As summer comes to an official end, I always feel a twinge of sadness as the long days noticeably shrink to down to an earlier and earlier dusk. So it helps to receive reminders of all the good things that happen in the dark. Making music, for one thing, often goes better at night. As does listening to music, especially when it’s an album like Psychic Twin’s debut full-length, Strange Diary.
The album, produced entirely by the band’s leader/singer/songwriter Erin Fein, paints an icy portrait with warm synthesizers; it’s dance music for falling asleep—sad music for cheering yourself up. Many of its retro beats and basslines feel like fodder for the flowing, melodramatic dance moves of the “we wear black on the outside, ‘cause black is how we feel on the inside” ‘80s crowd, while overall the music may owe more to the half-throwback chillwave and synthwave sub-genres from the time that the auteur Fein started Psychic Twin several years ago.
Basically, you could project Strange Diary into the air and use its sound waves as net to catch descriptors such as “bewitching,” “moody,” “etherial,” “enchanting,” and so on, but why not listen for yourself? The label Polyvinyl Records has graciously supplied a full stream on Youtube for you to enjoy guilt-free.
Strange Diary sets a stage where both Fein’s lead and background vocals and her collection of synthesizers are the stars of the show. I went right to source to find out more about how Fein created this impressive debut.
While the whole album maintains a beautiful and cohesive aesthetic, Fein actually recorded it over a few years and several locations, including an old basement in Illinois, a home in Indiana, a cabin in Pennsylvania, and ultimately a “lovely space” in the Greenpoint neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. “I would love to make music in beautiful environments only,” Fein said, “but that has often not been possible for me. But that's what imagination is for.”
The name Psychic Twin comes from Fein’s feeling that when she’s in the creative headspace for making music, it’s like collaborating with her own spiritual counterpart, an other half whose energy she channels. “Psychic Twin is a part of my dream world,” she said. “A way to express and cope with pain, but also a safe 'other world' where I can reside when I need to hide away and create. When I’m recording and writing, I live in my mind in that space. I often close my eyes and try to fall back into that dream state, so it doesn't really matter where I am.”
Strange Diary was created in the aftermath of a divorce, and the fallout from that experience lead to her emotional trajectories documented in the songs, as well as her physical movements around the map. Now settled in Brooklyn, Fein lives with some of the best imaginable roommates, a collection of largely vintage synths.
“I am completely enamored with synthesizers,” she said. “I own a lot. My room in Brooklyn is covered in them, and there are loads under my bed and some in my rehearsal space. There is almost nothing I find more comforting than searching for synth sounds that I love. One sound can give you a whole song, a whole record even. One sound can help you understand how you feel, or become a soundtrack to something you're going through.”
Some of her most prized pieces include the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 polyphonic analog synth, a Roland Juno-106 analog polysynth, the Casio Casiotone CT-701 and a Yamaha SY77 FM/sampling workstation, which together span the decade of the ‘80s. She also loves her “huge, old synth” from Generalmusic (GEM).
On stage, Fein doesn’t try to bring the whole lot with her, but she does use vintage keys for shows, specifically the CT-701 preset synth and the Juno-106, both running through quite a few effect pedals. “In the studio, I will use whatever synths I can get my hands on,” she said. “There are at least 10 different synths on the record, some of which I borrowed from friends… although I covet them all!”
Fein doesn’t limit her use of effects pedals to the synthesizers though. She has spent years crafting the sound of her lead and background vocals, and often experiments putting them through different reverb, delay and chorus effects pedals. The Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail reverb the Boss Digital Delay are a couple of her favorites. “I have very specific settings, and I manipulate my vocals both live and during recording as well to create different effects depending on the song,” she said. “Ultimately my goal is always to create a vocal sound that balances the dreamy and lullaby-esque feel that I love so much without going so far as to completely obscure the lyrics.”
Her lead vocals are often recorded dry to preserve the clarity and tuning, after which they may try out effects on them. “However, when I'm working on back up vocals or melodic vocal lines, which I often approach similar to synth parts, I like to record them running through effects pedals and also sometimes through amplifiers, so that there is a fuzzy, haziness to them. I listen for a bit of magic. I've gotten lost for hours in experimentation. I’ve discovered that's when you often find the most special tones for vocals and for synths. I highly recommend it.”
And I highly recommend that if you like the album, look for Psychic Twin coming to your town. Their American tour runs from October 31 to December 3. Get tour dates at the Psychic Twin website.