We talked to the YouTube-darlings-turned-bona-fide-bedroom-poppers about "Call Me Maybe," Mountain Dew, and cool exhaustion. Plus, check out the official music video premiere of "Runaway, Runaway!"
LA-based but Midwest-born-and-bred alternative pop duo Mars Argo consists of angel-faced Mars and her equally charming boyfriend Titanic Sinclair. Since 2009, they've been releasing music they've made strictly in their bedrooms, as well as slightly bizarre but very honest "Computer Shows" through their YouTube channel, Grocerybag.tv. I called them up the other day to chat about how, these days, everyone just wants to be cool and, in the end, the Internet is going to save us all.
Noisey: How did you guys get started? You're from Michigan and then moved to Chicago right?
Titanic Sinclair: Yeah, we moved to Chicago right after high school, actually. Mars started going to art school there and I was making videos, and we started a YouTube channel in our bedroom. I wanted to make art videos that had Radiohead songs in the background, but at the time, YouTube started pulling videos that had copyrighted music in them, so we just decided to make our own music.
Mars Argo: We started getting a lot of attention for the instrumental music in the videos, and we thought, "Well, maybe we should start making these into actual songs."
Titanic: I feel like we did it totally backwards. We never intended on being a band, we just needed music for these movies we were making. And then people started saying, "Where can I buy these songs? Can I download these? Are you guys touring?" And we were like, "Uhhh…" [Laughs]
I was watching a video you put out late last year called "LA or Bust" where you both talk about having to get out of Chicago to move to LA. What was it about the Midwest that made you feel like you needed to be somewhere else?
A lot of things. First and foremost, winter. [Laughs] I remember exactly one year ago, shoveling our car out of the snow saying, "This is the last time I'm ever doing this!" On top of that, for making movies, LA is the place to be.
Mars: Right now, we're working on making a TV show, so it makes sense to be in LA.
Titanic: We're really into comedies, podcasts, making movies, and the great thing about LA is that we can go out and shoot a scene whenever because the weather's almost always sunny and warm. Also the music scene in Chicago is dead. I have a lot of friends there and I love the city, but for art and music, it's a total vacuum.
Tell me more about the TV show you're working on.
Titanic: It's kind of like a kid's show. Have you seen Pee-Wee's Big Adventure? It's going to be like that. We're going to include a lot of cool music, cool comedians, and up-and-coming artists who we think are really awesome.
Mars: We're putting together the pilot right now. There seems to really be a lack of creative shows right now. For us, it's a fun, creative project; something we can put our music in too.
Titanic: We want it to be funny enough where parents will watch it along with their kids. Some kids shows right now are just treacherous to watch. We want it to be something out-there and crazy, something that kids will like, where they can be informed about new bands and art. It'll be a great way to spotlight actually good bands… I feel like there are a lot of bands that are just trying to be cool, just going for cool factor. Like, whatever happened to just having fun, you know? We just want to have as much fun with this as we can.
You guys are also releasing a single and b-side soon.
Mars: It's actually from a project we were working on in Chicago, shortly after we released Technology is a Dead Bird independently. We started working with a producer in Chicago back then, and I think they're actually going to come out now!
Titanic: Everything we've done up to this point, including our videos and music, has literally been made in our bedrooms. All the music that's out there right now, it was all made on a laptop. So we really went from this crappy recording set up to a multimillion-dollar studio with this guy who has done huge, huge radio records.
Mars: And we were out there recording for a while, so we have this older material that no one has heard. It feels strange because we've released other music since then, and now we have this stuff coming out.
Titanic: It's weird having someone else put their stamp on something that is so close to you.
Mars: And the production quality is so different. All of our other stuff is so do-it-yourself.
Titanic: We've had these mixes for a couple months now and we've barely even showed our friends, because we're still trying to digest it. It's very, very strange to hear a song you wrote in your room on an acoustic guitar and then hear it sound so huge because of the studio.
Do you guys prefer the lo-fi bedroom sound to the big studio sound? Or are they too different to compare?
