INTERVIEW: Shadowboxing with Cardiknox

By Jiro Schneider

Electro-pop outfit Cardiknox are doing everything in their power to become your next musical crush. The duo of Lonnie Angle and Thomas Dutton share an ear-catching flair for the theatrical, with her vocals and his keyboards manufacturing an intense, grasping-for-the-stars sound. But while the songs on their latest album, Portrait, sound positively huge, they’re leavened by personal touches in the lyrics that ring authentic and true.  The Couch Sessions caught up with the duo in the midst of their tour with Phoebe Ryan to find out a little more about what makes them tick.

Portrait has some really affirming, epic-sounding songs (“Earthquake” and “On My Way”). Do you approach songwriting more as speaking from personal experience or speaking to universal experiences?

We definitely approach songwriting as a storytelling device, and the most honest stories we can tell are our own. This album is definitely a reflection of both of our lives—the good, the bad, the heartbreak, the growth. We’ve realized in hindsight how the album has an overall positive or uplifting message, though we didn’t exactly set out to write that album. If anything, the lyrics speak to the place that we were in at the moment in our lives and spoke to our need for hope, and our desire to keep growing.

Musically, how do you create the arrangements and build out a song? Does that happen more inside the studio or outside?

We end up writing songs anywhere—at home, in the shower, on the subway, etc.—but we arrange and build them out in the studio. We had the amazing fortune of recording Portrait at Henson Recording Studios in Hollywood with John Shanks who produced the album. That studio is magical—Joni Mitchell recorded many of her albums in the very room we recorded Portrait in. Kinda surreal.

What’s your favorite song on Portrait and why?

This really changes based on mood, but if I’m going to listen to a song off the album, I often find myself reaching for “What Do I Do Now” which is a sleepier track than most of them. I love its groove and mood though.

You bring together a wide range of background experience, from classical to punk to theatre. How do you find each of those elements making their way into your music?

My background in theatre is probably most seen in storytelling. Rather than telling a story on stage, I’m writing my stories into song. I also lean toward the theatrical on stage which is definitely a result of growing up on the stage. Thomas brings his rock background to the song writing. We often start writing songs with just guitars and vocals even though guitars aren’t super featured on the album.

Who’s your songwriting idol?

Brian Wilson (for Thomas). Cyndi Lauper (for Lonnie).

What do you think sets you guys apart from the rest of the electronic pop scene?

We try to be as honest as we can in our songwriting. In pop, that’s not always the case. Sometimes it can be hard to discern if you’re hearing the singer’s story, or someone else who wrote that story for them. And while we’re all for collaboration, there’s something powerful about hearing lyrics from the mouth of the person that lived that experience. I also think we take a tremendous amount of time and effort creating visuals to accompany our music—from commissioning and collaborating with Tristan Eaton to create our album art to developing fun, unique ideas for our music videos.

If you could pick one producer to remix Cardiknox, who would it be and why?

Big fans of Disclosure. That would be rad. Fatboy Slim would be a cool throwback, too.

This summer marked your first performance at Bonnaroo music festival. What did you think of the whole festival experience? Did you check out any other acts?

It was awesome —very hot but super fun. Saw lots of friends and ran around catching music. Standouts were watching our friends The Knocks play a killer set and witnessing HAIM absolutely kill it! I have major girl crushes on them.

You’re touring with Phoebe Ryan this summer. What lessons have you already learned from life on the road?

Don’t poop on the bus!

What can we expect from your next album?

I don’t know, we haven’t started writing it yet. But hopefully some rad tunes!

Catch Cardiknox opening for Phoebe Ryan at Washington DC’s Rock & Roll Hotel on Tuesday, July 5th. More tour dates are available through their official site.