Psych-pop troupe Absolutely Free delve into their dazzling new LP Aftertouch

Listening to the opening few seconds of Absolutely Free’s second full length album Aftertouch, it’s clear you’re going to be transported into another realm.

The Toronto group consisting of Matt King, Michael Claxton and Mose Fisher-Rozenberg have crafted a mesmerising psych-pop trip that guides you through shimmering synths, cascading electro beats and enchanting vocals.

For all the hardships we may have faced over the past 18 months or so, Aftertouch is the escapism we've sorely needed.

Taking inspiration from the likes of Sade, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Air, the collective began experimenting with new material in 2015, a year after their Polaris-nominated self-titled debut before connecting with producer Jorge Elbrecht, who’s worked with the likes of Japanese Breakfast and No Joy, in 2017 to whittle down 25 tracks.

The album blossomed from there, culminating in stunning, otherworldly, neon-soaked set pieces like How to Paint Clouds, the stirring Remaining Light, which lyrically tackles corrupt institutions, and the glorious closer Morning Sun, a glistening synth wonder that grows explodes into a stunning crescendo.

Simply put, Aftertouch is a euphoric, dream-like exploration into the minds of musicians unafraid to push boundaries with their experimental output. It’s a treat you’ll want to immerse yourselves into again and again.

Daily Star’s Rory McKeown caught up with Absolutely Free to talk about Aftertouch’s creation, its influences, their evolution as a band, working with Jorge Elbrecht, and their path ahead.

Hi guys, how can you sum up the past 18 months for Absolutely Free?

“Like most of the world, we've spent the last 18 months mostly confined to our homes, excluding essential outings. With that isolation came focus – we found time to release our original film score, Two Cares Due None (June 2020), added two children to the planet, and Moshe finished a Master’s Degree in Music Therapy and released a solo record as Memory Pearl. In the summer, we started to come out of hibernation, so to speak, and released a ton of songs and videos leading to the September 25th release of our 2nd LP, Aftertouch.”

You’ve returned with your glorious second album Aftertouch, out now via Boiled Records. Tell me about its writing and recording process – when did it begin?

“We began experimenting with new material in 2015. After a few years of exploring ideas and directions, we had about 25 songs. We then connected with Jorge Elbrecht and started the process of selecting songs which would compliment each other on a record. Jorge came to Toronto in August 2017, and we spent the next 14 days recording day and night at Palace Sound.

“We spent the next little while further expanding the tunes at our own studio (Studio 5/4) – playfully arranging synths and sounds. Jorge mixed everything remotely from Los Angeles and Aftertouch was born. Giving ourselves so much time to experiment allowed the songs to evolve and expand like a slow-rising mushroom on a forest floor.”

How did the process compare to that of your Polaris-nominated debut in 2014?

“Some elements were similar, some were different. Our main formula didn’t change much. Write/demo, record the bulk of everything at a studio with an engineer and/or producer, take the work back to Studio 5/4 to finalise.

“The big difference was in the actual songwriting process. We spent a lot more time listening, trying to tap into our sensibilities as music fans and obsessives. We also put more trust in a producer (Jorge). He was on board early on, which meant that he could spot the missing pieces and steer the songs in directions we wouldn’t have thought to take them.”

You’re quoted as saying you “wanted to create an album what wasn’t limited by a physical ability to perform it live”. How much did the record evolve from its initial idea? Is its final form what you envisaged it would be at the beginning?

“We actually stayed pretty true to that original concept. At no point in the process did we consider how we might "pull this off live." In the past, that may have been an unconscious consideration of ours – coming from more of a punk ethos.

“You can hear the simplicity of a 3-piece band in our earlier demos, but the album itself took flight as we continued to build from there, relying more on our ears than our hands and feet.”

It’s a sonically huge record, from the neon-soaked opener Epilogue (After Touch) and the wondrously sprawling How to Paint Clouds, to the hazy xylophone tinged Remaining Light and the psych-pop of Clear Blue Sky. What was it like seeing the songs and the record blossom into their final form?

“It’s very satisfying for the songs to finally see the light of day. The process can be so tedious and seemingly endless at times, there is a high risk of losing sight of the vision or falling into depressive states.

“Then the album “arrives” for people to hear and suddenly the material is renewed. Through others’ observations we’re reconnecting with certain themes, ideas, and grooves that emerged from a foggy, deepened state of music making that felt like a dream. It’s a great feeling.”

You worked with producer Jorge Elbrecht, who has worked with the likes of Japanese Breakfast and No Joy, as well as his own bands Lansing-Dreiden and Violens. What did he bring to the table during Aftertouch’s creation?

“Jorge was amazing to work with. His presence is joyful and his aesthetic and songwriting sensibilities are unreal. He helped us to add definition to our material, which tends to be very hypnotic and repetitive. If not for him, Aftertouch would have been a lot less dynamic a record. Also, his ability to mix 100 sounds cohesively really took this record to the next level.”

What are the main influences across the record? Were you inspired by anything – either personally or musically – during its creation?

“I’ll speak to musical influences, which are all over the place. For this particular record, I hear our love for Sade, Sakamoto, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Air, and loads of global psychedelic genres like Bollywood and Turkish Psych.

“Our personal inspiration was simply to make a meaningful body of work that would fit well within our own record collections.”

Are you thinking ahead to your next material? Do you think you will take a different approach or direction with it?

“Yes, we’re excited for new things. This record has been a real work of love, sweat and time and this was an experiment in and of itself. At this point, we've been in the same state of on-again-off-again self-isolation as everyone else, and “thinking forward" is of great comfort.

“I see a future where we loosen up and release more spontaneous and raw material that contrasts this thoughtfully crafted record.”

How do you think you’ve evolved as Absolutely Free since forming?

“Absolutely Free is a living, breathing band. It’s hard to distil our evolution into words, but we certainly changed. I can say that Matt’s words carry with them more commentary and poeticism than ever before.

“Our aesthetic and songwriting approach has also been evolving, but that feels appropriate for a band called Absolutely Free – we don’t feel bound by any formula or expectation and we will continue to make music that is free of such constraints.”

You’ve toured with the likes of Alvvays and Preoccupations, and shared bills with Unknown Mortal Orchestra and US Girls. What did you learn from those shows and do you have plans to get back out there with this record?

“Touring really shaped us for the first few years. It’s allowed us to see so many places and meet so many people. That kind of exposure to new sights and sounds has been really instrumental in our creative growth….and it’ll be a treat to get back to it. That being said, and with the world situation being as it is, there are no plans to tour in the near future.”

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What are the next steps for Absolutely Free?

“In the absence of touring and being a conventional band (these are unconventional times), we have a lot of small projects we’re finishing up for the near future. We’ll be releasing a remix series for How To Paint Clouds, a video for Remaining Light, an adaptive video for Clear Blue Sky (which politely illuminates the creepiness of technological dependency), and we’re also experimenting with modulating the album and releasing versions of it that are an entirely different aesthetic.”

Absolutely Free's new album Aftertouch is out now via Boiled Records

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