Austin's Pure X are only three years removed from putting out their first full-length, but they've quickly gone through several transformations. Their debut LP, Pleasure, was a fuzzy, beach-bumming bout of chillwave, altogether not unlike the tunes of their future tour mates and SPIN profile subjects Real Estate. Follow-up effort Crawling Up the Stairs, released in 2013, was substantially darker and surreal.
Now, with upcoming third album Angel, due out April 1 via Fat Possum, Pure X have morphed once again. "I already lost all my skin cells from then," guitarist Nate Grace told SPIN over the phone. "I'm literally a new person." The psych-pop quartet (synth player and 12-stringer Matty Tommy Davidson recently joined as a full-time member) have stripped down and opened up, mostly in the name of love. The vocals, often crooned in a sharp falsetto, are firmly in the foreground while guitars are unsheathed, and for the most part, stand boldly without the veneer of overdrive. The end result is a sultry, vivacious romp, described by drummer Austin Youngblood as "a record for the ladies, about the ladies."
Stream Angel in full below and scroll down for track-by-track commentary from the band.
Davidson: That song is the first song that I brought to the band. It's actually the first song I had written in four years. I just imagined trying to spit some game at a girl. You know like, "I see that starlight in your eyes, girl." I was trying to write a sexy song. And I showed it to Jesse. I wrote it with him in mind to sing it in that falsetto.
Jenkins: I think it's a good introductory one to the album because it establishes a vibe instantly.
"Valley of Tears"
Jenkins: I wrote that song with that Kool & the Gang song — I forget the real title, but I think it's called, "When You Say You Love Somebody." I was obsessed with that song at the time when I was writing "Valley of Tears."
"Livin' the Dream"
Grace: That one I actually first started writing in Oxford, Mississippi. It's kind of making fun of the idea of "living the dream." Like, it's this badass lifestyle. Like, driving Cadillacs and all this other fucking bullshit. But I don't want to drive a Cadillac, that'd be awful. That's the whole thing about it, though. It's like realizing that you have been living this fake, weird fantasy and then you get there and it's like, "Oh, damn." But at the same, it's like you're creating it the whole time.
Grace: One thing I do remember is — because we wrote that B part while we were there — I had to record the vocals in, like, 10 minutes but I didn't have the lyrics done. So I went and sat underneath this tree out back, and it was all sunny, and I was like, "Shit, I've got to finish these lyrics right now."
Matty: That song almost didn't even make the record. We were kind of having a hard time narrowing it down in the beginning. It was becoming a problem. We kind of scrapped it, came back at it, and it worked out how it did.
"Fly Away With Me Woman"
Jenkins: I wrote that one in my head when I was driving my car. I was actually on kind of a romantic getaway with my lady and we were driving and I was just like, "Damn, I got this song in my head." I had to pull over and sing a little bit of it. I didn't want to sing it in front of her because I was embarrassed. So I got out of the car, walked around, and sang it into my phone so I wouldn't forget. And then it was just really easy to record when I got back home. It turned out a lot different with everyone on it obviously.
Davidson: That song, that's an old melody from a band I used to be in. I kind of reworked it and showed it to Nate at a practice and Nate just instantly came up with this beautiful melody for it. He started improvising lyrics on the spot and they stayed pretty similar to what they are now. I don't know how Nate got in that headspace for that but those lyrics are really beautiful for me.
Grace: I started thinking about what I really felt like about what heaven is and the idea of heaven. I come from this super hardcore southern Baptist lineage. So I've been taught that heaven is something that’s been paid for in blood and all this other bullshit as far as I'm concerned. So I thought of it as an opportunity for me to make my own statement about how I feel about that sort of thing. To me, the idea of heaven is something anyone can have at any moment in time. It's not something you have to wait for, it's something you can have at any moment. It's like a mind space. It's a way of looking at the world.
Grace: For some reason I started singing about some schoolkid. I was like, "this is fucking weird." I was trying to work on the lyrics with the other dudes, and staring and being like, "What the fuck is this song about?" I think I figured out for myself that I modeled this song after this kid I knew in junior high. I had just moved from the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania to this weird, suburban Dallas thing. I just remember this kid. He was 12 or 13. He took a lot of pills and was really fucked up. When I was in Pennsylvania, as far as I was concerned, there was nothing like that. So coming down to Dallas was interesting. The memory of that kid just stuck to my mind still to this day. I don't know what happened to him or anything. He ended up getting expelled. He was a cool dude. He listened to awesome music. But anyway, I think I finally figured out for me personally that I was modeling the song off of that kid.
"Make You Want Me"
Jeknins: I think that song has a really good rhythmic groove, it stays in one place rhythmically which is what we wanted to do with it. It's also the only song we've ever had that doesn't have electric guitar on it. It just has acoustic guitar and bass and drums and sound effects.
Youngblood: It's got, like, 15 acoustic guitar tracks on it. I think Nate put one down that Matt put one down then Jesse who brought his 12 string as well, put down an extra eight to really fill that acoustic sound. So it's just got a huge body to it. If you listen really closely there's just layers of that 12-string doing different stuff. That was another one where the demo that Jesse brought made it really easy for me. The demo already had a beat that was kind of already there. It just fell together really quickly as far as that groove goes.
Youngblood: We kind of had to consciously create that song.
Jenkins: There's definitely a lot more layers going on then any other song going on than anything else the record. Which is what we wanted, we wanted to create this big soupy sound to it that’s also this grime in your ears the whole time. That was kind of the idea.
Davidson: I wrote that one on a romantic excursion down on the border of Mexico at the Sanora Desert at the hot springs with this lady. It was right after tour, I was getting away from everybody and I brought my guitar out there. And that one came together really fast. I was just singing to this girl about things I wanted to do and what not.
"Wishin' on the Same Star"
Youngblood: That one might be one of my favorites on the record. When J was coming up with lyrics in the studio — just the idea of being in two place but not there. Just personally for me and where I was at the time it really resonated and I was really impressed by the simple lyrics.
Jenkins: I think that song definitely came to me from the touring lifestyle. You're out here just really missing your homegirl sometimes.