The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Foreign Air’s ‘emotionally true high intensity’ is back on full blast

The electro-pop duo finishes the U.S. leg of its tour at Songbyrd on Oct. 8

Jacob Michael, left, and Jesse Clasen of Foreign Air, whose sophomore album, “Hello Sunshine,” dropped in September. (Luke Adams)

While you may not know the band’s name, it’s possible you’ve heard Foreign Air’s music: The electro-pop duo’s songs have blared behind pulse-pounding scenes on dramas like “Shameless,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and “You.” But the dark synth melodies and cleverly foreboding lyrics featured on shows don’t always capture Foreign Air’s profundity — or its breadth as a multigenre band.

Jesse Clasen and D.C.-based Jacob Michael met in 2006 when their respective touring bands were put on the same bill, but they didn’t form Foreign Air until about a decade later. Looking to move away from their guitar-and-drum rock roots, they invested in synthesizers and samplers. Michael said he was inspired to try his hand at electronic music by U Street Music Hall DJs.

“It was a brand-new experience, even though we were still just writing music,” Clasen said in a Zoom interview from Denver, where the duo had headlined a show the evening before. “We went to another planet to write songs. It was like we were breathing in foreign air.”

The project’s title was sorted, but it was still years before the release of its first full-length album; the duo opted to first drop over an album’s worth of gloomy, groovy singles — a number of which appeared on shows. Delayed by the start of the pandemic, Foreign Air’s debut album, “Good Morning Stranger,” released in October 2020.

“It was a great representation of Foreign Air’s intention of emotionally true high intensity,” Clasen said of the collection that mixes hip-hop, ’90s alternative rock and electronic indie.

But as with most art and artists in the past two-odd years, the pandemic had an impact. Clasen said he experienced burnout, mental health struggles and a cross-country move during lockdown. The hardships served as inspiration for the 14-track “Hello Sunshine,” which dropped in early September.

“Our sophomore record is like a snapshot of our covid journey,” Clasen said. “We sort of fell back into this desire for natural, raw anti-production. We went to a farm in Virginia to finish the album and didn’t think too hard about things. Just guitar, bass, all real drums.”

The first half of the new LP steers into candid confessions, backed by heavy synth and incessant high-hat; in “Blue Days,” Clasen sings, “My ego is evil / It’s coming to get me.” But the second half — in a turn more Cage the Elephant than Glass Animals — slows down and smiles toward reflection: “The sun is shining on you now / You’re learning to forgive at last,” Clasen croons through a touch of distortion on “See a Bit More.”

The end of the album, Clasen said, is about “opening back up to the world” after a pandemic-driven absence. It would seem the pair are succeeding — they finish their U.S. tour at Songbyrd, then head to Europe for another leg. Meanwhile, maybe the world is opening itself up to them, too.

“It’s been interesting with some of the songs we’re playing live for the first time and you’re watching people sing along,” Michael said. “It’s just kind of like, ‘Oh, yeah, this song is out in the world.’ It’s not ours anymore. It belongs to the people, and that’s been really cool.”

Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. at Songbyrd, 540 Penn St. NE. songbyrddc.com. $18-$22.

Loading...