Losing Control: Jae Matthews and Gus Muller of Boy Harsher
Boy Harsher is Jae Matthews and Gus Muller, originally formed in Savannah, Georgia and currently living in Massachusetts. Their first full-length, Yr Body is Nothing, was a runaway success on DKA Records last year, following up a well-received EP in 2014, Lesser Man — which saw several of its own incarnations thanks to Soft Science, Night People, and Oráculo Records, as well as recently being repressed on tape. Earlier this week, DKA announced the second pressing of Yr Body is Nothing to keep up with demand, this time on translucent vinyl. I’ve been intrigued by the duo’s darkly danceable sound since first hearing them a couple of years ago; the record sees them continuing to hone their style of emotive, stripped down synth-pop, deliciously teetering between instinctual intimacy and cold industrial rigidity. I emailed with the duo a bit to find out more about the album, their process, and Boy Harsher’s plans for the future.
Liz: What is the songwriting process like for you — how do your tracks generally come together?
Gus: I make tons of skeletons of songs. Usually just drums, bass, and a synth line. I’ll show them to Jae and go from there. We know pretty much right away if it’s going to work. Then we start to flesh out the song, we’ll lay down a vocal track and build around that. If that goes well we’ll take that song to another studio and put the finishing touches on it.
You’ve mentioned that Yr Body is Nothing is about finding the connection between fear and desire. There are certainly a lot of different ways that those emotions are intertwined. Besides fear of rejection, what are some other ways you think fear plays into desire and romance?
Jae: The visceral experience of desire is scary… It’s such a raw feeling: you can’t control your body. If you’ve really felt it, I think you’ll know what I am talking about … I’ve been in situations where I haven’t been able to stop myself from moving so close to someone (a stranger even!) or not stopping from pulling my hands back from touching. I’m over here panting and sweating and there’s no denying it comes from lust. That’s scary — losing control, the impulses. It reminds me of taking acid when I was fourteen and physically not being able to stop dancing.
The intellectualization of desire is romance. Maybe.
You both went to school for film studies — do you think that background still influences the newer Boy Harsher material and if so, how? Could you talk about the album art a bit?
Gus: I see Boy Harsher as a multimedia project. I feel like the style and skills we developed in school feed into this project very much.
Jae: The picture on the album art is Adelin Karius, from a short VHS piece I made of her dancing. It’s part of a series entitled Teen Dreams, featuring several wonderful women sharing something with me. The teaser for YBIN comes from the piece with Adelin. Examples are here if yr interested:
Adelin is a dynamic and inspiring dancer, who used to walk around Savannah with weights on her legs in order to expand her endurance. Truly fucked!
If you could create the soundtrack for any movie, what would you choose?
Gus: Not to step on any toes, but something like Akira or Enter the Void.
Jae: It would be great to get commissioned to soundtrack something. We’re open for business. Down for any horror / thriller / absurd realism interested in a synth pop score with some metallic noise and industrial mixed in. Filmmakers should also be open to my insistence on some extreme vocal moments.
Knowing you consider some of your songs’ lyrics to be “confessional,” what do you feel is the most cathartic part of music making (is it going through the writing or recording process, making videos for the tracks, performing live…)
Gus: Recording is where I’ve been putting all my energy lately. I’m drawn to it. But the real release is playing live. I don’t know if it’s the anxiety of waiting at the gig, but being able to play really loud to a crowd of people takes all the weight off. To keep it real though, playing live can be really demoralizing too.
Jae: Performing live, yes. It takes a long time to feel that release sometimes, the ‘confession’. My song writing can be vague at best, but it’s rly only a medium to channel some active catharsis.
It helps if someone out there ‘gets it’, of course…
When we played at VOV last year, it felt like the crowd was really far away, it also was very dark. The festival was magical and weird, but for a particular moment there, it was really lonely for me and that affected my performance. It was somber and suddenly the sad songs made a lot of sense, and in that setting, it worked. From a distance I heard people yelling.
I think that’s the only time we played “Deep Well” live.
Do you have any inklings as to how the sound of Boy Harsher might evolve? I know you mentioned an upcoming collaboration with Shy Violet…
Gus: We’re recording constantly and I feel like we’re making our best stuff yet. I’ve gotten a lot more software and gear so the sounds are getting a lot better. Also, Jordan Romero from Shy Violet is helping us with our new record. He’s an extremely talented and informed songwriter. The new tracks he’s been working on with us seem a lot more fluid. I’m optimistic to say the least.
Jae: Jo even played a little guitar on a song!
How did the name come about?
Jae: Aside from the subjective meaning, the name holds a story about an artist we met on a bus in Miami. It’s an underwhelming story, and without giving the details I’ll say: years ago, Serene b.Loin, a stranger at the time, shared their clementine with us while we goofed around on an Art Basel shuttle. Serene remains in my life in a digital space, and continues to impart authentic wisdom. They helped us plunge into a place where we decided to start taking the project seriously.
Are you working on any other multimedia projects?
Jae: I am working on this narrative film short called Country Girl + I am very excited with the progress! The cold weather + rain are really going to aid in the storytelling on this one… it has some of our music in it plus some additional score / sounds from Gus. I was super inspired by HTRK’s ‘music film’ Chinatown Style.
Be sure to catch Boy Harsher at one of their upcoming shows:
January 19th – Brooklyn, NY @ Alphaville
January 20th – Philadelphia, PA @ 52 HZ
January 21st – Baltimore, MD @ EMP Collective
January 22nd – Washington, DC @ Safari
January 23rd – Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
January 24th – Chapel Hill, NC @ The Nightlight
January 25th – Savannah @ ACAB
January 26th – Jacksonville, FL @ Shantytown
January 27th – Miami, FL @ The Club at Hotel Astor
January 28th – Orlando, FL @ Spacebar
January 29th – Tampa, FL @ Steelworker Records
January 30th – Gainesville, FL @ The Atlantic
January 31st – Pensacola, FL @ Open Books
February 1st – New Orleans, LA @ Saturn Bar
February 2nd – Houston, TX @ Satellite Bar
February 3rd – Austin, TX @ Cheer Up Charlies
February 4th – McAllen, TX @ DSQZBX / Cine El Rey
February 6th – Tuscon, AZ @ Pomoro
February 8th – Los Angeles, CA @ Werk
February 9th – Sacramento, CA @ Press Club
February 10th – San Francisco, CA @ The Knockout
February 11th – Los Angeles, CA @ Non Plus Ultra
February 12th – Phoenix, AZ @
February 13th – Santa Fe, NM @ ACAB
February 14th – Dallas, TX @ Crown + Harp
February 15th – Atlanta, GA @ 529
February 16th – Boone, NC @ Black Cat
February 17th – Columbus, OH @ Bourbon Street
February 18th – Cleveland, OH @ Now That’s Class