Pop album pays tribute to coming-of-age in Fairfield
Philip Rabalais’s adventures as a self-taught electronic musician began on his parent’s desktop computer as a young teen.
“I remember what it felt like being 14, in my own world making music,” he said. “It connected me to friends and kept me sane in school.”
Rabalais, now 27, said his passion for music has accelerated, not slowed.
“I want to ride that my whole life,” he said. “In fact, I’m pretty much determined to.”
He’s spent years engulfed in Iowa’s music scene, playing techno, punk and house music in Utopia Park, a band he started with his little brother, Dominic. And now he and fellow musician, Adrien Daller are gaining recognition statewide for their pop band’s first album, “The Endless Prom,” produced from start to finish in Iowa. The album draws from both artists coming-of-age experiences in Fairfield.
Across the hall back in high school, Daller was in a musical world of her own. The daughter of a pianist from Detroit, Daller grew up in a household filled with jazz and classics. Her inner diva emerged at 10, flipping through Vogue in her room and lip sinking in the mirror to Madonna. Daller, now 30, has returned to Fairfield after years of working in musical theater in London and even singing for the Queen.
Of all of their musical undertakings, Daller and Rabalais said forming their pop band, Trouble Lights two years ago might be their most far-fetched.
The two had pursued everything from punk rock to rap, but had never considered pop music to be anything more than a guilty pleasure.
“I had never admitted to being into mainstream pop,” said Daller. “But some of it is brilliant, and there’s a lot out there that’s not mainstream too.”
She found a kindred spirit in Rabalais, who she could talk to for hours about pop artists of the likes of Robyn and Rihanna to more alternative artists like Bjork and Scandinavian pop bands. For them, the challenge was clear — make the catchy pop music they loved, but stay true to the offbeat, quirky spirit they felt defined their craft.
“We didn’t shy away from things we thought were weird,” said Daller. “We do what we find interesting and exciting as artists.”
Daller had never written music before, and said it took her awhile to hit her stride.
“I’ve never sung so cleanly,” she said. “It’s not like jazz where you can rift around the beat, and I had to be careful not to over emote.”
They said it wasn’t until last winter they realized they had the beginnings of a record.
“All of a sudden … it felt obvious we had something,” said Rabalais.
After their revelation, they said the process became easier, full of “heart racing” moments as they felt the album taking shape.
While writing music, they said a theme emerged from their past, becoming an ode to the intensity with which they experienced life during their coming-of-age years.
“There’s no central narrative,” said Rabalais, “but there is a feeling … I hope that feeling translates to others.”
Both said living in Fairfield is what has allowed them to pursue musical careers while working full time.
Daller recalled her years in London, getting home from work late and exhausted.
“When I lived in London, I certainly didn’t have the energy to be creative,” she said.
In contrast, in Fairfield she has a less than five-minute commute, and when she gets home from work she has plenty of time to write music and see her friends.
And for the duo, seeing friends doesn’t mean time away from work. In fact, their friends helped make everything from the album art, to costumes to music videos for their tracks.
“I feel really lucky to have driven friends with a common creative vision,” said Rabalais. “Part of the reason I love living in Fairfield is because I have friends I can trust to make pieces of art that are incredibly high quality.”
A childhood friend and videographer, Geoff Boothby made a music video for their track “Safe With Me,” which has 24,000 views on YouTube.
Rabalais’s girlfriend, Hilary Nelson helped design the album art and costumes. Owen Blake, a friend and owner of O Snap Audio Productions on the south side of the Fairfield square, let them record in his studio in return for helping with renovations.
“On the scale of what we did, I can’t imagine having the time, money, resources or friends to do this anywhere else,” said Rabalais.
And when it came to choosing a record label, they also had the help of friends. Daller’s boyfriend is co-founder of Maximum Ames Records, which has managed marketing and promotion for the album, and are producing and distributing vinyl records and have the album on itunes.
“They encourage you to go all out,” said Daller.
For their album release show, Trouble Lights hosted a prom in Des Moines Friday downtown at Wooly’s, where they crowned a prom king and queen and dressed in elaborate costumes.
Daller and Rabalais said they chose their theme to give a second chance to those who remember prom as a time of awkwardness and angst.
“It’s the prom you wanted it to be,” she said. “We hope our music makes people feel safe to be themselves.”
The duo say so far, venues which once snubbed pop music have welcomed them with open arms.
“We realized there is a place for pop in the underground world,” said Daller. “It’s party music, kids want to dance to it. It’s very accessible to different types of people.”