"How did I lose my own backbone? How do I enjoy my own company? How do I not constantly want to reach out to this person?"
These were the questions that Blue Hawaii's Raphaelle Standell-Preston was asking herself after a two year relationship that was played out largely online came to an end. It was at this time that Standell-Preston, also of Braids, entered the studio with Alex Cowan to start putting the pieces of their second album together. But another dynamic was at play: Standell-Preston and Preston had been a couple at one point as well.
This intersection and morphing of relationships dominates Blue Hawaii’s second record Tenderness. Standell-Preston questions the painful self-transformations she has put herself through to adapt to different relationships, particularly online ones, and the constant negotiations that take place to work out one's position in platonic and romantic relationships. This album gives more questions than it answers but that's exactly what makes it so fascinating.
We speak to Standell-Preston about the album, romantic dynamics, and technology's impact on human interaction.
BEST FIT: It’s four year since Untogether. What made you return now?
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: I think it was enough time because Alex and I used to be in a relationship together for about four years so we needed to take some space after that and we took like a year and a half off and slowly started talking to one another again. Alex and I, since we met, we’ve been really good friends, like that was the foundation of our relationship and having that foundation allowed us to get that back in some way.
We were both in LA; I had gone to work on some solo stuff and then Alex and I had a jam session, the first one we jammed actually was "Do You Need Me". We just found that it clicked right away. Alex and I tend to work really quickly together, we always have and we just found ourselves writing a lot of stuff really fast and compiled a record. We were then like 'okay, do we wanna do this?' and we decided to just go for it. I kind of delayed the next Braids record by about three months, which they were not very happy about, but they came around to it...
On the last Braids record and this Blue Hawaii record you sound very direct. They both hit hard.
Raphaelle: I find that in my life in general I've just become more direct of a person. I think that happens when you get older. Definitely if you're working on yourself as you get older I feel like you have an ability to just say what you mean and to not be ashamed of that.
Were there times when you were definitely never doing a Blue Hawaii album again?
Raphaelle: [Laughs] many times, I think when we did Untogether I was like 'this is ridiculous, this is so painful, why am I going through with this?' but I’m pretty sure that we will continue after this. I don’t know if we'll do another but I feel like with me and Alex, we just take it as it comes. We don't have the whole five-year Stalin plan of takeover as I think some bands do. Braids is like a long term band because it's my life but we don’t plan our lives around Blue Hawaii. I'm really proud of this one, I definitely think we're going to release more singles and do more dance stuff after this, that's something that I really love in Blue Hawaii that I don't do with Braids.
The record deals with romantic relationships that are largely carried out on a digital basis, through platforms like messenger. Tell us about this.
Raphaelle: I’d just ended a relationship - well I guess they had ended it and I was pining... always sucks being on the other end, hey? It was a relationship that was almost two years and a lot of it was spent online because we were both in different places, and I just had the ability to go back and look at all the messages, because we have that ability now where everything is documented, and I was just like 'oh my goodness', just realising how much of a mask I had put on being behind my screen.
How did that work its way into the music?
Raphaelle: I was reading a lot about the sense of loss that people feel when online relationships end, and started carrying that out conceptually with adding a lot of samples that were on my phone from travelling and recording a lot of the piano with my phone and then sending it back to the computer, just trying to make it feel like a phonecall at moments. I still even think about that relationship now and I'm just like 'that got really fucked up because we were talking way too much online and didn't have enough human-to-human contact and things got so lost in translation'.
Were you both different digitally to how you would be in person?
Raphaelle: I think we were - I definitely was. I was a lot more anxious and impulsive. A lot of the things I would say online I wouldn’t say in real life and I think that offers a kind of luxury too because you can carry out certain sexual fantasies online that you couldn't do in real life. I remember after the relationship ended, I had this really crazy dating profile where I was scouting for people online and just like the persona I took on was crazy... I'm not this person at all, I'm not this sex machine. I think it can be really liberating but in my case it was a very anxious, impulsive side of me.
