In a click-bait driven music scene, it’s rare to find an album that stands the test of time, but Toronto-based synth duo Electric Youth may have managed that rare feat with their spectral, stunning debut album Innerworld.
“We wanted to make something that had the sense of being timeless,” says Austin Garrick, the band’s instrumentalist, alongside vocalist Bronwyn Griffin. “Our ultimate goal is to make a record that will be the favourite album of people that aren’t born yet.”
With their swooning collaboration with College, “A Real Hero”, featured in Nicolas Winding Refn’s universally acclaimed neo-noir Drive, a place in the history books is arguably already theirs. The song was used twice in the film, which starred Ryan Gosling, with its touching refrain “A real human being / And a real hero” soundtracking the scene where Driver (Gosling) and Irene (Carey Mulligan) take an idyllic daytime car journey down the LA river, and then appearing again during the final scene and end credits. “We didn’t get to see the film until its premiere at Toronto International Film Festival,” explains Bronwyn. “We sat down on the balcony to watch it, and honestly it almost felt like I was floating, it just washed over me. It was very surreal and dreamlike.”
After cracking the Top 10 of the iTunes dance charts in 15 countries, the band stepped back from the limelight to take their time to work on a full-length. “We get asked a lot ‘how have guys not already put out an album — that would have been a good time to do it,” admits Austin. “But at the end of the day, more important for us than capitalising on timing is really making sure that we would have the record that we want to have.”
Recording took place between the duo’s Toronto studio and their home studio in LA. Each space served its different purpose — in Toronto, Austin was able to make use of his extensive vintage synth collection, making up what he estimates is 70% of the sounds on the album. In Los Angeles, meanwhile, Bronwyn recorded the vocals, of which she writes a good portion at home — in their space — where a film projector was always within close reach. Fritz Lang’s boundary-breaking 1920s classic, Metropolis, was a favourite. It’s easy to see how the vast scope of Lang’s movie inspired the wide-eyed vistas of Innerworld, where soundscapes bleed into vocals and songs take you on journeys into roads unexplored. Other tracks wear their cinematic influences rather more on their sleeve. “Our song “Runaway” was inspired by the Peter Jackson film Heavenly Creatures,” says Austin. “It’s a true story from the 60s about these 2 girls in New Zealand who are in their early teens, who have this sort of fantasy world together, and their parents and everyone try to keep them apart.” On the track, Bronwyn chants “Maybe we could just run away for good / ‘Cause we’re both misunderstood.”
“A Real Hero” germinated in Myspace, back in 2009. The band uploaded a number of tracks, including a shimmering cover of Clio’s 1985 Italo Disco track “Faces,” where Bronwyn delivered the gently melancholic lyrics with her signature heartfelt intonation. “It was just an experiment,” recalls Austin. “We made 4 demos and put them up, and from there it just snowballed. Most of the reaction was coming from France and England. We were introduced to David Grellier — College — and came to find that we really had a lot of shared interests with film and music and that was how that all came together.” At the time, College was heavily involved in Valerie Collective, a blog and artistic network that he had founded in 2007. Bronwyn and Austin had found a supportive ecosystem — always invaluable for independent artists.
The lyrics of the song were in part inspired by Captain Sullenberger, the pilot of Flight 1549 which was infamously downed in New York’s Hudson River in 2009. Sullenberger guided the plane down with no fatalities, leading to the event being termed the “Miracle on the Hudson”. “My grandfather is a retired philosophy professor who writes poetry,” explains Austin, “He had written this poem where he was was inspired by this captain and his heroism, which he brought it to me and asked me if I could make it into a song. And then when David sent me his instrumental called A Real Hero – it was like ‘whoa, cool, let me see if I can connect these things’. It’s as if it was written in the stars.”
The pair met in sixth grade, when Austin’s family moved from Toronto to Bronwyn’s nearby hometown of Hamilton. “We became friends around that age, and I asked her out in 8th grade,” says Austin. “She was my girlfriend from that time on.” Austin came from a household where his parents listened to anything from his Mom’s beloved 80s synthpop to his Dad’s Level 42 and reggae, while Bronwyn’s religious family favoured church songs and classic songwriting form the likes of James Taylor and The Beatles. The band officially formed in 2009. Bronwyn says: “It’s the only band I imagine I’ll ever be involved in.”
The artwork for Innerworld is similarly starry-eyed, with British artist Paul Roberts painting Austin and Bronwyn as intrepid children for the cover. “He was in a group called Sniff ‘n’ the Tears who had a big hit in the 70s with their song “Drivers Seat,” which we came to know through its use in Boogie Nights,” says Austin. “The initial intention was for it to be more about the landscape, but we liked it and it did make sense to us, going back to the concept of Innerworld… Bronwyn and I have known each other since we were 10 years old and a lot of the time we’re still those kids in our mind, in our inner world. And so I guess you could say, in our world that’s what we look like – those two kids.” With their music’s unquenchable sense of wonder, perhaps they’re not too far from those kids today. “David Lynch never wants to define his films,” says Austin. “So we don’t like to give too many specifics about the meaning of our music.” When it sounds this good, who needs to put their music into a box? Let their inner world wash over you.