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Caroline Polachek

The Chairlift singer talks overcoming drama with Dev Hynes and Chamakay

One half of synthpop duo Chairlift, Caroline Polachek is one of the most recent artists to collaborate with super producer Dev Hynes, lending her delicate vocals on"Chamakay", the first single from Cupid Deluxe. The R&B man of the moment is recruiting some of the best voices across all genres to join him – Friends’ Samantha Urbani, Despot, and Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth are also featured on the album.

Dev: "I’ve always loved Caroline’s voice. I knew that she would do something really cool and amazing to the part I had, but I also had a feeling that her ideas would be pretty next level. I got her to do these ad-lib tracks, and we would just play them from start to the end – they were just so good. I think she wanted us to edit and go through them, and we were just like, “No! That’s it. That’s what plays on the song.”

We spoke to Polachek about working with the R&B maestro, swapping leather and stepping out of her comfort zone.

Dazed Digital: How did "Chamakay" come about?

Caroline Polachek: The collaboration came around really quickly and that’s one of the things that I most admire about Dev – he has an idea, he makes a call and five minutes later it’s happened. There’s no waiting around and over anaylysing. He just texted me with a lot of capital letters and a lot of exclamation points and the next thing I knew I was in the studio! 

DD: What is it like working with him in the studio?

Caroline Polachek: The first day working on "Chamakay" I was going through a really intense personal drama and I wasn’t really talking to people about it. When I was in the vocal booth being asked to sing these really long notes, none of us anticipated how intense that was gonna be. Then the song came together from then and Dev just jumped in and did his takes. He really knows how to listen and luckily he didn’t have too insane an agenda. He knew how to absorb music and be like, blam blam blam! And put it down. I’m the kind of person who tends to draw things out way too long and obsess over every detail, whereas Dev is all about a vibe, so it was really refeshing for me. When it works, it works… And it just worked.

DD: How was the writing process?

Caroline Polachek: He had all the lyrics and song structure down so my assignment was basically to double his melody. I just kept adding more and more ad-libs, adding open tracks and the majority of what he ended up using was ad-libs. Funnily enough we ended up performing recently and I hadn’t heard it since he day that we recorded it. He gave it to me the day before and I was like, “Fuck I don’t know the words! I was ad-libbing!” so had to sit and study them.

DD: Were you involved in making the video? 

Caroline Polachek: No, I didn’t see the video until it came out! I’m totally fine with that. The way I see it is that this is Dev’s brainchild. I was texting back and forth the night it came out and we were both laughing about how both us didn’t really know anything about how the song was going to be until it was done… But I wasn’t nervous!

DD: Do you think you were an unlikely choice to collaborate on a R&B record?

Caroline Polachek: I’m just kind of a chameleon in general. I heard the track and knew what my character should be immediately. It’s fun to get to use my voice in really different ways, to me it sounds really typical but for my friends who are real R&B people they’ve commented how alien it is and how he has manipulated the sound. He played me the track, he read me the lyrics from his phone, I wrote them on my phone, we swapped leather jackets and that was pretty much it. We got some creative energy through the leather. 

DD: What have been the reponses to "Chamakay"?

Caroline Polachek: It’s been great! It’s actually been neat because all my music friends have very distinct tastes, but this has been one of the songs that my friends who usually only like metal like, and my mom likes, and my friends who like house music like. So it’s been great to make a unifying pop song.

DD: Have you discussed how you’ll perform it live?

Caroline Polachek: We havent talked about it! Im just kind of leaving that totally up to Dev. I know his shows are very conceptual and he works impulsively.

DD: You’re not worried about him picking out a crazy outift?

Caroline Polachek: No way! I actually let him pick out my outfit when we played together last time. He hopped on Chairlift’s bus and picked out my outfit. He picked an all-white outfit, I guess he thinks I’m angelic…. I did a lot of collabs this fall, some soft R&B stuff with Dev but also a few industrial, hard-textured pieces. A good collaboration means you end up learning a lot.

Beyond Chairlift: Polachek on three recent collaborations

Jorge Elbrecht and Caroline Polachek – "IV Aided Dreams" (2013)

"This was pretty personal because he [Jorge Elbrecht] and I had been in a relationshp for four years prior. Making the song after having broken up was personal but it was a ncie thing to do because it was dark and throbbing and I guess, the perfect thing to have something out around Halloween…"

Delorean - "Unhold" (2013)

"This is out soon and was one of the most conceptual things I’ve worked on – it’s filled with computerised samples and was really crazy. I was living in Montreal and we communicated over computers but it ended up sounding really organic."

Ice Choir -  "Everything Is Spoilt By Use" (2013)

"This is a kind of neo-Victorian ballad. The lyrics are all written in the style of Keats. When I first agreed to do it, it was so mysterious and rich that it became this beautiful creation no-one could have seen coming."

Caroline wears jacket from Chanel AW12; Hair by Sergio Villafane; Make-up by Sachiko Kano