'It's about growing up but not losing touch with the part of yourself that is completely open and creative,' says singer Jonathan Graves

By Madison Vain
Updated August 12, 2016 at 03:19 PM EDT
Universal

Jonathan Graves and Amanda Scott, who record lush electro-psych soundscapes as Corbu, just released their debut album, Crayon Soul. The set follows a narrator on a mission through space. He and his female counterpart must save the world from a rapidly spreading sentient cloud that seems as though it might be related to The Smoke Monster on Lost. And while the quest is suspenseful, the music that guides it is anything but: heavy-lidded swaths of synths and atmospherics envelope the story.

EW recently caught up with the musical duo to discuss the origins of such fantasy. From the animated series Adventure Time to living in New York City, check out their greatest influences below.

Adventure Time

“It’s these deep, mythological stories but they’re done in a way that has fart jokes along the way,” says Graves. “The first one that really blew my mind was [“Land of the Dead“]. They go to the Underworld, which is basically part of the Greek mythology’s afterlife, and it’s the craziest, darkest thing but they do it in this way that’s so fun.” That balance between heavy and light is featured heavily on Crayon Soul, but there’s an even more obvious parallel between for the artists. “When I started to see a story in my own head, it looked like Adventure Time,” Graves adds. “That was a general pattern that my brain was following.”

Broadcast frontwoman Trish Keenan

Symbolism is big for Corbu songs—peep the album’s plotline: The narrator falls into the ocean at night and wakes up in a new place with a different life. He encounters giant, inter-dimensional creatures and, along with his female counterpart, has to save them from a sentient, dark liquid that’s swallowing the universe. So, it comes as no surprise why Graves was drawn to English act Broadcast’s “using images to tell something personal.” He says, “My favorite things in this is is collaboratively writing lyrics with Amanda. I can write good lyrics on my own but it takes me a really long time. When the two of us are in a room together, it happens really rapidly.”

Keenan died in January 2011 from complications with pneumonia, and as Graves recalls, “I got to see her right before she died. That was big for me.”

Carl Sagan

“He’s the ideal space dad,” Graves says of the astronomer. “Like, you’re at a campfire and your dad is talking you through what all the stars are. It takes me back to this really innocent place.” Graves has been fascinated with outer space since he was young and renderings of space colonies drawn by NASA in the 1970s guided the writing for Crayon Soul. “I was obsessed with these pictures,” Graves says. “When our favorite Corbu songs were still baby songs in progress, we thought, ‘What about these songs makes them fit together? Well, they all feel like they’re in the woods and/or they’re in space.’ And all these pictures from NASA were of trees and sunrises in space—it’s this beautiful, weird Seventies thing—but so it was like, ‘Okay, the album looks like this. Anything that looks like this can go on the album.”

Dreams

Graves often wakes up from dreams with music in his head. “Sometimes I wake up at four in the morning and have to record,” he says, “because I hear something fully formed, with vocals and bass and guitars, and I have to get them all down before they fade out.” Much of the album’s narrative comes from Graves’ dreams, and while he’s gotten one stellar album out of all those zzz’s, he still laments what might have been lost. “Sometimes I lose them,” he says. “And it might have been the best song that I ever had.”

New York City

Both Scott and Graves are from Pittsburgh, though they first met at a bar in Brooklyn a handful of years ago. “I always knew I was going to move here,” says Scott. They both agree that transplanting is what freed up their creative impulses. “I visited here once and it was the first time that I didn’t feel insane,” says Graves. “It was the first place that I ever felt like I was rewarded for being myself and punished for being fake. Everywhere else I felt like I was rewarded for being fake and pretending to fit in and punished for being myself.”

Crayon Soul, out now, is streaming below.

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