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Boy Harsher
Boy HarsherPhotography Zach Hart

Boy Harsher are the cinematic sound of heartbreak

Watch a video for the darkwave duo’s ‘Send Me a Vision’, a previously unreleased track taken from a new reissue of their Country Girl EP

Boy Harsher make music for the dancefloor. It pulsates through bodies buckled in latex and leather with a discernible feeling of lust. “Pain breaks rhythm, breaks rhythm”, Jae Matthews coos on their 2014 underground hit turned darkwave staple, “Pain”, her sultry voice a tool of seduction. 

Boy Harsher also make music for heartbreak. They’re the gauze to nullify the suffering and intensity of unrequited love, that all-too-familiar tale of rejection. “Pain, I love pain.” 

Since releasing “Pain” in 2014, Jae Matthews and Gus Muller, who now reside together in Massachusetts, have been consistent: dance music injected with the sting of susceptibility and regret, melancholy set to a beat. Musically, they could be compared to the 1980s minimal synth band Kas Product or, more recently, Linea Aspera, for a style of songwriting whose sensitivity lies exposed like a gaping wound – but instead of melancholy music nuzzled alongside cold electronics, Boy Harsher douses their sound with a radiating warmth. “We have this funny thing where the music can be pretty serious and sombre but, as people, we don’t take ourselves that seriously,” Matthews says. “I hope we come across as super earnest, which we are, but playful. I don’t think we want to go down the road of extreme grief.” 

Earlier this year, the duo released Careful, an album chock full of their particular cocktail of moodiness seeped in sugary, silky rhythms, followed by a remix album, Careful Remixes, etc. featuring tracks reworked by techno producers like Marcel Dettmann and Silent Servant. Their gothy pop excesses have brought them from performing in the tacky-floored bars of Savannah, Georgia, where they first collaborated while at film school together in 2013, to selling out venues across the world that overspill with darklings, and providing the soundtrack for posing lingerie models in a Victoria’s Secret commercial.

To close out 2019, Boy Harsher are revisiting their 2017 Country Girl EP for an upcoming tryst of shows around the United States and Europe. The extended play has plumped up into a full-length release (renamed Country Girl Uncut and out today digitally with a physical release to follow in October, for which the duo have created a new music video for “Send Me a Vision”, premiering below. The song, previously unreleased from the Country Girl sessions, retains a warmth built by velvety synths that slither around Matthews’ voice, while the video – directed by Muller and produced by Matthews – depicts a cinematic tome of a desolate and graffitied Berlin, reminiscent of Wim Wenders’ 1987 film Wings of Desire (complete with a brooding guardian angel). We spoke with Boy Harsher about their ascent into stardom and the pain that has met them along the way.

When was your first real heartbreak, and what happened?

Jae Matthews: My first real heartbreak was when I realised I was in love with my best friend in high schoolWe had such a tumultuous relationship, it was rough. A lot of unrequited love. But, the real heartbreak didn’t come until years later, after we hadn’t really talked to one another and I ran into her at college. It was totally unexpected. Naturally I wanted to see her and catch up, but she wanted nothing to do with me. She didn’t have any pleasant feelings about our friendship, and asked me to leave her life completely. It was brutal.

Your music grapples with heartbreak and all the emotions that come along with it – something we’ve all been through at least once. Do you think this camaraderie of experience attracts people to Boy Harsher? 

Jae Matthews: It’s hard to know how something I’ve made will access others, but people do tell me that our music evokes those feelings, maybe also provides kinship. Heartbreak is universal, right? I’m trying to touch feelings when I write, so I shy away from anything too literal or anecdotal. That way you can repeat it, and reduce the thought to just a sensation. It’ll really get you on a visceral level. To be totally enveloped by heartbreak or loss, or pain or anger – I’m into that. I don’t think our music is known for being all that eloquent, it’s more about evocation. 

Gus Muller: I like music that immediately transports you to a location or an idea or a narrative – some feeling. And that’s what we are shooting for when we make our music, just something that takes you somewhere else immediately. 

How would you prefer people to listen to your music? In what context and mood?

Gus Muller: I have a real soft spot for cassettes. We really design the albums for long plays and I think our sound translates well when it’s smashed onto tape.

Jae Matthews: Yeah, just when you’ve popped a tape in while you’re driving along a country road in the middle of the night.

Do you find making music is the best way to cope with difficult circumstances in your life?

