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Brooklyn New Wavers Selebrities on Leaving Miami, Digging ‘Room 237′ and Creating Their ’80s-Inspired Sound

Brayden Olson

Selebrities may have a sound straight out of the ’80s — in a good way — but their sophomore record, ‘Lovely Things,’ is anything but contrived. It’s a romantic pop soirée of synthesizers and wispy vocals, powered by founding friends Maria Usbeck and Jer Robert Paulin. The pair, who met at art school in South Florida, bonded over a mutual love of post-punk and New Wave — sounds they revisit on of the best albums of the year so far.

Usbeck, a South American native who grew up listening to everything from the Cure to merengue, sets Selebrities apart with effervescent ballads fit for a Brat Pack blockbuster. The singer recently chatted with Diffuser.fm about why the band left Miami, how they discovered ’80s music and how ‘The Shining‘ inspired one of their best videos.

Would you say that you’re the primary songwriter in the band?

It’s more of a team effort. As far as lyrics, it’s a half-half situation with Jeremy and me, but with the music, we start that individually and work on it together.

Having grown up in South America, what did you listen to when you were younger?

I grew up in Ecuador and listened mostly to salsa and meringue, which was popular there at the time, and also reggaeton, which I’m not really that into. When I was about 11 or 12 years old, my sister got me into Britpop and European music. Eventually, I drifted more into rock and American pop. We had that music over there, but not a lot of it.

What about that sound did you want to incorporate into your own music?

When I was in high school, I started listening to the Cure – like, listening a lot. [laughs] That really got me into all these other bands at that time. When I started college and met Jeremy, he had the same taste in music, and we had a mutual friend who got us really into the Chameleons. I remember when we were so obsessed with [the 1986 album] ‘Strange Times.’ That’s when we realized what kind of sound we wanted to have.

On the other hand, gear had a lot to do with the decision, as well. The equipment we had, like a Stratocaster with an amp that makes a chorusy-reverb sound. It all just came together from sounding that way.

Was it the musical opportunities that initially drew you and Jeremy to move to New York from Miami?

No, not all actually. We really came for the work, because at the time in Florida, everyone was getting laid off from their jobs when the economy started to get really bad down there – and the whole country, really. We packed up our things from Miami and left to New York about four years ago. Jeremy’s brother Josh plays bass for us, then up here, we met Max [Peterson], and that’s when we really started to take things seriously. Jeremy met him when he was starting to do a lot of production at the time. He heard our demos and really like them, so he took a stab at producing them and made them sound really good. Then we asked him to be in the band, and he said yes.

You guys seem to have a pretty big following in Europe.

Yeah, for some reason we are bigger over there, and I think it might be the type of music that we make.  People find those influences more interesting over there, for whatever reason.

I think can Americans definitely find ‘Lovely Things’ relatable.

What’s your favorite song on the album?

I really like ‘Temporary Touch,’ the first single, but that’s mostly because I can’t stop watching the video where you caress yourself with a stuffed lion.

The lion is great. I had just watched the documentary ‘Room 237’ about ‘The Shining,’ and how Stanley Kubrick made this movie with all this symbolism and layers of stuff you don’t see with your eyes. There are all these different theories about why he added certain things, things that weren’t even in the book. Of course, nobody know why he actually did any of it. So what I wanted to do was take all these symbolic elements that do have meaning to me and represent personal things to me, but to everyone else it’s just really funny or really odd. I thought it was really cool idea.

Jeremy’s done some video work for the band. What is it like taking direction from him? 

[Laughs] Well, we’ve been friends for about 10 years, and in art school, we worked on a lot of projects together. He directed the video for ‘Night Heat,’ and it really wasn’t too different. We both direct each other all the time. As far as being behind the camera, though, he did a good job of pointing out how things should look, and maybe how I’m making weird faces I don’t realize. We shot that video at a friend’s rooftop area in this ridiculous building in Downtown Brooklyn. It had a bathroom with a crazy triangular wall pattern, so we decided to shoot in there – a bathroom in Brooklyn.

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