If you’ve spent enough time in Brooklyn, you’ve probably seen the unobtrusive massage parlors tucked at the end of a side street, their awnings recognizing your weariness: “BODY WORK.” The phrasing always struck me as especially relevant in a place like New York, where personal space is a privilege and a full night’s sleep is for squares. Existing as we do is hard, as this city loves to remind you. You are rarely alone, and so the body is the place where you live, the fragile vessel that shuttles you between the cramped day job and the panic-inducing subway and the clamoring bar and the three-bedroom apartment you share with four people and three cats. The body becomes your only standard of measurement — your room is four small steps long, there are three awful humans in between you and the bartender — and you become paranoid about its obvious impending degradation, maybe start drinking green juices, one of which costs you an hour of work. Ugh!
But then there are those euphoric moments when the burden of schlepping our-fucking-selves from place to place is lifted: a dance floor, or a passing car blaring the perfect song, or a late-night walk with headphones blasting. Lindsey French, the 29-year old, Brooklyn-based producer and singer who records as Negative Gemini, knows those moments well, and it is no coincidence that her latest album, Body Work — the name of which, yes, is inspired by her local massage parlor — is full of them. French’s Midwest-inspired house and techno rhythms are rigorous, but then they drift into reveries, like a dutiful scholar distracted by a seductive daydream. Frantic hardcore breaks are interrupted by French’s own vocals, pop melodies slathered in delay and just out of reach. On the title track, French’s vocals intertwine with a sample from Britney Spears’s classic “Everytime,” fortifying a wavering Britney’s confidence with a pulsing house beat. It’s simultaneously hypnotizing and grounding, and I’ve been listening to it constantly since its release last month.
French and I hopped on the phone to talk about bodies, work, and Darude’s “Sandstorm.”
What about dance music first appealed to you?
Negative Gemini: I’ve been drawn to electronic music ever since I was little — I had the Fat of the Land Prodigy CD when I was in, like, the fifth grade. I remember my brother-in-law, he was older, coming to pick up my sister in his raved-out Dodge Neon and he would blast “Sandstorm” by Darude, and I just thought that was the coolest shit! So a lot of things like that growing up. When I moved to Brooklyn, the scene there is incredibly immersed in house music and steady background techno, and the clubs have such awesome systems, and the bass is just in your face, and that was really inspiring to me.
Weirdly, I’ve been obsessing over the “Sandstorm” era lately too. All the Eiffel 65 kind of stuff that was on the radio when we were young — we could appreciate it for what it was before we got all self-conscious.
NG: Exactly! What was the song that was in A Night at the Roxbury? [Haddaway’s “What Is Love”] Or even something like Ace of Base! Part of me loves that, even though it was super corny.
You grew up in Virginia, but your sound has this quite old-school Midwestern vibe at times. How did that come about?
NG: There’s definitely some Detroit and Chicago house influence in there. But I guess growing up in Virginia, I felt I had a very regular life, surrounded by indie and pop music. So there is a very traditional sense of songwriting at the heart of what I’m doing.
That sense of pop structure definitely comes through in your use of your own vocals. I like it because, with producers, it’s cool to be enigmatic and have a certain emotional distance between yourself and the work. Body Work feels different from that — like there is more at stake emotionally.
NG: As much as I love straight-up techno or whatever, it’s the songs that you can sing in your room, just as a fan of music — for me, those are the songs that really mean something and last for years. I didn’t want to leave that out. So I try to find that balance between wanting to produce electronic music and still keeping that intimacy there.
That Britney Spears “Everytime” sample on “Body Work” was what really hooked me. How did that make its way in there?
NG: I’m just waiting to get sued for that song! I remembered [“Everytime”] recently and just, like, oh my god. I watched all these YouTube videos of her playing the piano during her live shows, playing that song and singing along with it — it was so good. So I was just gonna cover it, and I was playing around with weird drone-y sounds and it just turned into its own song instead. There are still instruments in the same key, but I ended up sampling the snippets from her. It’s just out of admiration. I saw some crazy footage of her performances lately and she is tearing it up.
I feel like people always ask female musicians about “being a female musician,” but never actually ask them how they make music. So what’s your process?
NG: That’s really funny — it’s always like, “What is it like to be a female musician?” I mean, it’s totally justified, but on a certain level it’s like, what is it like to be a woman in this world? [Laughs] But yeah, I use Logic and I record everything in my room. I actually have experimented with a few recording mics, and I’ve found that using the internal microphone on my Apogee One is for some reason awesome for me, even though that’s probably super shitty. I use it on everything, and it sounds better than professional recording mics that I’ve tried. I do live vocals; I have a sampler called the SP-404, and I’ll use that as an instrument at times, with different notes on different pads, or play different parts of the song on different pads to make some of the instrumentation spontaneous and get that live feeling.
What else do you listen to for fun?
NG: Lately I’ve been loving Angel Olsen. In the past year, I loved Sophie’s album and they also did a collaboration with Charli XCX that I thought was really cool. Oh, really appreciating Mitski these days. I actually do listen to male artists, you know, but I guess I just relate to female artists so easily and it’s inspiring to see so many women killing it!
Body Work is out now on Bandcamp.