Data Romance

by Trevor Morelli

"I have known exactly what I wanted to do in life from the age of 3. I wanted to be a singer," Amy Kirkpatrick says.

Fast forward to her late-teen years. She was trying to live the dream as a solo singer/songwriter playing coffeehouse gigs throughout Victoria, B.C. when one night she needed a drummer. Ajay Bhattacharyya filled in. A few years later, the two reconnected and a romance was formed... well, a Data Romance.

With a sound they described as "the contrast between human feeling and hard tech," the Canadian electro-indie duo released a self-titled EP in 2011, spawning the single "The Deep," and a soundtrack for the documentary Life Cycles. Their first full-length album, Other, debuted in 2013.

Amy and Ajay gave us the backstory about writing and producing the album, the meaning behind songs like "Can't Keep Your Mind Off," "Caves," and "Paper Thin" and the pros and cons of people-watching.
Trevor Morelli (Songfacts): When you guys made the album Other, did you have a grand vision of what you wanted it to sound like?

Ajay Bhattacharyya: We knew what we didn't want to do. And we knew we wanted to push ourselves. We made an EP about a year and a half before, and we had some time between then and really started working on the record to tour. We figured out what we liked about playing those songs live and what we didn't like.

We kind of wrote not for a live show at all, but we just grew into a sound and realized what we both really gelled on, and actually this record's a lot more like a specific sound, it's a total meeting between us. But the view is a little more scattered.

Songfacts: Did the bands you toured with inspire the music in any way?

Ajay: Yeah. We were on a festival tour called IDentity. The first time it actually ran, it was like a traveling festival. We got to share a bus with a group called Modeselektor [an electronic duo from Berlin, Germany]. They had already influenced us in the past, but just getting more inside about how they work and them recommending a bunch of artists to us really solidified the sound.

Songfacts: So how did the music all come together? I mean, do you write together or do you write the music and Amy writes lyrics?

Amy Kirkpatrick: Yeah, we started off writing separately because we were living in separate cities. But now and especially for the album we really wanted to work together and be in the same room just so it would translate onto the tracks. Then it's the general feel of everything. And Jay will still work on parts on his own and I'll write lyrics at 4 in the morning at my house. But for the album we definitely got together and wrote all the songs.

Ajay: And we stayed out of each other's ways a little more, or at least I stayed out of Amy's way by working together. It was funny, when you work separately you both kind of end up trying to write a full song by yourself. So I was writing a full instrumental and Amy would write based on a full vocal thing - it's all too much at the end of the day. This album I hope comes across like we're mindful of each other a little more and that just comes from spending a lot more time together and writing together.

Alistair Legrand is a member of The Masses, a collective of directors "united by a passion for music and driven by unique and diverse cinematic visions." His own videos reflect a taste for horror, like the nightmarishly robotic dancers in "The Deep," the project that first paired him with Data Romance. He also directed Don Diablo's "Silent Shadows," Mass Hysteria's "Même Si J'Explose" and Mark Lanegan Band's "The Gravedigger's Song."
Songfacts: So the single you put out there is called "Can't Keep Your Mind Off." Can you talk a little bit about what that song's about?

Amy: Well, that's a new question. I haven't had to answer that yet. "Can't Get Your Mind Off" is a two part thing. It's one of our happier songs, or so it seems. But I wrote it at a time where I was trying to be okay with everything that was going on, and I really wasn't. It's when you're telling yourself "everything's fine, I'll do this for you, it's no big deal," but on the inside you're contradicting what you're saying. We showed that with the video that we did with Alistair Legrand, who did our music video for that song, and the meaning comes through in that a little bit. It's a darker video, so it's obviously not too directly related. But we talked about that a lot with the concept.

Songfacts: Was it inspired by other people's expectations of what you or your band should be, or was it more internal?

Amy: No, not at all. It's definitely something more personal with me. Most of the lyrics come from something that I've been going through or someone close to me is. Or a story or something that sparks an idea in my head.

Songfacts: Interesting. Let's talk about another song. Amy, I read that "Caves" was inspired when you started watching Planet Earth. What did you find inspiring about that show and how did you express that in a song?

Amy: Well, when did those come out? Those must have come out years and years ago. But I'd always watch those, I'd seen them all years ago. Then I think a friend of mine left one of her DVDs at my house and it was on caves. I think it was around the time where we were halfway done writing the album or halfway done writing the amount of songs we wanted to have to work with. I don't really know what it was. There's just something about those big open spaces with such beautiful things that no one will ever get to see on the inside, like the crystals.

