Pacific Air Keep Their Pop Above the Clouds—and Indie Trends

For an enterprising band with a Facebook account, maximizing the value of the “Genre” category is a fast and handy way of announcing your character. Most groups use the space for basic sonic descriptions (e.g., rock, hip-hop, etc.), if they even fill out the field at all. Others will get more inventive, leaning toward funny, poignant or provocative in detailing their approach or work. As of this writing, the Melvins' genre is “good,” Danny Brown's is “prog rap” and Reptar's is “disco dust,” while Baths identifies as a smiley face flanked by hearts. Pacific Air, a San Diego band composed of 23-year-old Ryan Lawhon and his 20-year-old brother, Taylor, call themselves “POP,” complete with loud, proud capitalization. “There are so many artists out there who like to label themselves as some obscure genre to try to gain some type of credibility, but a part of what we're doing [is] just writing pop songs,” says Ryan. “We're not trying to experiment with anything that's never been done before or really put on any airs.”

This is a decisive line of thinking from an awfully young band. The Lawhons started developing their music in January 2012 as KOKO. They initially gained steam (and praise) by posting recordings on their Bandcamp page, which led to a contract with Republic Records, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group. In September, they officially altered their project's name to Pacific Air on their management's advice as a way to preemptively cope with the endless waves of similarly named artists and works. The pair paid tribute to their old moniker with Long Live KOKO, an EP released in October. A debut full-length is in the works for 2013.

The brothers' histories are rich with all sorts of sounds. Taylor is particularly into classical music. Ryan grew up playing bass and guitar in churches until he was about 16 years old; he has also worked with a publishing company, making mostly ambient music for local commercials. Over the years, Ryan has been in many a synth-pop band influenced by Kraftwerk and Joy Division; Pacific Air marks his first non-synth band.

The Lawhons first found common musical ground some five years ago over classical and New Age music—the latter a remnant from their mother's listening habits. In interviews, the siblings frequently emphasize the impact on their work of New Age artists such as Enya and Ray Lynch. Ryan finds more to enjoy about the style than nostalgia; he appreciates it for its calming and meditative effects, too.

Pacific Air's dreamy pop brings you to a comfy-as-a-cloud area where your troubles still exist but aren't as universe-shattering. Songs such as “Float” and “Roses” show hints of a dark side but are still pleasant enough to make for easy listening. You can't exactly imagine Pacific Air opening for Yanni—they're more likely to tour with Phoenix or Pop Etc—but the connections to New Age are clear nonetheless.

For as docile Pacific Air's music is, though, talking to Ryan leaves you with the sense they're framing their work in response to other factors in their industry. Twice during this interview, he says they're not the sort to put on any airs, which leads you to wonder who he is thinking does. He doesn't call anyone out, but he does begin emphasizing something. “We're trying to focus more on music than maybe a back story. A lot of indie media recently has focused more on the story of the musicians rather than the music,” he says. “We're trying to lean away from that and just keep it as minimalist as possible about us.”



This article appeared in print as “Above the Clouds, and the Trends: Heading heavenward with Pacific Air's familial ties and placid pop.”

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