February 22 Amsterdam, NL - Melkweg # SOLD OUT
February 23 St. Maló , FR - La Route Du Rock Festival
February 24 Bristol, UK - Lanes #
February 25 Leeds, UK - Wharf Chambers #
February 26 Manchester, UK - Soup Kitchen #
February 27 London, UK - Heaven #
February 28 Lille, FR - L’Aeronef #
March 01 Nancy, FR - L’Autre Canal #
March 02 Paris, FR - Badaboum # SOLD OUT
March 03 Lyon, FR - Le Sucre
March 04 Heidelberg, DE - Karlstorbahnhof #
March 05 Berlin, DE - Berghain # SOLD OUT
March 06 Leipzig, DE - UT Connewitz # SOLD OUT
March 07 Augsburg, DE - Kantine #
March 08 Cologne, DE - Artheater # SOLD OUT
March 09 Brussels, BE - Rotondes #
March 10 Berlin, DE - Urban Spree # SOLD OUT
March 20 San Diego, CA - The Casbah §
March 21 Los Angeles, CA - The Regent Theater §
March 22 Las Vegas, NV - Beauty Bar §
March 23 Phoenix, AZ - Rebel Lounge §
March 24 Tucson, AZ - Club Congress §
March 25 El Paso, TX - Love Buzz §
March 27 Dallas, TX - Deep Ellum Art Co §
March 28 San Antonio, TX - Paper Tiger §
March 29 Austin, TX - Barracuda §
March 30 Houston, TX - White Oak Music Hall §
March 31 New Orleans, LA - Santos %
April 02 Gainesville, FL - The Atlantic %
April 03 Miami, FL - Gramps %
April 04 Orlando, FL - Stonewall %
April 05 Tampa, FL - Crowbar %
April 06 Atlanta, GA - 529 %
April 07 Nashville, TN - DRKMTTR %
April 08 St Louis, MO - The Ready Room %
April 09 Wichita, KS - Barleycorn’s %
April 10 Denver, CO - Larimer Lounge %
April 12 Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom %
April 13 Seattle, WA - Highline %
April 14 Vancouver, BC - Rickshaw Theatre %
April 17 San Francisco, CA - The Independent %
April 18 Santa Cruz, CA - The Catalyst Atrium %
April 20 Tijuana, MX - Black Box %
* w/ NGHTCRWLR
# w/ KONTRAVOID
§ w/ BOAN
% w/ SPECIAL INTEREST
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.