What persona did you take on in the largely online relationship?
Raphaelle: I feel like I was more submissive online, I feel I wasn't very strong in that relationship and that's something I spent a lot of time working through in this record. I was very dependent on this person and I felt like I didn’t have much of a backbone, but I think that's sometimes the roles that we play in relationships which aren't that great for ourselves. I felt pretty fragile after it ended. I used a lot of the record to be like 'huh, how did I lose my own backbone? How do I enjoy my own company? How do I not constantly want to reach out to this person?'
It's really strange how you can speak to someone in person and it comes out one way and online it comes out another.
Raphaelle: There's this one relationship I had online where we never slept together but it was this really long, flirty thing we did online and we sent each other nude photos and it got so weird between us... there was so much intimacy between us but no substance. Things would get taken out of context really quickly and I think on the record I never say 'I'm on my phone too much,' like I don’t make explicit references, but this record has given me a nudge into writing more about phones and technology, which I've done a lot on the new Braids record.
Would you spend a lot of time trying to interpret old messages while you wrote this record?
Raphaelle: Yeah I went back a lot. The song "Do You Need Me" is wondering if they were also pining for me and scrolling through these messages. It's crazy we can do that... like revisit very specific parts of our relationship.
Did you find re-reading these messages a frustrating experience or a good experience?
Raphaelle: I think it was me just not letting go. I guess it was good because I learnt when I was being anxious or when I was being submissive, but I guess there comes a point when you shouldn't totally relive your past and I think the internet allows us to do that a little too much. We don't totally know what we're signing up for.
Do you think we're fully aware of the impact smartphones are having on our lives?
Raphaelle: I notice that my life is greatly impacted in a negative way the more that I use my phone. I've noticed that too in social situations - I used to smoke and I noticed the phone replaced what the cigarette would do. I've set up certain things for myself, where I'll leave my phone at home for the day and I'll let the people know who need to know I'm not going to be with my phone, and then I’ll be like 'okay, I can check my phone for half an hour' and check my emails at a certain time and answer my text messages from this time to this time. I've had to set some pretty strict ground rules for myself so that my life doesn't get owned by it because there's Instagram and Twitter and Slack... I can get lost in there for hours.
How hard is to make records when you have been in a relationship together?
Raphaelle: At the beginning it was a little weird, but now we’ve been apart longer than we were together so it's easier. My boyfriend came on tour with us over the weekend and we stayed at his parents house and I was like 'huh, this is an interesting dynamic' and me and Alex spoke about it. Relationships are complex. It's not super cut and dry in 2017.
Austin from Braids and I were high school sweethearts, but now I see him as this annoying brother that I love a lot... but that's weird, you know? Like 13 years ago he was the love of my life. Life goes on and I haven't had the luxury of walking away from relationships with having dated some of the people in my bands. I feel like as an artist too I don’t ever get that luxury because I write songs about it and I sing about it night after night...
Do you read online comments and what people think of your music?
Raphaelle: Sometimes, I tend to if Alex points it out and is like 'this one’s really funny'. Usually, it's terrible, like if I'm feeling really insecure about myself then I'll go and look for things that are more reinforcing for that insecurity. YouTube comments are so base and they're terrible and I wish they didn’t exist. Part of me really wonders if we should get rid of YouTube comments. I didn’t work so hard for some idiot to comment in three seconds on what he thinks about the video because that becomes associated to your art, or at least it's part of the experience of the viewer. I'm into free speech but you have to give a little more thought to it.
My mum gets after them though. I remember the "Miniskirt" video, my mum's really smart (she's got a lot of degrees) and she just went after this person like 'this is what the song's about, this is what the video's about, I'm going to grill you, I'm going to school you and you're going to sit down' and I was like 'yeah, go mum!'...but my mum's username was so embarrassing - it was 'Mother Of An Indie Goddess'.