Cycling Through Seasons of Doubt With the Pansy Boys
We chatted with the pop duo about their upcoming EP and how they're staying hopeful right now
Pop-duo Pansy Boys began making waves upon the release of their first EP, Days of Yore, in 2017. The record helped to not only cement twins Kyle and Joel Curry firmly in Toronto's pop music scene, but as queer figures within Canadian music as well. Since then, Pansy Boys has released numerous singles, and been featured in Now Magazine and the CBC. Seasons of Doubt, which they describe as lush, dreamy chamber-pop, is their sophomore record. The EP is set to be released at the end of the month, following two singles: "Heart-Shaped Silver Charm" and "Seasons of Doubt". They sat down with us earlier this month to talk about the album, being vulnerable in their songwriting, and navigating life during a pandemic.
demo: So how are you guys doing? What have you been up to during quarantine for the past couple of weeks?
Joel: Not a whole lot. To be honest, we’ve just been trying to –– we actually haven't been doing much song writing. I find that the creative muse has been a bit faulty lately, sadly. So we’ve just been going on a lot of walks together.
Kyle: We started biking in the city for the first time. But I feel like songwriting and stuff almost felt like something we were supposed to be doing. So, it lost it’s kind of like –
K: The magic for it. Yeah.
Well, yeah. Being inside constantly, you're kind of losing motivation to do a lot of stuff. Not being able to see my friends or my family has been really draining, and I know you guys can relate to that. But being able to do Zoom is great because you can see them still. Everyone is going through the same thing.
K: Yeah. And we've been talking to people on Zoom and stuff that we wouldn't normally be seeing on a screen if this wasn't happening. A lot of our friends, we would text all the time, but we would never actually take the time to like talk face to face, you know?
Yeah. So you guys are in Toronto right now, right? You’ve been talking a lot to your family and friends. Are they in Montreal?
K: Well, we're from Ottawa, but we went to school in Montreal. So a lot of the people that we're talking to are there and are in different cities now, but we all know them from Montreal.
Like you said, it’s been really hard to be creative during this time. Have you guys just been hanging out with each other then?
K: Yeah, watching lots of Real Housewives. Lots and lots of Housewives.
J: I would say though, the few songs that we have been writing –– it's interesting. We're not, like, having any experiences right now, we're just like sitting in our backyard reading. So the writing that we do is being pulled from things from the past, not from any new bubbling emotions. Usually when we write, it's about things currently happening to us - almost like a diary. It's been interesting pulling from, you know, having to construct your own realities.
Of course. I noticed you guys have been doing the concert series. How has that been going?
K: It's been good. We released the first single off our EP during the pandemic. We had planned to be doing live shows and promoting it with different photo shoots, but we've kind of had to figure out how to make all of that a thing in our bedroom and in our backyard. So we were doing concerts to kind of create buzz before we dropped the first single, “Heart-Shaped Silver Charm”. We have to do one [concert] doing that song live, and then we're going to do a show when the whole EP comes out.
J: Yeah, but it is kinda cool because we don't usually sing all of our older stuff together all the time. It was kind of fun to bring it back out.
I watched the music video for “Heart-Shaped Silver Charm”. I thought it was so intimate, just showing you eating breakfast together, painting your nails, going on walks. How do you think people are gonna relate to this music video in this situation right now? You know, maybe people are stuck with their partners or their friends just being with each other and seeing like these normal everyday mundane acts and they're really intimate. How do you think that translates versus in normal life where you’d go on dates and it's expensive. It's kind of like really appreciating, spending time with each other. Do you think people are gonna relate to that and just kind of see that that's, what's more important?
K: The video is going off the idea of boredom –– like true boredom –– especially because the song has a lot to do with a romance that’s not working out and it's weighing down on you. That's why the charm grows bigger and bigger in the video, because it eventually crushes me. So we're doing those things around our house together and Joel is supposed to be this support system. He's there beside me, but there's not much he can do because this silver charm is always on my mind or on my wrist or something. It is kind of like my mental state in this relationship I was in. I hope people will take out of it that essence of just hanging out right now and like being with themselves. Painting your nails and doing like the simple little things that maybe before all this happened, you were taking for granted.
