A vibrant, young crowd surrounded the stage at the TC Superstar tour kickoff last Saturday, two weeks after the deluxe release of R&D. It may have been ACL weekend, but the venue was still packed with enthusiastic fans who were ready to dance (and maybe cry) to the local collective’s synth tunes. A long time fan myself, I finally had the pleasure of catching up with Connor McCampbell, also known as the Toyata Coralla Superstar, to find out what the deluxe album was all about.
By Taylor Sprinkle
T: Many of the additions to the deluxe album are excerpts. What was the inspiration behind this?
C: “It's kind of chaotic the way it all came about. We knew we wanted the title of the album to be R&D. Obviously the title refers to both Ricky and Dana, the names of the characters. But it also stands for research and development. At first, we wanted to release a fake research paper and then get it published. We realized that was just a bad idea.”
“I do most of the songwriting and production, recording, writing. etc for the band and I wanted to involve the other musicians a little more. I did interviews with everybody that collaborated on the album. That was the research. So I had this big bulk of interview audio that I knew I wanted to drop into some songs, I scrubbed all the audio and picked out some snippets that I thought stood out and fit into the album. Then we sent those out to Aaron, Julio, and Mitch and they helped composed all the music.”
T: What was the reason behind the use of mannequins in the album art and music videos?
C: “I use mannequins because they're not real people. Ricky and Dana are universals. They’re objects which people can project their own lives, feelings, emotions onto. I realized that if we did a cover with a picture of two people's faces, everybody would think ‘there's Ricky and there's Dana’. If you do mannequin, it’s a little weird and uncanny. They could be any two people.
"There was a little push back against the mannequins very early on and I think it’s because people were creeped out by them. But the band's a little dark under when you look at the lyrics. Characters die in like half the songs.There's a lot of sadness underneath the dance-y beats and sounds of indie pop.”
T: What makes R&D stand out from other projects you’ve worked on in the past?
C: “It's the only time I've made an album specifically about love. I've written some love songs before, but it's not really my go-to. Every album I've ever made has been ‘What's Connor thinking about right now? And how do we explore that through some songs?’ At the time we were making the album, I was like, well, ‘I'm kind of going through a perspective shift and on what I want to have in my relationships and my romantic relationships in life.’ I thought now was a good time to explore the idea of relationships with an album.”
T: What song or excerpt do you think defines the whole album?
C: “The album looks at two characters and examines the many different ways that their lives could have played out. Maybe they fell in love in high school. Maybe they've been friends since they were kids and they finally realized that feelings for each other when they're in their 60s. Maybe they never meet and that's just how it is. So the album is not defined by any one song, excerpt, or piece, musical or lyrical. The interviews capture many different perspectives on relationships, love and romance. They were all recorded to capture a unique moment in time, a slice in someone's life. That’s probably the thesis of the album. Over the course of your life your perspective on love and relationships is going to change drastically based on your experience.
“To get the full picture, you have to listen to the full album, deluxe album and all. But if you're going to listen to one song, it’d probably be “Into You.” It’s the last song off the original album and it's not really part of the narrative, instead it sums up the entire experience of being in relationships. You fall in love, you fall out of love, you get feelings for someone and it’s complicated. It's messy, it's beautiful. Some people live for it. Some people want to die because of it. It happens every time.”
T: How do you think fans can relate to the relationship dynamics of Ricky and Dana?
C: “I've noticed everybody has a different song that rings true to their experiences. I know some songs, even just the spoken word part, people want to tear up a bit when they hear them…
“To be fair, I was a little intense during the interview process. When I was doing all that research with everybody, there were some questions where people were asked to speak in the second person to a former lover or to confess to someone their feelings. That's a hard response to give but people were very honest emotionally. I think the interviews are a window into people's lives and it's transparent enough that listeners can empathize with it.”
T: What can fans of TC expect as the end of the year approaches?
C: “Now that the deluxe album is out, we're done with the release cycle for R&D and are working on our next album. We’re kicking off our tour tonight, it’ll be a week-long heading to the Midwest up to Chicago and back.”