While Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is widely recognized as a soft-rock masterpiece, and Stevie Nicks has become something of a witchy den mother to gauzy art-goths all over, it wasn’t so long ago that the album’s name was mud. People who loathed Fleetwood Mac some 12 or 15 years ago might acknowledge the excellence of “Second Hand News” or “The Chain,” but we’ve yet to have a full reckoning about the place of soft rock. Even playing Lionel Richie, probably the smoothest cheeseburger of them all, wouldn’t necessarily elicit groans today — and in some circles, it’s almost embarrassing to admit you ever hated him.
In a dance universe filled with loops and aggressive glitchy beats, there was always a place for easy listening even if people were loath to admit it. Enter Poolside, the archetypally Angeleno collaboration between Jeffrey Paradise and Filip Nikolic that vaulted into the popular consciousness with a 2010 cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” an upside-down version that stripped the original of all its October-ness, gave it a Tecate in a koozie, and let it float on by alongside the chlorine caddy.
With a boost from arch-hipster James Murphy, the duo released Pacific Standard Time in 2012 and went a full five years before 2017’s Heat, as what felt like a side project with a limited shelf life found its sea legs and dangled them into the water. As career musicians who’d met in San Francisco in the aughts, Paradise and Nikolic assumed they’d play only two or three gigs a year under the Poolside moniker — at first.
“We weren’t expecting anyone to like it,” Paradise tells SF Weekly, while recuperating in New York from a trip to Cuba that left him dehydrated, dealing with food poisoning, and generally exhausted. “We weren’t expecting to be busy. We thought this was cool music, but it was very micro-niche.
“We thought we’d be playing Coachella pool parties and maybe we’d get a gig in Miami, or a couple rooftop parties,” he adds.
But the appeal of “daytime disco” only grew, even as the similar, quasi-concurrent genre chillwave crescendoed and petered out. (As dance guys, Paradise says they hadn’t even heard of chillwave acts like Neon Indian or Washed Out until later.) Spurred by “Do You Believe” and a succession of mixtapes, plus an appearance at the Pacific Festival and a tour in support of The Rapture, the “cool, quirky band” took off.
Slow-tempo jams with falsetto vocals almost beg to be torn apart by critics, and Paradise admits that “we’re kind of ripe for that,” but adds that “we’ve done surprisingly well with the press and Pitchfork.
“We haven’t been a darling, but we’ve fared pretty well,” he says.
In spite of its invitation to lounge in a state of blissed-out catatonia during the hottest part of the afternoon, and the fact that they cut an album in a pool house refitted as a recording studio, Poolside gets plenty of night-time gigs in proper venues. Their mid-afternoon set at Outside Lands seems slotted for maximum exposure — marine layer permitting — for songs like “Hot in the Shade” or their fairly straightforward cover of Brian Eno and David Byrne’s “Strange Overtones.” Turning 10 years old this week, that tune has a sort of retro whirlpool built into it, with lyrical references to its own datedness. Ditto for the cover art to Heat, a Neil Krug photograph of a smoggy sunset that’s as blue and red as a box of Otter Pops.
In all, Poolside is the sonic equivalent of a David Hockney painting: deceptively more than a surface fascination with the play of light in some curvy inground pool in the Hollywood Hills. In fact, Paradise and Nikolic had approached the Anglo-Californian artist about contributing one of his works as their album art.
“A lot of people see Poolside as just this happy, cheery band — and we are — [as] Hockney’s art is not just all joy and fun in the pool in L.A., we conceptualize our music in the same way,” he says. “We hit him up through our manager, and he was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that could be cool,’ and we were like, ‘Here’s our timeline,’ and he was like, ‘I can’t.’ I don’t own a Hockney — but I wanted him to do the cover.”
Poolside, Saturday, Aug. 11, 3:30-4:20 p.m. on the Sutro Stage.
See more Outside Lands 2018 preview coverage:
Arriving at Tash Sultana’s Flow State
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Finding the Center, with Tycho
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Lucy Dacus Knows How You Feel
The emotionally intuitive singer-songwriter finds wisdom from worry.
Basking in that Hot Hot Heat
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Eight Questions for Rachel Torro
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