S.F. Producer PLAzA on Making "Electro-Lounge" and Why Smooth Jazz Isn't Terrible
With his new side project PLAzA, Tres Lingerie producer Johan Churchill is hoping to join a genre he labels "electro-lounge." With tracks that could serve as the intro to a '70s cop drama a la Starsky and Hutch, PLAzA's debut EP, Flip Phone, consists of dark synth melodies interwoven with disco drum loops. We spoke with the S.F. producer about vinyl-shopping in Europe, his debut EP, and who he hopes to work with locally. He performs Saturday at Brick and Mortar with Yip Deceiver, Loose Shus, and Hotthobo.
How did your side project PLAzA begin?
PLAzA morphed out of a previous project I had with Jordan Presnick called Tres Lingerie. We worked with a great vocalist named James Anthony. Jordan got wrapped up in design school and James lives in the East Bay. The turning point came at one gig a couple of years ago. Jordan and James couldn't make it, [and] I decided to start focusing solely on my own ideas. Now I'm a studio hermit.
What's more difficult about producing solo?
The hardest aspect of producing alone is being disciplined. Taking the time to finish and complete new songs before my attention span dwindles on a project and it becomes boring. I start making songs all the time and don't finish many. Sometimes it's a self regulating process that naturally weeds out bad and not very good songs from better ones. But if you just put in the extra effort sometimes I can get over a boring hump on the course of a song and come up with a fresh direction. When I work with another producer, the advantage is you can have fresh ideas through each other's input all the time, and a snowball effect starts to happen.
Your sound is self-characterized as "electro-lounge." Can you give us some insight on what that sounds like?
Honestly, my stuff isn't directly in this vein. I want it to be! I want it to sound like cheesy MIDI piano, synth vibes, and digital hand-claps. Benedek is making some really great stuff right now and he has the best example of that.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your EP.
The EP is a collection of songs that I have worked on over the last three years. But it's been probably in the works in my mind for six years. I left college and became obsessed with the boogie and Italian disco sounds of the 1980's; analog synthesis meets digital age, tape vs computer. I've led a carefree existence for these six years; working day jobs in restaurants, traveling and spending money I don't have, staying out late. If nothing else, I like to think of these songs a sonic distillate of my post-graduate life. A record or some physical manifestation of time not best spent maybe, but certainly time spent having fun. Flip Phone is my friend and my inner enemy in tangible form.
What's the story behind the video for "Flip Phone?"
My father worked as director and cameraman on TV commercials throughout the '80s and '90s. An early adopter of the home video camera, as I grew up, he shot an amazing amount of footage on set as well as at home of our family. A few years ago he transferred all of these home videos and digitized them. The "Flip Phone" music video is a collection of some of those shots, mostly from his film shoots from the same time period that my music is inspired by. It's a full circle.
You just got back from Europe. What was vinyl-shopping there like?
What was something great you found?
Vinyl shopping in Europe was great. It's not cheap, but for some reason, in Denmark, there was a lot of old stock from the '80s funk and disco scene dumped there. Sweden is great too, as they imported a lot of Italian and European disco during the '80s and '90s under their Beatbox label. Beatbox is quite common over there, but the tunes they put out are more foreign in the US, so I loved it. I found this new age spacey-synth record by Kaus Sch√łnning called Lydglimt in Copenhagen. This guy Martin has a little record store pop-up in a clothing shop called Can. He hooked me up.
We heard you also collect smooth jazz records. How did that come about?
I started collecting smooth jazz as kind of a joke. But, I must admit, I do really like a lot of it. Sure theres a lot of polished turds from a production standpoint, but the musicians performing, like George Howard, Chuck Loeb, and George Benson, are still amazing. There was an NYC radio station called CD101.9 and my mother would play it in the car all the time growing up. I remember hearing George Bensons' "Give Me The Night" at about 5 p.m. and loving it.
What's next for you in terms of releases?
I've got an EP I'm just wrapping up, which will be coming out on Voltaire Records some time late fall or winter. V.R. has been a huge supporter and [I'm] very much looking forward to entering their lineup. Not sure what its going to be called yet.
Is there anyone locally you hope to collaborate with in the future?
I've spoken with Myron & E about collaborating. Kevin Woodruff, one the Tussle drummers, we've been in the studio together and jammed, and will most likely make a song or two. And Dave from Loose Shus, we've been milling around each others studios for a bit and help each other out from time to time. Yes, great things are afoot.