Meet ROOM8. The Los Angeles-based electronic pop duo (comprised of Ezra Reich and Nic Johns) fuse pop and indie dance with what they dub “soundtrack sensibilities.” First making waves in the dance world by collaborating with Drive soundtrack superstar Electric Youth (see stellar single “Visions of You” here), they’ve since coasted on the buzz of singles “No Hard Feelings (feat. King Deco)” and “This Place Again (feat. Polina).”
Today, they return with the icy new single “Better Than Music” featuring Christina (via Yellow Year Records), premiering exclusively via Billboard.
As the duo reveals to Billboard, “Christina” is actually a pseudonym for a very well-known electronic pop artist, but fans will need to speculate on her real identity for now. Other fun facts? Ezra Reich is the son of American composer (and Philip Glass contemporary) Steve Reich, while Nic co-produced Kitten’s 2014 Atlantic Records debut.
Billboard spoke with the buzzing duo about their lengthy resume, their favorite scores, and working with Electric Youth.
How did you guys first meet and decided to collaborate as a duo?
We have known each other since around 2008. We both played in other bands and realized we loved all the same music and films. We played together in another band prior to ROOM8 and then we started working on an electronic soundtrack type concept album. ROOM8 was born during that process.
Your music has what you describe as ‘soundtrack sensibilities.’ What are some of the films and soundtracks that informed this in you?
Soundtracks and the use of music and songs in film is very inspiring to us. In fact even in the process of songwriting it can be an excellent approach to view the song as a 3 minute movie to define the story and aesthetic. Everything from classics like Bernard Hermann’s score from Vertigo to the synth based scores of Tangerine Dream on Risky Business, Giorgio Moroder on Scarface, Flashdance, The Neverending Story, Goblin on Tenabrae and Suspiria, Jack Nitzche on Starman, Badalamenti on Mulholland Drive and all the Lynch films, back to something more traditional like John Barry’s work on Out of Africa.
What about a favorite synch?
Some favorite synchs are songs that might not seem tragic or dark used in tragic or dark contexts, ie. Tarantino’s use of “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon” in Pulp Fiction and his use of Bowie/Moroder’s “Putting Out Fire (With Gasoline)” from Inglourious Basterds. Lynch’s use of Roy Orbison, and even the way Harmony Korine brought out the dark heart of Britney Spear’s “Everytime” in Springbreakers.
You first made a splash collaborating with Electric Youth of the Drive soundtrack, how did that come together, and how did that experience influence or help support the ROOM8 project?
When we saw Drive, we said, “Fantastic! Other people like things that we have always loved and done!” So we reached out to Austin from EY and sent him this song that Ezra sang on called “In The Rain.” He loved the song and a friendship and musical camraderie was born at that time. We had the song “Visions of You” and asked them if they would cut the vocal we had written which they agreed too. It ended up being our first official ROOM8 release through Win Music. We also had a night in Hollywood during that period where we DJ’d a lot of disco and synth pop with Electric Youth while projecting movies we both loved called “Night Cruise.”
Nic you co-produced Kitten’s debut and both of you have been developing and producing other female singers. How do you manage wearing the hat of artist/producer, vs. being behind the decks? Or do you find it easy to wear both?
It’s really two sides of the same coin. Sometimes the difference is just which artist is going to put out the record for release. Other times being on the behind the scenes producer side means making an arrangement or decisions that might not be how we would necessarily do a record coming out under the ROOM8 name. But working with talented, motivated, hard working artists and writers in either capacity is an absolute joy and a creative journey where you always learn and push yourself for the better and for new things.
Ezra, growing up with Steve Reich for a dad, do you think that influenced the type of music you pursued at all, or just wanting to be a musician in general?
Growing up with him and being around that music definitely had a big impact, even though I ended up on the “pop” side of things. My father’s mother was a songwriter as well who had a few hits on the show New Faces back in the 1950’s, It was actually from the same scene where Eartha Kitt was discovered. I think music is just in the genetic code. I love my father’s music and even though he himself never used synthesizers in his orchestration a tremendous amount of synthesists were influenced by his sounds, not to mention sense of harmony and rhythm. Also with his early tape pieces he was one of the pioneers of sampling and even DJ-ing in the way he manually slowed down tape to change tempo and create phasing between the speech.
If you’re on the west coast, catch ROOM8 playing It’s a School Night this evening (Feb. 3) @ Bardot in Hollywood, alongside ASTR and more!