Q&A with EXNATIONS

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"Out of respect for listeners, and for ourselves as artists, we have no choice but to be completely honest in our songs."

Dan of EXNATIONS. Photo by Adele Sakey.

EXNATIONS aren't afraid to be honest and vulnerable in their music. The NY-based indie-pop band is rooted in retrospection and musical isolation as the trio collaborate from different cities across the northeast. Taylor, Sal, and Dan shared their thoughts on their creative process, living with anxiety in 2018, and identity with us. 

What was the process like recording your upcoming record? How did being geographically isolated from each other affect your creative processes? 

Sal: Being isolated from each other allows for a more gradual creative process. Rather than the explosion of energy that comes from three people blasting amplifiers in a room, the songs develop in a more solitary, meditative fashion. I'll have an idea that I record on my phone walking to work. That night I'll plug into my interface and begin to shape it. Taylor might pick it up the next day, or Dan might pop in and track a guitar part he's been kicking around. Sometimes doing it this way ends up taking a little bit longer than just getting in a room and banging it out, but I quite like it so far.

The bio on your website includes a Confucius quote, "No matter where you go, there you are." What’s the significance of that quote for you? 

Taylor:  Honestly the quote came from a friend, I told her how we’ve been writing music and it was the first thing she said. The more I thought about it the more relevant it became, the group is always connected. All of our ideas whether it be audio or visual are tied together in a group dropbox and shared in realtime. I know that sounds very millennial but hey, we’re a band who formed on the internet. 

As a band, you have a very well defined aesthetic. How does use of color, imagery, etc., play into your public image as a band and the way that people experience your music?

Sal: More than ever, being a musician is about so much more than just your sound. For better or worse, your band's brand is something you need to attend to with great care and consideration. Your album art, the typeface you use, the way you edit your videos – in addition to being an extension of who you are as an artist – are signals that people use to make snap judgments about whether or not they're interested in you. So it behooves you to put your best foot forward. Also, I'm an art director for a living, so I just get a massive kick out of making things look good.

Your recent track, “Can’t Get Hurt,” is a reflection on anxiety. Why was it important for you to address this in your music? 

Dan: I think out of respect for listeners, and for ourselves as artists, we have no choice but to be completely honest in our songs. That can be daunting, but ultimately it’s much more rewarding than conveying a diluted, “safer” version of ourselves. That would just result in no one else being able to relate.

So with a song like Can’t Get Hurt, which confronts anxiety head-on, the hope is that listeners can understand that if they feel powerless amid today’s apathetic, or hateful social climate, then we’re a band that’s just as exhausted and is trying to cope with the weight of it all, too. And from a personal standpoint, I’ve struggled with anxiety disorder all my life, so helping create this song was as remedial as it was rewarding. I’m proud to be part of a band that helps address that. 

 Photo by Adele Sakey

Photo by Adele Sakey

What do you hope your listeners will take away from music? 

Dan: Hopefully they take away something from it that can end up being positive and empowering at the end of the day. That isn’t to say that recognizing sadness and letting it set in for awhile doesn’t have its place, though. It can be necessary to address before you’re ready to feel happy again. Maybe this song can be a small part of that process for some people. 

Or, you know, if people just want something to tap their feet to, that’d be pretty rad also.

Are there parts of your identities that you feel more/less comfortable expressing through your music? 

Sal:  Music has been one of the best things to ever happen to my identity. It allows me to explore other sides of myself that I'd probably never bust out on your average day at the office or buying groceries. When I get up on stage, I feel like I become an elevated version of myself. It's a physical and emotional release that is unmatched – I become more in touch with my body, I become a more confident version of myself. And songwriting offers completely different set of opportunities to explore. You get to take on identities of characters. It's a form of meditation for me, a chance to sit with deep rooted feelings and anxieties, or simply to acknowledge and process feelings in the moment through song.

What does the word queer mean to you?

Taylor: In a roundabout way, queer means relief and finally feeling comfortable in my own skin. It took me a bit longer than most to get there... But now that I'm here I tend to yell, "I'm here, I'm queer!" A bit more than one probably should.