The Golden Filter’s high concept, nu-disco pop was born out of their past and present influences—magic, crystals, ancient history, nature, shamanism, Ouija boards, and other mystical curiosities that go far beyond the realm of music. But don’t make the mistake of writing them off as a fleeting novelty act. The enigmatic duo’s—Penelope Trappes and Stephen Hindman—seemingly inexhaustible wellspring of inspirations and unfettered bend of creativity sets them apart from the rest of New York’s sprawling do-it-yourself indie pop scene. In short, these Brooklynites march to the beat of their own drum.
Anthem recently caught up with the Golden Filter to discuss their debut album, Voluspa, which will finally make its way stateside on June 15. You can preorder it here!
I understand that Voluspa is named after a Nordic poem about “the creation of the world and its coming end.” How did you guys envision the collection of songs on the album fitting under the umbrella of that narrative?
Stephen Hindman: Most of the songs are, in one way, shape or form, about the beginning or the end of something. It spoke to our personal lives, too—there’s a bit of a parallel thing going on there. It kind of encapsulates a lot of different things about what was going on with us at the time, other things that have ended recently and how we got to the point of being the Golden Filter. It’s basically a summation of how we felt.
Is the ordering of the tracks on the album significant? Did you intend for it to have a linear storyline when you listen to it from beginning to end?
Penelope Trappes: Yeah, definitely. We were pretty specific about what we wanted in terms of the ordering of songs.
S.H.: There’s definitely a reason why “Dance Around the Fire” comes first and why “Thunderbird” is last. Some of it came down to how each track sounded, too.
P.T.: We definitely wanted to keep your interest.
I was bummed to hear that Voluspa leaked before it got its proper release. Do you think it’s possible to stop something like that from happening in this day and age? And how do you cope with something like that as an indie band?
P.T.: We were pretty certain that it was going to happen in one way, shape or form. It was kind of inevitable, really. I guess we tried to prepare as much as we possibly could. [Laughs] We sort of came up with a backup plan.
S.H.: I think we lose out on money as an indie band, but we’re not really doing it for the money anyway.
P.T.: And I don’t think sales are particularly big for anyone unless you’re some sort of gigantic, major corporation-type thing, you know? We set up the preorder hoping that it would inspire people to get the actual album along with the bonus stuff.
Right. I noticed that there are two bonus tracks that you receive with the preorder and wondered whether that was preplanned or done on the fly after the album leaked.
S.H.: The idea of doing a package was already there. It was just a matter of figuring out what that would be exactly. We knew we had a few extra songs lying around that didn’t find its way onto the album that nobody had heard yet.
P.T.: And that would hopefully entice people.
With the release of the first three singles—“Solid Gold,” “Thunderbird” and “Hide Me”—I suspect that a lot of fans were anticipating a full-on dance record from you guys, but there are a lot tracks on the album that are more subdued and intimate. Was it important for you guys to strike that kind of balance with your debut LP?
P.T.: We were definitely known as being very dance-y with some of our singles, but I thought that something like “Hide Me” would clue people in that they were going to get songs like “Nerida’s Gone” or “The Underdogs” on the album. Yes, we like to dance, so to speak. [Laughs] But, there are moments where you gotta bring it down.
S.H.: Ultimately, we wanted to present ourselves as a band and not as DJs or just producers. We’re an actual band—that’s what we wanted to get across.
When you’re working on a song, what comes first, the melody or the lyrics?
S.H.: Both at the same time, no?
P.T.: Sometimes. An idea could start with lyrics or it could start with a melody. It really depends.
S.H.: We pretty much do it in all different ways.
In the months leading up to the release of Voluspa, you guys got wrangled into the “iamamiwhoami” viral campaign. Could you comment on that whole thing?
P.T.: We were talking about this the other day. We don’t really like getting caught up in stuff like that in general. So, we don’t really like talking about it. [Laughs] It’s so much fun though, right? So many people got caught up in that.
It’s so fascinating to look at the range of artists that were pulled into it like Fever Ray, Christina Aguilera, Trent Reznor, Goldfrapp, you guys, among others.
P.T.: It’s pretty surreal.
But I think the coolest thing was reading comments on YouTube where people would say things like, “I stumbled on the Golden Filter through this campaign,” because no matter what those viral videos are ultimately intended for, it helps the smaller bands get a lot of exposure.
P.T.: It’s pretty cool that it’s such a range of different acts like you’re saying. You can reach people who are fans of, for example, Christina Aguilera, and the next thing you know, they’re getting an education on independent music like Fever Ray or whomever.
You guys are obviously inspired by mystical things like magic and shamanism. Where did those kinds of inspirations come from?
P.T.: I grew up in Australia in a hippy-like part of the country. I was always surrounded by elements of that mystical nature and the people exploring it—not necessarily my immediate family, but friends and such. So, things like crystals and anything of the mystical kind like oracles were always around. Nature was also a major part of my growing up because my front and backyard was a rainforest. I was pretty lucky that I could hang out and play in those kinds of environments as a kid. That definitely influenced me. And talking to Stephen about our similar, yet very different, experiences where he grew up in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio.
