Every now and then, a musical collaboration comes together so naturally that it is like fate stepping in. For the members of East of June, what was intended to be a behind-the-scenes songwriting collective naturally progressed into a band. Comprised of Emily Rath (vocals/keys), Dirk Lance, a founding member of the rock band Incubus (bass/programming) and Kyle Mortensen (guitar/programming), the trio is focused on songwriting and having a truly cooperative process in which everyone contributes equally. Although Kyle initially reached out to longtime friend Dirk to help him with some music he was working on, he stumbled across Emily’s musical portfolio online and quickly brought her onboard. Combining their shared love for ’70s and ’80s production, while also keeping the songs grounded in the present, their songs are a culmination of their shared songwriting process. Their diverse backgrounds also bring a lot of creativity to the process, with Dirk’s work with Incubus, Kyle’s background with music-related jobs such as marketing for a magazine and managing bands, and Emily’s background as a solo artist. The band recently released their latest single “Little Bird”, along with an accompanying music video. Written from a parent’s perspective as their child moves out for the first time, the song carries both the nervousness, hope and trust that all will work out for the best as their child experiences life away from the safety of their wings. “As a parent there is no greater fear than watching your child let go of your hand and tackle life’s uncertainties and challenges on their own,” says bassist and parent Dirk Lance. “There is also no greater joy and sense of accomplishment to be had in this world than watching them discover what they are truly capable of without you.” Filmed in Long Canyon Trail in Simi Valley, CA by Director of Photography Robert Schweiger, the video shows the band performing the track against a serene desert backdrop. “Initially, we liked how using a drone gives the viewer the feeling of a bird in flight, watching our performance from the skies above,” adds guitarist Kyle Mortensen. “Further into our brainstorm, though, we discovered the deeper story of tracing our own parallel paths with music over the years and introduced the idea of weaving together images of our childhood. It all comes together when we see Dirk with his own daughter and him passing the musical torch on to her as the cycle continues to go on.” With plenty of new music in the works, East of June is a band you should definitely keep on your radar! You can connect with East of June via the following links. Photo credit: Jesse Buck-Brennan.
Kyle and Dirk- You have known each other for a long time and started out this project writing together, before bringing Emily on board. What can you tell me about how you met and started writing together for this project?
Dirk- Kyle and I met in high school. I was doing the Incubus thing in high school and Kyle was at another local school and would come to shows and kind of got involved in helping to promote that. He stayed involved in promoting it over the years and we developed a friendship and relationship based around that. We’ve known each other now, I guess, for almost 25 years, or maybe even a little bit longer. My recollection, which is not always to be trusted (laughs), was that he had been working on some stuff on his own musically and kind of kept running things by me. Eventually, I just wormed my way into “Well, have you considered doing it this way?” and the next thing you know we were writing songs together. It was never intended to be a band, at least not initially. It was Kyle’s thing and then our thing and then ours and Emily’s thing. What was going to be a kind of behind-the-scenes songwriting collective just ended up, when all was said and done…we just looked at each other like “This is a band, isn’t it?”. It may not be a traditional version of a band, because it doesn’t have a drummer or some of the traditional instruments, but on paper, in a lot of ways, it was a band. Once we kind of embraced that idea, we really started working to really make it a band…and then the world went to hell (laughs).
Kyle- You came across Emily’s musical portfolio on Bumble but rather than asking her out on a date, you inquired about a musical collaboration. What can you tell me about that meeting and about Emily joining the collective you had formed with Dirk?
Yeah. It’s just kind of funny, you know? Dirk and I had been working on some material and we really wanted a female vocalist. We are really into artists like Portishead. We kind of just kept it open, like “find female vocalist” and I just put it on my vision board and was open to however that would present itself. At the start of the new year…I guess it was 2018…I was like “Oh, I’ve got nothing to do. I guess I’ll go swipe for a little bit”. I came across Emily’s profile and she said she was a singer and she had her website listed on her profile. I decided to skip the line and go check out her website and listened to some of her tunes and she quite honestly sounded nothing like anything Dirk and I were doing. So I thought it sounded like a great idea. I was really curious to see what she would sound like with Dirk and I. I sent her an email and she responded in about a day and she gave me a call and we just started talking about similar interests in music, like Fleetwood Mac and Hall & Oats and really cool stuff from the 70s and 80s. By the end of the conversation, we just really had a vibe and she was like “So how did you find me?” (laughs). I told her straight up “I’m not going to lie. I found you on Bumble, but I’m not going to ask you on a date. If you want to come over and work, then we’re gonna work. I find you physically repulsive, so can we just be in a band together (everyone laughs)?
