DJ/producer Alena Ratner and songwriter Elysia Hang-fu, both Chicago-based artists, began making music together under the name Shuteye in 2010. The electro-pop/dance duo has since released the 'Sun Night Sky' EP, and has performed with likeminded artists Crystal Castles, Peaches and Toro y Moi.
On November 27, Ratner and Hang-fu will self-release their first full-length album, 'Hush Hush.' There are some sonic traces of the Chicago house scene Ratner has been a part of for the past several years, but combined with Hang-fu's decidedly pop-oriented songwriting, the sound on 'Hush Hush' is much more ethereal and melodic. On the phone from Chicago, Ratner and Hang-fu spoke with me about Shuteye's evolution and the duo's debut album.
How does a Shuteye song come into the world? What's your writing process?
Alena: Sometimes one of us writes something and then we work on it together, and other times we just start writing a song together. But, at first, we both had some songs that we'd written individually, so we started with those. Elysia would have some lyrics or a melody, and then we'd produce them together. Or I'd have beats with no vocals and she'd write to that.
Elysia: I've been building a song library since 2007, and have been looking for someone to work with for a very long time that had the same style, and ideas, as me. When I met Alena, things worked out really great from the start, and the process has been very natural.
What type of music were you making before you met Alena? Was it similar electronic pop and dance music, or was it a completely different sound?
Elysia: I'm 26 now, and I started making music when I was 16. When I started out, I didn't know where I wanted to go. At first it was a pop/rock sort of vibe, and that gradually started changing. When I was in college I started playing keyboards and got really into the electronic sound. I just started writing a bunch of songs and playing around with sounds, and putting a bunch of effects on my vocals. So I was experimenting with the electronic thing before we met.
Shuteye's first full-length album is out next week. You've both been making music for quite a while, but was this a whole new challenge?
Alena: It was a challenge, and it's definitely a relief that the album's finally coming out. We've had the songs finished for a while now, so it's all been about getting the right marketing plan together. We've been playing a bunch of shows and really trying to perfect our sound and the songs.
"It's like there's no reward -- it's always work, work, work, work -- until the album is actually finished and released. So I'm really excited for that. It's a happy moment." --Alena Ratner
It's been a huge learning experience. We didn't like the way it sounded the first time it was mastered, so we ended up going back into the studio with the engineer for another four months remixing half the tracks. I've been working as a producer for the past seven years, so this was the first time I've actually gone into the studio to work on a full-length album with another human being. When you're producing house music, you're on your own. It's totally different, so I've learned a lot.
After re-working the songs, are you much more satisfied with the finished product?
Alena: Yes, definitely. The tracks are very versatile; I think every song is unique and different. We've really seen a lot of progress with each song. The production work and everything has really evolved since the early versions. I'm really excited that we're finally done, because we've been playing, and working on, these songs for a while now. It's like there's no reward -- it's always work, work, work, work -- until the album is actually finished and released. So I'm really excited for that. It's a happy moment.
Elysia: Yeah, it will be really nice to finally be able to start working on some new songs. We're glad to finally have time to focus on what's next.