Darkwave duo Jae Matthews and Gus Muller, aka Boy Harsher, took shelter from the chaos of the world to craft their latest project: The Runner, a short film and soundtrack. I recently caught up with them to get personal about processing feminine stigmas, Gus’ favorite song from age 11, 13, and 15 (yes, those years specifically), and those secret easter eggs you may have overlooked on first watch.
I have read that you became popular initially through fan promotion of an early cassette tape uploaded to YouTube. That belief in you must have felt incredible. How does that connection to your fans play out in your recorded work and your live shows?
Gus: I’m not sure if we thought anything of it at the time. Someone ripped the tracks off our Soundcloud. When we first started out we didn’t have social media, so we thought of it as a way to bypass creating facebook or something. I’m extremely grateful to our fans. It is the reason I can dedicate all of my time working on Boy Harsher. The truth is, I make music for myself. It’s selfish in a way. Making music is fun for me and feels good. It’s a way for me to access emotions I didn’t think I had. I’d still be recording if no one was listening.
Are you different people on stage than in the studio?
Jae: Yeah, definitely. I can’t imagine being myself on stage. It’s better to perform, be someone else… get it all out. In the studio, we aren’t really ourselves either, because you’re going kinda crazy trying to make something make sense that’s lost all value after the millionth listen… It’s like the opposite type of mania.
Do you struggle with needing to have a public social media persona versus who you are at home?
Jae: Social media is a whole other scenario. I try to be forthright and earnest, but lately it’s been weirdly exhausting. Everyone has a lot of access to you and I feel like online persona is viewed as its own kinda commodity. Like this deserved entity. So there’s a lot of distortion there too.
Adding a film component to this new album gives another dimension to that relationship with your audience, exposing a different aspect of creative expression. What part of you is revealed through film?
Gus: I feel like we’ve been trying to tell the same story since we started the band. The film was just a new way for us to explore it.
Jae: It’s true, a lot of the elements in The Runner have been with us from the very beginning. Gus’ first film from 10 years ago is actually about The Desperate Man (man on the telephone in the film).
Do you think people miss something by just streaming the album without the film?
Gus: Yes and no. We wanted the album to be able to stand on its own. The visuals aren’t mandatory to understand the songs. With that said, I think the film is really cool!
Jae: I don’t agree. I think you should absolutely watch the film – it provides another layer of context, which I’d want to experience as a listener.
Jae, when you say in the film that you can relate to the main character, what do you mean? Are there parts of any of the other characters in the film that you relate to?
Jae: I wrote all the characters, so in some ways I can relate to all of them. The Runner in particular is a character that I’ve been writing for years. Her impulses and subsequent ennui are feelings that I myself have felt, not in such fatal circumstances, but yeah, as I struggle to evaluate my own nature. Women are taught to feel ashamed or fear their desire and I think a lot of what I’m processing through these women comes from those stigmas.
Were there any tracks th at you left off the record because they didn’t fit the film and are those waiting for a new project?
Gus: There was actually, and yes we’re looking for the proper way to release it.
Watching the film, each set has so much detail, are there any easter eggs in your film that might share?
Gus: We love a good easter egg, and it’s stacked with them. Some of my favorites: James Duval is The TV Announcer, Kontravoid is the bloody corpse, The “Lost” neon was custom made and is a reference to our song.
Jae: The polaroids are my favorite – they feature all friends and amazing artists: Vex Ashley, Louisiana Purchase, Iphy Lee, and Miriam Veil (photographed by Caroline Bonarde).
Are you conscious of your inspirations musically or during the filmmaking process? Are you surprised when you hear or see something in your own work that is reminiscent of some of your favorite works by other artists?
Gus: I use a lot of practical references when creating anything, especially when we were making the film. I was watching a lot of films to figure out how to make this thing. However, recently when I watched Der Fan and Ms. 45 I was surprised to find a lot of similarities with The Runner which were completely unplanned.
What are a few of your favorite songs from growing up?
Gus: Age 11: Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Age 13: The Clash – “Know Your Rights”. Age 15: GZA – “Liquid Swords”.
Jae: I have no idea how Gus is able to be so specific. I think the first music I heard that I consciously knew was “cool” was Radiohead? Amnesiac def had an impact.
The first movie you watched?
Gus: I’d have to go under hypnosis to figure that out. There was a moment in middle school when I realized movies were cool and had style. I think that’s an important moment for me. That probably came in the form of Spike Jonze or Wes Anderson.
What is the next story you are going to tell?
Gus: There’s still a lot more to explore in the world of The Runner. We’re looking forward to elaborating on that.