I first played Foreign Air’s latest single “Lying” for a friend as we drove around DC late one night after a concert. The setting seemed right. One half of the duo, Jacob Michael, grew up a few Metro stops outside of the city where he discovered the DC music scene as a kid, and the November night and heavy fog rolling into the city bolstered her comment: “This sounds like it could be in a movie.”
With a little bit of funk and a touch of hip-hop built on a solid foundation of rock, this indie electronic band definitely sounds like they could be in a movie soundtrack, or at least their vivid tonal imagery backed by thumping bass and Jesse Clasen’s layered vocals makes you feel like you’re listening to one.
That sound has translated well to the big arenas they’ve played, opening for the likes of Bishop Briggs, Phantogram, Bleachers, The Strumbellas and AURORA, but the guys are excited to trade the bigger venues for more intimate settings on their first headlining tour alongside DC-based band SHAED.
Founded in 2015 by longtime friends Clasen and Michael, Foreign Air has since released an EP and several singles, and watched “Lying” make its way onto Alt Nation. Now, they’re embarking on a six-show tour starting in Chicago on November 30 and ending back in DC on December 8 at Rock & Roll Hotel. Clasen says concertgoers should “expect the unexpected.”
While known as a duo, on the road they play with a full band and try to make the live show as big a production as possible, Clasen says. As first-time headliners, the pair is excited to have more control over the details of this tour and create a vibe that suits their music.
Self-described as alternative, Michael says they pull from a lot of different genres for their sound, but try to put their own personal spin on things. Clasen adds that they are deeply based in future technology, but still love organic sounds. Michael’s current playlist includes Radiohead and Bad Sounds, while Clasen says he’s always enjoyed female vocalists – which he says you can notice in the tone of his voice at times – as well as Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, Talking Heads, jazz improvisation and even film scores.
The musicians share a desire to experiment with different sounds and instruments, and this experimentation has been its own project in figuring out how to bring that sound onstage. Clasen says part of it has to do with who will be onstage with them at the time and picking out which elements will bring the most energy while others are not as emphasized, but technology has opened up a lot of possibilities for what they can do.
Mainly, they just want it to be fun for the individual who is playing the part. Another element that impacts their live sound is where they play, and Michael says the best places to perform at are the ones that care about the sound.
“I think we’re really lucky in DC,” Michael says. “We have 9:30 Club and Rock & Roll Hotel and different venues that spend a lot of time making sure the rooms sound a certain way.”
“It’s all about that bass,” Clasen adds, making Michael laugh.
Not too long ago, however, who would play what instruments and how they would perform weren’t even on their minds; they were just two friends in different bands.
“I shared a bill with Jesse down in Charlotte [North Carolina] many years ago, and I thought he was a great vocalist,” Michael says. “Then he started sending me music, and sent me a song from this hip-hop project he was working on, and I loved it. I showed that song to my friends all summer long. I think we bonded over the fact that we were in these rock bands, but we also enjoyed soul music and hip-hop and a lot of different genres. We stayed in touch over the years, slept on each other’s couches and floors while we were touring, and just became really good friends.”
Eventually, they started writing together based on a mutual desire to try something new and experiment with instruments. They dropped their first song around November 2015, and since then, they’ve released an EP, For the Light, three singles and have spent time just trying to figure out who Foreign Air is.
While it might seem like living in different states would have hindered this process, their friendship and musical connection has outweighed the distance. When asked how they were able to make music with Clasen down in Charlotte and Michael in DC, Michael laughs and tells me: “Dropbox.”
Hailing from different cities has allowed them to each bring something unique to the table. Clasen is very connected to the Charlotte music scene, but his personality also played into what influenced him.
“I’m a little bit more of a homebody than Jacob is, so for me the music experience really burst out of when I was young. As I got into high school, the Internet just changed it all – being at home on the computer, finding all sorts of music and watching documentaries on YouTube. I think that really changed my life.”
Michael, on the other hand, was strongly influenced by DC’s electronic scene.
“DC is such an interesting city because it’s very diverse, so you get a lot of new music,” he says. “Electronic music is really big in DC – probably bigger in DC than in most cities – and so I think over the years, it’s trickled into the stuff I listen to and want to experiment with.”
The pair continues to meld their musical styles and experiences together, and shows no signs of stopping soon. Their next single was released on November 29, and will also be on their first LP, set to release early next year. Michael says the songs blend 80s analog with hip-hop oriented drum production, and hopes the album’s unique sound will continue to evolve. In the meantime, they plan on touring more and look forward to connecting with people.
So why should you go see Foreign Air?
“Come hear a band with local roots,” Clasen says. “Meet people, have a drink, move around, hear some pretty falsettos. I think you’ll enjoy it. And we’ll be there to give you a hug.”
Check out Foreign Air’s latest single “Lying” and learn more about the duo at www.foreignair.net, and catch them at Rock & Roll Hotel on December 8. Tickets are $15.
Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; 202-388-7625; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com