Planet Earth is an Emmy Award-winning nature documentary series produced by the BBC in 2006. Each of the eleven episodes focused on a different biome or habitat on Earth, one of them being the "Caves" installment that inspired Amy Kirkpatrick. The ornate crystal formations she remembers are from New Mexico's Lechuguilla Cave.
Actually the soundtracks of those are amazing, too. We had been trying to look for a general theme or concept for the album, and that's where the "Caves" came from. It's like the light bulb went off, and I thought this makes a lot of sense to what I'm going through and what we're trying to do.

Songfacts: So on the album there's an actual song called "Others," and you're talking about the absurdities that you have seen in people. Are you people-watchers?

Amy: Oh, for sure. I love people watching. It's one of my favorite things. Are you a people watcher, Jay? I don't know.

Ajay: Well, I don't really know. I'm pretty selfish. I spend a lot of time alone. I'm a pretty solitary kind of guy, and when I'm out I can't seem to focus on a lot at once. I like to focus on one person and have a conversation rather than be at a party.

Songfacts: Do you imagine what people are doing when you're watching them? If you, say, meet someone and they're maybe not that nice to you, do you look at the big picture, maybe think that they're having a bad day?

Ajay: Yeah. I let a lot of stuff roll off my back. I used to pay more attention to people, but I think what I don't even know, I'm not trying to relate this to the band, it doesn't really - I'm just talking about myself, basically. But I think I used to watch people and I realized it was inherently a little self-conscious, and I realized that I watched people and analyzed what they did because I cared about what they thought of me when they were watching me. Then I stopped paying attention to people just so I'd stop caring about what they thought of me.

Songfacts: That must help with the stress of touring, not trying to worry too much about the future and all of that.

Ajay: It's where you're in a bubble, anyway. You're just focused on the next thing, next hour. It's kind of day by day.

Songfacts: So when you're playing a live show, are both of you really in the moment?

Ajay: Yeah. We're in our own world. I'm relying on Amy to connect with the audience, because I have a bunch of gear and I'm kind of driving the bus, and she's the one the people are really going to connect with, lyrically, eye contact wise, everything.

Amy: It's a weird struggle. Like I've come from a theatre background. So in that world you're trained to never make eye contact, and there's a fourth wall and all that kind of stuff. So I almost mix the two, I guess, if I'm singing something that feels right to want to keep it to myself. Like, pretty much Bjork is somebody performing. She's in her own world. She's not looking at people directly in the eyes. And these songs I definitely try and connect with people in any way possible.

Songfacts: So just one more song off the album. There's a song that is called "Paper Thin." I was wondering what type of piano you used on it and also if you could elaborate on what that song's about.

Ajay: Well, I think we did all the tracking of real instruments at my friend Tom's house. He rented a studio, it's called Monarch Studios now. And I used to live above him, but we tracked it all at this place - it was like a makeshift studio he had in his basement and his family had a piano upstairs. And so we'd run cables all the way up the stairs and I think opened the top. It's an old upright, but it's great for the piano. And we re-tracked the piano for that. We spent a week and did it all - we put a real harp on the album, real strings, real percussion, and real organ and piano, and just tried to do everything organic that we could.

Songfacts: That's really cool, because there's definitely parts where it doesn't sound like that. It just sounds so natural, it's almost like a Radiohead record where it just flows.

Ajay: Yeah. It's a big balance in an electronic-based band to try to make all those organic sounds work. And we really tried to have those be the highlight. It's weird when you put something that's familiar, like a piano or a harp - I mean, everyone knows what those sound like in their heads - but you put it in a different environment, like electronic theatre, and a different kind of structured song and they usually sound alien.

What's it about Amy?

Amy: It's about when I attended college and was with one of my girlfriends one night and she was going through kind of a very serious breakup. It was the kind of heartbreak where it physically just kills you and you can't get anything done and you can't do anything. I had kind of went through that a few years ago, like little versions of that recently. But we were just talking about how sometimes when somebody leaves you or you end something with anybody in your life, it feels like more of you is in them or half of you is in them. It can take months and years to build yourself back up again and forget who you are, and just feel whole again.

Songfacts: So, Amy, what songs on this record feel like they're the most personal for you and you're most excited that you expressed your feelings in the right way?

Amy: They're all very personal. But I think especially on this album, again, I had talked about this before, they're not about one thing. Every song is either lyrics that are pulled from other songs I had written when I was 16. The song called "They" on the album, I think I wrote the verses when I was 16 about something else that happened. But we didn't want them to be just about one thing or one person, so there's definitely a wide range of influences. So I wouldn't say there's just one.

February 18, 2014
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