Emily- You told Kyle initially that you were less interested in being pop star and more interested in being a songwriter. What drew you to songwriting and why do love it so much?
Yeah. So basically, I’ve always sang and started writing music in high school and started performing that music. I’ve always been up and down. I’ve had some definite crappy experiences with producers and all kinds of things on the road of trying to be an artist. I think I was at a moment of “Maybe I just don’t want to be an artist and will just stick to songwriting” because I love songwriting as a passion all of the time. I always thought about myself in the context of if I did anything in music longterm, it would be songwriting. I was just kind of up in the air about not needing to be the artist behind all of the songs that I write, but it’s just kind of funny how things turned out. We were like, “You know what? Let’s just do it!”. I’ve always loved the creation part of music.
Emily- You have also said that your creative process to date has been mainly focused on establishing yourself as a solo artist. What has it been like for you to be a part of a band and to collaborate with others?
Dirk– Yeah Emily! How awesome are we? Tell me how great we are and we’ve changed your life (laughs)!
Emily– (Laughs). Its been great! I’ve done the solo thing for so long and it’s so hard. It’s like, how do you be the person doing literally everything? It’s sometimes impossible so that’s why I tried to work with different people, but you have to be good about figuring out who’s actually trustworthy and just there to take advantage of you and all of those things. It’s been so nice for me to be able to work with two people who I really love and respect and are like brothers now. I feel like they have my back and it’s such a nice change in a way to be able to express myself as an artist, but also we’re completely collaborative. We do everything together and have to be on the same page before we let anything go to the next step. And then having a team of people, even us, just as a trio team has been really great. We can each give forth what we’re good at and it’s just been nice to have all of us collaborate on stuff.
Dirk– Team work makes the dream work!
The three of you share songwriting duties. What is that process like for you, when the three of you are writing a song? Are your styles pretty similar or totally different?
Emily– Yeah. We all have different backgrounds in music and it somehow works out, because we each bring a different element to the table. Because I play piano and have played a lot of music solo and I listened to so many singer-songwriters growing up, I kind of have that lyrical vibe. And they have their own influences. Most of the time that I get together with them it’s just, like, cool.
Dirk– In a band, when you are truly in a collaborative process, it’s just one long running argument (laughs) and how well you can navigate. It’s truly like having siblings. You have to stake your claim to certain things and fight for it or you don’t eat. Everybody has learned to hold their ground and push for their ideas, and ultimately compromise is how you get there. The struggle is in figuring out how to navigate personalities and we’ve done a pretty good job of it. Everybody does bring something to the table that’s different. And it funny, when it comes to music you can play one chord and everybody hears it just a little bit differently. The notes might be the same, but how you hear what it means and what it makes you think of is different, so it’s always going to come back to personalities and experience and what not. The struggle is in getting on the same page, but that’s always the glory of the whole thing when you do. It’s like “Ok, this is something special”, because it’s never just one person’s vision. It’s always a hard fought battle to get to what East of June actually sounds like.
What can you tell me about your sound as a band that incorporates 70s and 80s production with modern sounds, as well?
Kyle– I mean, I think when you go and listen to the catalog that is out right now…we’ve been working behind the scenes tirelessly, just kind-of stockpiling new material that people have not heard yet that we’re really excited about. But the evolution of the catalog, going from something super electronic and rock oriented like “Rebel”, to something that’s just soft and pretty and acoustic like “Little Bird” is just the natural evolution of the three of us collaborating and writing songs together and finding our sound. The first couple of tunes that came out, like “Rebel” and “Weight Of My Sin”, some of those were ideas that Dirk and I were already working on and had demos laid out and Emily was just putting her piece onto it. Those songs then became what they became and then after we got those first songs done, then the three of us started writing things together from scratch, where it was just the three of us in a room with a little Casio keyboard or a piano and a couple of acoustic guitars. I think that, more than anything, it has just been us working together and getting to know each other for the last two and a half to three years and is kind of how things have taken shape.
What can you tell me about your new single “Little Bird”, that was born out of self-isolation from the pandemic and has been described as a unique writing experience for you as a band?
