I first heard of Boy Harsher through my friend Jane Chardiet’s photo blog (janepain.wordpress.com). Based on Jane’s photos, they struck me as a synth duo—my achilles heel. Boy Harsher’s music is comparable to an ‘80s suspense/thriller film soundtrack, buoyed by Jae Matthews’ vocals, which are on caliber with an alluring jazz singer. I’m smitten.
The origins of Boy Harsher lie in Savannah Georgia, where the two members were studying film. They met at a party where Jae first laid eyes on Augustus (Gus) Muller dancing to New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.” They quickly threw together their own project, initially titled Team Dreamz. In January 2014, as the band evolved and became dancier, Teen Dreamz grew into Boy Harsher. The track “Pain,” off their 2015 release Lesser Man, rose to popularity and went viral on YouTube with over two million views. Their music has since become a staple at darkwave goth dance parties. They tour consistently throughout the United States and Europe, and after spotting a New Orleans gig this month, I jumped on the opportunity to interview them. We discussed self-care, what steps we can take to make DIY venues safer, and how to accidentally ingest dog Valium.
What are your signs?
Augustus Muller: Crab guy.
Jae Matthews: Leo.
I first heard your music through my friend Jane Pain Chardiet. She is one of my strongest influences, with her honesty and vulnerability in her photography. Who are some of your influences in underground music, visually and aesthetically? Who inspires you at this time?
AM: I’ve been on a real Psychic TV kick for a while, especially all the ‘80s proto acid stuff. I’m really obsessed with the structure [and] songwriting. For me it’s such a perfect blend of free form dance music and pop music.
JM: Jane is great. I look forward to spending more time with her. Leaving Austin after SXSW, [I’m] still in awe of the people behind Holodeck Records. One of my only records is Troller’s self-titled, and I wore that vinyl out. Their drive and ambition is very inspiring. I really wish I had that motivation. Seeing and playing with Samantha Glass and Essais Pas was amazing too. Watching Marie [Davidson of Essais Pas] command the stage is the best medicine—she is just so in control. I hope to be able to do that someday!
You’ve been touring the United States consistently. How do you focus on yourself, your music, self-care, and eating right while touring?
AM: On tour, self-care is everything. It’s like survival mode with some shows scattered in. I try to eat the best I can and get some sleep.
JM: Yeah it’s hard. Rose water. Honestly, touring is fun and just the opportunity to see the desert, the ocean, the forests, and meeting many good people is really special. At the same time, my anxiety can spiral and I have to really limit my diet, plus watch out for any incoming illness. I’ll fuck around for sure, but sometimes that leads to me not performing well or losing my voice, which is not good.
“When I was a kid my mom would play Annie Lennox’s Diva and Medusa over and over again. They were her divorce anthems.”
If you had an unlimited budget to recreate one of your favorite ‘80s films, which would it be? And what’s the soundtrack?
AM: Psychedelic film noir. I can take care of the soundtrack—Juno 106 and a midi clarinet.
JM: There are so many films I want to recreate. Like are we talking thrillers? Horror? One of my favorites, Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession, would be sacrilege to remake, but I could make a “reinterpretation.” I think Stephen King’s Misery could use a new go, but that’s 1990. Don’t get me started on the B films. There are way too many. Maybe I could just write Gus’ psychedelic film noir.
I was looking through your Instagram, and one post that leapt out was someone making gross gestures at one of your shows. That’s fucked up and non-consensual as hell. How do we make music spaces, community spaces, and DIY venues safer from predators and white supremacists?
JM: It’s just reality, I guess. I don’t have the answers. Not to cop out, but I’m not really sure what to do. We are super conscious of where we play and I always push for inclusive bills. I do the best I can to make sure we aren’t complicit in any gross dynamic, and I try to listen. It’s tough though. I’ll get fucked with as a performer; I’ll try to protect people who I perceive to be getting fucked with… I wish there was more I could do. It’s just really important for us that marginalized persons are able to come to our shows if they want, without the fear of being harassed or hurt.
I listened to Country Girl again last night; it’s such a breathtaking LP. I read in one of your interviews that the initial plan was to make it into a short film. Do you still have plans for maybe scoring a short film with one of your future releases?
JM: Hey, thanks! The Country Girl chapter is over in terms of video work, but I will pursue more video and multimedia projects for future releases.
How the heck did you accidentally eat dog Valium (I saw this on your Twitter)?
AM: Sometimes you dog-sit a manic pug named Ira who occasionally needs Valium. Sometimes you put the Valium on a chip and dip the Valium in the nacho cheese to make it easier for Ira to swallow. Sometimes you help yourself to the nacho cheese after. Sometimes you accidently take dog Valium.
Music writers and critics have tried to label you as solely EBM and compare you to the likes of Chris & Cosey or ADULT. How would you describe your music to someone who has never listened to Boy Harsher before?
AM: I definitely try to stay away from self labeling. Partly because it’s really hard for me to articulate. Here, let me give it a shot: “desperate minimalist OST.”
JM: My friend Beau said that we were like “Not-Trance-Music Trance.”
What’s the importance of Annie Lennox to you, Jae?
JM: I just remember when I was a kid my mom would play Annie Lennox’s Diva and Medusa over and over again. They were her divorce anthems. Lately I’ve been getting into the first Eurythmics album, In The Garden, which is really so good. I just appreciate Lennox as this adaptable performer who also remained a freak. She’s a philanthropist too—just all around admirable.
Boy Harsher will be at Gasa Gasa on Sunday, April 22 with The Soft Moon. For more info, check out boyharsher.com.
photo JESS GARTEN