Q&A: Pure Intruders dabble in calm and contemplation on No Hard Feelings EP

Where one door closes, another opens. At least, that’s what Madeline Smith and Brandon Suarez learned last year, following the dissolution of their band Our Fathers. A natural affinity for each other and songwriting kept Smith and Suarez in creative contact, and what came was Pure Intruders, a new project with the Chicago twosome and guitarist/bassist/friend Jonathan Noel, who lives in Atlanta.

On their new No Hard Feelings EP, Pure Intruders more than make do with distance and isolation. In spite of being recorded in winter, around the onset of quarantine, these are some of the warmest indie-pop songs in recent memory. Smith’s gentle, conversational vocal stylings and clever, introspective lyricism (“But I will never lose my heart the way I lose my head when you’re not around”) and the disco-infused progressions from Noel and Suarez (on percussion and keys) hold space for each other and the listener, who can recognize the invaluable impact of care: for both the art and people in your life.

Stream No Hard Feelings below, and read our email interview with Pure Intruders beneath.

These songs have some very ambitious progressions. Was that something you intended from the start or did they just take that form over time?

Brandon: I appreciate this question just because we are so particular with our progressions. Every chord is articulately thought out and utilized with purpose. Madeline has an extraordinary ability to emphasize those progressions with such an incredible melody that neither Jon or I would probably come up with on instruments. So there’s a great chemistry there that probably makes the progressions sound even more complicated than they are sometimes. We definitely try to avoid anything “familiar” sounding, even if it reminds us of one of our other songs. We don’t necessarily try to write complicated songs just to be complicated, but we are all diligent at constantly learning and getting better at our individual crafts. So naturally we try and let that be expressed sometimes.

How did you develop your vocals and singing style?

Madeline: I never took my voice seriously until I started writing original music (I used to lip sync in choir—my teacher was not a fan). I started playing guitar when I was 13 years old with my dad, but it was really just an excuse to spend more time with him. We used to play and sing all sorts of folk and country covers from the likes of Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, John Prine, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and especially Johnny Cash. Lots of Johnny Cash. However, once I got GarageBand I started writing and recording my own songs. I realized pretty early on my guitar-playing was rough around the edges, to put it gently. I never took to guitar like a natural, but I still persist. I started to loop and make songs in open tunings, really dysfunctional freak folk songs with ethereal embellishments. I’m making this sound more interesting than it was. But it was an important stage in recognizing the power of my voice. I started using and shaping my voice as an instrument to make the sounds and melodies that I couldn’t quite nail down instrumentally. It also helped that I continued to cover artists I loved; I truly believe the best way to learn how to write music is to cover artists you admire (even if you don’t do their songs justice). All that to say I got to know my voice very well by recording myself and challenging what my voice could do. I don’t think I ever set out to have an impeccable voice. No American Idol for me. A raw, organic, original voice is far more important to my songwriting. I just want to retain and build on my natural tone while projecting my lyrics with the conviction they require.

Who’s an artist that influenced this project that more people should know about?

Madeline: That’s a difficult question for us because the project was influenced by so many underground artists that deserve a shout-out! But if I had to narrow it down, I’d say Dorothy Ashby was a big influence both on this record and on our musical tastes. Dorothy Ashby was a wonderful jazz composer. There is such a timeless, smooth sound to her music that is both sophisticated and understated. I’d also include Jens Lekman, an indie cult favorite, but his playful acoustic music and dialogical, heartfelt lyrics inspired a few of the songs.

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