Featuring members of Justice and Greenskeepers, Cyclone goes behind inside the formation of the internet’s new favourite band – Favored Nations.
Hip hop is big on supergroups, but dance music less so. The house supergroup Da Mongoloids – with Armand van Helden, Basement Jaxx, Daft Punk and countless others – fizzled out, as did Swedish House Mafia. But, happily, Favored Nations – formed by Justice vocalist Morgan Phalen, Greenskeepers' James Curd, and DFA artist Surahn Sidhu – is filling the vacuum. The trio have just issued a three-song EP, Blame Game, with frontman Phalen describing the title-track (and single) as “universal”. “It's just boy and girl problems, really – or boy and boy problems, girl and girl problems…”
The American previously led, and played guitar in, the New York hard rock band Diamond Nights, which debuted in 2005 with Popsicle. One of their fans was Justice's Xavier de Rosnay. The Frenchman was reminded of Diamond Nights while reading a review in an old magazine in a dentist's waiting room. De Rosnay contacted Phalen and invited him to Paris to sing on Justice's Audio, Video, Disco (along with Midnight Juggernauts' Vincent Vendetta). "He gave me the clipping from the magazine, too – tore it out and gave it to me," Phalen quips.
It might be expecteswd that Phalen connected with Curd through social media. However, the two bumped into each other at a gig in Los Angeles, Phalen's current base. He was catching Justice's pals Jamaica, de Rosnay having produced their No Problem. They met as "two random dudes at a bar," who "ended up chit-chatting." The pair weren't familiar with each other's careers.
Ironically, Curd doesn't even reside in LA. Originally from Chicago, the DJ/producer now lives in Adelaide. Favored Nations record over the internet.
“It works pretty good because, in terms of the creative process, I'm a private person," Phalen says. "I get annoyed really easily with people looking over my shoulder. So it's nice to have an ocean between us because then you just hand things over when you're ready, when you're done with it, over the Internet. I even did one of the songs with Justice that way, too, so I think it's starting to become a standard process!" Yet Phalen has visited Adelaide. "Last year I actually spent a month there and two of the songs on the EP we did completely in Adelaide."
He fell in love with the city. "It's lovely and it's just so green – and it's hard to tell that it's even a city at all. The human beings who live there are really attractive, too – there must be something in the gene pool there." Adelaide doesn't have "the blight and vermin and all that kind of crap" found in large US cities.
Favored Nations recruited Sidhu, whom everyone apparently calls Sid, as their third member. He's moonlighted in the backing band for Empire Of The Sun. "It all starts with James. He kind of puts together the music impetus. Sid is a multitalented musician – he can just play every instrument – and so he comes in and works with James and they bang out some instrumental things... They send me the tracks and then I write vocal melodies and lyrics, send it back to them, and we argue about how it's supposed to be arranged and structured and everything. But it's very complementary. It's like a perfect union, 'cause we're all doing stuff the other one doesn't wanna do and filling in the blanks. It's really easy, really easy to do, and really easy to work with such talented guys."
Favored Nations' sound is broadly electroey or synthy nu disco. Above all, it's defined by its mode of production, Phalen observes.
"It's like a whole new era of making music because we're not getting together in a room with instruments and jamming out or anything. It's coming from cyberspace, in a way. It all starts with a computer." Favored Nations have collective 'likes', one being the jazz-rock Steely Dan, but each member brings in their own influences. "James hates distorted guitars, but I come from a hard rock background, and heavy music background, so I try to sneak some distorted guitars in some of the songs." Curd has enjoyed the challenge of structuring songs – very different to extended house records. Indeed, when he introduced Greenskeepers in the '90s, Curd specialised in swingtime house – the sort of party tunes that could have been included on The Great Gatsby soundtrack. Curd then developed Greenskeepers into a live band with Nick Maurer. The outfit blew up with the electro-pop Lotion (it scraped into triple j's 2004 Hottest 100).
Now Favored Nations are plotting an album. "Personally, I prefer the EP format," Phalen admits, "but I think the world in general still expects albums. We have enough material, and we're constantly generating new stuff, so that's not an issue. I feel like an album is a way for you to pour your heart into ten songs and have people only listen to three of 'em – and so it always feels like, when you put out a record, you kind of are throwing a bunch of those songs into the void. It's just unfortunate to some degree. On the other hand, there are great albums in the world, some great albums throughout musical history, so I'm torn on that subject. But the plan is an album, for sure."
Phalen kids that EPs also suit his short attention span – albums require "discipline", he says – and this is one reason he loves to collaborate.
It was yet another joint project that took Phalen to Sweden, where he'd shoot the striking video for Blame Game. Phalen and Daniel Collás of the psych-soul Phenomenal Handclap Band were recording with local musos when he encountered his now girlfriend. They'd later shoot the clip together. Phalen confesses that when the couple argue, they quote lyrics from the song.
And festival promoters should pay attention: Favored Nations are keen to tour. "I would love that," Phalen says. "I guess that's just up to how well the record does and if people wanna hear it... That would be great.”