Photography by Santiago Felipe
The Golden Filter until now, have been made by the media a somewhat overly mysterious and elusive entity. Having recently dropped 'Favourite Things' on Kitsuné's latest compilation, this seemingly evasive pair first took the scene by storm when they released a faceless, somewhat prophetic and self-explanatory track 'Solid Gold' into the blogosphere. It had everybody talking about them, wondering, "Who the hell are The Golden Filter?"
The New York City based Penelope and Stephen (plus Lisa their drummer, who completes their live show) are the duo behind all the fuss and the brilliant bit of personal obscurity that inadvertently had the bloggerati abuzz. Whilst their tracks were slinking and gliding their way down headphones and out of speakers everywhere, the duo preferred to keep their heads down and let the stalking basslines and undulating electronica of their sexily hazy neo-disco do the talking.
But to part the curtains of myth and golden halos of hair and camera effects that they have hidden behind in photographs, I hung out with Stephen and Penelope for an afternoon, wandering the colourful streets of Williamsburg to talk it out. They were neither masked nor aloof despite previously having used a vocoder in prior interviews and habitually hidden their faces in press pictures.
In fact, I found Penelope and Stephen to be thoroughly down to earth, pragmatic and frank; aware of themselves and the world that they're operating in, knowing exactly what they want and how to get it without losing themselves in the circus of The Biz that is the music industry.
STEPHEN: Its funny cause you go on youtube and see our live shows and it's like oh! There are our faces. But everyone still calls us completely secretive. Which is fine. I mean, we are I guess.
You're not from NYC - Stephen, you're from Ohio correct?
STEPHEN: Technically, yeah.
How did you end up in New York?
STEPHEN: Just moved here!
Did you have dreams of making it in the big smoke?
STEPHEN: Strangely enough I was previously making electronic music, signed to a label in New York.
Ah so you were doing music before you did this project?
STEPHEN: Yeah. But I won't mention any names.
Why's that? Should I not go there?
Stephen: Nahh let's not..!
I didn't actually realise you were Australian until I started reading some of your other interviews.
PENELOPE: You are too right?
Yeah! Do you like it when you bump into other Australians?
PENELOPE: Well it doesn't happen to me as much as I'd like it to actually; I have more of a New Zealand thing going on in terms of friends here in NY.
You're from Byron Bay right?
PENELOPE: Near Byron; Lismore actually. I spent most of my weekends at Byron.
And how did you end up in New York?
PENELOPE: I was a flight attendant in the Middle East, and I went everywhere, except New York, and then I finally got here - I was only doing that for less than a year. And I never left.
In my cynical viewpoint, the way you guys became really buzzed, there surely was a plan behind dropping Solid Gold onto some specially selected blogs - did you have any help promoting that, or doing that when you started?
PENELOPE: No, that was all us.
STEPHEN: We knew of Alex from Discodust, and we knew Bigstereo, and essentially it was just two friends and not telling them exactly who we were, but we knew there names and sort of said, "Hey Alex, check this out."
PENELOPE: We knew the appropriate approach.
I do really like the way you've gone about it though, I think it's a cool way to hype yourselves without potentially putting yourselves on a path to career suicide at the same time.
PENELOPE: The hype was a kind of Catch 22, cause even though you know that they hype is hopefully what is going to come out of it all in terms of exposure, we were really trying to avoid the backlash against the whole hype of the machine and society -
STEPHEN: And seeing other bands in previous projects we were in, you can really hype yourself to death, which is really silly. So strangely, it did it all by itself in a weird way without any pushing from us.
PENELOPE: Which is nice.
It seems to have perpetuated itself for you guys.
PENELOPE: Which was the freaky element that it really worked. It was a complete science experiment.
STEPHEN: Exactly, logic doesn't really apply...
So you weren't that ready for it to happen?
PENELOPE: Well no, you never know what's really going to happen, you kind of hope for that. That some good stuff will come out of it, but we really quite heavily snowballed rather fast, particularly in the UK - to the point where our manager's British and we've released in the UK versus America.
Do you like how that route kind of
defined you guys as a bit of a mystery, and the somewhat of a blog phenomenon
that you've become? Do you assimilate yourselves with that definition - because
I know you have made a point that you don't want to be defined at all really.
PENELOPE: I think...It's tough, because it is what it is, and obviously we knew a couple of these people from the blog world, but I guess we're trying to do something a little bit different, a little bit branched out. Preferably without boxes, labels and pictures, without obviously being completely blank. It's also just to simplify things because everything's so saturated.
STEPHEN: We definitely don't wanna just be a blog band. Nobody does I guess, but we haven't really released anything since 'Solid Gold' -
Kinda weird though cause there's loads of your stuff floating around online...
