Bora York — multi-instrumentalist Chris Bartels, vocalist Rebekah Bartels, vocalist/guitarist Brian Seidel, drummer Bjorn Nilsen, and bassist Jamie Kauppi — make some of the most fun music in the Twin Cities. I’ve been curious to learn more about them, especially since I saw their “Arrest Me” video. And when I first reached out, one of my most pressing questions for the band was whether they’d grown up listening to ’80s music. After all, Bora York threw me back to the afternoons at my old home, when my family blasted the Pet Shop Boys and the Human League.
As it turns out, before Bora York, the ’80s were unknown territory for Chris Bartels. He naturally gravitated toward synths, then dived into their history — and he’s happy to talk both about his longtime favorite bands and the new-old music he’s found. Graciously, he and spouse Rebekah Bartels answered a few of my questions this week.
Chris, you told me you didn’t grow up listening to ‘80s music at all. Which artists were formative for you while you developed your taste?
When I first started playing guitar and writing songs, which was in high school, I was really into garage rock. The Strokes, Weezer, The Vines. That sort of thing. With my first ever band, I tried writing that sort of style, eventually realizing it wasn’t the sort of style that came naturally to me.
What pulled you into the dreampop sound?
It was probably several different influences. In my college years, I was really inspired by a number of bands that were doing more atmospheric stuff. Even with rock and pop influences, I always loved the album aspect, and if there were more ethereal, epic moments of songs. There were a few local bands at the time that were buzzing a bit in the circles I was connected with – Weaver At The Loom, In Harbour, and a few others. But I was listening to plenty of really established artists that were doing the same thing. Sleeping At Last, Lydia, Sigur Ros. Even Coldplay at the time was doing that sort of thing.
I was also just discovering and listening to ambient and neo-classical music.
I was a little late to the chillwave party, as I didn’t know these artists when they first blew up in the Myspace days, but when I was writing our first album Dreaming Free, I was definitely listening a lot to the likes of Toro y Moi, Washed Out, Neon Indian. I think all those influences combined definitely helped mold Bora York sonically.
What’s been your favorite ‘80s discovery since starting to dig back in the canon?
Maybe they’re considered as much a 90’s band as 80’s, I’m not sure, but I really like the Cocteau Twins. They’re great. The 80’s sound elements of Bora York was sort of an accident, but a happy one, I think. Obviously nowadays, lots of artists are bringing back elements of 80’s synthpop, whether it’s drum machines or the analog synth sound. But when it’s so easy now to have all the production bells and whistles right there on a laptop, I think the challenge is not going overboard so it’s a mess. There’s something about the simplicity of the 80’s synthpop albums. Admittedly, I didn’t grow up on any of that, I sort of intentionally went back and “rediscovered” some of it.
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For Chris and/or Rebekah: What’s your favorite music-related thing about your spouse?
Chris: Her voice. I could try and think of some well-thought out answer or something more unique, but there’s no need to… I really think she just has a one-of-a-kind voice. And when we record, she’s what I call a one-take wonder. Pretty much every take is near perfect. Whereas when I sing, I hit record/delete/record/delete about 20 times for one verse or something sometimes. Thankfully I record my vocals just by myself!
Rebekah: I love that Chris’ creativity is constantly evolving, whether it be writing our music or finding new music to listen to. I love that each time we get in the car I can have a new listening experience and be exposed to someone new.
I also love that songs hold significance to him. He remembers songs that were playing at big moments in our life. He writes the songs he wants to tie to a memory, like the song playing as I walked down the aisle, or the music I was listening to when our sons were born.
What are you an expert on?
Well, I’ve never been an expert at any one instrument. I’m only decent at several. That used to bum me out more, and I still work to keep improving on them, but I’ve been able to build my confidence in my overall production and songwriting strengths. I don’t know if I’d call myself an expert in any one style, but I do feel I can write music worth listening to in several different styles. It’s why I’ve got so many different band/album projects, whether it’s the dreampop sound, funk, ambient, electronic. It’s a blessing and a curse – it probably wouldn’t hurt to have more focus on one single project sometimes, but I always get the urge to try something new, and oh, while I’m at it, write and record an album of it.
What’s something everyone should know about your band?
The band and the entire first album actually just started as a school project. I had no solid plans for it to even become a band or play anything live at first. And the initial concept was a folk album. Folk-turned-dreampop. Go figure. I’ve found that, at least for me, sometimes it’s best to let things creatively go where they want to go, and not to fight it too much.
Has everyone in the band lived in Minnesota all their lives, or did y’all move here for some reason?
Bjorn, our drummer, was born in New York but has been here since he was 7 or 8. Brian grew up in Hudson, just across the border. Rebekah’s hometown is Luverne, the very southwest corner of Minnesota. But for the past several years, Twin Cities has been home for everyone.
What’s your favorite summer thing to do in Minnesota?
Bonfire hangouts and grilling are always fun. I don’t have as much time for it as in the past, but golfing has always been a favorite hobby of mine. Same for some of the other guys. Rebekah and I bought a house over the winter, so having a yard to play in with our toddler boy now has really been fun. So, hard to pick just one thing – anything outside really!
Tell me about your upcoming remix album.
I put an open invitation out to producers who were interested in remixing some of our songs. A handful of producers from here in the Cities and people we know are doing a song or two, as well as a couple from different parts of the world. Should be fun to see what people come up with. We don’t have any release date plans yet.