When I was a kid in the 90s, our high school introduced us all to the semi-educational, oft-laughable television programming of then fledgling Channel 1. One such laughable segment was on the “new” musical trend of something called techno music and included the reporter (who may or may not have been Lisa Ling, if recall correctly) deconstructing the music, its performers, and events called “raves.”
Happily, much of electronic music has evolved past that phase, integrating with analog sounds and incorporating what draws many of us to other pop music, namely melodies, musical hooks, humanistic vocals, and far more depth in song-writing. One band that’s doing all of that superbly of late is Maryland-based trio Prinze George, who’ve just released their debut full-length and a short lister for our top albums of the year, Illiterate Synth Pop.
We took a few minutes to talk with the band’s singer Naomi Almquist (right) and producer/instrumentalist Kenny Grimm (middle) as they wind down their national tour and prep to play a sold-out show at Los Angeles’ storied Troubadour tonight.
raven + crow: Alright, let’s start at the beginning—who makes up the band?
Naomi Almquist: Prinze George is Kenny Grimm, Isabelle De Leon, and me.
I’m originally from Virginia and lived in DC for a while, so I get the name, but what made you want to name the band after PG County?
Naomi: Kenny and I grew up together in PG County. It’s where the project was conceived and it’s also where the three of us met.
Makes sense. You all have always had a sound that I thought showed depth and maturity beyond your years and I feel like that’s illustrated even more strongly on the new album. Was that a big step for you all in terms of evolution, both personally as a band and in terms of the music you were producing before Illiterate Synth Pop?
Naomi: Thank you. I have always felt older than my age, even if I don’t always act in a way that reflects that. My lyrical writing was definitely less cryptic on this record; I opened up about a lot of my own past/present experiences/relationships in a way that I never had before in previous releases. Sonically, we were trying to go for more of a live feel anyway, especially with the combination of acoustic/electronic drums for the first time. We were also really wanting to incorporate Isabelle’s drum ideas more. I guess what was happening sonically from an evolutionary standpoint was happening simultaneously with the lyrical writing, and I think that everyone involved in the making of this record was trying to honor the rawness/freshman nature of it too; which affected the music even further.
Where does the album title come from?
Naomi: The album title actually came from one of the earliest blog reviews for “Victor.” It was a smaller blog that had reposted the song with the tagline “Illiterate Synthpop”. We assumed it was a dig at the way we spell our name and we loved it. I knew immediately it would make a great first album name, and we didn’t come up with anything better after we made the thing, so there you go.
Nice. I feel like I hear a pretty wide range of influences in your music, from dance to electronic pop bands to more analogue ones—who are some bands or musicians who are doing things you really admire or are impressed by these days, whether you feel like they direction inform your sound or not?
Kenny Grimm: Naomi and I are extremely obsessed with The National. There is something about their sound both lyrically and musically that is so honest. I read an interview talking about how they hit a point where they stopped emulating bands that they wanted to sound like or be like and just embraced their own sound. I think it’s very difficult these days not to compare yourself to other artists and criticize the things that you do not bring to the table. As a producer especially you are constantly analyzing other people’s music. You spend your time wondering how they created that synth patch, or got that great vocal reverb. While making this first album we spent a lot of time perfecting the songs and the sound but at the end of the day really tried to go with our gut and just be honest with how we were feeling and tell our story the way we tell it. The National helped us to embrace that.
Man, yeah, we’ve long loved The National. I’m sure the guys would be pleased to hear they inspired you in that way. Ya’lll are just wrapping up a tour supporting Lewis Del Mar, right? How’s that been going?
Naomi: It’s been awesome! They are really great guys and we have been having a blast; it’s gone by super-fast. It’ll be weird not ending the night listening to their set, it’s good shit and they are really fun live. It’s been an awesome experience.
Are you all excited to get home or more forlorn to have the tour draw to a close…or both?
Naomi: Well, our bodies are pretty tired at this point, but our spirits are inspired. We are all sick right now from these crazy climate changes we’ve been dealing with every day for the past couple months. It will be nice to be home for Thanksgiving and sleep in our cozy beds…but we typically prefer to be on the road.
I’m sure. We first heard you all back in the summer of 2014, when MS MR included your song “This Time” on their regular Track Addict mixtape. Was that a big break for ya’ll and any idea where they heard you first?
Naomi: That was really awesome of them. They put us on early and got in touch with us to let us know about it and to keep encouraging us to continue making music. It was so sweet. I’m sure that they helped bring awareness to what we were doing early on, but they are also very plugged into the New York-electronic-music scene, so I think that Hype Machine/NYC were probably where they heard us first.
I think that track’s the only older one that makes an appearance on the new album—did you all just feel the desire to re-introduce it to the world in a way?
Naomi: Actually, “This Time” and “Make Me” are both older releases that we re-released on the album. They were included on the record because we and everyone on our team agreed that they were strong enough to make the cut. I actually don’t love “This Time”, but I was outvoted and understand that it is a good dance track. I’m glad it makes some people happy.
Definitely does me. What are some post-album-release, post-tour hopes/dreams/fears/desires/plans for world domination?
Naomi: I don’t feel the need to dominate, personally. I just want us to be writing/touring full time and keep making music that reflects who we are and what we have learned so far. I am really into movies and theater, so my dream is getting to hear our music be a part of the soundtrack to a movie I love, or featured in a kickass play.
I love that aspiration. Switching tracks, are ya’ll political at all? Worried/excited about next week’s election?
Naomi: If by political you mean do we read the news and do we vote…then the answer is fuck yes. We’re from PG County and politics is part of the environment we’ve grown up in; a lot of our best friends work in government and/or education. My dad worked for the government my whole life. This is my second election. I voted for Obama when I was 18 and was in Grant Park in Chicago the night he was elected. I voted for Hillary in the primaries and we are all voting for Hillary in the general election from the road tomorrow. Got the absentee ballots on lock. We are hopeful but aware of Trump’s appeal to certain voters, so of course were worried.
Likewise. Worried but hopeful. Well enjoy these last few shows and thank you so much for taking the time to talk.