It’s nearly the middle of July, which means that we must be craving the next best track to quench our thirst this summer. And what goes better with summer road trips than undiscovered synthpop? NYC-based ‘Criminal Talk’ is just what you are looking for; a group with an ever-growing repertoire of influences that is taking pop music to the next level.
Alana Goldmann and Devon C. Johnson are the talented duo behind Criminal Talk. Alana is the vocalist while Devon does production, both of them contributing to song writing (though Devon credits Alana with being the primary songwriter). The group works out of Johnson’s studio/bedroom. (According to Alana, you wouldn’t know it was a bedroom until you turned around a saw a bed.) Most recently, they debuted their single "Bridges” - also known as the next song you will have on repeat this summer - on Spotify.
Below, I chat with them on how they got started, and the nuts and bolts of being truly independent (What does “indie” even mean anymore?) in the music world.
So, how did you two meet?
Alana: We met through a mutual friend actually. I was a big fan of hers, and she started teaching me songwriting and guitar. And then, he sort of came up to me.
Devon: Yeah, I heard some bands – Chrvches being one of those specifically – and I think that I always wanted to do synth-pop. I followed her on Twitter and her music taste was out of this world, she got it right every time. And so I reached out to her with the songs I’m thinking of and we worked for probably like a year before we produced a song.
When did this go down, time wise?
Alana: Probably a year and a half ago.
How was the beginning process?
Alana: When I was like 6 years old I was like, "I'm going to Juliard for voice." I was looking up to my little sister, whom I felt like I should follow in her footsteps. Since then, I began to songwrite. In high school, I started doing covers because I thought that I would never be as good a songwriter as some of my favorite artists. I would listen to bands like Tegan and Sara and think, ‘There is no way I’ll be as good as them.’ So instead, I started doing covers. There ended up being this amazing response on the internet, mainly on Tumblr, and my Super Bass cover got like 5,000 notes. That was my background in songwriting. And I kind of taught myself the rest.
Devon: Yeah, we did this all from scratch. I think the biggest thing is that we both finally embraced how much we love pop music. It’s not the enemy, everyone loves it. Let’s just do what we love. It’s not any sacrifice on our artistic merit at all, we love it.
Where do the lyrics come from?
Alana: It varies. It always comes from an emotional place. It’s usually words first; spontaneous words and sentences. After that, I put it with a melody. If I’m stuck, I’ll go to Devon. If I know I want the lyrics but just can’t get the melody right, getting out of your own head is helpful.
Any inspirations? How do those inspirations mesh with you?
Alana: Yeah, I think the biggest bond we have is over Radiohead, and then Arcade Fire. I’m really big on Lana Del Rey, Florence and the Machine – in terms of song writing and style.
Devon: I’m big on Lana, too. Radiohead’s my favorite. I’m big into a lot of indie rock - St. Vincent. It’s crazy actually though – with the way that music is produced now, a band can have one or two songs out and based on those, they are my new favorite band...There’s this tip that I give to all of the bands that I work with that goes, “steal like an artist.” Where you aren’t ripping off something, but you try to recreate the feel of it. I want to play a tribute to these groups, it’s why I make music. But, nothing sounds exactly like it. There are synthpop artists that sound nothing like what Criminal Talk sounds like, so, for me, it’s very much about recreating feeling with what I have. And that’s the interpretation.
How do you choose what songs to release?
Devon: Because of the internet, everyone has access. Everyone can make something, and put it on Soundcloud. We want to approach it in a very serious way because of this. We are trying to make sure the material and most importantly – the quality – is as high as something recorded in a big production studio with a record label budget. There is a professionalism to it.
Alana: We really want things that will catch your ear. We have plenty of stuff that is catchy in its own way, but it’s not something that we can release, say, right now. It’s summer, and there’s a certain stigma attached to songs that come out. We want something that will keep people listening right now. We’ll save the slower stuff for later in the year.
How does the media play into what you do?
Devon: If you look at how a male singer-songwriter and female singer-songwriter get buzz – the media outlets look at them completely differently. The same type of music, same style; but it’s always handled differently.
Alana: Yeah, they ask different questions.
Devon: I want to do what Prince did. All of his songs, the woman’s in power; it’s him subjecting himself to the woman.
What about the industry as a whole?
Devon: We are trying to compete in a market that calls for bigger budget stuff. But, thanks to technology, you do have tools at your disposal to do this stuff on your own. And that’s my aim. I want our stuff to sound as professionally done as, say, a Katy Perry song.
Alana: Yeah, the music industry is interesting. Because, not long ago, people were paying a lot of money to make something sound like it was done with a lower budget. Who remembers the whole lo-fi scene a couple years ago? Best Coast was HUGE. I think it’s an interesting point for that indie rock and pop scene. Another example would be Sky Ferreira, who also sounds a bit grittier. But, you know, she’s huge.
Devon: Yeah, that’s not really how we want to sound. But, we do want it to be of great quality. And just done in my bedroom!
Photo by Ryan C. Jones.