I recently caught indie-soul-electro princess, Bishop Briggs on tour when she stopped in Charlotte, North Carolina. She sold out The Fillmore’s Underground and not only put on an incredibly powerful show, but also introduced many of us to opening band, Foreign Air.
I’m usually not very into opening bands because it’s so hard to deter people’ excitement away from the opening band. But when a band I’ve never heard of can grab my attention in such a way that makes me go straight to their merch table after the show to buy whatever music they have for sale, it always renews my faith in the power of music.
From the minute the beat kicked in on their opening song, “Loud Magic“, I was hooked. Their music was the perfect combination of electronic and rock, with a light slow that visually emphasized the glory of what I was hearing. I had to know more about these guys and their story. Shortly after the show, I reached out to set the interview process in motion and now: here I am, sitting down with Jesse Clasen and Jacob Michael to talk music, life and all things Foreign Air!
Have a listen to the song that blew my mind and then sit back to learn more about this indie-electric duo!
Can you tell me about the music you grew up listening to and how it influenced this project?
Jesse: When I was young, WKNC 88.1 was a huge influence on me. Me and my older brother had a little radio boombox and we would listen to in our bunk beds. That’s how I was exposed to a lot of different types of music that wasn’t just the massive radio-hits that you would hear in stores or like when we would go to the pool. There’s a special place in my heart for those 90’s radio hits while you’re swimming; from Gin Blossoms to Nirvana everything in between. But 88.1 really exposed me all genres because they’d have hip hop music then they were playing really heavy grind-core music.
Also, when I was growing up, Schoolkids Records and Record Exchange were actually closer to where I lived in North Raleigh. I would ride my bike and get all the free cassette tapes that they had for promos and just dive into the record store life. That’s how I discovered a lot of music.
We both come from a rock background, playing in rock bands for over a decade and have both always loved electronic music. So when the bands we were in came to a lull, we started collaborating together without even thinking about it. We made a conscious choice that we wanted to use drum machines and synthesizers and do something new for us.
Jacob: There really was no objective to start a band or go on tour or anything like that. It was simply, ‘Hey. Let’s try something new’, which was really exciting. And that’s kind of the whole underlying energy of the project.
What was your first concert or live music experience?
Jacob: For me, it was local shows at the VFW or at a church. Everyone would just follow them around the D.C. area. I remember I spent the summer at my grandparents house and they were so excited that I had joined this church. But they had these punk shows on Friday nights. Legit punk shows!
Jesse: I was 13 years old when I went to my first concert by myself without my parents. It was at The Ritz and I went to see the Deftones It was a very intense show. What I loved about the Deftones when I was a kid was that it was very emotional music; very heavy and raw. But the vocals were soft, almost like Sade and I liked the juxtaposition. I remember having to walk a mile to the BP Station to use the payphone and call my parents to pick me! No one these days, know what that experience is like: having to find a pay phone.
I read that this project just ‘kind of happened’ and wasn’t planned at all. Can you talk a little about how something that had no planning turned into your current music career?
Jacob: People overlook that there’s been 10 years prior to this of playing in bands and touring for years. We’ve seen the other side of trying to build something from the ground up. But all that preparation has definitely prepared us.
Jesse: It shows the power of the internet. To know that you can put out one song and have it connect with people on Soundcloud and then go to Spotify and connect with people. Then all these opportunities arise so you just do your best, you know?
It’s crazy that we were rehearsing in my little spare bedroom in Charlotte where we can barely fit and trying to figure out how to perform electronic music. We use a lot of samplers and when we perform live, there’s probably four samplers onstage, with synthesizers, keyboards, a live drummer, guitar player and live bass. So figuring out how we can play as much as possible and not ‘just-press-play’ on backing tracks. Figuring out how to make that come to life and still interact with the crowd while in that tiny little bedroom was interesting.
Jesse: I have two images that come to my head when I think about it. One is obviously, actual air; like if it’s cold outside and you can see your breath. But also people trying to go to Mars and live in a different atmosphere.
It relates to us a band because as we were explaining, we started this band and surrounded ourselves with all these different tools like Moog synthesizers and drum samplers. It felt like we needed to surround ourselves in a room with different things that we could take in and to change the way that we write songs and change the output, so to speak.
