PREMIERE + Q&A: Indie-Pop Duo EXES Struts Romance & Vulnerability in  ‘Before You Go’ EP

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Photo: Sarah Elly

EXES is a bicoastal duo fronted by Allie McDonald and producer Mike Derenzo. Driven by post-youth nostalgia and people of their past, the duo offers a unique experience to every listener, inviting you to their whimsically romantic world. McDonald’s carefully crafted lyrics and Derenzo’s sonic soundscape allow the duo to evoke a detailed indie-pop sound. In anticipation for their new material, EXES is giving us an exclusive look at their new project Before You Go.

With swirling melodies and chill-inducing production, EXES delivers the next phase of their artistic careers. Going through the EP, “Arrival” is powerful tune with floating synths and filling vocals, while “Peckham” is a soft track that recounts the enchanting moment you fall for someone in the most unexpected way. The title-track, “Before You Go,” ignites your imagination and acts as the perfect escape for any day-dreamer. Speaking on the whole project, the duo said,

“As we’re growing, our sound is also maturing. ‘Before You Go’ feels like a great next step for us. We’re still creating music based on our real life struggles, heartbreaks, fears, and joys – but the sounds and the ideas are more unique and explorative. We weren’t afraid to try new things this time around.”

Creating music that’s equal parts affectionate and vulnerable in production, lyrics, and melody, Before You Go gives listeners a second chance to go after the one that got away. Peep the EP here before it’s available everywhere this Friday, Oct. 5, and learn a little bit more about the rising indie pop duo as Ones To Watch catches up with them below.

OTW: Since both of you hail from two different coasts, how did you find each other?

Mike: Alllie and I went to college together and met via a mutual friend my senior year, her junior year. We would hang out occasionally but really started working on music together after we both graduated. After making numerous songs in a variety of styles we suddenly stumbled upon a group of songs that felt like were cohesive and so EXES was born!

Allie: Yeah it’s actually kind of funny. I think we had at least one class together. We both were communications majors. Turns out we’re best at communicating through music.

OTW: Allie, you’re in Brooklyn, and Mike, you’re in Venice. What’s it like to create music together considering that you both are based on opposite sides of the country?

Mike: Luckily we are able to meet up in person on a pretty regular basis through writing trips, but when we aren’t together we send ideas back and forth over email until we can get together in person to finish them!

Allie: We’ve been doing this for a while now. Being cross country doesn’t actually bother us. We’re familiar with each other’s creative processes. I don’t think this could have worked 10 years ago, but today it’s quite easy. Plus I’ve sort of become the queen of any and all long distance relationships.

OTW: How did you both settle on that name to represent your music?

Allie: We came up with the name EXES pretty early on. We had a few songs already written, and most of them had a strong nostalgic theme. Basically, we are inspired by the people, places, and things of our past. Whether they haunt us or keep us warm at night. Whether they burn our hearts or hold our hands. We write songs about our exes.

OTW: Let’s discuss your project Before You Go, which comes out this Friday, Oct. 5. You’re truly delivering a body of work. What would you like fans to know about it?

Mike: This was by far the most work we’ve ever put into a project before, and it feels great that it’s finally coming out! The first song dates back to January of 2017 and the rest chronicle our time up until now. We traveled to New Orleans to work with our friend Christoph Andersson for the song “Talk.” Collaborated with our two live bandmates Peter Martin (on “Bones Break”) and Jonathan Sim (on “Arrival”). In general our live shows helped to shape the record, we were able to play some of the songs live and make changes to them afterwards. Sonically we tried to push this body of work to be more expressive and cohesive while continuing to grow our sound.

OTW: Talk through your collaborative process. Do you give each other notes on each element of a new song? Or do you stay out of each other’s way?

Mike: Our ideas start out either as voice memos of Allie’s or beats that I’ve made on my own. We tend to gravitate towards the same themes, lyrics, sounds, melodies, drums, etc etc so our initial efforts are the ones we often end up using. We tend to work rather quickly so we’ll get about 75% of a song in one day and then sit with it and exchange notes with each other and go from there. I try not to give too much input on things like lyrics until after Allie has melodies that she really likes.

OTW: “Bones Break” is a lovely dream pop tune and the first single from the project that I found myself getting lost in. What kinds of experiences do you like to create for your fans in your music?

Allie: I love that you find yourself getting lost in that tune. We sort of got lost in it when we wrote it. For me, it’s important to be brutally honest in my songwriting. It’s scary to spill your guts, knowing that people might judge you for it – not to mention your exes will know how you truly feel about them. But what I’ve found is that people need it more than I had originally realized. Songs help us all feel a little less lonely especially when they’re honest and real. It’s therapy for me to write about my personal struggles. And we’ve gotten messages from fans saying they too have been through similar situations. That means everything to me.

OTW: What does it feel like to have had a song featured on one of Taylor Swift’s playlists?

Allie: Surreal mostly. In high school I used to go on long runs and listen to her album Fearless. I know, strange running choice, but I’ve always been inspired by her songwriting. That girl can write a pop hit. It feels amazing to be recognized by someone like that.

OTW: How did each of you discover music was the path for you? 

Allie: I’ve been playing music for most of my life. Classically, for the majority. My mom is a piano teacher, so I grew up overhearing her lessons on a daily basis. I started taking violin lessons in 4th grade and was an orch dork in high school. I did it all – Shoreline Youth Symphony Orchestra to All State and All New England. When I was about 16 I picked up the guitar we kept in our living room as decoration and started teaching myself how to play. I became absolutely obsessed – I had no friends, no social life. Was definitely not too popular in high school. As soon as I could play 4 chords, I began writing songs. They were pretty terrible, but for some reason I kept going with it. I posted my original songs on YouTube and eventually grew somewhat of a following. I think it was then that I knew. Through the years I’ve deleted or kept hidden most of those videos, but it’s fun to look back and see that fire in my eyes.

Mike: I’ve loosely played guitar and piano since childhood, but it wasn’t until I took a music tech class in high school that I realized entire songs could be made on the computer. I experimented and made many terrible tracks throughout college until I met a few vocalists (including Allie), and I started to make listenable music lol. After that I sort of stumbled into an actual career and have been amazed that I get to do this everyday!

OTW: What artists are your Ones To Watch?

Mike: Cautious Clay, JOME, Satica

Allie: Mitski, Soccer Mommy, Phoebe Bridgers – though I know she’s had a big year. Also Mike and I are big fans of the new Now, Now album.

OTW: Any other words you’d like to share with your fans? 

Allie: “Thank you” comes to mind first. Honestly though, we’ve been blow away with the love and support. We read every twitter message and Instagram DM and it truly means the world to find out that people are listening. We’re on a bit of a roll at the moment. Lots of new music, and news coming soon. And we can’t wait for this next chapter.

Mike: Thank you!!! First and foremost. It blows my mind that people all over the world listen to music we make at my house. Can’t wait to continue to share our journey!

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