Inspired by a "shell of a home" Ross Farbe shared in the 9th Ward with an absent roommate and a four-track cassette recorder, Farbe and Ray Micarelli — the duo Video Age — recorded the aptly titled Living Alone in a similarly bare, gutted studio space in the Riverbend with an eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorder. The band relieves its lovesick, claustrophobic pop with warm synthesizers, bubbling bass and bright guitars. Album opener "Throwing Knives" crashes a sunny riff with a warning: "They're in the house, creeping, scream and shout, I've had enough."
Farbe and Micarelli model Video Age as classic pop progeny, embracing David Bowie, Brian Eno, Todd Rundgren and Devo as much as the Kinks' and Ray Davies' brand of creeping, self-aware melancholy. "We're the new wave Simon and Garfunkel," Micarelli says, half-kidding.
"We both think like drummers," Farbe says. "It would seem like this band is a drummer and a songwriter. It's so not that simple. We go back and forth a lot."
"I'll give him a song like, 'Hey man, can you tighten up the screws and finish it?' And he'll say, 'Yeah, sure.' And then that's how it will go," Micarelli says. "I like writing songs for him rather than myself. He's more flexible than I am. ... We just really like the process of it. He'll just go into the practice space and do stuff, I'll just go into my room, and I'm still a sit-on-the-edge-of-your-bed-with-an-acoustic-guitar type of person."
As the band started writing and recording, Rhodes Murphy of former New Orleans garage rock band Babes gave Farbe a broken Moog Realistic synthesizer, a user-friendly RadioShack model that has turned into a coveted cult favorite — it's on every song on the album. "Like, 'Do you want this? It's really busted. I'm moving. Hang onto it,'" Farbe says. "It was so messed up it doesn't stay in tune at all, and if you try to tune it, it would drop terribly out of tune. I had to pitch shift the tape to put it in tune."
Farbe also is a prolific engineer who swears by recording to tape and rarely looks back.
"For me it's so much more enjoyable to not have a computer screen in front of me when I'm doing the hard work of the initial recording stuff," Farbe says. "I like the way tape sounds and also just the workflow of a limitation of eight tracks. I had to really think about what I wanted to have on there, what I could stand to get rid of. There was a lot of stripping things down and building them back up. ... Digitally you can keep everything, like, 'Maybe we'll use it later.' Then it just becomes overwhelming. Sometimes it gets diluted. You don't have to make those decisions."