Sky Madden and Chris Moore of Women of the Tenderloin play a Foghorn-sponsored set in Harney Plaza last Thursday. (Melissa Stihl|Foghorn)
San Francisco Foghorn: What made you interested in playing music?
Chris Moore: Originally I wanted to be a scratch DJ, and then I heard Aphex Twin and decided I could never be happy mixing music I didn’t produce.
Sky Madden: Music has always been a GPA bringer-downer for me ever since I can remember. But specifically in the past couple of years going to shows hasn’t been good enough for me. The only thing that satiates me now is playing — whether I’m alone or if it’s for WOTL.
SFF: How did you guys get together? When? Can you give a brief history of the band?
SM: Two summers ago I worked at the Four Star theatre so that I could buy a Korg Electribe EMX-1. That following October I had been with my blue Electribe for a couple of months but clearly plateaued in terms of what I could do with it. Later on Lauren Go introduced me to Chris at a party and we ended up staying up all night together talking about the state of electronic music, our disappointments and our hopes. I kept seeing Chris at parties where I was playing juvenile mixes out of my G4 and I guess we just kept eloping to commiserate or geek out about electronica. This kind of thing hasn’t really stopped the only difference is that we’re applying this conversation to our instruments, namely the Electribe EMX-1.
CM: Yea I got the older sister version of the Electribe. We couldn’t believe that we both basically had the same drum machine, almost fate brought them two together like Ebony & Ivory, or Little Boy & Fat Man, or Ben Affleck & Matt Damon.
SFF: Where did your band name come from?
CM: The name spawned from the title of my final project for Digital Audio Synthesis class. I wanted to create a piece that was a complete onslaught of noise, so I looped a bunch of samples, in different speeds and pitches, from Mozart to Wolf Eyes to Boredoms in this crazy sound collage. I showed Sky, as a sample of music I was making at the time, and she geeked out on the title. The name “Women of the Tenderloin” should not be seen as a ironic band name since, you know, one of the two members is not a woman, and both of us don’t live in the Tenderloin. But should be associated with the absurdities and decadence that exists within all of us. We sometimes joke around how we are a electronic band trying to act like a Death Metal band!
SFF: How would you describe your music? In terms of sound, style, genre, performance technique, etc.
SM: For me this question is like asking me to describe how I smell, but as far as performance technique we’ve been so inspired by the M83 and Simian Mobile Disco live set up. It’s been all about function for us. Anthony [Gonzalez] and the girl from M83 have consistently operated synthesizers directly opposite from each other. For a lot of our material I need to communicate with Chris using my eyes, so being able to look at him is important as well as looking down at each other’s settings from across. Simian tends to situate their equipment in the round regardless of the stage so that everything they need is exposed and accessible. We’re juggling four keyboards, three drum machines, strings, a cumbersome PA system that barely handles our sound and a couple pedals. Duos like Presets and Digitalism could scoff at this but right now we’re resisting software and really pushing what we know about our hardware.
Women of the Tenderloin has a tendency to create and rely meandering chord progressions. It’s not so much that we’re interested in slow-moving music but rather we tend to not have an exacting harmonic goal. I don’t know if it will always be this way for us but we’re very open with each other about new ideas even if they don’t make immediate sense or are consistent with what we sound like now. When we get to the recording phase of WOTL I don’t plan on reinventing myself or the band for each release. There’s something incredibly banal and automatic about listener and creator expectation.
CM: I feel we keep our eyes and ears on a lot of different artists and genres, artists that aren’t always electronic music. For example, we wrote a punk song called “Ellen Page You Don’t Know What You Are Missing,” as well as, a dance/thrash song called “Friction,” which kinda has me rapping in it. These two songs are different from our typical drawn out chord progression songs, so I think we don’t constrain ourselves to one specific genre. Personally for me, reinventing yourself is crucial. Not in terms of a complete 180 in your sound or style, but at least willing to expand your horizons, for example, use of different instruments, while still grounded to your roots.
SFF: What are your inspirations?
CM: Although we are both fans of similar dance acts like M83, Presets and Digitalism, individually, we have our own separate inspirations. For me, a majority of the artists on Warp Records have been the biggest inspiration to create electronic music. All the artists have these interpretations of controlled chaos through beats and bass while still able to have this beautifully gentle side to them. The 1979-82 No Wave movement also draws me in aesthetically, they screeched a great lesson of “who [cares] how I make my music, or if it sounds bad. I want you to cringe.”
SM: Postal Service is never far from us too.. don’t forget. Whoa, did everyone just lose hope in WOTL at this point in the interview? [ha ha ha]
SFF: Are there any themes or concepts regularly discussed in your music?
We can’t seem to get away from Kubrick movies. I don’t think there is any direct connection but we’ve got “The Shining” or “Eyes Wide Shut” on in the background at shows and practices constantly — on mute of course. There’s something familiar and comfortable about Kubrick imagery and execution that helps us along almost every time we get together to make something.
CM: Listen to The Exploited’s “Sex And Violence,” think about all the imagery that comes to your head subversively from that song.
SM: Chris and I, if I can be painfully honest here — both have conflicting attitude towards women or the idea of a girl or a woman. I think we both have consistently expressed an undying appreciation for the female analog in several obsessive modes but there’s something darker going on there that’s unspoken but definitely shared between the two of us. I don’t know if that will ever go away not matter how many times we fall in love or get turned and quartered by a girl.
There are hours of worship but there are hours of embittered cynicism and I think it shows in our music.
SFF: What is your songwriting process?
CM: We both usually jam right after a long night of parties. But, we don’t see each other 24/7, we think of songs, lyrics, or concepts on our own time and build off from them during our next practice. Our reliance to technology has also contributed to the song writing process. We bombard ourselves with ideas or lyrics through text, e-mail, and facebook messaging. Sometimes a song is birthed from a single text message.
SFF: Anything cool coming up?
We’re looking forward to a summer of hard practice and development. Taking five classes and being addicted to extra-curricular activities has definitely put a strain on what WOTL would be otherwise.
CM: Thacher Gallery opening, expect a dark set. Hopefully Scott Le Fever and his project The Overcoats will support. We’re also looking forward to playing with Petals again. Sky and I are both excited about the brain of Jess Labrador. You could say that Labz breathed life into WOTL. She’s been a consistent muse from day one — always pushing us. We wouldn’t be making anything without her input.
SFF: What are your hopes for the band?
SM: I just want to make something that we’re proud of and that we can write home about. I don’t have any real expectations for Women Of The Tenderloin but I can say that through this band the greatest pleasure I’ve got has come from playing for people like The Foghorn, The Ignatian and for people’s house parties. The best part of playing music in the past couple of months is looking up from the deck and seeing people we know dancing with sincerity.
CM: I just want to smash.