Mackintosh Braun Talk Their New EP, Upcoming Album & Lady Gaga: Idolator Interview

Mackintosh Braun, an electro-pop duo from Portland, Oregon, have made a name for themselves through song features on some of your favorite TV shows (Gossip GirlChuckGrey’s Anatomy). But now they are ready to take on the the music scene at full speed, with the release of their The City Below EP – out on October 14. The project is slated ahead of their forthcoming third studio album, Arcadia, which will arrive early next year.

The duo, comprised of Ian Mackintosh and Ben Braun, have a bright approach to their music – which has a breezy ’80s charm (think along the lines of John Hughes). But their modern twist on classic synths and airy drum patterns is what makes them stand out in the pop world – and it may be genetic! Ben’s father (Michael Braun) was a longtime drummer for Hall & Oates, and has been his musical inspiration.

I spoke with them about their upcoming releases and their love for Portland, as well as their experience working with Lady Gaga. Read on to see what Mackintosh Braun had to say in our Q&A below.

I know you guys have been friends since 2006. How did you two first meet?BEN: Ian was doing some work with a band, and heard some of the music and I got a hold of him. We just started writing music once we met. We didn’t establish a band at that moment, but soon we had a decent amount of songs that we wanted to do something with.

Certain songs on the EP, especially “Outline,” have a ‘80s-inspired vibe. Where do you get your influences?BEN: Part of the reason why we even met was because we both enjoy the same sounds. Sometimes we’re baffled at our similar tastes. We wrote ‘Outline’ outside of any influences; that was just us having fun. You want to write something that you’re into and make sure the person you’re writing with is also into it. IAN: We almost have a symbiotic agreement on what things should sound like musically. I can only put in food terms – we agree on the seasonings in a beautiful way.

You teamed up with Lars Stalfors (who has produced for artists like Mars Volta & The Cold War Kids). How was your experience working with him?IAN: I felt like he opened up a lot of creative doors. We really wanted to take our music to the next level, and he challenged us in cool ways. We spent a good year recording, and we brought him our ideas and he added an extra energy to them.

Many of your songs have been featured on shows like Gossip Girl, Veronica Mars and Grey’s Anatomy. How do you plan to break out of that “Made-For-TV” band mold?BEN: [By] just getting out there, playing on the road and just showing people there’s more to the band than just putting the CD in and listening to it. Coming and seeing us is a good way to see that, you can hear what the songs sound like in a live environment. We’re going on the road again, on the west coast. I think that’s the biggest thing, just playing for people. We just did a similar run all throughout California, Portland and Seattle. We’ve done tours before, but every time we go out more and more people come to see us. It’s just great to meet people who listen to our music.

The City Below EP has an innocent romantic feel, sort of like something you would give to your crush on a cassette tape back in the day.BEN: The song “City Below” itself is very visual, and there’s literal meaning behind it – what we’re dreaming and having experiences with. Those simple things kind of make it a little journey when you hear it; it takes you somewhere. That song was a good way to create something visually for the EP that made sense.

If you had to pick a favorite track off the EP, what would it be?BEN: Right now it’s “The City Below,” just because it’s one of those things musically I think we really nailed what we were going for with the song. It works for me on all levels. IAN: Mine is “Outlines,” that’s my favorite one to play live. It’s energetic.

Your 2007 album, The Sound, has more electronic influences while this new EP seems more progressive. What kind of sound can we expect from Arcadia?BEN: It’s pretty diverse. It runs in the field of the EP. This is the first record where we worked with an outside producer. The EP has an overall sense of what the album will sound like. We don’t just do one thing on the album. We like to have the record pick up and sway. It does sound a bit more ethereal. There’s a slower song on it that I love called “Another Place.” There’s also another one called “Through The Noise.” IAN: There’s even “In Reverse,” which is on the EP. That’s a cool poppy ‘80s upbeat song that I love that’s on the record as well. BEN: I just love what Lars did, there’s really no duds. It’s just hard to pick your favorite child! IAN: It’s not just like you write a song and you’re done. We’ve listened to these songs from so many angles. You become so close to it that it becomes hard to judge it on any level. We’re so proud of [the album]. When I play it, it sounds amazing. Lars’ influence is definitely there, but he let us do what we do instinctively as a duo. He put his touch on it, but it’s still us.

There are so many great bands that come from Portland – The Decemberists, Dandy Warhols, and Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. What are your thoughts on the city’s current music scene?IAN: We love so much Portland music, [with bands] like The Shins. BEN: We did a remix with Starfucker, they’re from here and they’re pretty cool. We have a friend in a band called Radiation City. Portland’s just a cool town musically and they’re definitely particular about what they listen to here but there’s a lot of good music here. It’s a cool place to be.

I know you’ve been working on a remix of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. I need to hear details!BEN: You’ll love it! We’re actually still working with her on a couple of things. She was so amazingly cool about working with us. It’s definitely more in your face; it’s a little different. We’re happy with it. She called to talk to us about the song and about how much she loved what we did. I was kind of blown away. I’ve dealt with other musicians and artists, and she was just beyond cool. Super humble, super easy to talk to. It kind of felt like you were talking to a friend. IAN: We’re in the final process of finishing the song and getting it mixed. We put some good energy into it. When we’re out on the road, we’ve been remixing artists [songs] that you’ll hear soon. That’s another way we stay busy when we’re on the road. We’re really into doing that.

You’ve released two albums in the past, but this project is a refreshed intro to the music world. Are you more prepped this time because of that experience?BEN: Absolutely, we feel ready for everything that’s happening right now.

Mackintosh Braun’s new EP The City Below will be released on October 14. Look out for their third album, Arcadia, early 2015.

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