Where are you both currently located?
Shaun: I am currently in Chicago for a DJ gig.
Alinka: I’m in Berlin, attending every Christmas market in the land.
Your next EP ‘Walk Into The Unknown’ is out on 15th December via your very own Twirl imprint (which has had early support from The Black Madonna, Hannah Holland, Kenny Glasgow…) What influenced the sound of this EP?
Shaun: ‘Walk Into The Unknown’ comes from conversations Alinka & I have had about our career progress specifically and our life trajectories in general. Sometimes we feel like we’re in a nebulous space and we’re unsure if our careers are progressing forward or stalling. These lyrics serve as a motivational reminder to continue to step out on faith and to use uncertainty as a motivator to move forward on our journey. ‘Dreams Of Sunshine’ is written in a similar vein. It’s a way to remember to be optimistic and grateful when the dark clouds are all that’s in the immediate view.
Alinka: I’m mainly influenced by sounds when creating. It’s usually the first sounds that I find or create while working on a track that inspires the rest for me and determines the way everything fits together. They set the tone and the emotion that’s attached to the song. A lot of our conversations in the studio and what we’re going through in life, as Shaun stated, helps influence and shape that, too. Every sound is a piece of the puzzle that fits together to communicate what you’re trying to say. So, for me every kick, hat, synth line etc., is like a statement in its own language. It’s how I communicate best. Sometimes I can’t find the words, but I can always express myself through sounds.
How does your song writing process usually evolve?
Shaun: Typically, Alinka begins a skeleton of the instrumental and I’ll pick up the vibe and begin writing the lyrics. We often discuss current events or what’s been happening in our lives or the lives of our friends. That’s usually the jump off point for the song’s lyrics. On occasion, I’ll have a lyric or melody in mind, maybe a bassline, and we’ll begin to shape the song from there.
Alinka: On rare occasions I’ve written the music around Shaun’s already recorded vocals that didn’t end up being used on another track, but usually we do it as he stated. It always has a very natural flow. If we ever get stuck on anything we just start fresh.
What equipment / programs do you use when recording and playing live?
Alinka: We mainly use Logic Studio, Maschine, and a handful of software synths and plugins. I sold all my gear that didn’t fit in a suitcase before moving to Berlin so we’re using mostly plugins and software currently. I still use the Arturia Minibrute quite a bit and I recently got the Maschine MK3 from Native Instruments, which is incredible. I also just ordered the new Kompete Kontrol keyboard from them and bought the Soundtoys and newest Arturia collections so it’s going to be a fun winter in the studio. I generally think it’s the tools that let you get your ideas out the easiest that work best for me. I’m not a techy person and don’t want to sit there and read a manual for days to get something to work. For me it’s important that I can just sit down and create right away. I choose to work with tools that allow me to do that.
How and why did you start your own label Twirl?
Shaun: Twirl was a monthly party we had in Chicago at the legendary club Berlin for about a year and a half. We wanted to host events focused on the house music we loved to hear and to invite friends & peers to play in a warm, inclusive environment. The label came about after we agreed to end the party due to our hectic schedules. We were shopping demos to a bunch of labels but found it difficult to garner the type of interest we wanted. We decided to take manners into our own hands and create a platform for our music and for our peers following a similar ethos of the party.
You have amazing artists such as Virginia, Physical Therapy, Moderna, Matt Tolfrey and Spencer Parker remixes all forthcoming in 2018 on Twirl. How do you decide the different artists that will be releasing via Twirl?
Alinka: We want to keep the label as a friends and family label, and include artists that influence and inspire us. We always want to keep it fresh and diverse and inclusive, and showcase a wide range or artists. It’s mainly been working with friends, and fortunately we have a lot of friends that are amazing artists and have wanted to work with us that share our vision.
Recently you have been busy with (Honey Dijon) and forthcoming (Black Madonna – Shaun only) collaborations, what are the greatest challenges and highlights when working with other artists?
Shaun: I can’t say that I’ve faced many challenges when collaborating with other artists. There’s always mutual respect involved so it typically comes down to a matter of taste. Are the track and my voice compatible? Do we both enjoy the lyrical content and my delivery? Those types of things are not difficult to navigate because all parties tend to choose their collaborators based on a shared aesthetic.
