AT THE SHOW: Exnations

Brooklyn based indie-pop trio, Exnations just wrapped up their Midwest summer tour with 90’s Kids, La Poré and Beyond The Sun in spirit of the bands latest EP, Pink Haze. On July 11, the band took the stage by storm at The Foundry Concert Club in Lakewood, OH.

During the duration on stage, the group experienced some minor difficulties. However, this did not discourage Sal Mastrocola and John O’Neill from dancing around the stage. They amped up the crowd with hits such as “Never About the Money,” “Knife" and “John Hughes Movie Soundtrack.”

Before the show, I had the chance to sit down with Sal, John, and Taylor to chat not only about their lives apart of Exnations, but more importantly their creation of their recently released EP, Pink Haze.

How has it been sharing the stage with 90’s Kids, La Poré, and Beyond the Sun?

Taylor: It’s been fun! We’re lucky to wake up with the feeling that everyone you’re with has the same motives, wants to do this and they take it seriously. It’s kind of cool to bounce ideas off of another band that’s trying to do the same thing we’re doing.

Sal: I think we’ve learned a good amount. For us, one of our big goals for this tour was to up our production value in terms of having lights, projectors, things like that. We’ve been picking up a lot of ideas and best practices from the other bands, and everyone has been very forthcoming in sharing a lot of that information with us.

What type of work do you guys do outside of the band?

John: I work at a large media agency. I’ve also been in sales roles, some of the negotiation helps with merch deals and things like that. I’ve coordinated with people in Alibaba, Pakistan, and China to get the right deals and quality and make sure the presentation was right. Sal does a lot of design work separately from that which really compliments that.

Sal: I’m an art director at a creative agency. It’s a lot of design work, creative direction, running the creative for social for a lot of brands, and doing commercials. It’s a lot of fun, it definitely helps when you’re in a band because being a musician these days, it’s about a lot more than just music. It’s fun in some ways, but is also more of a lift. Overall, it’s a very collaborative environment.

Taylor: It’s so weird to describe what I do. I’m also in media; I do PR for Exnations sometimes but mostly for a lot of other bands called Vacancy Media Group.

So, Pink Haze is out for all of the world to hear. How does that feel?

Sal: Awesome. It feels really really good. I think that we all are immensely proud of that record. In our first record, which we are also really proud of, we were still figuring out what we were trying to do. So with Pink Haze, we found it and we just dug in on it. I’m definitely more pleased with the way it came out.

Taylor: It feels like a weight is lifted. It’s like keeping this secret, which I’m terrible at keeping secrets, but it’s also like, are people going to like it? It’s a little different from Tiny Sound in the Dark. It’s a lot more genuine, a more vulnerable record. So it’s been really cool seeing people connect with that.

What kind of reactions have you gotten from the release of Pink Haze?

Sal: People have been reacting so positively when we’re playing the songs on tour. We’ve been meeting people that have such great things to say about it.

John: Like Sal said, even our tow truck driver had good things to say about it. That was the funniest one. Our tour van broke down on the 4th of July, so we got on triple A to find the right tow truck driver that could travel on highways. Our tow truck driver kept asking about our music so we played it for him and he was analyzing it, and making all of these comparisons to all these other bands. We also gave him a copy of both Pink Haze and Tiny Sound in the Dark, along with some of our other merch.

Taylor: It’s been really cool to see people singing the words back to us while on this tour.

Describe the creative process behind this EP?

Sal: For example, With J"ohn Hughes Movie Soundtrack," I was laying awake in bed at like 3 o’clock in the morning and I had watched Trains, Planes and Automobiles the day before and I got this catchy verse in my head so I got up and went to the bathroom and wrote the first two full verses. I’ll record something on my phone, and then go into logic. I’ll build something, give it to Taylor and she’ll add the first production touches to it and drum textures/synth textures, things like that. Taylor is the one who usually ends up going into the studio with our producer Eric Taft.

Taylor: A lot of Dropbox. I’d even Facetime the two of them on different things that I came up with to see if they liked it. Since I’ve lived in Baltimore until recently it’s just a better way to send idea’s to one another.

Were there any songs that came as a difficulty in creating the EP?

John: Distance is the one that inherently has always been there. But now Taylor’s moving closer so that should be easier. We didn’t have artwork until inspiration stuck. We’re at the point in our careers where the best output is going to come from strong inspiration, and you just need to trust that that inspiration is going to come because you’ve done this before and you’re experienced. We waited and waited, and tossed some things up and found the right groove. It all really didn’t start to come together until we found inspiration.

Taylor: "Tether" came out really quickly, so did "Modern Kids." The last song we wrote was "Dreaming Still," and that one just took a little bit to get it right.

Sal: I’d agree with Taylor, "Dreaming Still" was probably the most challenging one. I kind of had this initial concept; the last song on our first album, Tiny Sound in the Dark is called “Blank White” and it has this really groovy outro that sort of fades out so I was so set on having both of these EPs being two sides of the same coin or something like that. So I thought we should end the album the same way we ended the last one and so we had a version like that but it just didn’t feel right, it wasn’t who we are anymore.

What has been your favorite song to perform live?

Sal: I feel like it’s probably “Knife.” The last couple of times we’ve played that song live, we weren’t able to get it exactly right. Something locked in, we changed a couple of things up at practice. We made a couple of different choices and just kind of accepted some things about it. Now it feels really really fun. “Slow Erosion” is a close second which has a similar epic crescendo at the end. I personally tend to gravitate towards songs where I can step away from the mic and just rock out a little bit more.

Taylor: I think “Knife” as well, because we finally found our confidence. That was the issue we were having before. We got new gear, like the Roland pad that I can trigger a lot of the sound that gives us a broader sound that we didn’t have before.

How would you describe the evolution of Exnations thus far?

Taylor: We learned how to be direct, and more confident with our choices. I was working on “Slow Erosion” and I was playing on my machine, which is a drum pad that you use with your fingers that I thought was totally stupid and figured the guys weren’t going to like it.

What’s in store for the future for the three of you?

John: We’re hungry. We want to continue to use what we’ve built so far as a platform to keep growing and impress upon more people and share the way we feel about things. We’re using this tour as a nice expression to the fact that we are DIY. Taylor’s done an incredible job booking all of this herself. We’re like a little agency, which is something different in the industry but it’s starting to be more of a norm because people have these skill sets. We want to find the right partners in terms of a manager, booking, or record label to use that capability to the best of it and grow as a result.

Taylor: We want to expand from those people and not take from them. We are capable ourselves, but we just need the resources to help us grow.

Sal: In terms of the very near future, we’re going to be releasing a new video for "John Hughes Movie Soundtrack," which we’re really excited about that my wife directed.

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