From song titles like “Satan’s Song” to a tendency to wear a variety of Halloween masks on stage, Portland-based band Reptaliens clearly plants itself in the fringe: the darkly fascinating, the unexplained, the bizarre, all wrapped in an accessibly upbeat and lowkey package of bedroom pop. Created in the home of husband-wife duo Cole and Bambi Browning, Reptaliens is now a full band, with Julian Kowalski (guitar), Austin Smith (guitar), and Tyler Verigin (drums) providing a fullness to their synth-filled, hypnotizing tracks.
Their 2017 debut album FM-2030 is like an X-Files episode come to life, an embrace of both the romantic and inexplicably strange, with lyrical references to everything from cults to alien abduction. Reptaliens describe themselves as “inspired by sci-fi art, cult mentality and deep connections,” which comes through strongly in their music as a deep exploration into the human, inhuman, and connections between the two.
On their latest LP, VALIS, Reptaliens takes a more personal approach to their sinister, yet captivating sound. Mastering their low-fi, understated vibe, their second album levels dreamy guitar riffs with candidly personal lyrics. Their visuals also take on a nostalgic vibe, with music videos for singles “Echo Park” and “Venetian Blinds” filled with film-grain that make them feel like ‘80s footage tapes.
Currently on the road with Turnover and Turnstile, Reptaliens have had a crazy year with more to come. Check out our interview below as they talk about their newest album, biggest influences, and favorite conspiracy theories. Be sure to track them on Bandsintown to see their upcoming shows!
Congratulations on the new album VALIS! What was the song writing process like?
Bambi: Cole and I had been working on demos at home since the completion of the first record. I usually sit down with a guitar and begin working on melodies that have been rolling around in my head and when I have a basic structure, I’ll program a ridiculously detailed drum beat in Ableton Live, and get obsessed with adding and layering melodies on different instruments until I am ready to start working in a vocal melody. At that point, I start working on lyrics, and this is the part of my songwriting process that I dive deep into, reflecting on experiences, thoughts, emotions, etc or start digging into books or the internet if the subject isn’t personal. As soon as the lyrics are roughly in place, I’ll start organizing the song structure to fit into a place that feels like a completed work.
Cole: After FM-2030, we had more of a clear idea of what we were going for and that helped with writing VALIS a lot. We used similar synth patches, guitar tones, and equipment to get a more cohesive sound and wrote songs that would work well as an album as opposed to the different styles of songs found on FM-2030.
There’s a clear thematic shift from your debut album, FM-2030, and VALIS–– why do you think you changed from the sci-fi vibe to something more personal?
Bambi: There’s still definitely a lot of sci-fi elements in the lyrics for this album, they are just a little more shrouded and veiled than the first record. I’m still discovering myself as a lyricist and am experimenting with styles and inspiration. Before Reptaliens, I’d never written full songs or lyrics before, so this is still pretty uncharted territory for me. Some songs are abstract reflections of myself, thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and some are pretty straightforward.
I had a pretty intense year as far as ups and downs and major life changes, depression, loss, and some really difficult times. I think song and lyric writing really helped me therapeutically to get a lot of understanding and closure when I felt trapped, lost, and isolated. I maintain a very optimistic and bright balance to my dark and sometimes secret personal side, and I think it comes across with bright and pretty melodies that can have the effect of disguising pain; it’s only because I know hurt is temporary and the way you cope and try to incorporate positivity really affect you in the long run.
Cole: We always try to explore new territory and want to create music that’s new and exciting to us. We didn’t want to make the same record twice, so we approached this one from a different angle.
Your album art is always colorful and stunning while remaining cohesive. Where do the concepts of these designs come from? Do you have a go-to artist you always strive to collaborate with?
Bambi: OMG let’s talk about BEKAH ABRAHAM aka 4x4kush. She has done ALL of our cover art and is the most talented artist and I’m obsessed with her and her art. She is so inspiring to me and I feel so fortunate to be able to watch her explore art. She taught me how to draw (see VALIS insert art)!!
She has a unique way of incorporating distinct colors, styles, and imagery all in a way that I can’t really describe. It’s contemplative, emotional, beautiful, honest, and always recognizable as her. I love her and her art endlessly.
The Pacific Northwest has such an incredible and unique music scene––being based out of Portland, how do you think the local scene has inspired your work?
Julian: I feel like there are so many different genres and styles of bands that you can see in Portland, and a lot of different things to be inspired by. Cumbia, avant-garde, punk, whatever; it is all very eclectic and helps you open up your mind. Coming from Buffalo, NY, our music scene was not like Portland. Buffalo was mostly pop punk and hardcore. You didn’t have access to music this diverse. There’s a lot of people moving to PDX and bringing their styles with them.
The sounds of your two albums are so unique, and manage to draw from a myriad of different genres. Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
Bambi: All of us in the band draw from some similar style we can tap into and relate through, but I think each of us has a very different background that we draw from which challenges and inspires us. For me personally, I have short and long term favorites and many passing influences that inspire me that I keep deep in my well of inspiration to tap into. Gary Wilson, Curtis Mayfield, John Frusciante, Paul McCartney, Talking Heads, Skid Row, and ‘90s r&b in general…just to name a few.