The highlights are numerous. I enjoy the problem-solving aspects of creating new music while collaborating because teamwork and good communication are vital. Everyone involved must be satisfied with the outcome, so it offers an opportunity to push ideas further than I may have considered initially. There’s also those shared moments when you feel like you’re creating magic and the feedback is more instant then being alone.
Alinka: I guess as a producer it can always go in the direction of there being too many cooks in the kitchen. I don’t really have that issue anymore, but I’ve been in projects where I didn’t really feel I could get my voice across and it felt more like work than a creative process. I’m also very spoiled from working with Shaun because with us it just flows and he allows me to grow and always pushes me. He’s given me a lot of confidence in my voice as an artist and that’s a rare connection that’s irreplaceable. The highlight of collaborations is getting to work with people you respect and seeing how your ideas can come together to create something special. It’s always inspiring even when it’s challenging. The end result is always worth it and you always learn something new.
Alinka, you have been based in Berlin since 2015, how do you find the music scene and living in Berlin as compared to other cities?
It’s very open minded, very dedicated and inspiring. The crowds are so responsive. You have people come up to you for months after you play to say thanks, or ask you about a track you played. It really makes you feel valued and like you’re a part of something special. The clubs are amazing obviously. Some of the best in the world! Beyond that, there’s such an incredible community of artists here. It feels like a community rather than competition because people actually help each other and work together and in turn push each other creatively. It’s just really a very special place in general. I don’t plan on ever leaving. It’s been a pivotal part of my life and has really given me a new sense of focus and has pushed me to be a better artist.
Shaun, you’re now based in Detroit. Having grown up in Chicago, where the two of you met, how do you both collaborate and work together with such great distances between the two of you?
I live part-time in Detroit and spend the other half of the year primarily in Berlin so Alinka & I still have a great deal of studio time together in person. When we both resided in Chicago I was away quite often. We learned early in our process how to focus our energy and time to maximize our ability to record.
How did both of you first start playing music?
Shaun: I began writing song lyrics while in high school. I started learning how to DJ around 2001 but didn’t start playing clubs until 2011. Only my closest friends would hear me at a weekly Sunday brunch we hosted in Harlem prior to me joining Hercules and Love Affair. For two years I played the most intense, non-brunch friendly music during the middle of the day. My friends were immensely gracious with their support and allowed me the space to practice and grow.
Alinka: My mom studied to be a pianist so I had a piano in my room and started taking lessons pretty much from the time I could sit up. The piano lessons paused when we left Kiev to relocate to Chicago, as we left all of our belongings and came to the states with very little. I got into pop music when we arrived in Chicago, and later found House music listening to the local radio shows. I got more immersed into dance music my first year at university and have been obsessed ever since. It’s been 17 years now, although it doesn’t feel like it.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
Shaun: Recently, I’ve been deep into Drexciya. A lot of Minnie Riperton, Bilal, Thundercat, techno, post-punk and everything in between.
Alinka: I’ve been listening to a lot of bands lately. A friend just introduced me to an amazing band called Drama from Chicago. I’m actually doing a remix for them right now. Also our awesome agent Laetitia introduced me to a band she’s working with called Agar Agar, which I really like. Besides that, I’ve listened to the new LCD Soundsystem album a million times. I’ve found some other artists I’m into like Isaac Delusion, and Xeno & Oaklander. As far as DJ though I’m obsessed with Job Jobse, so I listen to his mixes all the time. He’s my favorite currently.
When are you playing next?
Shaun: I’m playing in Detroit at a new party called Laer hosted by my friends Rex Bravo and Tylr.
Alinka: I’m off til Panorama Bar some unannounced day in January J
Favourite food and place to hangout?
Shaun: I’m having a major ramen moment so it’s always choice number one! The only thing better than a chill night hanging with friends at home over a cocktail is raging at Berghain with friends over a cocktail.
Alinka: Currently obsessed with a restaurant called Con Tho in Berlin. It’s my new favorite and it’s so good! I tried to keep it a secret but ended up telling all my friends anyway. I guess my favorite place to hangout is also Berghain, but I’m on a break from “hanging out” at the moment as I’m fully immersed in working on my studio and spending a lot of time at home cooking and plotting the world take over. Also, I’m currently attending lot of Christmas markets and spending lots of time at the spa making sure my skin feels like a baby while clearing my head of all of life stresses.