S.H.: In High School, a group of friends and I would play with Ouija boards every weekend. Not that that’s very cool or mystical because it’s kind of silly, but we started to believe in it.
P.T.: I guess it’s about expanding your mind and, like you said, starting to believe in it. You can challenge your normal way of thinking.
You guys also have amazing branding and marketing agility. I think a lot of indie bands out there don’t know how to do that, which can be detrimental. I mean, it’s difficult when they don’t have a big record label coddling you, but you guys make the most of it.
P.T.: We still have to work with a small group of people, but thankfully, they’re all incredibly supportive of the fact we want to maintain 100% artistic control.
S.H.: We do want 100% artistic control and we haven’t gone down the major label route because of that.
So, is signing to a major record label in the future totally off the table?
S.H.: It’s on the table if it’s on our terms.
P.T.: But I don’t know if that’s possible in this day and age. Can it be on your own terms?
S.H.: Well, we’ve already existed for an x amount of time, so I think they would know what they’re getting at this point. [Laughs]
P.T.: It’d be pretty hard to sway us.
S.H.: I think that’s why we said no to a lot of people when we were starting out.
P.T.: And that’s why we ended up working with Brille in the U.K., which is not a bad thing. It’s good!
Penelope, you used to be a flight attendant, right? Once upon a time?
P.T.: You’ve done your research!
Considering the kind of stuff you sing about, I can sort of connect the dots there between that and the Golden Filter. The concept of travel, certainly, but just the idea of being in the sky even. Maybe that’s stretching it a bit…
P.T.: Definitely. My parents traveled a lot when I was little and the kids were always left at home. I was left staring up at the stars wondering where my parents were and that definitely left me kind of up above the Earth in many ways. [Laughs] But I’m happy up there. I enjoy bouncing around from continent to continent now while we’re touring and seeing all the different cultures. Growing up in Australia, it was extremely isolated from the rest of the world, for better or for worse. It seems like 50% of kids who grow up there end up leaving and go traveling as much as they possibly can to see the rest of the world.
S.H.: When you open that window of traveling, you can’t really sit still for too long in your life. It gets really addictive.
P.T.: Absolutely. It’s very inspiring.
Do you guys ever get homesick?
S.H.: I’ve never ever, ever missed Ohio.
S.H.: I’ve been back a couple of times and something bad always happened. I get into a car wreck or something. So, I’ve basically sworn off going back to Ohio. I think there’s bad energy with me there.
P.T.: Sorry to those in Ohio. We’ll probably do a show there in a hurry. I’m the complete opposite, though. Come the end of February every year, I’m like, “Get me the hell out of here and take me home!” Australia is just an awesome, super beautiful country. I’m close to my family too, so it’s kind of difficult. I try to get back there at least once a year.
Just getting back to your music for a moment—there are several stellar tracks that didn’t make it onto the album like “Imaginary Love,” “Fortune Teller,” and “Favorite Things.” What will become of these songs?
S.H.: Considering the album as a whole, songs like “Imaginary Love” didn’t quite seem to fit. And we loved the chorus for “Fortune Teller,” but we were sort of iffy on the verses and didn’t really finish it. We played it at our first show, but we never played it again.
P.T.: We felt like “Fortune Teller” needed a little bit of work and it just got left by the wayside in the end.
S.H.: It felt a little bit…
S.H.: “Fortune Teller” kind of felt like, “Hey, we’re mystical! Pay attention to us!”
P.T.: But it’s nice that people talk about it. It’s not totally wiped off the slate for a potential future release, we have thought about maybe doing an EP.
S.H.: Maybe it’ll show up later with a different title or different lyrics or something,
P.T.: And “Favorite Things” was featured on the Kitsuné Maison 6 compilation, so we just considered that already released.
I’ve actually only heard a 15-second clip of “Fortune Teller” that Jacuzzi Killers put up on their website. I just loop that over and over and drive my friends crazy.
S.H.: [Laughs] We definitely put the good part of the song up there.
Are you guys already planning your sophomore album?
S.H.: Yeah, we’ve been thinking about it for a bit.
P.T.: As you know, it’s taken a little longer than we had anticipated for the first album to come out. So, it’s given us a few extra months to start planning for album 2. It’s kind of lovely that Voluspa is coming out in the spring, though.
Do you think album number two will be a big departure from Voluspa in terms or sound and/or style?
S.H.: It’ll be different, but not completely.
P.T.: We can’t change what we do. We’ve discussed this as a songwriting team and as a band—we have a certain style that we tend to go back to each time. I guess it’ll be dependent on our experiences in the last month and the next month. We’ll write about what we feel.
I’ll leave you guys with one last thing. Finish this sentence: “In the event of an impending apocalypse… ”
P.T.: Oh, man… I’m going to gather up all of my nearest and dearest friends from here and head to Byron Bay, Australia. We’ll have fun, hang out, smoke peace pipe, and just be done with it—love and be hippies for that one last time. And, you know, maybe look up at the skies again. Maybe there will be someone coming to get us. [Laughs]
S.H.: Nothing’s impending. Nothing’s terminal.