Cole: The amount of music that I get stoked on is so crazy and diverse. I’ll get super into some ‘70s yacht rock vibes and then switch to ‘80s hardcore or early ‘00s radio jammers. All of this stuff finds its way into Reptaliens songs in subtle ways. Some specifics would be: Ariel Pink for synth sounds; Parquet Courts for song structure; and Anika for recording technique.
You played SXSW this past March––what was that experience like? Do you have any stand-out memories from the festival?
Cole: As far as showcases that we played, the Bandsintown showcase was the best. I hadn’t heard of the other artists performing at the stage with us and I loved all of them. As for SXSW itself, I was just pumped on the chaotic feeling of the festival and all the people roaming the streets and the millions of bands that were everywhere you looked.
Bambi: The Bandsintown showcase was our first show at the festival and my first experience at SXSW ever. I have never had the opportunity to connect with sponsors and industry people, and it was really powerful for me to know that the industry people getting behind artists are just as excited about music as we are. It really moved me to know that there’s so much support for music out there because it can feel very disconnected at times.
My favorite memory was playing a showcase on a “houseboat” where we got to DJ for a few hours in the middle of a sunny day at an outdoor stage right on the river. We were just blasting 80’s Japanese dance music, popping bottles, and dancing until we were actually physically exhausted. As soon as our DJ set was done, I ran straight into the river and dove in, even though I never saw another soul in the water. All of Reptaliens got sunburned kayaking to the bat caves shouting CHIPS AHOY for like 3 hours. It was so funny and fun!!!!
Your first headlining tour also kicked off in March on the West Coast, and you’ve been touring with Turnover and Turnstile since––what are your favorite parts of the tour life?
Bambi: Oh man, I love tour so much. I’m answering these questions from the road right now in the van on an 8 hour drive to Denver, CO. This tour is about 3 months long and I wish it would never end!! Both our headlining tour and this supporting tour have one thing in common, which is pretty unusual, and that’s getting to watch and hear new music nightly. The Turnover crew picked us to be the main support for the entire tour, and Turnstile picks the bands that open up every night. I also love being so close with my band mates. It’s such a weird and special life we share together. I love it!!!
Cole: One of my favorite parts of touring is the hive mind that starts to occur within the band. We all eat the same food, listen to the same music, watch the same movies, and sleep and wake up on the same schedule. We really start to think and act the same and can finish each other’s sentences and know just what the group is thinking. It’s a super intense, close relationship that I don’t think many get to experience and I love it.
What are some go-to tracks to listen to on the road?
Bambi: I seriously try and play Gary Wilson every chance I get, before it gets ripped away from me :) But when I’m not playing Gar Bear, I’m usually playing ‘90s and ‘00s R&B or alt-rock. Some of my go-to tracks are “Honey” by Mariah Carey, “It’s Your Move” by Diana Ross, “Into the Groove” by Madonna, “It’s Different for Girls” by Of Montreal, “Tape Machine” by STRFKR, “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJs…I could go on forever…
Cole: I love driving and listening to country music. I used to play “On the Road Again” by Willie every single time I got behind the wheel first thing. I like Bob Dylan because he tells stories. We actually watch movies and listen to podcasts way more than we listen to music.
After this you wrap up this tour, what is the plan for Reptaliens this year?
Bambi: WRITING MUSIC!!! I can’t wait to get home and sit down to work on new music, and have it take forever to finish anything because I take too many breaks to play with my dog, Hambone. I’m bursting with ideas and inspiration and really am looking forward to creating art and music when we finally get back home.
Cole: Hopefully we will get over to Europe to help promote VALIS some more. We’re playing Pickathon this summer which we are all super stoked on. We’ll probably do some small west coast tours and start reworking the live show theatrics and write some more bangers for y’all.
You’ve said that a lot of your lyrics and even your band name are inspired by conspiracy theories––what are some of your favorites?
Bambi: Before going to sleep, I spend most nights on my phone in bed next to my sweet baby (Coley Boley) reading and researching conspiracies. I try and find the most knowledgeable, credible, and diverse websites to challenge mainstream ideas. Recently I’ve been occupied with Project MKUltra.
Cole: Paul McCartney definitely died in ’66 and was replaced by an actor. The Beatles were just too big to stop going when Paul left this Earth. One of the biggest cover-ups of the 20th century.
What does a Big Break mean to you?
Bambi: Oh man, it means so many things. A big break for me would be a way to share ideas and art on a level that we couldn’t achieve and in a way that’s currently unavailable to us. It is the ability to connect and develop personally and with a global community that we so badly want to reach out to and interact with. I just want to share art and connect in the present with true intent and love.
Cole: The opportunity to do what we love and hopefully make some kind of living from it. We’ll do this regardless because it is all we know how to do but hopefully we can help some people through our music, inspire and guide listeners, and reach as many people as possible with a positive and creative message. One love.