Interview: TENDER

By on Thursday, 21st September 2017 at 11:00 am

Have you heard about TENDER, the electronic duo from North London? In case they haven’t made it to your radar yet, here are the basics. Singer/songwriter James Cullen begins the sketch, if you will, of a new TENDER song and hashes out the skeleton from which he and Dan Cobb work from. Dan then refines the production and arrangement, moulding each song into a finished product.

At the start of this month, they released their debut album ‘Modern Addiction’ on Partisan Records. As noted in my review of it, the electronic duo’s first big impression on the general public is “admirable work”. They are currently in North America on a tour to support their new release, having already been on the West Coast of our continent before heading east and playing tonight at Beat Kitchen in Chicago. James and Dan were nice enough to do this interview with me from the road.

Originally from the south coast of England between the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth, it was 3 years ago that TENDER made their way to the big smoke. Both had spent time in guitar bands before, so I asked James if it was difficult to move into electronic from their previous projects. “I think the translation was fairly smooth and organic. With guitars and writing, you’re always trying to make the instrument sound different and new, so stepping over to synthesisers and electronic music was just a progression of that… I think it was just a new avenue for us to express ourselves. The sounds and methods feel new and exciting for us. I really enjoy finding interesting samples that I can cut into the song or make and instrument out of then allow that to dictate the way the rest of the song is written.” It sounds like, too, that their musical influences reflect an affinity for both rock and electronic: “We’ve always been influenced by bands like Air, Tame Impala, Justice, the National, The War on Drugs, plus many more.”

We turn our attention to ‘Modern Addiction’, which felt to me like TENDER were striving for a minimalist approach, reminiscent somewhat to what we first heard from the xx. I was curious about their approach to songcraft. James replied, “Yeah, for sure, that’s the approach we took. When we first started TENDER, we really wanted to craft songs that used just the right amount of instrumentation and layering without overdoing it. As time has progressed, this has changed slightly, but we still very much feel our songs have the room to breathe like they did in the beginning. Using organic bass and drums with some light synths and samples as embellishment, we can allow the vocal to work as an instrument and have the space [it needs].”

TENDER in LA from FB
TENDER and their touring band last week in Los Angeles (from Facebook)

Another interesting thing to note about ‘Modern Addiction’ is while there are clearly songs about various stages in a painful romantic breakup James went through –smartly taking the emotions and focussing them in a constructive and creative direction, I might add – they explore the decidedly more clinical topic of consumerism in their single ‘Machine’. The latter isn’t a common subject in pop music, so I asked James how the two tied together. “We feel the subjects go hand in hand, in the sense that a lot of the songs are love songs. Modern love and relationships are often dictated by technology and the ease of communication, which of course is a good thing, but I feel can lead to throw away relationships and the need for constant approval.” All good points.

As you listen to ‘Modern Addiction’, it’s impossible to escape the deep, often raw emotions in Cullen’s lyrics. Does putting his deepest, darkest thoughts on display keep him awake at night? “I can’t be entirely comfortable”, he admits. “It’s hard to listen back to for me sometimes and feels too personal, but at the same time when writing it, [it] just came out. The process of writing about it is a release and came naturally at the time. Being able to do so also allows me to look back at a moment in my life and remember how I felt.”

While some electronic music can be too cerebral to the masses, ultimately, James and Dan have a simpler message they want to relay to those listening to their new record. Dan says, “Don’t overthink things. The music is about wanting to create an atmosphere that facilitates connections. We want people to feel primitive about the album. Basic instincts of lust and dance are what we’re looking to evoke in people. The lyrics are open to interpretation in many ways for people to fit them around their own world.”

Speaking about their current North American tour, their very first, James is terribly excited. “We love playing the music live and being able to show people a different side of the band. Being able to travel to such great places and meet fantastic new people is one of the biggest motivations for being in music. America is such a diverse place we just can’t wait to see as much of it as possible.” After playing Chicago tonight, TENDER will cross the border once again for a one-off show in Toronto before returning to America for stops in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. To get a taste of what they’re like live, check out their live performance filmed at Low Four Studios at the old Granada Studios in Manchester on the day of the release of ‘Modern Addiction’.

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