INTERVIEW: Scarlet Life

by Austin Govella

Chain Border

DivaNationI'm not sure if Preston Klik is aware of exactly how hip he really is. Scarlet Life's trip-hop tainted electronica, lush female vocals, immaculate production, and catchy hooks reek of coolness. He even has a DJ and an upright bassist. It's paint by numbers musical ambrosia, only we didn't realize the numbers were there until Preston ambled forward to fill in all the details, with ease. He calls it kismet. It must be.

Scarlet Life takes off from the outskirts of Preston's previous project, My Scarlet Life, and the two are far and away from Big Hat, his first successful musical venture many moons ago. But Scarlet Life definitely takes on a style of its own. Even when compared to the burgeoning, overpopulated bins of new trip-hop and electronica acts, Scarlet Life sticks out. The upright bass and live DJ give the music a rare organic feel, despite the fact that much of the sound you hear emanates from Preston's keyboards. The vocals are bright, fresh, and sultry, but you're not hearing affectations. Chandra's voice exudes a smooth velvety edge without any pretension. Scarlet Life is such a class act, I've had three different friends ask me if I'm listening to the new Madonna, in a good way. Preston and Chandra took a few moments to speak with me from Chicago about their debut, Sugar, Spice, Saccharine, and Cyanide.

Legends Online [LO]: What's the biggest influence you have on your sound these later years?

Preston Klik [PK]: The first real lesson I learned was to follow my heart when it comes to music. My first commercially successful band, Big Hat, was based on not being commercial, no guitar, bass, or drumkit. I thought people wouldn't get it at all. Instead, they heard the truth in that musical gesture of defiance we were making. I wasn't pandering in any way, but following the muse only, and people responded. The female voice was another revelation. I'd not worked with a female singer before. Now that's the only voice I'll allow my muse to take. I love its beauty, it burrows deep within, and then there's the issue of tools. Tools can change an artist's life. Some tools are direct extensions of one's aesthetic, or of one's mind, or of one's body. A sampler is such for me, and ProTools is for another. Following the heart, making the female voice my voice, and intuitive tools: these three things have had the most profound influence on my musical work.

[LO]: You're working with a live DJ, an upright bassist, and a new vocalist. Were you looking for the eclectic mix of players you ended up with, or did everything just somehow come together?

Scarlet Life[PK]: When I heard Chandra sing, for the first time at her informal audition for me, I had a vision. Honestly. It came to me. This is the band Scarlet Life would become. I saw a carpet on a stage. I saw Chandra at the front, a DJ to her left, an up-right bass-player behind her, and me on keys as her right-hand man. And that's what came to pass...with some struggle. I do believe fate showed us the way to each other. Mine was the first ad Chandra'd ever answered, the first band she'd ever applied for, the first time she sang her lyrics and melodies. And she lived one block away from me, on the same street, in a city of hundreds of square miles! Yet we'd never met. It was fate, or kismet really, the word I prefer.

[LO]: How'd you find the others?

[PK]: Chandra was easy. She came to me with her voice and her presence, and it simply clicked. DJ Skeptik was also easy. He tried out for me as his first band, too, and, though he'd never played with anyone before in his life, he was one of the best musicians I'd worked with. He listened before he played. Hint, hint. Too many musicians think it's about them making sound, but it's really only about making the right sound at the right time, which may be no time, depending. And Skeptik scratched very little, but when he did scratch, Aha! I sat up and took notice. He was instantly in with me, for he cared more about the music than himself. Zebulun wasn't so easy. I'd tried out a dozen upright players. They didn't get it. "What? Play to loops? No guitar?" All were old-fashioned. Music meant only what they knew, not what was new. Except for Zebulun. But he and I, try as we might, could not get on the same page musically for awhile. We really liked each other, trusted each other, became friends, and therefore wanted to work together, but... Finally we had a breakthrough in communication, or understanding and six songs came together in one two-hour period. Six songs that we'd spent weeks on without success. Then I had it. Scarlet Life took on life.

[LO]: Chandra, are you enjoying singing? Is it what you expected?

Chandra Clark [CC]: I am actually enjoying this experience more than I anticipated. Not only writing, performing, and recording, but the camaraderie between all of us. I lucked into a great, talented, group of people, backed up by both Preston and Zebulun's experience in the scene. I kinda skipped the whole garage band stage. My previous experience was very limited, no choir or lessons, just a school play, a friend's wedding, and a little singing with my brother. It's finally getting comfortable for me to perform, still exciting, but not quite so nervous.

[LO]: How do you decide how you'll sing each song?

[CC]: I really feel my process varies from song to song. Sometimes the melody comes first. Sometimes I stumble across something I've already written and find a way to make the words fit. Sometimes it feels like they wrote themselves, especially the first few. As far as performance, I'm not one for antics onstage. I'm definitely me when I'm up there, maybe a more glamorous version, dahling, but I just can't take myself seriously enough to devise a stage persona. And as with all women, I think what I wear makes a difference in what side of me I express.

Cyanide![LO]: Preston, how does the chemistry differ between My Scarlet Life and Scarlet Life?

[PK]: My Scarlet Life had really good chemistry for most of it's run. Toward the end everybody got an "I can do it myself better" attitude, and that broke up the band. The personal chemistry faded just before that, though the musical chemistry continued to the end. Scarlet Life has great chemistry, and is much easier to work with. There is little or no walking on eggshells around each other. Everybody in this band is much more secure in their being, and much more straightforward in their relationships to each other.

[LO]: Has your songwriting process changed?

[PK]: Since I've become a collagist, since I've found my musical voice through samples, sequencing, and cut-and-paste, I've only been able to work one way: I write soundscapes that others add their often significant parts to. Like all things defining, my limitations are both a blessing and a curse. I can lead well, but I cannot follow well. Generally I present a pretty well fleshed-out song idea to Chandra, and she does something to it that I would not do, and I love it. Her personality changes my soundscape. She pinches it, colors it, distorts it, rains on it, spits and polishes it, kicks it into shape. Her shape. I watch, listen, fascinated. Then Skeptik or Zebulun do the same. And Ta-Dah, a new baby is born! A Scarlet Life song.

[LO]: When's the next album out?

[PK]: We are thinking about recording this next fall or winter for a spring 2002 release. We've six new songs written, all of which I'm quite happy with, so we're about halfway there on the writing stage. That's a good start.

[LO]: How long did it take for this last album to come together?

[PK]: The first CD of ours was remarkably fast, considering that Zebulun joined sometime in March 2000, and the CD came out in September. I had my portion of the songs ready, ready for a new band. My part of the new sound was prepared in advance, in anticipation. Chandra began working on a song per week, and it all fell together just in time for our debut gig. Then we played and recorded with little more writing for a bit. Then gigged a lot and made a little breathing space in our lives after the intensity. That's all changed. We're writing again. This debut of ours is the first CD I've been involved with that I can listen to for pleasure. I don't just criticize my errors, don't just notice the barrage of things I wish I, or my old bandmates, could have done better. I actually hear the music.
It speaks to me, moves me.
That makes me happy.
I see progress.

Scarlet Life c/o DivaNation Records, 5602 North Ridge, Chicago, IL, 60660
(773) 728-2759

Legends Online