PENELOPE: Yeah we did blog another song in demo form at the end of last year and we did a bunch of remixes. And very again, conscious that there are two ways you can treat blogs, you can be on it constantly, just every month there's something new, where we're sorta like, they're good, and they're vital but there needs to be a balance.
STEPHEN: We're just trying to get records out and concentrating on doing an album and doing it the old school way.
PENELOPE: There's a lot of like, trying to turn back time in an almost impossible setting, you know? That's the irony of it.
Nowadays everything is consumed so quickly and spat out even faster - maybe the crux of the whole 'mystery' thing that you've been tagged with is less that nobody knew exactly who you were, but that perhaps the track was everywhere, but people weren't presented with every breath burp and rumble that you guys made.
STEPHEN: Nobody knows what we're doing really, nobody knows what label we're talking to or anything.
PENELOPE: Again, with blogs and facebook or whatever - twitter; you know what everyone's doing! You know? I scratched my nose! Like, excellent. And it's addictive. Like somebody today was saying Face'crack' - it's kind of that juxtaposition.
Are you ready now then? Obviously you were feeling that the following hype or whatever you wanna call it, from 'Solid Gold' was a bit unexpected - are you ready now to take on the world as it were and to show your faces?
PENELOPE: Well we never hid our faces that much - not that much! I mean, if anyone was to do their research, there are videos and stuff, and that's us. The whole Presets tour that we went on, we were there, there were no masks...
What was is like touring with the Presets?
PENELOPE: It was awesome. Super cool. It kinda freaked me out, because I was in Australia in December, and I went with my sister to one of the Modular Never Ever lands in Brisbane. I found out recently because they played on that same stage on their Australian tour, and there was like ten thousand people, all singing the words, all jumping around, all the way up to the gods, and my sister was like, "You're going on tour with them." And I was like, "Fuck off!!!"
All the way around America as well.
PENELOPE: The funny thing is though, what they have in Australia and what they have in America here is very different. And they get to be an emerging band here in America. And when someone asked Julian "What's your favourite show been?" And he said "Tallahassee Florida. Which was 200 people and we could actually hi five, and the people were like there." Which is something they don't often do anymore. They were super cool, it was lovely to be with a bunch of Aussies.
In terms of the fact that you released in the UK rather than in the US - why the UK?
STEPHEN: That's where the interest was.
What do you think the main differences are between the two markets? Say for NYC and London for example?
STEPHEN: The first time we did our first batch of shows over there, last fall, it's like you go out in the middle of the week and there's industry nights going on and everybody just checking out all new bands everywhere.
PENELOPE: They do out here too -
STEPHEN: We've been here a long time and it just doesn't happen.
PENELOPE: I feel like the UK, industry wise, is really 'on it'. Like using that as an example, it's much more of a bigger machine, still operating on many levels.
STEPHEN: The US has gone somewhere else now, with majors taking over -
PENELOPE: And bad radio options....And in Australia you've still got like, Triple J...again, another option. In America you've got your majors, you've got your commercial radio, and you've got this ridiculous amount of money being channelled into your Britneys and...bad - I don't want to say her name.
STEPHEN: In America it seems like you meet with a couple of labels and and they want you to commit to being part of the family - forever. And it's like well, do we really wanna do that right now? I don't really know where our future is. In England it seems like more of an accepted thing to just release a single with whatever label and then move on to wherever you need to go.
PENELOPE: In a longwinded way, it just feels like there are more options in the UK. In the States it's very extreme, and they've got to market you and put all this money behind you to make SURE...and I think in the UK it's more subtle because there are different tiers. It's like getting an education to sit back and watch it all - it's very bizarre.
It's that huge divide between the actual creation of whatever kind of art form and the industry of it and how to make what is generally perhaps perceived as a success from it. What are you aiming for? Superstardom? Can you live off this yet? What do you want to do with The Golden Filter?
PENELOPE: Superstardom! What a dirty word -
STEPHEN: Well we already live off it, so that's fine.
PENELOPE: We definitely want to maintain the lifestyle.
STEPHEN: The lifestyle of sitting around drinking coffee -
Getting flown to Brazil...
PENELOPE: Which is awesome.
You guys are going to love Sao Paulo.
PENELOPE: It's funny because here in New York I've made a couple of Brazilian friends and they're all from Sao Paulo. And Stephen pointed out to me, in terms of latitude longitude on the earth, it's almost the exact opposite of Brisbane (Australia), which is essentially where I went to uni and grew up. Stephen's never been south of the equator, so it will be an experience. I'm excited.
I did want to ask you also what you did before this, I know Stephen didn't want me to go there, but have you always been in music?
PENELOPE: Pretty much, except for when I was travelling. But yes, pretty much.
STEPHEN: Same again.
Full stop. Ends there. [All laugh]
PENELOPE: We're living our dream so to speak, it's surreal. As long as we can keep going doing what we're doing, it's all good!