Analogue Music | Conditioner


By Matt Conner

The music of Conditioner is predictably unpredictable.

You might expect a bit of whimsy even with the name as a portal into the music. Conditioner's socials are all found with the moniker "TryConditioner" no matter your social media platform of choice, and the music follows suit. It's smart. It's catchy. It's inventive. It's also completely contained within the familiar structures of pop music.

After sitting down with Riley McCluskey and Aaron Kirkbride, it's clear that their intention was exactly that—to feel the constraints of convention and then have as much fun as they can trying to find their way back out of it. For the listener, it makes for an exciting and, at times, exhilarating listen. And it's always fun.

Fortunately for Conditioner's own members, it feels that way on the inside, the product of two guys who've set aside the self-seriousness of their younger years to just enjoy the creative process. The results speak (sing) for themselves.

Analogue: So I want to start somewhere with you guys that sounds complimentary, and it is, but it’s also a real question. When I’m listening, I was taken back by the fact that the music always seems to zig when I expect it to zag, so to speak, and yet it never lets go of being catchy as hell. Is that sort of a guiding principle for you in a way?

Riley McCluskey: I would say definitely and it’s rad you honed in on that. Aaron likely comes at it from a slightly different angle, but I love the traditional pop song structure.

I think that if you try to keep something verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus, you can do as much crazy shit as you want and pack as much creativity and inventiveness into a structure where you’re giving people parts over and over again and it’s in three-and-a-half minutes or less, it’s a great vehicle to do fun stuff.

"I think we have an element of that, of not being afraid to do something that could be considered a little bit silly as long as it’s interesting."

I think there are a lot of bands that I like that do that. We don’t really sound like them, but one I’ve always loved and is super-inspirational to me is Dirty Projectors. Aside from a couple albums, they’ve really been super strict about conventional song structures. They have choruses and verses and the songs progress in predictable ways, but the harmony, the melody, the instrumentation and arrangements are completely crazy.

I always thought, ‘I want to do that.’ It gives you something to anchor onto and that fans will relate to. Their stuff is a lot more challenging than ours, but it’s inspirational at least.

Aaron Kirkbride: I think another layer of it, too, is another component of our persona. We’re pretty tongue-in-cheek about a lot of what we do. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We make music to have fun. I think that frees us from the constraints, being willing to be a bit silly at times or cross that boundary to try something many musicians otherwise might not.

One of my biggest musical influences, as an example, is Vulfpeck. Half of what they do is kind of silly and almost joking in nature, but it’s still some of the most musically impressive and enjoyable stuff out there. I think we have an element of that, of not being afraid to do something that could be considered a little bit silly as long as it’s interesting.

Analogue: Aaron, that whimsy that you’re referencing, is that in response to something missing in the marketplace or your own silly side?

Aaron: I think it’s more internal. Riley and I, 90 percent of why we do this is for the fun of it. We’re not trying to fit it into any box, so if we’re sitting in a room and we have a whimsical idea, we’re not afraid to approach it.

Riley: More than a reaction to a market element, it may be a bit of a reaction to the music we used to make. We’ve been in bands together for more than 10 years. We were in a band together in college. I think the music we wrote when we were 19 or 20, I was a lot more uptight about being serious. I only listened to Radiohead and I was just much more self-conscious of doing things that could be described as cheesy or silly or whimsical.

So this project, even though it’s many years later, is almost a reaction to that era when I was worried about stuff that was a little goofy. A lot of the stuff I like the most is a little bit silly, but we have a history of not doing that from years ago. This is maybe an evolution from that.

Analogue: So this is more you? Or has it always been true to you and you were just more self-serious in the past?

Aaron: I would say this is our truest expression to date. We’re not trying to put up any fronts.

Riley: I wasn’t a serious dude in college. I think making music was newer for me and I think there’s a self-consciousness that comes with that and maybe a snobbery where I didn’t want to do anything too obvious or too catchy. There’s that whole thing and I think it happens to a lot of musicians where you evolve and think, ‘I just want to make shit that’s cool and fun.’ Sometimes it might be silly or goofy or obvious, but who cares if it feels good?

Analogue: Was there an identifiable point where the two of you were like, ‘Man, it’s just not worth listening to these pressures, these voices, telling us to be obedient to some rules of seriousness’?

Aaron: Boy, that’s a good question. It was, for whatever reason, at the start of Conditioner. Conditioner has always been this way and our prior projects were very, very different. This has always had this spirit.

Another part that’s unique about this is that Riley and I are the entire band. In prior bands, you’re all in a room and you play a song and maybe perform it live for two years before you record it. But this album was fundamentally written, recorded, produced all at the same time in the studio. I pretty much play all the instruments except drums, so it’s a very one-thing-a-a-time kind of approach.

I think the constraints forced on us having to do everything one-at-a-time overdubs and never play these songs live with a band forced us to experiment with things that were way out there. When it’s just Riley and I sitting around with a few beers messing with synthesizers and samples, you end up with some wacky shit and it ends up being fun.

Riley: I agree with all of that. It felt like a bit of a lark from the beginning. It was liberating. It’s the two of us and we don’t need anyone else’s opinion. We can just do stuff on the computer and we’re freed from a lot of the strictures at being in a real rock band.

VISIT: Conditioner