Dirk– I mean, it is the single greatest song ever written in B Minor (laughs)! I just want to put that out there! There have been a few people who have tried to write in B Minor, but we nailed it, so you can put that in BOLD print (laughs)!
Emily– That’s it. That’s all there is! I know that we were all stuck inside and were trying to Zoom and do meetings and it was just pretty hard to write that way. Kyle just, I think, went into his vibes and came up with this really cool guitar part for it. He then sent it to me and I listened to it for a while. It’s kind of funny how some songs take so many revisions and other songs just kind of come. This just felt like one of those songs, where it was like this pretty melody and the idea just came to me, like coming from a parent’s perspective and having it be like the time when they know it’s time to let their child go and be free in the world and allow them to be who they are truly meat to be. I’m not a parent, but I felt like it was something I went through myself, being an only child and moving home after college and having that moment with my parents and them being like “We love you and we want you stay but you need to go” (laughs)!
Dirk– Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out (laughs)!
Emily– Yeah (laughs). It was just that needed push. I need that personally. I’m definitely one to be in my comfort zone and it’s really good when others tell me to get out of it (laughs)! I kind of felt like it was a song I wanted to support and then Dirk, having a lovely daughter of his own, definitely connected to it in his way, I know. Once we had the foundation of the song, we shaped the whole direction and all of that.
What inspired your plan to release your music one single at a time, with each song essentially being its own art project? What inspires your visual aesthetics for your music?
Dirk– A change in the way the landscape of music is kind of released now. Sometimes you can spend your entire life crafting your first record and then you have 18 months to do your second, but people’s attention spans are just short. The general public may not realize how much they need to dig into an album from beginning to end. I really do believe that is the best way to experience music, to really get the vision through those 8-10 songs that’s intended. In the world that we live in today, it’s just not how stuff is consumed. What we are able to do with one song at a time is to really make it an event and really spend the kind of time treating every one of these things as if they were a single, in terms of quality. There was a time when records would get released and there would be three good songs on them and 7 songs of filler and people got pissed. They were like “I just spent a whole bunch of money on this whole album and really there’s only three good songs on there”. These songs are our children, and while it’s totally ok to like one of your kids more than the other, you don’t really say it out loud and you put all of your effort into all of them and that’s kind of what we’re doing. “Little Bird” is different than “Let Me In” which came before it, and the next song is going to be different too. I kind of look at it personally like it’s a Tarantino movie, where you don’t really understand the whole thing until you get to the end and then you replay it back in your own mind. It’s just not obvious right from the get go.
What can you tell me about you plans to release acoustic or remixed versions of your songs?
Dirk– We’ve done one acoustic version of our song “Rebel”, and one of the things that we kind of discovered early on in the songwriting process for us is that most of these songs started out acoustically. That’s kind of how we write and is the benchmark we use to judge a song and the quality of a song. If you can strip out all of the bells and whistles and give it a contemporary production feel and produced feel and take it down to its bare essentials, whether it’s an acoustic guitar or a piano or just a vocal, that’s where you figure out if you have a real song and something that has the ability to connect on a deeper level with people. There are a lot of things right now that are popular and sound a certain way and two years from now you’re never going to remember it, but a truly great song and melody, perhaps more than anything else, transcends all of the fancy production that you put on it. We’re going to be doing a live stream next week to kind of showcase slightly different interpretations of the tunes that aren’t completely acoustic but are a step down from the electric versions of them that have been released and some of the tunes that are going to be coming out, so we’ll be previewing a little bit new material. I think we’re always going to keep that in our repertoire, because we have the option of playing any one of these songs six different ways because we’ve spent the time on the songwriting craft, which is where we always begin the process. This livestream may end up being a live EP that’s semi-acoustic. I know we’re going to keep coming back to that because it’s really kind of cool to have a very rocking electronic and electric heavy version of a tune and then be able to take it down to just a piano and have that stand up as well as the other version did.
You have talked about how your music video last year for “Rebel” kind of laid the foundation for how you would approach music videos going forward. What was it like making that video and how has it influenced the process for later videos?
