Autograf Survive and Shine on 'Love & Retrograde' EP Breakdown: Exclusive

Sean MacWilliams
Autograf

Six months ago, Autograf almost gave up. The trio lost the support of some team members, walked away from long-term relationships and felt altogether lost in the world. The joy had been sucked out of their lives, replaced with confusion and questions. But just when it looked darkest, music broke new dawn.

Today, Autograf's Mikul Wing, Louis Kha and Jake Carpenter stand triumphant and rejuvinated as they share the five-track EP Love & Retrograde. It's a return to their dance-floor roots that plays in an upward crescendo from downtempo moods to hard-hitting club beats. It's only the beginning, with a full-length album soon to follow, but the group takes none of this newfound inspiration for granted.

The trouble started in October of 2017 just as the group was set to open for Gryffin's Castle in the Sky Tour. It was just before the first show when Wing got a call from his sister. Their dad was losing his battle with cancer, and he shouldn't wait the few days until their hometown show in Chicago. Wing booked a flight that night, and because Carpenter had chosen to stay behind to work on music, Kha was left alone. Wing's father passed away days later. He never returned to the tour.

After spending a few months with family, Kha was meant to reunite with Carpenter and Wing for a high-profile set at Decadence New Year's Eve festival in Denver. Unfortunately, Carpenter had spent the break battling mental health issues. He called the guys just before set time. 

"He told me that he wasn't coming to the show, that he was done with music and he couldn't talk about it any more than that," Kha says. "We performed, me and Mikul, the best we could, but really, it didn't feel like a good performance. We were just not into it because of everything going on. Our agent was there, and right after our set, he came up like looking pretty pissed off like, 'Where the hell is Jake?' I just said, 'He's not here,' pretty matter of factly."

A live tour had been booked throughout the next summer, and after much handwringing, the guys decided to continue the tour as a duo. It was soulless work. "We were just going through the motions," Kha says. The rough reality of life on the road took a toll on their personal lives. Wing's five-year relationship fell apart and ended, while Kha found himself in similar straights. The band's own team members lost faith, and after a hard call, they found themselves down key members of their team.

"It's the biggest challenges in your life that end up making you the strongest," Kha says. "That's how I feel now. At the time, it did not feel like that, but now things are really positive. We did the EP, we're working on our album and are almost done with that, too. We just haven't stopped. This story keeps going, and I feel like if we didn't hit a low point there probably would be no EP, no album back to back like that."

Billboard Dance is proud to share Autograf's story of determination and resilience in a special track-by-track breakdown of Love & Retrograde below.

"Test the Waters" feat. Wynne

Kha: That song was started over a year ago with Wynne laying down the vocals. The song just kind of sat there and never really spoke to us for whatever reason. We just didn't or couldn't finish it. It wasn't until ... the whole world came crashing down. It's like the world is submerging you under water, testing you, and you can either stay underwater and drown or jump out and have a sort of rebirth. It was at that point we realized that we had a huge, newfound love for music, art and everything. Right after Thanksgiving, I pretty much was in the studio every day, 18 hours a day for the whole winter. I was just obsessed and addicted with this newfound appreciation and love. It's something we kind of forgot in the last year going through all this crap.

This is why "Test the Waters" has much more melodrama. It's more emotional and really downtempo. It's not meant for a club at all. It's completely meant for you to listen and feel, whereas some of the other tracks done in the winter had a different purpose. It reflects who we're becoming. "Test the Waters" was who we were and how we dealt with it. After that, it's who we're going to become cool.

"Retrograde"

Wing: We're on tour right now, but it's more of a DJ tour. This newfound love for the music we're making [extends as] this newfound love for DJing. We've been doing this live show for the last couple of years, and "Retrograde" is the mending of our style. It's more house tempo, a little bit more rooted in house music, but it still has some of our other stuff going for it.

Kha: It's kind of a transition track for us musically. Like Mikul said, we have this newfound love for DJing which we haven't done much of. In the last couple of years, we were doing this live electronica thing, and our music was more live electronica; a lot of down tempo, a lot of breakbeat, a lot of weird synthesis. "Retrograde" combines elements of that but makes it club. It's a weird club track. It doesn't entirely make sense at a club, but neither do we. This is where we're headed; our past and our future together. It has this really long break down, a non-traditional build, and the drop isn't your typical one where you just expect to go crazy.

"Casual Love" feat. The Griswolds

Kha: We've been trying to do something with The Griswolds for a while now, going back and forth on ideas and nothing was clicking. Sometime over the winter, [singer Christopher Whitehall] sent me this really rough vocal take he recorded on his phone or something. Now we're in club mode, but the Griswolds are indie band, so it's a club-indie hybrid. The vocal chop we decided to spotlight was the part that said "I lost the feeling." That really spoke to us, especially with everything going on in the past year. It's natural for people to lose the feeling. It can be love with your girlfriend, love with your music or passion. It just felt like everyone around us lost the feeling, and then we're talking to Chris from the Griswolds and he's a really positive, happy guy. I was feeding off that energy like, "You know, you're right. Let's make this song about something that's not seemingly negative, but let's recognize it as a part of life." We started focusing on bringing more of a positive message to the song, and I intntionally owe that to Chris. We were probably still in some sort of melodramatic phase at that point, but I think that collaboration came about nicely.

"Hold Me Back" feat. John Splitoff

Wing: This is another that started a while back. At one point, it was going to be a collab with another artist. it wasn't until this year that we really decided we were going to work on the song and finish it up. I was livnig in New York, moved back to Chicago for the holidays and then I just moved to L.A. I was trying to figure out, if Autograf did end, what I would do with my life? Would I go get some 9-to-5 job? What would be my future? I've been doing this for five years. Autograf become my life, so I came to L.A. with this idea of finding a place to stay creative. Myself and a friend rented out and built this creative complex; a 2,200-squre-feet, it's got a music studio, a photo studio, a storefront/gallery/pop-up shop in the front. "Hold Me Back" was very much a track that pushed us to stay creative, not wanting to fall in to this idea of corporate 9-to-5, and the lyrics that John wrote really spoke to us in that sense of not giving up on our dream. 

"Night Drive"

Wing: A lot of times, people write EPs and albums with a story arc. The story goes up to a pinnacle, then it falls down. This EP is very much just telling the back story and the continual build that leads into this album. The story is in no way done. This EP is not a stand-alone piece. The album will be a continuation of the theme. We want to DJ more, and this is definitely a club track. It ends on a really high energy point, and the story keeps going. We have about 10 songs almost done right now that we're really excited about.

Kha: We're just at a really happy point in our life right now, and the arc of the EP is at that point where there's happiness beginning to show. You'll see it in the album. I guess it's a lot of songs in one winter!

Autograf is one tour in support of Love & Retrograde now through August. And for the record, Carpenter is still involved with the project, though he chooses to remain off the road at this time. The EP is out now on Alt:Vision Records. Listen to it and check the full list of announced Autograf tour dates below.