Get to know the three-piece band writing emotional dream-pop songs and working with Charli XCX
On first listen, Planet 1999 seem like something of an anomaly for PC Music. While the label is often associated with hyperreal pop stars like Hannah Diamond and amped-up electronic musicians like Danny L Harle, Planet 1999 are a three-piece band whose lush songs recall early 90s shoegaze and dream-pop music. Hailing from France but now based in London, the group debuted on PC Music last year with the subtle, hypnotising “Spell”, becoming the first ever band to appear on the label. That song demonstrated that they still had plenty in common with the rest of the PC Music family: a taste for sharp, melodic songwriting, bright studio production, contemporary Auto-Tuned vocals, and, crucially, an emphasis on emotion.
Planet 1999 found a fan in Charli XCX, who was switched onto the group by PC Music founder A. G. Cook. She invited the trio (Caro, Charles, and Alex) to collaborate on her recent album Charli, leading them to co-write and co-produce “February 2017”, featuring Clairo and Yaeji. Later, they’d go on to produce music for Nasty Cherry in the Charli XCX-helmed Netflix series I’m with the Band: Nasty Cherry.
Planet 1999’s single “Party” is upbeat but tinged with melancholy. It comes with a lo-fi video directed by Aidan Zamiri, featuring the band’s Caro, Charles, and Alex; cameos from both PC Music label head A. G. Cook and Zippy (the band’s mascot, designed by visual artist Leon Sadler); and an evolving 3D landscapes created by Eamonn Freel. The single, along with “Spell”, will appear on Planet 1999’s debut EP, set for release on March 6. We spoke to Planet 1999 to find out what’s spinning inside their orbit.
Hello, Planet 1999! Where are you all talking from?
Caro: I’m in London!
Charles: Hi. London too!
Alex: Hey, from Paris.
How did the three of you meet initially? What led you to start a band together?
Caro: I had been making music mostly on my own, but I’d always wanted to be in a band. One summer a few years ago, I went to this psychedelic rock festival in Paris, where I found a ‘looking for a singer’ flyer that Charles and Alex had made and left in the girls’ toilets.
Charles: Me and Alex are brothers, and we always made music together, starting with really bad Green Day covers when we were kids.
Caro: When I heard the first two instrumental demos they had, I thought they sounded so weird and cool, like nothing I’d heard before. I wanted to be in!
Do you all take on specific roles in the band, or does it all kind of mesh together?
Caro: I’d say it all kind of meshes together, and more and more so. It always seemed like the natural thing for me to take the lead on vocal melodies and lyrics, but we’re always making choices together, whether it’s about the vocals or the production. We also know each other very well now, and we’ve grown together in terms of influences and how we’ve developed as producers and songwriters.
What are your major inspirations as individuals? How do these inspirations come out with your work together as a band?
Alex: I’m inspired by evolving with the people I love, and trying to keep it true.
Caro: I didn’t grow up in a ‘creative family’. My sister is an artist too now, but growing up, we didn’t know anyone who was doing anything remotely artistic. We lived in a place quite far from anything cultural, also. So I think I’ve always been a big dreamer. When I was a kid, I often got in trouble because I couldn’t stop humming melodies in class. I think that’s me, looking out the window and singing something while completely lost in my head. Now I still daydream most of my time, and that’s surely where I get most of my inspiration from – feeling a bit out of touch with reality, and trying to escape from the dullness and roughness of it.
Charles: I guess we are also inspired by our everyday life, the music we listen to, the movies we see, the concerts we go to, etc. I read a lot about people saying London is not as interesting and groundbreaking as it used to be, but I personally think it’s a really inspiring city with a lot of amazing stuff happening.
“I still daydream most of my time, and that’s surely where I get most of my inspiration from – feeling a bit out of touch with reality, and trying to escape from the dullness and roughness of it” – Caro, Planet 1999
What are the hallmarks of a Planet 1999 song?
Alex: A minimalistic shoegaze loop with over-processed vocals on top of it. Most of the time we start with a synth sound that inspires us (to create) a really simple melody, and then we build around it.
Caro: I guess it’s always a bit sad.
Charles: Yes, sad but hopeful too. Most of the music we listen to is melancholic.
How did you end up getting involved with both PC Music’s and Charli XCX’s worlds? I’m guessing A. G. Cook was the link between the two?
Alex: We have always been huge fans of PC Music, and were super influenced by Charli XCX’s album Pop 2 when it came out. Late 2018, we emailed A. G. and ended up meeting up with him a few months later in a bubble tea bar playing K-pop on repeat. Everything fell into place very naturally after that.
How did “February 2017” end up coming together?
Caro: A few months ago, I saw that Charli had followed and messaged me on Instagram saying she loved our music. We wondered if it was a bot for a while! But yeah, A. G. had sent her our EP, and she really liked it. Eventually, the three of us met with Charli and A.G., and we recorded two demos with her. One of them is now “February 2017”.
You’re the first band signed to PC Music. How do you see yourself fitting in with the rest of the label?
Charles: Even if we are the only band, we still share the same spirit as everyone on the label, as we just want to make the music we love and make it fun in our own way. That’s also why we spent a lot of time working on the visual side of the project – Leon Sadler really helped us with that. Plus, when you think about it, there are a few things really PC Music about our project, like having a mascot, or the simple act of having a band in 2020.
Caro: It’s always cool to have your own thing! Although it seems that a few people believe I’m QT – maybe it’s the fringe? More seriously, the music industry is quite a weird place, and being able to work with people who we respect so much as artists and who are also super interesting and genuinely nice is quite special.
Alex: The whole PC Family welcomed us so well. We’re super grateful.
“We still share the same spirit as everyone on the label (PC Music), as we just want to make the music we love and make it fun in our own way” – Charles, Planet 1999
What can you tell us about your new song, “Party”?
Caro: It’s a really fun song! It’s probably one of the most positive songs we’ve made. It’s about taking a fresh start, which is exactly what we ended up doing with this EP.
Alex: It started with a MIDI loop I made in the car while travelling together through Europe.
Charles: It’s funny, because there are no lyrics on the chorus actually, just chopped vocals of different takes. We called the track “Party” because that’s what we heard when we were working on the demo, but it could have been anything else.
Imagine that “Party” is the soundtrack to a house party scene in a coming-of-age film. What would be happening in this scene?
Caro: There’s definitely a pillow fight going on.
What sort of stuff are you currently inspired by with the new music that you’re writing?
Charles: Mainstream pop.
Alex: Digital landscapes and love stories.
Caro: Different books and music. I’m listening to a lot of 80s and 90s pop hits because some of them are so amazing in terms of how they’re built and the melodies and lyrical content. I was listening to “The Power of Love” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood the other day, that’s a good example. So intense.
What are you working on next?
Caro: Lots of sad stuff.
Alex: We’re focusing on the follow-up to the EP.
Charles: For our first EP, we wanted to keep a ‘demo’ vibe, but our next releases are going to be much more produced. Also, we’re excited about taking this EP live – we played our first show with Hannah Diamond in Paris last month, we had the best time.