LA born Riley McCluskey and Aaron Kirkbride make up the band that is Conditioner. With their upcoming collection of bright, buoyant songs, the two piece just want to ask better questions about this strange world we inhabit – hopefully emerging on the other side “no wiser, but a little more in awe,” as they declare at the end of their propulsive new track ‘Dates & Names’.
You guys met in college, right? How’d Conditioner form – and who came up with the name?
Although we both grew up in LA, we met the first week of freshman year at University of Pennsylvania and immediately started a band with some of our other new friends. We performed a ton during college, but the band broke up when we graduated and moved to different cities. In Summer 2016, Aaron shipped back to LA, where I had been living since graduation, and we started Conditioner. I came up with the name – we were looking for something mundane but that you could ascribe some significance to if you wanted. Aaron and I had an endless text thread shooting ideas back and forth when “Conditioner” occurred to me – we both knew right away that it was the perfect combination of meaningful and meaningless.
What was the motivation/inspiration behind writing ‘Date & Names’?
Dates & Names has been quite a saga – it started as a poem I wrote in college while half-paying attention in a European history class. We were learning about World War I, and it reminded me of a trip to France I had taken senior of high school with my art history class. We had been driving for what seemed like forever when our bus driver pulled over for a break in the middle of this gorgeous countryside. There was this little stone monument near the side of the road, and it turned out this idyllic pastoral landscape had been the site of a brutal WWI battle where something like 100,000 people had died. It had been a town, then a horror show, and now it’s a pretty rest stop for our tired bus driver – that transformation completely tripped me out.
I held on to the words and a basic chord progression for almost four years, but something unlocked when Aaron and I started working on it together. We were trying to communicate these somber, meditative lyrics in a joyful way – for me, this song is about finding comfort in the fact that the arc of time is completely confounding to idiots like us.
Would you describe your sound as an homage to the Beach Boys – with your own modern spin? Parts of ‘Dates & Names’ – in particular the opening notes and ending – sound just like harmonies from the Beach Boys!
We love the Beach Boys! Aaron and I both had a guitar teacher in college who was a Beach Boys obsessive, and he taught us lots of harmonic tricks from their repertoire. Aside from the technical chops that Brian Wilson brought to the table, his ability to convey complex, melancholy themes with really uplifting music is a huge source of inspiration.
How did you decide on your songs having those two themes: disillusionment/finding solace in the world’s magnitude? Or, why those themes in particular?
There isn’t really a conscious choice to write music around specific themes – it’s just what comes out. For us, songwriting is a way to process information and communicate. Whether it’s big picture topics like war and the passage of time, or more personal realms like relationships – life is so weird and confusing. I want our music to help people acknowledge that it’s okay to accept that gray area and maybe even revel in it sometimes.
What’s your writing process like? Do your songs have a personal meaning?
We’re very collaborative – Aaron and I bring very different skillsets to the table. He plays basically every instrument and has a great ear for rhythm, while I’m mostly limited to singing and guitar. I write our lyrics and enjoy conceptualising these big stories behind each song. I think I tend to paint with more primary colours, whereas Aaron loves musical complexity – he’s a fiend for key and meter changes, which you’ll hear a lot of in our tracks. I feel like our differences in taste create a healthy balance. With that said, we’re both very meticulous so making songs that please both of us ends up usually being a very slow journey.
Check out Conditioners latest single ‘Dates & Names':
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