So it’s kind of like foreign air to us: breathing in something else and seeing what we can make of this new oxygen. I think we always try to get the point across that it’s important to experiment and fall in love with new ideas and to push yourself as a person, in every aspect of life.
Jacob: We were saving the project in a Dropbox folder and didn’t have a name for it. So when Jesse said Foreign Air, I didn’t even have to think about it. It just felt right and fit right away.
What was the first time playing together with a band like?
Jacob: Our first real first show was at Bowery Ballroom in New York. We got very short notice but there was lot of attention around the project. So we rehearsed for a full week and then drove from North Carolina to play a sold out show in a venue I’ve personally always wanted to play. It was a pretty surreal experience and things happened very quickly. It was the first time we had ever played a handful of our songs.
What do love about electronic music and what were some of the first electronic albums or artists to really impact you?
Jacob: The thing I love is that it’s the best platform to be experimental. People are really receptive to experimentation and is kind of like our current day jazz. It has the same energy and excitement.
Jesse: A lot of electronic music that we were first exposed to was through hip-hop like Tupac and Biggie. It was sort of this new art form of cutting up drum breaks and using MPCs but then marrying it with samples of really old songs, soul songs. The collage art form to music, that ability to take something that’s already recorded and re-purpose it is very exciting for me. But I would say hip hop is probably both of our earliest experiences with electronic music.
In “Loud Magic”, there is a line about science and magic and how sometimes there is no scientific explanation or proof for something existing. Is this true your everyday thinking that things can simply exist like magic or do you think that at the end of the day, there is a reason for everything?
Jesse: In terms of science, to a degree, I think everything can be explained. You should never teach or think that it can’t be. Everyone should always be pushing and looking for answers or just understanding. But there is something about science explaining something that can take away the magic of that something. Just because we understand something, like space or planets or galaxies or our interactions on a human level, it should make it more magical. It’s not like it should be belittled because we understand it.
The fact that we as humans can figure out how to harness the capabilities of the universe is pretty amazing.
Jacob: Personally, I’m a big fan of balance. There has to always be balance in everything for the universe to work. I feel like if you’re trying really hard and putting positive energy out there, then positive things come back.
Jesse: Ultimately, the lyric is talking about a relationship. I’m not saying that there’s no scientific explanation for emotions or connections with people, I think there is. But I’m just wanting to get out there that even if it is certain chemicals that are pumping in your brain when you meet someone, the feeling is real magic — it’s so incredible that you as a human being can have a connection.
“Free Animal” is such a great song and is definitely one of my favorites. How did this become your first single?
Jesse: It kind of chose us. That was one of the first songs we wrote.
I remember hearing the melody and being like, “That’s different” and I was super excited to work on it. We sat down in Jacob’s bedroom and started figuring out that song. It wrote itself really quickly.
And then we kind of put it on our SoundCloud page, where a friend of mine heard it and asked if he could send it out to some people who he thought would like it. The next thing we know, Billboard hit us up on a Saturday or Sunday and they wanted to premier it that following Monday. And they’re like, “You guys have to make a Facebook page or something to link back to” so we made all that stuff and overnight a lot of labels were interested with different booking agencies and managers. Our lives really changed a lot from that song.
What advice would you have for creatives trying to get their name out or talent seen?
Jacob: Always trust your gut. And be yourself first and foremost. In the music industry, a lot of people have options on how they think you should should or look. But at the end of the day, it’s about you in your art.
Without the artist of the song or the song itself — there would be no music industry.
I remember going to some of our early label meetings, feeling so anxious and sick to my stomach. Thinking, “I’m not good enough to be here” and that the industry was more powerful than me. Now I feel the exact opposite. The artist is more powerful than the industry. There are different platforms now and you don’t have to sign to a label or anybody. You can put the music out yourself and that in itself is really powerful.
Jesse: I definitely would encourage any young artists to not be afraid to take on big tasks because it is easier to figure things out on your own now. There’s so many more tools now compared to when we were growing up that you can do so much more than just show up with your amp and play a song.
You can create something with technology now that’s like what you would expect from a crazy big headliner. Push yourself and let it come to life in this crazy different way that there is no way that you could have done even ten years ago. Take photos with your iPhone and use the flash to make weird lighting.
Hitting the road in October supporting Alice Merton, check out Foreign Air in a city near you. Be on the lookout for their upcoming headlining tour TBA!