For American fans of the Brooklyn-via-Toronto duo New Look, happiness came as a Facebook status update. Nearly a year after the digital-only release of a devastating and sultry lead single ("The Ballad") and eight months after the group's self-titled, self-produced debut was released in Europe, New Look announced that the album would arrive in the United States.
The self-released album is due June 19 in North America, "since record labels over here seemed to have lost their balls," the band wrote in a sassy Facebook post in late May.
Released overseas by the Berlin-based !K7 label in October of last year, New Look's debut was critically acclaimed by the BBC and the Guardian. But when it came time to conquer its own continent, the duo, comprising the husband-and-wife team of singer/songwriter/synth player Sarah Ruba and producer Adam Pavao, ran into a roadblock.
"People [at American record labels] don't know what we are," Pavao says. "They don't know if we're pop or dance electronic . . . and we're not hip-hop. So it's like they don't really know where to put us."
New Look's distinct combination of sounds - part future-shock synth pop, part stripped-down '90s R&B - may have confused labels in the States, but it also earned the act a passionate core fan base among those who found its early songs online. It's perhaps unsurprising that the band was warmly received in Europe, where the appetite for nuanced electronic music is more developed.
"It certainly feels like there's more of a yearning for edginess and distinctiveness in the music industry in the U.K. and Europe, which always keeps them a little bit ahead of the curve," says Nadja Rangel, New Look's manager at Monotone. The management company, which also counts Vampire Weekend, Jack White and the Shins among its clients, has worked with Biz 3 Publicity to help the band promote and release its album independently.
Revisiting the group's labels comment on Facebook, Pavao says shifting economic realities in the music industry have made it more difficult for adventurous young artists to find label support. "Everyone wants to play it safe," he says. "'Let's sign up a new band that sounds exactly like the band that came out last year!'"
One arena where New Look has found traction on both sides of the Atlantic is in fashion and style. Ruba, a tall, dark-haired former model with fair skin, big eyes and pouty lips, has won the group admiring write-ups in Vogue and W, as well as a memorable campaign shot by Mario Sorrenti for Barney's New York in February.
"For us it's a big deal," Ruba says of the role that style plays in the band. "We love fashion, so it was never an option to not use it. What we present is a complete package: music, style, everything."
When "New Look" arrives in the United States on June 19, it will be without the help of a record label and as a digital-only release (iTunes will carry the project, as will other outlets), but that is just fine with the band - at least this time around. Pavao and Ruba have already begun work on LP No. 2, and they aren't taking any options, either business-wise or creatively, off the table.
"We've been storing up new material and channeling inspirations and frustrations and all of that good stuff for the past year-and-a-half," Ruba says, still coming down from the high of the band's first headlining tour (13 dates across the Northeastern United States and central Europe in May, with post-funk outfit Electric Guest in support). "We're super-pumped to start up again and focus on being creative for a while. It's going to be great."••••