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Philly based singer/songwriter/producer James Sauppe’s RVLVR project is an exercise in stylistic tension. Melding pop songwriting with synthesizers, electronic drum programming and otherworldly vocal effects, RVLVR’s sound is full of dreamy space-age melancholy.

His latest EP Stranger finds Sauppe exploring themes of loneliness and alienation in our modern, tech-saturated modern world. Songs like “Something’s Wrong” and the harrowing “Run Children Run Run” showcase Sauppe’s pitch-shifted vocals, melodic songcraft, and evocative electronic soundscapes that at times evoke everything from Paul McCartney to 808s-era Kanye.

Following the late October release of Stranger, we spoke with Sauppe about the project as well as the music and real-life social atmosphere that influenced it.  

The Key: For starters, am I bugging or is RVLVR a Beatles reference?

James Sauppe: It is! Revolver is my all-time favorite record and is imo the most innovative studio recording ever made. So, it’s a tribute, really.

TK: Word! That record was a real leap forward. The sound is a world away from Rubber Soul and the two were released only a year apart.

JS: Totally. And for them to make Revolver (and all the records that followed), they had to make the decision to stop playing live because the tech innovations that were available to them in the studio couldn’t be replicated in a live setting at the time, which is funny because I don’t really play live anymore. So they decided to become studio artists, and thank goodness they did, because we all would have lost so many great records!

TK: Absolutely! So a lot of the music you make as RVLVR seems to be rooted in that studio/technology meets traditional pop songwriting dynamic that the Beatles were exploring. I take it that is intentional?

JS: I never intended for it to be that way, but it makes sense! I really just love writing tunes, all different kinds… and I’m big on melody, so really I just try to make my music melodic and more and more, lyrics have been making their way into my music. Melody is the most important thing to me, because it’s the part of the song that stays with the listener after the music is over. A great melody can be so infectious!

And yeah, I love both digital and analog gear, so I try to use a nice mix of both. I’ll hash out ideas on my laptop, make beats and synth sounds, then take them into the studio for analog processing and mostly to actually get my hands on some instruments (other than a laptop).

TK: Speaking of that analog and digital mix as well as your general process, could you talk a bit about Stranger and how it was put together?

JS: I have no general process. I tend to start my songs differently every time, but at some point in the process I sit at a piano and work out the ideas. I think Stranger is really a reflection of the times. It’s a bit dystopian, I suppose, but so is the world we’re living in these days. It’s certainly more politically-charged than anything else I’ve ever done. It speaks a lot about loneliness in the technology age.

TK: It’s interesting that you mention these feelings of loneliness and dystopia. As I was listening I definitely picked up shades of everything from Unkle/Thom Yorke’s “Rabbit In Your Headlights” to the Blade Runner Soundtrack.

JS: Yeah like how we’re “more connected now than ever,” but really we’re more distant and certainly less social. Actually, the lyrics for Something’s Wrong were inspired by the sight of hundreds of people staring down at their phones in unison while waiting for the train one day in Suburban Station. “Where have all the faces gone?” I reference blank faces in the eponymous song, too. And of the course, the cover art is of a faceless person. Damn man… I’m so bleak!

TK: Yeah man, I think about that a lot. How music interfaces with technology, how technology mediates our relationships with one another and so on. At the very least it can be disheartening to think about just how attached we are to our tech.

JS: Absolutely. And I don’t mean to come off like I’m not always staring at my phone like everyone else. I’m no Luddite! It’s just sad to me. I’m Gen X, and we’re the only generation whose lives are pretty much split down the middle between pre and post technology/internet, so I definitely see the change in people it’s caused. And I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I miss reading maps and stopping to ask people for directions!

TK: Absolutely! I’m curious, why is the record named Stranger? I could make assumptions based on all that you’ve told me so far, but I’d rather hear your take on it.

JS: I guess in a general sense it may have something to do with me not being able to relate to a lot of things these days. But in a way I think a lot of people feel the same. We all have thousands of “friends” on social media, but really, I only need one hand to count the number of people I actually hang out with, you know? And I think a lot of folks post things…opinions, ideologies, gestures, interests…because they know they’ll yield the highest amount of likes instead of what they actually think or feel.

RVLVR‘s Stranger is out now; find out more about the band at rvlvrmusic.com.

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