J: It's also an interesting time right now because people do want to see the mundane and the humanity within people –– just day to day realities. It's been a humanizing time, like universally. But at the same time, there's also a need for fantasy from other people. There’s this need for both the normalization of us painting our nails, us going for walks, which we're sort of providing. But even in our personal lives, we want the fantasy. That's why we need people like Lady Gaga.
With the single, obviously you guys were writing this pre-COVID, you know, and you had done this, uh, what was the inspiration behind the song? So you were saying kind of like being in a relationship and it was a bit falling apart and just feeling like that. So tell me about that. How did that go?
K: Basically I was seeing someone who had different romantic philosophies than me and they wanted to be able to be in an open relationship and I just wasn't ready for that at the time. ‘Cause I don't know. I'm still figuring all of what I want out of that world. The song was just about accepting that and being like, “Well, this isn't going to work because I don't want to be the person holding you back from living the kind of romantic life you want to live”. That’s why I say, “I want you to dance without holding my tears in your hands ”. I want to be able to go out and have fun together without you thinking that I'm someone you have to feel bad about if you're flirting with somebody else. So yeah, that was the whole energy of the song. It was kind of final. I remember the night before was one of the final conversations we had, being like this isn't gonna work. So then I just wrote the song –– “now, now, and then I'll wish you'd sleep next to me, but like it's all good”. You know, that's the song.
I really like it. It was very calming and I always appreciate honesty like that in music.
K: A lot of our songs play on that. In fact, we want to add a little drop of lightness and beauty into the world. Obviously we're not ripping out like pop bangers, which are also a means of making people feel light and happy. With songs like “Heart-Shaped Silver Charm”, or even the whole EP that's coming out, we want to allow people to exhale for a moment. And remember that even though life in the world is pretty difficult, there's still kind of this beauty within it.
I think the single, “Seasons of Doubt” is amazing too. We are in a season of doubt and it's so interesting just hearing music that's going to be reflective of this time period. I know you guys hadn't necessarily written it specifically about coronavirus, but people take the art that you've given them and really apply it to their situations. So, you know, it'll especially be relevant.
K: “Seasons of Doubt” is the single [from the EP]. It’s probably one of our favorite songs we've ever written because it just kind of encompasses the past three or four years of our life. We wrote the chorus, like, three years ago, and just never knew how to fill in the verses. It took us two years of living in Toronto to kind of really know what we wanted to say.
J: We never usually take time. Usually when we start writing a song, it will be finished within that day or that week. This time we came up with the title, “Seasons of Doubt”. And then we kept it. It took us a long time to write this one, which makes it even more personal to us, just because it is our most personal, self-reflective song. That's also why we named the whole EP Seasons of Doubt.
Another song on the EP I really like is “Showgirl Syndrome”, just because the name of it is quite fun. But the tone of the song is quite–– like, it's the closing track, and it's quite lush and haunting in a way. I just think it hits a chord.
K: Yeah. I love that song. And especially because a lot of our music is more melancholy right now, I'm finding strength in writing with comedy, like “Showgirl Syndrome. There's a lot of like little campy moments or campy lyrics, which I think balances out the like more melancholic vibe, you know?
Also this EP is the first time we've had more rhythm and stuff. So there's a few songs that have an actual beat. There’s more movement, which is the direction we're going in after the EP comes out.
Having said that, how would you personally describe your sound, especially on the EP right now?
J: Gosh, that's always so puzzling for us. I think I always say that it’s lush. It's, like, lush, dreamy pop, I guess.
K: Yeah. For this EP, though, we’ve been using the term chamber pop quite a bit because a lot of the songs have those stylistic tendencies, like “Heart-Shaped Silver Charm”. But yeah, we usually go for kind of a lush, bedroom pop.
Tell me about the themes in this EP.
J: Well, I think the themes really go with the whole idea of Seasons of Doubt, which has been the past few years of our lives after university. We moved home for a bit, then we moved to Toronto and it's this weird feeling of wanting –– yearning –– for more for our lives. Wanting to experience more, but also being stuck within ourselves and facing our own anxieties, whether that be through mental health, or as queer people, or just people trying to survive this chaotic decade. So even though internally we're stuck, and at times anxious, in “Seasons of Doubt” we say, “I write down songs that sound like love”. So it's as though through the music, we experience the things that we're yearning for. Does that make sense?