Gus Muller: For me, music is more of an exercise of accessing my emotions. That can be very therapeutic. 

Jae Matthews: Writing has always been a tool that has helped me express myself during extreme highs and lows. Writing is this challenge, you gotta translate what’s going on in your brain or in your cosmic emotional indeterminate space. I’ve always tried to write as an exercise in explanation, because often I get lost and I don’t understand where the fuck I’m coming from. Why am I having this type of breakdown, or why am I having this extreme high? Tying to articulate it through writing forces you to understand yourself.

Are there any songs that are particularly hard to perform live in terms of emotion?

Jae Matthews: I had trouble on this last tour cycle performing “Jerry” (from Careful) but then eventually got totally used to it and inundated with the repetition of performance. When performing live, there’s more to think about than just the genesis of the song. “Jerry” was always hard because it was about my step-dad dying, and the way my mom was grieving, and how no one could reach her and still probably can’t. When you see someone experiencing that (emotion) as well, you’re like, “Oh fuck, this is hard, right?” The other songs I perform just get into the mode. Those are fun because they’re about lust and anger. It’s perform on stage and let loose. It’s cathartic.

Gus Muller: Yeah, that song still chokes me up.

“To be totally enveloped by heartbreak or loss, or pain or anger – I’m into that” – Jae Matthews, Boy Harsher

You’ve been a band since 2013, and going under the name Boy Harsher since 2014. How has your audience changed over the years? What moment did you see your fans morph into what it is today?

Gus Muller: When we first started out, we were in a small scene of noise and punk people. It was a small East Coast community. But (our audience has) been slowly growing. I feel like just this year it’s broken into people who feel like they aren’t acquaintances. 

Jae Matthews: When we played LA for the first time (in early 2017) at the venue Non Plus Ultra, I remember Gus and I had this feeling of, “Wait, where did all these people come from?” Because at that point, we were primarily playing to audiences that we were connected to: friends in other cities who maybe told their friends about us. LA felt like the first time we had like strangers coming to the show. The one person we did know at that show happened to be in LA at the time and was giving out mushrooms. But they were bad mushrooms, so a lot of people were puking. 

2017 was also the year your Country Girl EP came out. With its upcoming reissue, what can you tell me about the process of creating that album?

Gus Muller: It’s a weird release that stands out for me because we were experimenting with a lot of sounds. We had been playing a lot more techno-oriented parties and I just learned (the music production program) Ableton, so I had a lot of new software. The songs on it were very different than the rest of our stuff.

Jae Matthews: During the initial recording process at our friend’s studio in Baltimore, I thought that a lot of the songs were super silly. I mean, there’s a guitar solo in “Country Girl”! I thought, “Okay, this release gonna be light,” but then, after actually listening to the songs all together, I discovered that it wasn’t actually all that silly after all. Especially the songs we picked for the initial Country Girl EP were rather heavy.

Your music videos always tell a story. Do you find the visual aspect another degree of your music making process? Where do the storylines come from? 

Gus Muller: We focus on making sure our videos exist in the same world as our music. It’s less about story then it is about aesthetic and vibe.

Jae Matthews: It’s exciting. I wish that we had endless resources and time to do more videos. Gus and I have pretty steady interest in cinema and creating visuals. The videos we’ve made we’ve always tried to run with an emotive keyword. When people make videos for us, we steer them in terms of the song’s essence, and what we need the overall vibe to be. For instance, when creating the music video for “Fate”, it needs to showcase self-determinating sabotage, which (filmmaker) Bryan M. Ferguson captures perfectly. 

Your remix album also came out this year, further intersecting Boy Harsher with dance music. How important is danceability in your music?

Gus Muller: It’s really important, I think. When you’re writing music, you’re envisioning where it’s going to be performed and where it’s supposed to exist. What we’ve been focusing on and what we’ve been feeding off of for the last few years is playing shows that are really dance-oriented. It’s body music. We want people to connect to it on a physical level.

What do you hope for the future of Boy Harsher?

Jae Matthews: This is a question we’ve been getting a lot lately. The current iteration of Boy Harsher was – is? – totally unexpected, so it’s hard to even predict or know what to want for the future.

Gus Muller: I just want to keep making things.

Boy Harsher’s Country Girl Uncut EP is out October 11 via Nude Club/Ascetic House, with a North American and European tour throughout September and October