Kyle– Oh lord! That video! That was…it was interesting because when we did that it was essentially the launch of the band. Even though we had been working behind the scenes for almost 2 years on songs together, we hadn’t really taken photos together and all of the things you need when you are presenting a band, like a logo and an aesthetic. For the video for “Rebel”, I’d kind of written this treatment out and we had an idea of putting it together, but the reality of being an independent artist and trying to put something out is that you can’t really spend five or ten grand on a video if you don’t have five or ten grand to spend on people watching it. It’s like that saying “necessity is the mother of invention”. We ended up actually filming that in the living room of my little apartment. You’d never know, but it was basically like it was time to roll up the sleeves and pull favors and essentially, like my couch was in the kitchen and my bedroom was hair and makeup and all of my furniture was out on the patio. And then we hung up like a 30 foot high green screen inside the living room and put the camera in the hallway and basically shot for 12 hours and the everything was done post production. I think it certainly showed us what our capabilities are and what the possibilites were for us to just not be afraid to experiment and try some different things. I think “Rebel” certainly set the bar, like “Ok, this looks pretty cool. Now how can we do something a bit different at the same level?”. And that is what brought us to “I Can’t Feel It”, which was more of a live performance, but just because of that song having a bit more of that 70s disco kind of vibe. I’ve always been a huge fan of the editing from the original Thomas Crown Affair and the polo scene from the 1967 film. That was sort of where that editing style was derived from, specifically from that scene and it was another idea of like how could we up the production value and do something a little more special with it than just having the three of us playing in the room together. I think we have a really good eye for expressing what the songs mean to us visually. “Count On Me” was a little bit different, in the sense that that video literally came out as soon as Covid hit. It was like, “We have a song coming out and no video. What do we do?”. We were sitting on a hard drive of 20 GB of behind the scenes footage and were like “Let’s hand this to someone and see if they can turn it into a little story of our journey for the last two years.” For me personally, I have a creative agency and do a lot of production and design and that kind of stuff. It’s a huge interest of mine. I also am more and more aware of just how much time and effort it takes to do those things (laughs), so I think we’re all hopeful that going forward it would be great if we could work with some other video directors and producers and collaborators that have their own ideas and visions and want to bring them to us. We would love to be working with other people and not doing everything in house.
You have your video coming out soon for “Little Bird”. What can you tell me about the video and the idea behind it?
Dirk– Yeah, that was an interesting one. I’d like to think we’re creative people, and sometimes the downside of being creative people who are also independent artists is that you keep chasing every decent idea you think you have (laughs). We have a habit of reaching a point where we go “Holy shit! That’s an awesome idea! Can we actually do any of the things that we just got so excited about?”. So you get in the hustle mode and I think we had to take a step back and get connected to what the song really was about and then figure out how to translate that in a way that kind of maintains the style and aesthetic of the band in general. Finding a location that was pretty was not impossible. I mean, there were details to overcome, like how do you climb a mountain in 100 degree heat and shoot a video that way, but we were able to overcome that. It was like “What is the song, really?” It’s about the journey that all of us had and growing up in music and then how did we get here and more specifically for me as a parent, watching my daughter go through this exact same thing. She discovered a bit of a love for music and I’m trying to encourage her with that. This one meant a lot to us because it’s personal for all of us. We’ve had such a good time going through old photographs of us and showing one another our journey not only growing up, but our journey growing up through music. It was just amazing how similar it was. Kyle and I had pictures of playing on baseball teams of 8 and 9 years olds and we actually were on…we had the same jerseys and things like that. All of us happened to have pictures of us playing guitars at a really young age. It’s crazy how much our lives have been parallel. If you believe in some sort of bigger picture and cosmic thing, this video was meant to be in some way. We were meant to have all of those pictures and all be able to put them together and show kind of how we got this point in our lives and what that next step is going to be. It was a special one for me to say the least.
What’s next for you guys? What do you have coming up?
Emily– We definitely have our livestream that we’re really excited about. As Kyle was saying, we have songs that are pretty much ready to go. We’re kind of figuring out how the next steps are going to play out.
Kyle– Yeah. I mean, no one is going on the road anytime soon. Funny enough, I just got off the phone with one of my clients at LiveNation and was having this very conversation about shows. We have songs done and I think that priority number one is and will always be for us to continue to write and finish songs. We have a handful that are already mastered in the can, and we have a handful that are in various stages of writing and/or production. We’re going to take the time to just keep hammering away. We’ve all got a lot of ideas and are all really excited about the new stuff. I think it’s our best material that people have not heard yet.