Being an earnest and honest artist is the best thing that you can do for an audience. And it really helps to emotionally connect to people.
J: Yeah. But it's interesting because in our personal lives being vulnerable is definitely on the tougher side for us. So I guess music allows us to ––
K: Access that part. Yeah.
There's song lyrics on the EP that are quite light. There's a song called “Sunsets”, which is probably one of our most upbeat songs to date. The opening is, “Sunsets in my mind all the time / I don't know why”. In a way it’s a response to “Seasons of Doubt”. Even though we're experiencing these little seasons of doubt and don’t know where our life is going, we always have this guiding force. We know that we're going to be okay.
Sunsets are kind of the visual of our EP –– the cover and stuff. We also just filmed a very DIY quarantine music video for the single “Seasons of Doubt”. And that is all based around sunsets too. So sunsets are definitely a strong theme.
Amidst all this other stimulation that we've kind of created in the past century, we still continue to go back to these things that are available. Those things which we have no power over that overwhelm us. We take pictures of sunsets on our phones, which we know are like never going to be as good as the actual thing, but we still want that remembrance. Even in like a little less quality way.
For certain, it’s one of the things I really miss in quarantine: going out and seeing sunsets. Just being able to go and walk out. What are you guys looking forward to the most when this is all done?
K: I'm excited to go out with my friends and dance a lot.
J: [nods] Yes!
K: The past year in Toronto, work –– my day job –– was kind of draining me at night. I wouldn't want to be going out anymore. I was losing that lust for celebrating life all the time. And now through this whole situation, it's given me this really strong urge to just be really sweaty with my friends, dancing and like in the sun, with like a vodka soda in my hand.
Who are you listening to right now?
K: Ooh, I'd say our favorite album that really got us through isolation was Caroline Polachek’s Pang. That's probably like our, our number one.
J: Yeah. That's definitely a go to.
K: It’s a mixture of perfect pop melodies that are –– I don't know, something's going on in her brain that makes her calculate the best melodies you could ever think of. And then it has a kind of chaotic production, which is something we really admire and are aiming towards ourselves in some ways in the future.
J: Obviously, the new Charli XCX album is a hit for us.
K: Which is wild, because we have hardly been able to write a song in quarantine, and she pumps out a whole album. That's just something to admire, you know?
Are you guys happy being able to hang out with each other so much?
K: Yeah, it's nice. The beginning of the pandemic was the first time Joel and I had been hanging out like all day long in so long. Before, it'd be work and then we'd come home and I'd be drained. So I'd like, lie in my bed and he'd be doing other stuff. So it's the first time we sat beside each other reading, and talked about a lot of things and went on long, daily walks together.
J: Cooking for each other. It’s been very nice in that sense, it's been sort of refreshing. Now, Kyle goes back to work during the day, and I feel like it’s weird. I'm used to getting up and making coffee with him and cooking with him. And now it's just me, and we have a roommate as well. So that's fun too, but of course it's not the same anymore.
K: Our marriage is over!
K: There’s a lot of obviously shitty things going on in the world. So it's hard to put on a big smile and pretend that everything is beautiful right now, but it's powerful to still see the beauty in things and to see that they're going to get better. That’s what makes me stay relatively happy and not totally crushed by everything.
J: I think there's something powerful with still recognizing the beauty of the world at the same time as taking action, and even finding beauty in anger. And the ugliness of today's world, which has always been there of course. But I think if you can latch onto the goodness while trying to make a change, that's all you can do.
I always say that it sounds so corny, but Kyle and I said this a few times to each other during quarantine: during this chaotic time where things feel shaky, the sun rises every morning and sets every night, you know, the birds start singing in the morning. So nature's still so completely within itself and strong. It’s just kind of refreshing to like to look out at the greenery and see that nothing has really changed. You know what I mean?
K: And it's kind of a reminder that human beings, and this society we’ve created are not like the center of the universe. Everything else is still flourishing amidst all of us.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.