Interview: EXNATIONS

Words by Maddy Howell

All based in different states but bonded by similar goals, indie-pop trio EXNATIONS have been gradually making a name for themselves since the release of their debut single Never About the Money. 

Now with another single out in the world and an EP release impending, we caught up with the band to chat about the sounds of the 80s, positivity, and puppets 

Burn After Writing: You all appear to have a deep love for music and what you do. What was it that drew you to music and the idea of being in a band?

Taylor Hughes: I honestly don’t think I ever had a choice. I knew from the time I was in high school, maybe even late middle school that I wanted to play in a band and it just kind of took over my life. After being in 500 kajillion bands, I never got sick of it.

Burn After Writing: You recently released a single titled, Can’t Get Hurt, how has the response been so far?

TH: It’s better than expected, after having two songs out in the world we didn’t expect to be in publications like Alternative Press and have Spotify include us on their Fresh Finds. It’s been really incredible, it makes me really excited to release the full EP!

Burn After Writing: The track seems to ooze positivity in both its lyrical content and its musical composition, is it important to you that your music instills hope in others?

Sal Mastrocola: To me, the best music is sad and hopeful all at the same time. I think there’s a bit of that sad hopefulness in this song. It’s about battling anxiety – and the moments when you can overcome it.

Burn After Writing: The music video for the track also sees you reignite your childhood love for puppets, what inspired this idea?

SM: My wife and I went to The Jim Henson Exhibit of the Museum of the Moving Image, and got swept away in all of the magic and nostalgia of the Muppets, the Fraggles, the Dark Crystal, etc. When we started planning the concept for the video a week or two later, it was a no-brainer. Who doesn’t love puppets?!

Burn After Writing: You’ve been together as a band for over two years now, what’s changed since then in terms of your musical output?

TH: I’ve had the name EXNATIONS for a little over 2 years now, I went through a couple different lineups before finding the right group. I’ve been with Sal and Dan for about 8 months and it’s been amazing. The sound is more focused and genuine than ever before, it was definitely worth the wait.

Burn After Writing: You all live in different parts of the US, what impact does this have on the recording process?

Dan Ciarrocchi: It can be frustrating at times to not be in the same room all at once, but there's been a lot of good that's come of it and we've done a good job so far to not lose sight of that. Being in different states has challenged us to be a communicative, organised band, and if we weren't, none of what we've produced so far would be possible.

Burn After Writing: Living in New York, the inspiration and opportunity surrounding you must be endless. Do you think that your geographical location has played a part in your success as a band so far?

SM: I’ve lived here my whole life, and I still get thrown for a loop every day. There’s unparalleled access here – every culture, every type of music, every type of food. I think it’s a little too early to tell if the city has played a part in our success – but it’s always treated me well. So here’s hoping!

Burn After Writing: Your debut EP is set for release later on this year, has the writing and recording process been running smoothly or have you hit any bumps in the road?

TH: Writing has been really smooth and natural despite our completely bizarre way of approaching things. The only mini speed bumps we’ve hit are on the technical end, getting the correct pieces from one engineer to the other, that sort of thing. Writing this way definitely takes more time but it’s been really rewarding!

Burn After Writing: A lot of your work seems incredibly influenced by the sounds of the 80s, something that bands such as The 1975 and Bleachers have also recently been experimenting with. What inspires you about that musical era and encourages you to attempt to recreate it in your own music?

SM: I’ve always been pretty resistant to writing “Pop” music with a capital P. There’s no doubt that pop music has influenced me throughout my life, and shown up in some way shape or form in my writing in the past. But with this project, I wanted to jump in to pop with both feet, while still retaining my identity as a songwriter. Pop music in the 80s, like hardcore in the 80s, like new-wave in the 80s, was just fire. I also recently got my first synthesizer, so that may have played a part as well...

Burn After Writing: What other artists played a part in influencing the work on your debut EP?

TH: Personally, I’ve had influence from so many artists in this last year it’s impossible to list them all. The standouts have to be The Cure, Tegan and Sara, Bleachers and Phil Collins. Those are my daily / never get sick of / happy listens.

Burn After Writing: Indie-pop is a genre that often gets very over-saturated and full of cliche, how do you make sure that what you’re creating stands out from the crowd?

DC: That's something I try not to think too much about when writing, mostly because I'm already really picky and hard on myself when it comes to ideas. I think worrying too much about what's been done already could handcuff us, and I wouldn't want a good song or a good idea to go to waste just because it could overlap with a cliche.

I think as long as the song is coming from a genuine place, then it's a moot point whether it aligns with a similar message or style that other bands have done because it's still how we choose to express ourselves. The hope is that by being true to ourselves, listeners can identify with that authenticity, and when they choose to spin one of our tracks they know it came from somewhere real.

Burn After Writing: Obviously, you’re all very invested in music, but what else do you like to fill your time with?

DC: That question implies we even have free time! But outside of my job and the band, I try to remember to relax since it can be overwhelming to take on so much at once. I do love to go out and explore the city for hidden gems, but I also love staying home and playing Nintendo or watching hockey and football. My friends and family are very important to me, so I try to make a point to hang out with them and/or pick their brains on a regular basis.

Burn After Writing: What have EXNATIONS got planned for the remainder of 2018?

SM: That’s still a mystery! Definitely be on the lookout for our debut EP, 'Tiny Sound in the Dark', though!