Combine the soundtrack of a John Hughes movie with millennial anxiety and you’ve got the sound of Brooklyn-based Plastic Picnic. The band, comprised of four West Coast transplants, makes sad yet energetic indie rock tunes that– with their catchy, danceable beats, melancholy lyrics, and shimmery melodies– could be mistaken for ’80s synth pop. According to Nylon, they’re on the Brooklyn bands you should be listening to right now.
Ahead of their show at Baby’s All Right on Monday, Bedford + Bowery spoke to lead singer Emile Panerio about the grind of being an indie band in the New York City music scene, and about their new single “Doubt.” It’s about “beginning a life with someone you love and never seeing them,” Panerio has told me. “When you’re going to sleep, they’re leaving for work. When a partnership works in theory, but current life doesn’t allow it the time it needs to healthily grow–something New York City seems to have a good reputation for.”
How did you guys come up with the name?
We try and juxtapose light and dark emotions and synthesized and organic instruments, whether it be keyboard or synthesizer and then also gritty guitar or something. So, in that spirit of juxtaposition, the Plastic is supposed to represent the artificial and the synthesized sound and the urban environment and structure of New York, and Picnic is supposed to represent the more organic earthy side and also our roots back home and the Northwest that were much more outdoorsy. [Three of the band members met at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA.]
What does a typical day look like for the band when y’all are rehearsing or trying to record?
All four of us still work 40 or more hours a week at our own separate day jobs. Lincoln [Lute, guitarist] does some photo stuff, I do some bartending, the other two guys [drummer Gordon Taylor and bassist Marshall Hunt] work in coffee. So, yeah, a typical day is usually everyone meeting up after a shift. When we all have a Saturday off, we’ll spend a solid seven or eight hours in bedrooms and/or the studio kind of working on recording ideas. Luckily now we are doing a whole lot more home production where Ariel Loh– the producer we work with on the last EP and with “Doubt,” who’s super talented– has been really awesome at helping us develop our own home recording style where he’s still definitely helping with mixing and with this song, helps with drums as well, but everything else we do at home.
What was the first song y’all wrote as a band?
I believe “Nausea in Paradise” was the first one we wrote.
I guess the metaphor is someone that’s vacationing too long because they are avoiding their real problems at home. Sidelining and not confronting issues in your life and letting whatever it is– like a vacation or some sort of unfulfilling distraction– distract you from what you need to do to be truly healthy, to be happy.
What is the creative process with you and Plastic Picnic? How did you come up with singles like “Doubt?”
We just write really collaboratively where all four heads are kind of always in the pot. Sometimes that means writing a song together and a lot of rehearsal space environment where we are all just playing and coming up with ideas that slowly turn into our song structure and then other times it starts with one person sending a skeletal idea that’s been manipulated and kind of put through the “Picnic Treatment,” if you will. “Doubt” was one of those songs where I had a short, 30-second-or-so demo of the song idea that I brought to the band and everyone was really excited about it. So then we kind of rebuilt a better full-length version of it with everybody’s ideas intermixed.
What kind of musicians have influenced Plastic Picnic’s sound?
I think as of late we’ve been really excited about projects that incorporate unique ideas and then have the juxtaposition of synthesizers and approachable pop but also an aggressive, dark undertone. Lately that’s been coming from female-fronted bands. I don’t know if that’s a vocal thing to me or maybe the lyricism is just more unique then another dude’s perspective, but we’ve been really excited about All Days and Japanese Breakfast and Phoebe Bridges and all those projects that have a lot of songs that are definitely upbeat but then the underlying context and lyrical content in a lot of those songs are super dark and heartbreaking.
I know you said you haven’t been together that long, but do you feel like the band has evolved since your beginnings in 2016?
The main change is asking more questions when we are songwriting and really trying to define the kind of song we want to write and with every kind of decision really analyzing it: What does this synth line add to this song? We’re getting a little more gritty with our decision-making and I think the home recording certainly influences that. With the first EP we didn’t really have the ability to listen to a decent recording before making edits, so it’s kind of like you’re paying for time in a studio and then you record and if you don’t like it then you just wasted a lot of money or you have to like it enough to keep it. Where now we can kind of get a song 80 percent there and then really just dissect it and make changes and have a conversation about it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Correction: This post was revised to quote Paneiro as saying EP and not CD.