“This is my impression of a band interview,” said Ray Micarelli, drummer and co-founder of New Orleans indie rock band Video Age, at the start of a recent band interview.
“‘Hey, how’s it going, guys?’ ‘Pretty good.’ ‘You don’t mind if I record this, do you?’ ‘No, no.’ Click. ‘So when’d you guys start making music?’
"And that’s what’s about to happen right now.”
This is about as cynical as Video Age gets. The band's sound is based on the joyful optimism that defined the pop music of the 1980s, as well as the kitschy synths and proto-drum machines that came with it.
Video Age ends its current tour with a hometown show at Tipitina’s on Friday, splitting the bill with Gravity A and Spencer Whatever. Admission is free.
Micarelli, who is originally from Boston, and co-founder Ross Farbe, a New Orleans native and the group’s frontman, lead guitarist and studio producer, met in 2008 as freshmen in Loyola University’s Music Industry program. They played together in several overlapping projects on New Orleans’ close-knit indie rock scene before creating Video Age in 2016 and dropping its debut album, "Living Alone," that July. Last month, they released a sophomore LP, "Pop Therapy."
“When we made our first album, we were just figuring it out as we went stylistically,” Farbe said. “We made a couple songs with a really ridiculous-sounding ’80s drum box. We ended up liking those a lot, and just kind of ran with that. A lot of times, the instruments dictate what you end up making.”
From the moment you lay ears on a Video Age track, there’s no mistaking the ’80s essence of their sound, an unusual timestamp for two musicians born in 1990.
“We only like music from before our era,” Micarelli said. “So people say ‘You’re digging up stuff from the past,’ but really, we’re trying to go as forward as we can.”
As it turns out, their favorite ’80s bands aren’t even really ’80s bands, but older artists who experimented with ’80s aesthetics in their later years. According to Farbe, they include Paul McCartney and Steely Dan's Donald Fagen, “guys we’ve always listened to from earlier eras who got to the ’80s and were like ‘I guess I’ll try this synth thing,’ and made some really weird music experimenting with the new technology of the time.”
Video Age is essentially replicating these efforts in reverse, using 21st-century tech to produce updated, stylized versions of their favorite ’80s sounds.
“The production is very modern,” said bassist Nick Corson, who plays with Video Age live and joined them in the studio, along with keyboardist Duncan Troast and guitarist Jordan Odom, to help record "Pop Therapy."
He’s not wrong. Video Age’s music may have an ’80s feel, but it’s updated with an unmistakably digital crispness. “It’s a huge percent Ross,” Corson and Micarelli agreed, crediting their frontman with the group’s polished studio sound.
“The recording is mostly me because it’s what I do for a living,” Farbe said, referring to his day job at the Living Room, a studio across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans. “But the songwriting goes back and forth between Ray and I. And it was really refreshing to bring in other musicians who we respect a lot and have them bring some freshness into" the new album.
Video Age’s earnest effort to share credit, even with its newest members, affirms the unironic positive energy behind its songs. It’s pop therapy: comfort music with no catch.
“Popular therapy is just how to make yourself feel better,” Micarelli said, referring specifically to the title track’s hook: “Pop therapy is easy.”
“If you Google it,” he continued, “it’s like ‘Make some muffins for yourself! Mmm, yum!’ It’s finding an easy solution to a bigger problem.”
“You just made it sound so cynical!” Corson contested.
“But it’s not cynical,” Farbe clarified. “It’s actually positive. I’m quoting Ray here, but the ’80s music we listen to has a really victorious, heartwarming, enthusiastic feeling to it. And it’s just these specific chord progressions a lot of times. So Ray said ‘It’s easy! You can make yourself feel better by playing these chords.’ ”
If Micarelli, the band’s resident cynic, believes in the curative power of a chord progression, then things are looking positive for Video Age.