DECOUPLR is a new Philadelphia-based duo that blends soulful vocals with a variety of electronic styles. Built upon such sounds as sampled drums, mellotron flutes, and vintage synths, DECOUPLR’s music has a trip-hop edge but isn’t quite like anything else. It strikes a balance of being dark and somewhat cold with being organic and welcoming.
DECOUPLR consists of Bailey Walker and Adam Laub. Walker began her musical career in Savannah, GA, performing with Rich Animals and releasing a solo EP under the name Bailey Mae Walker. Laub played drums with eccentric indie-pop band OhBree, has released music as <radioaddict> and is part of noise/ambient music collective Tidal Archive. He also started Sleepless Sound Studio with other Philadelphia area recording engineers.
“Digital Bonfire,” the debut album from DECOUPLR, came out on February 19. In a phone interview, the duo discussed the release.
I know you’d both been involved with music previously. Could you tell me how you came to work together as DECOUPLR?
Adam: I had played in a lot of bands in the Philly area, and I’ve made electronic music under a few different aliases for a long time. I’d been looking for someone who had the right vocal style to take it more into the pop or vocal-oriented direction. I met Bailey at a show, and we went from there. We did a few demos, and it just kind of worked out.
Bailey: I feel like we didn’t have a specific direction in mind at first, but as we started collaborating and sharing ideas, it came together gradually.
Adam: I’ve always been into the whole trip-hop and low-fi hip-hop sound, and then I heard Bailey’s soulful kind of vocal. I thought it would be an interesting mashup to have glitchy hip-hop-oriented stuff with a more soulful, clean vocal. So that kind of really informed where we went after the first couple of demos we did.
What were the first songs that you came up with?
Adam: The first song we actually did was “Got It Covered,” which is the seventh track on the record, and then we did the first single, “Cold Sweat.” After we did that, we made the decision that it shouldn’t just be like a single or an EP. I started digging through my old demos and working on new beats until we had 11 songs.
Did you work with any other musicians on the album, or was it just the two of you?
Adam: It’s just us two. I run a recording studio in Philly as well, called Sleepless Sound studio. One of the engineers there did the mastering and helped me a little bit with the mix. But other than that, it was just us for this one.
What is your collaborative and creative process like?
Adam: All the tracks start with the instrumental, which I pretty much make, and then Bailey comes in and comes up with melodies and vocals after that. For me, I like to start pretty much all my instrumentals with the beat and maybe a baseline. I think that’s where I start with most all music I write. From there, I kind of expand and just layer and layer and layer.
Bailey: Normally, if he lays out a framework or an idea, I kind of jump in and expand on it. I have a backlog of phone recordings and half-thought-out ideas, and I would show him, and then he would take it and re-imagine it, put it into the software, and just kind of go from there.
Though live performances are not currently happening, is DECOUPLR intended to be a live project as well?
Adam: Maybe not initially, but after we started going, absolutely. We did just do a prerecorded live set for another blog, and we’re doing a radio show live performance in a couple of weeks. It’s kind of transforming into something we definitely want to play live, pretty much as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Has it been a challenge at all adapting the music for performance?
Adam: Yeah, it’s been a little challenging. I personally use Reason for all my writing and synth creation and for actually making the beats. Then I’ll export the tracks out into ProTools and mix them down and get the vocals recorded there. But for the live stuff, I want to use Ableton, so I can cut things into bars and flip between beats and do it more like a DJ set. I’m bouncing all the stems, cutting it all up, and figuring out the software I’m not that comfortable with. It has definitely been a little bit of a process, but I think it’s coming along.
What was the overall timeframe of making DIGITAL BONFIRE?
Adam: A little over a year. We started the first demos probably in September or October of 2019. And then from there, over the winter, we did “Cold Sweat.” Then the pandemic started when we were talking about maybe just putting out a couple of songs as a little EP, and we ended up diving into it and going from there. So a little over a year, I would say.
Bailey: Initially, we had two or three songs down, and the content of the material was kind of serious and a little heavier. And I had reservations; should we put this out? Is this relevant for the time? And when the pandemic hit, we had a lot more to talk about and write about. So it was a rare positive, having a little bit more time to collaborate and work through some ideas.
Adam: Yeah. There were definitely more revisions on some songs than I would have done otherwise, if we were just trying to get it out and start playing live shows. We definitely went through a number of versions for some of these tracks, both lyrically and instrumentally. So in that sense, it was actually kind of helpful to have so much time isolated to work on it.
Having both been involved with other projects, what do each of you bring to DECOUPLR?
Adam: I played in a band called OhBree, and that was extremely different from this. It’s like a ska punk folk kind of group with eight or nine members. I also produced the records for that band. A big focus of that was maximalism, as many tracks as possible, and intensive editing. Trying to make it all sound super tight, but still having the huge orchestra effect of a big band that is bigger than the band actually is. And I think that some of those elements came into this album for DECOUPLR. I definitely continued the maximalist approach on some of the tracks. There are a lot of hidden layers, and little details that maybe you won’t notice on the first listen or second listen, but they’re kind of buried. In general, that’s been a big production style for me, to just kind of leave it all there, put everything you can. I really liked that technique.
Bailey: In the past, I performed with some soul groups in Philly, and previous to my musical life in Philly, I was also playing in an experimental kind of indie project in Savannah. I think what helped me with thinking with Adam’s production style is just really listening to the places where I thought melodies belonged and just leaning into the instincts from so many years of live performance.
What made you choose the name DECOUPLR?
Adam: I work in IT, and we have a fix shop for repairing printers and computers as part of our IT company. One day I was over there, and they were taking apart this big printer. They had the manual out; they were looking at all the part names, and I saw the part ‘decoupler,’ and I just immediately wrote it down. I thought it’d be a good future project name. Then we met, and it seemed to be kind of a fun play on words, and it’s technology-oriented. We are a couple. It’s sad music about losing loved ones and being isolated. It just seemed like it kind of fit pretty perfectly, in a weird way.
Bailey: I think the other option was Duplexor, but we ultimately decided that we weren’t a prog-rock band.