Living In Synth: Lifestyle’s Sean Drinkwater reveals the process behind ‘Regretro’


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It’s easy to react to the new Lifestyle album without even hearing it.

That’s a result of its portmanteau title, the wonderfully crafted Regretro, which in eight letters both captures the times’ fixation on revisionist history and undue romanticism of the past as well as the sense of absolute dread and horror each of us carry with us as we traverse emotionally and psychologically through our days. Apply the moniker to the latest effort from a synth-pop-slash-new-wave band, one that has defined the electronic sound of a city like Boston’s dating back to when all the current synthesizer folk were still wrestling with guitars, and you have nothing short of a eureka moment.

Regretro, as an attitude, is more than just our usual insistence of wishing we’ve made better decisions in the past. Regretro, as a record, captures that inner turmoil against what makes us tick, a dissertation of this uncertain age not unlike that of an Instagram post; glossy and flamboyant on the surface, but with a more difficult understanding buried deep under further scrutiny.

The album, released earlier this month, sparkles out of the gate with the synth cascade of “Human Error,” a song chief Lifestyle protagonist Sean Drinkwater says theorizes “that what we consider to be love is really just dopamine and endorphins, but that there may be comfort in this in the sense that we don’t really choose those processes. People choose to excuse their insane mistakes temporarily because they’re probably chemically driven and automated. It’s a cop-out, of course.”

An underlying theme of Regretro is addiction. As Drinkwater explains in our brief Q&A below, so much of the record is built around the things that propel us forward, whether that be alcohol, the internet, nightlife, and the effect it all has on our well-being. All of these things that, for example on today, a Friday, vault us to sighs of #TGIF relief, will eventually come to be reconsidered and second-guessed over time. But they get us through today, for better or worse.

Fire up Regretro via Lifestyle’s Bandcamp embed, and allow Drinkwater to expand on these themes in our recent email correspondence.

Michael Marotta: What was the stylistic approach to Regretro? How did these songs come together?

Sean Drinkwater: I have a certain aesthetic which all of my projects reflect to an extent. There’s a lot of 1978 to 1982 in everything I do in terms of arrangements and instrumentation, but I always try to push the lyrics into a place that is perhaps more introspective/poetic than some of my influences. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m pretty happy with this batch of tunes.

Some of these recordings date back a long time so it’s actually a little challenging put myself back in that headspace. We actually did a show in February 2012 when Eric Donohue joined the band where we decided to play what were then all new songs, and we did four or five of these (along with “Whereabouts Unknown,” “Ghostship,” and “I Am On Love,” from the Artificial EP). We kind of had the shape of the album in mind but we started to focus on shows for a bit and the structure of the album got a little lost. Our general rule was to make things danceable but not overtly stupid. Lyrically. Eventually I got very involved with making sure the lyrics had a bit more to say than the rough drafts did. I do a lot of writing and songs get mixed around between projects. “Doppelganger” from [Freezepop’s] Imaginary Friends was technically written for ‘a new Lifestyle album’ going back as far 2010, but we needed a certain kind of song for early on the Freezepop album so we had to forfeit that one. We moved to Somerville in 2013 and lost our rehearsal space and eventually Ad Frank also decided to retire from the band, so we had to take a time-out and look for some new inspiration.

One day in June of this year I realized I hadn’t mixed anything for a while and I have 30 or so Freezepop mixes coming up so I used five or six Lifestyle songs to practice on. I was pretty pleased and realized suddenly I had half an album in the can. I had a couple of weeks off at the beginning of September so I wrote a couple more songs (“Glass” and “Church of the Pretty Lasers”) and mixed them (and a few others which were basically done) and sent them off for mastering with Nick Z.

Lyrically this album is focused on addiction. Addiction to dopamine, alcohol, nightlife, fomo, et cetera. It seems like a heavy subject for Lifestyle, so as we went I added more and more light and dated sounds to create a contrast. I mined a lot of late-’80s/early-’90s sounds that I hadn’t used before (or at least not since then). I like songs that have a lot of contrast lyrically, but this group was actually pretty straightforward, so I used the production to create juxtaposition. “Grey Ice” is probably the best example of this with the horn stabs and Fairlight sounds over somewhat dour lyrics. I like the illusion of fun.

Are they all entirely new compositions?

No. “Human Error” dates back to 2005 (and in fact was a Karacter song) but I’ve just been waiting for the right moment for that one to come out. “Cyclone” was written in 2011, but the chorus was originally for a Freezepop song called “Avalanche” dating back to 2009. A different version of that song is still in the running, so I changed the Lifestyle version to “Cyclone.” Most of these date back to 2012 or so when the Artificial EP came out (it was intended to be a precursor to the album). Two of them, “Glass” and “Pretty Lasers,” were written and recorded days before the mastering session in September. I always like to add a last-minute song or two.

How’d you come up with this A+ title and where were you when you thought of it? Because I feel like this was a eureka moment.

I wrote a song called “Regretro” in 2015. Always liked the title. I just thought of it one day on a train to NYC scrolling though notes in my phone. This weekend I actually Googled it (was too scared to do it before) and found a gay dance night in Toronto called Regretro, which seems appropriate enough. I have this absurd habit of naming the albums then the title tracks come out later on EPs and what-not, so maybe the song will see the light of day. It’s kind of experimental in that it only has like four lyrics, but that’s okay. The eureka moment, if there was one, was deciding the album and the song didn’t need to be attached. We had a couple other titles kicking around but they weren’t as good. It was going to be called Neon Ennui (which is a lyric from “Grey Ice”), but that felt a little more lackluster. It was also going to be called Lifestyle Disguised in 2011 when we were into the mask imagery but that didn’t last.

Tell me a bit about “Hauntedhaus” which should be its own genre but that might just be my Octoberisms talking.

This is pretty much the mission statement. Paying the price for going out and being a lunatic and trying to escape whatever the current hell-scape of your life is. “It’s taking a toll but then I take the town” from the last chorus kind of sums a lot of this up.