Mars: Well, they are so different, and it's not even like they sound so different, but one is more intimate and the other is exciting because it's so polished and put together.
Titanic: And I think with our next album, what we're deciding on is whether we have it all studio-recorded tracks or the lo-fi ones. And now I think what we're going to do is just smash 'em together, because that's just who we are. We love Elliot Smith b-sides and old John Lennon demos, but we also love Madonna—True Blue by Madonna is one of the best albums ever made—and that new Taylor Swift song is awesome. I'm not afraid of pop and I'm not afraid of lo-fi. Services like Spotify and YouTube allow people to digest tons of different styles of music with the click of a button. I think people are okay if an artist explores making both lo-fi and polished music.
Do you guys find yourself listening to a lot of mainstream pop, then?
Titanic: I would say most of the music we listen to is in the indie realm…but the first time I listened to that "Call Me Maybe" song, it blew my mind. Being able to make a song that catchy…just listen to that song in a car with a good stereo system and it's like, "Holy shit, man, this song is so infectious!" And that to me is brilliant art.
Mars: It's a different type of art, making songs that are that catchy and that perfect.
Titanic: And they know what they're doing. There's a formula that you can exploit and that's what pop music does. 99% of it is complete garbage, but then you get a "Call Me Maybe"—
Mars: Or that Taylor Swift song.
Titanic: Yeah, it's so infectious. But people can smell a rat.
Mars: Yeah people know when something isn't real. Even all these super reverb-y indie bands, they're not saying anything real. They're just trying to be cool. It goes both ways.
So I remember seeing your Mountain Dew advertisement on YouTube a while ago and thinking it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. But it's captioned saying that PepsiCo hated it. Were you guys commissioned to make an ad for them and then it didn't go through?
Titanic: [Laughs] Well, we legally can't talk about that. It's really weird. [Laughs] People find your work and they're like, "Hey, we want you to do a video with us," and then you make something and show it to them and they're like, "What is this?!" Well, didn't you watch our channel? Obviously, this is what we're gonna make. But at least a lot of people watched it! If that was on TV, it would be the funniest thing.
In a lot of your older videos, and especially on Technology is a Dead Bird, you guys reference the Internet a lot. What does the Internet represent to you?
Titanic: Um, usually we have this conversation after consuming certain psychedelics. [Laughs] But I truly think that humans are fusing with technology exponentially, and pretty soon, we're literally gonna be plugging in—as crazy as that sounds. We're attached to the hip with these extremely powerful computers. But the Internet is the way that we break all of these dumb social barriers. The boundaries and restrictions of physical location disappear because of the Internet, and it's just a matter of time until we'll be able to not just communicate with people across the globe, but also feel them. I think we are completely destructive creatures destroying the planet, and the only way we can stop ourselves from blowing ourselves up is if we can fully understand each other. That's what the Internet helps us do. At the time we were writing Technology is Dead Bird, I was starting to see the world that way.
Mars: The Internet is really special to us, because it's how we became close in the beginning, and now it's the reason that everything we do can come to life. I don't know where we would be without it.
Titanic: We owe everything we do and have to the Internet. She and I have each other and now we have these amazing friends who we never would have ever met had we not found their work on the Internet. We're really lucky that we're able to discover beautiful art and beautiful people through the Internet.
I actually discovered you guys through Tony Katai's photography back in the days of Flickr. You guys are buddies, right?
Titanic: Tony! He's our buddy. We met him through Flickr, his work is amazing. We went to Detroit and were expecting to meet some 30-year-old dude, and he was like 18. It was crazy. He's so talented.
Mars: Man, those were the days. Whatever happened to Flickr? I guess everyone switched to Tumblr and I just missed the boat. I liked Flickr, because it was all your own work, and now everyone on Tumblr is just regurgitating other people's work. Like, "Oh look how cool I am, I know what a cool picture is," instead of, "Look at this cool stuff I made." I'm ready for something new.
Check out their latest video for their track "Runaway, Runaway" up at the top, and be sure to keep your eyes out for their single and b-side, both of which will be released sometime in March.
Follow Shriya Samavai for a fun time - @shriekeliene