Greatest Hits
Internet Killed the Video Star
by Kevin J. Elliott

Editor’s note: As we’ve done in the past, for the month of January, our features will be focusing on up-and-coming artists, what we call “rated rookies.” These musicians are making what we feel is the cream of a new crop, and we think you will (sooner or later) agree. Enjoy!

It’s alright if you’ve yet to hear of Greatest Hits. In the vast world of the web, Zak Mering and Tyler Thacker have been hiding out under the un-Googleable moniker, birthing their maximalist pop universe in byte-sized chunks—an mp3 here, a tongue-in-cheek video there. Be it a single for an obscure Japanese label, an energized set of songs for some unheard online radio station or a mixtape for a micro-blog, every little step the duo has taken in creating the entity of Greatest Hits has been available to all, but seemingly known by few. In their universe, though, Greatest Hits are already hedonistic pop stars, reflecting and idolizing a time when popular radio was a grab-bag of exaggerated styles. From Prince to Debbie Gibson and Devo to Richard Marx, nothing is sacred and nothing is out of bounds when piecing it all together for the even shorter attention span of the internet age. If you need some reference, the first place to stop would be 2011’s “L Train Girl” video, which is both a hilarious satire on the state of hipster Brooklyn and a song steeped in the band’s “more is more” philosophy, with an endless array of squiggling synth-lines, double-dutch 808s and irresistible hooks.

Of course, the Malcolm McClaren–esque stunts pulled by the band (a recent show had Mering performing via Skype on a laptop) must be backed by substantive songs in order for Greatest Hits to live up to the imagined fame and ethos Thacker expressed all too well in our recent e-mail exchange. For the past few months, Thacker has been holed up in an expensive LA studio meticulously crafting what will undoubtedly be the coup d’etat for Greatest Hits. While details are scant as to when it will be released or who will release it, Thacker sounds certain this all-in approach to recording a pop record is the logical next phase for Greatest Hits. This is not indie rock, this is the spirit of the radio.

How did Zak and you come to form Greatest Hits? Were you involved in projects before this? How did things you did in the past differ from the vision you had for Greatest Hits?

Tyler Thacker: Zak and I both had projects before we joined Greatest Hits. Zak made recordings under a wide array of pseudonyms (Insted, Raw Thrills,and Silent Talk), and I played with Totally Radd, Dazzler, and Crooked Cowboy. Greatest Hits was a decided departure from all the tropes and romances of our prior experiences playing in bands.

More than any other artist in recent memory, I think you guys tend to celebrate ’80s and ’90s radio pop with vigor. But opposed to taking this nostalgia and distorting it, it seems like you exaggerate the qualities of radio pop. Do you tend to believe the theory that there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure anymore?

TT: I don’t know how precise we are in terms of masterful synthesis of ’80s and ’90s music, but the musical aspects of Greatest Hits’ songs are rooted in tonality and either the departure or exploitation of iconic synths, drum machines, and motifs. We like and derive influence from all kinds of music. Also, I think I can speak on behalf of anyone who has participated in the project that guilty pleasure exists.

Are you ever concerned that this exaggeration might be construed as mocking or novelty or are you just dead serious about playing musicians who are never serious about their art?

TT: People can think whatever the fuck they want. They don’t need to listen to it or talk about it or read about it if they don’t want to. We are acutely aware of ourselves, and that being said, are excited to deliver a new product that isn’t difficult or intimidating to listen to by someone who isn’t a snob. Perhaps it’s something that could be played in a club where everybody freaks the fuck out of each other and doesn’t have to think too hard about what they’re listening to.

You’ve managed to amass quite a buzz just through videos and a healthy online presence. Do you think you’d be in the same place pre-internet or do you think there would be no Greatest Hits without the internet? I guess I’m asking if the internet is an essential component in what you are doing conceptually with Greatest Hits.

TT: Hypothetically speaking, Greatest Hits could exist in an era devoid of internet. But we do live in an age with internet, where as far as anyone is concerned, Greatest Hits wouldn’t exist if it couldn’t be found on the web somehow.

At the same time, the internet allows you guys some anonymity and perhaps mystery, so much so that you can dabble in a number of other projects (Raw Thrills, Happy Healthy Boys, Sweethearts). How do you and Zak determine what of your songwriting is reserved for Greatest Hits?

TT: As far as songwriting in the traditional sense, Greatest Hits’ music has a very complex matrix of contribution, both legal and illegal. In terms of the type of world we’d like to operate in, the music we make is devoid of authorship. All roles and responsibilities are and shall remain confidential, and Zak Mering and Tyler Thacker will act as the commercial faces for the project in the time being. They will be the ones touring the new album.

You did a show with Zak via Skype. How did that come about? And how was it perceived by the audience?

TT: It was arguably the best show to date. Zak appeared on a laptop via Skype from Paris, which rested on a chair front and center stage in a venue in London. From my perspective, people—especially the younger ones—were very comfortable in accepting the image from a screen as reality. They were dancing and watching Zak dance. If anything, they seemed to be more responsive and engaged by it than I was. I spent the large portion of the show screaming, swinging from whatever I could, and breaking glass.

From what you’ve already told me and from what I’ve read, the first album has become quite an undertaking. You’re recording in a pretty advanced studio, spending a lot of money, and working with other people. What prompted this big shift? Were there limitations to how you recorded previously that you wanted to eliminate?

TT: We are inspired by a number of other contemporary artists, eccentrics who are maturing into dynamic adult artists. We strongly feel a cultural apex aloft, on a global scale, and feel like it was our turn to articulate in the most professional manner our willingness to contribute to some kind of broader shift. The new album has been constructed in a manner wholly in simpatico with our initial ideology of constructing music through sampling, while being extremely inviting and fun. There’s not a doubt in my mind that the time it took to bring our new product to life is worth it. Despite its more flushed out treatment of fidelity, I don’t see it as much of a departure from prior recordings and more a formal tribute to a type of experimentation with dance music, funk, jazz, and obviously technology based music. It’s also a potential closing of a chapter in the sense that the next album sounds extremely different.

How has it been working with your father? He’s mixing the record, correct?

TT: My father is a man who managed to have a successful career in the music industry as a pop music engineer for 30 years. He is a veteran of an industry that just doesn’t exist anymore. There’s no place in the wild west for an old timer like him. But I had the luxury of growing up in studios during a golden age when it took 20 people in a large space, with good food, good drugs, sex, great gear and, most importantly, time to make a recording. He’s contributed to the new album from an unbiased and focused angle, but no, he is not mixing the record.

I think there was a genuine hi-fi attitude to all of your recordings thus far. What are you adding and focusing on in the studio to attain what you two envision?

TT: The studio and engineer are a luxury that will make a world of difference for the new album. Neil Schuh, the engineer, is a wizard with fine band equalizing and compressing. Due to the manner in which the compositions are arranged and fleshed out, this sort of fine tune craft will bring out all sorts of important details in a “more is more” scenario.