Special Interest Find The Little Utopias In Our Terrible Everyday
On their 2020 sophomore album The Passion Of, Louisiana four-piece Special Interest generously mixed punk, techno, and industrial into a blend you could both dance and thrash to, and the result was a critical breakthrough. The LP — which elevated the band’s profile and led to a record deal with Rough Trade — combined scenes of crumbling cities and gentrification with stories of going out at night and being in love. “The lyrics are a reflection of what we see in the world,” vocalist Alli Logout tells MTV News.
If The Passion Of explored Logout’s immediate life without filtering out the present-day dystopia in the background, follow-up Endure (out November 4) maintains this theme while pivoting to more starry-eyed sounds. On eight-minute closer “LA Blues” — far longer than anything the band has previously released — Logout splices grief over their past relationships and love for their current friends into a crestfallen yet empowering soundscape where punk meets balladry. “I was listening to a lot of ambient music and a lot of house music, and I was in a phase where I didn’t wanna listen to anyone yelling at me,” says bassist Nathan Cassiani.
Not that Special Interest is suddenly a dream-pop band — there’s still brittle percussion or a sneering vocal performance for every reverbed, clean guitar riff. On “Love Scene,” drum machines thwack away, Logout sings cooly about a difficult yet irresistible relationship that happens behind closed doors — the kind of thing nearly everyone goes through at some point — and bass guitars and synths evoke a twinkling but foreboding night sky.
Logout continues observing the world around them on Endure, which results in lyrics about police states and fascist regimes on the punk bangers “Impulse Control” and “Concerning Peace.” Yet the quartet bristles at the notion that they’re a political band. “I don't want anyone to have the idea that we think we're activists by doing this, 'cause we're not,” says keyboardist Ruth Mascelli. “That's separate work, that's a separate set of skills, a separate energy.”
“I don't wanna deny the power of music to move people,” Logout adds. “It is really an incredible tool to reach people.” Endure is a great example: Its vivid, stylistically diverse soundscapes and descriptions of regular life in constant crisis speak powerfully to the modern era’s uneasy balance of disaster and joy. All four band members discuss the album below; this conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
MTV News: The Endure press bio says you wanted to make fun music to contrast sad times. Can you talk more about that?
Alli Logout (vocals): It was a pretty dark time during quarantine, and we were lucky enough to have a practice space that was big enough for us to social distance, so our only social outlet was coming together to jam. We were writing a lot of sad stuff, but then some really beautiful stuff started pouring out of us. It wasn’t the beginning intention, but it's really cool that it came out that way.
Nathan Cassiani (bass): We weren't necessarily writing to create a contrasting mood. Whatever came out came out.
Ruth Mascelli (keyboards/drum machines): There are a few fun songs, but a lot of different emotions are covered. It’s just whatever we were feeling at that moment. Taking in the whole expanse of it all.
Maria Elena (guitar/vocals): The pandemic…just was bad. But there were moments of levity any time you saw your friends. Getting to make something with your friends was super amazing and life-giving.
MTV News: Your music has always toed a line between punk and dance. How much did that come up as you were being spontaneous in your practice space?
Mascelli: I don't think it's super conscious with us. There were certain [moments when we said], “Oh, it'd be fun to have something like a little drum and bass here, a little this or a little that.” But we don't make distinctions between the genres we're messing with. We just see what feels impactful when we're playing and follow that. I know going into it, we didn't want to make the same record as the last one.
Logout: We've also described ourselves in the past as genre-nonconforming, and that still holds true. Whatever happens, happens.
Mascelli: We were more like, “Let's just go for it on this album,” which was really fun. We were like, “Whatever, who cares?” Let's have a weird spaghetti western, like, piano interlude. Let's have a fun, kind of poppy, clubby song. Let's have this weird psychedelic dirge.” It's like, why not? Let's just do it.
Elena: We weren't signed [to a label] yet, so it wasn't like we were making an album for a label. We were just making music for [ourselves].
MTV News: Alli, in your interview with the Creative Independent, you talked about being fundamentally opposed to work. I infer from this that you might not love the music industry. How do you balance your beliefs with the desire to sign to a label and the need to promote your music?
Logout: [Being signed to] Rough Trade feels very manageable. It was very clear from the beginning [that] it didn't feel exploitative. They weren't signing us to fill a quota of queerness or Blackness…every label that asked us, that was their aim and their goal. Rough Trade actually liked our music and spoke about our music. And the history of the label [aligns with our views], and the tea is…they're not a massive label. There's still a part of it that feels DIY, but now, we're…in a conference room, which is really funny [laughs].
But everybody is invested. And there are members of our punk and hardcore community that work for the label. So it feels fun.
MTV News: Why are the basics of everyday life such a focus in your lyrics?
Logout: “LA Blues” is one of the best songs, I think, that we've ever created. It's just a song reflecting the things going on around me. I did live on top of a Vietnam vet named Johnny [laughs] who had a lot of guns. All these stories are true. I was literally cooking in my cast iron and drinking a beer, and the beer seeped down because our houses are so demonically un-chill [laughs] in New Orleans.
People have asked, “Are you gonna make a music video for LA Blues?” I feel like it already is a music video. When I hear the song, I follow the trail of beer down to this Vietnam vet, and at that window, I see the white supremacist driving by in his F-150. Those are all things that are consistently going on around me in the South, and the gun violence and the intense mental health and the trying to scam tourists, all those things are just very much part of our daily lives.
MTV News: Given the darkness of what you're describing, it’s kind of a pretty song. Some of the Endure songs are some of your prettiest yet, but there are some grittier ones too. I'm curious how you decide to go pretty versus bombastic.
Mascelli: When we're writing, it's a very intuitive process. We don't talk it out ahead of time. It's literally us getting together, playing, and seeing what comes out and what works.
Elena: The songs tell us what to do. They really do. For me, it's also a matter of overcoming extreme self-consciousness to experiment more, and that's become easier as we've been a band longer.
Mascelli: We've gotten a lot better and more aware of how to play together as a band. On the previous album, our technique was like, “Everybody go really hard all at once all the time.” [On Endure], we were listening to each other a lot more and trying to pull back at the right time to create more space and nuance.
Logout: We keep making a joke that we're sensitive rockers now.