Four summers ago, you could have been getting ‘Sweaty’, loving ‘Ice Cream’ and taking your shirt off – but not at the beach.
Instead, there’s a good chance you were dancing to the piano-laced dance tunes of Melbourne electro-pop artist Muscles, during the 2007 season he reigned over the club music charts.
His debut album Guns, Babes, Lemonade was thickly broadcast across the airwaves, and on the back of this success he scored tour slots alongside Justice, MSTRKRFT and Digitalism, as well as supporting the likes of Hot Chip and Chromeo; not to mention opening the inaugural Golden Plains festival…. and then Muscles disappeared.
Late last year the man behind the keyboard, Chris Copulos, reappeared on our radios (and on You Tube with a smutty film clip) with ‘Girls Go Crazy’, then dropped a free mixtape, Road To Manhood, in the lead-up to his recently dropped sophomore album, called simply Manhood. Copulos spoke to Tone Deaf about the new album, what the hell happened, and – of course – about finding his manhood.
With previous lyrics that include “Hey Muscles/ I love you/I want to have your babies” and “Ice cream/is going to save the day”, it’s easy to assume that Mr. Copulos most likely isn’t interested in being the next Socrates.
But going over the abstract lyrics, album art and set design again, one can’t help but doubt if all these elements have clustered together by chance – as suspected, there is more to this artist than just soft tissue.
When asked to give a brief description of his recent record, Muscles isn’t shy: “I can sum it up in one word: Sexy. It’s one sexy little dance album,” he says. “The first few tracks are pretty poppy, very reminiscent of the old Muscles.”
But Manhood isn’t just a compilation of his most sellable tracks written in the last few years, Copulos says, it is more of a traditional piece of work that traverses his often-rocky journey following Guns, Babes, Lemonade, starting with that familiar Muscles sound, then challenging the listener to come on a new, but quite different sonic journey with him.
“You need to have a really open mind when listening to it,” says Copulos, ” and have no expectations. A lot of the songs are challenging to listen to, and do require multiple listens.”
“The small destructive side of me wanted to deliberately add a lot of white noise and strange sounds, kind of make some really heavily depressed stuff” he says, “I had this weird kind of punk aesthetic, and this do-it-yourself kind of sound which was kind of sabotaging myself, but at the same time it was me presenting to my fans: ‘This is old Muscles, now be prepared for new Muscles’.”
Throughout the chat, the destructive side of his personality that Copulos alludes to becomes apparent, and our conversation follows the same pattern as many of his lyrics. First, there’s the shallow, easily pigeon-holed side that he feeds you, almost as a challenge to see if you’re going to take it further.
After getting over this hurdle, Copulos then begins to decipher a few of the elements encoded into his old and new material: “You want to write tracks that people can dance to, but at the same time you want to write lyrics that have different layers that people connect with on a deeper level.”
“’Ice Cream’ and ‘Sweaty’ were strange, because I think when I was writing them I didn’t really know until three or four months after I’d written the songs what they were about. A lot of my stuff is improvised, I pretty much just turn the microphone on and start singing,” reveals Muscles.
Several tracks on Manhood narrates some of the high and low experiences Copulos has hit since 2007, including ‘Blaze’, which stems from being asked to hold a convenience store in San Francisco by another person in the shop.
Another track, ‘Boys Become Men’, details the darker moments he has gone through in recent years, a relatable journey for most teenagers and young adults. “It was originally about a car crash, and not wearing seat belts – the lyric is ‘lying in a cold sweat/waiting for a young girl flying through the air’.”
“So the original concept of that song came about from that experience; but at the same time it’s about growing up, being that teenage boy, going through puberty, thinking about girls, just lying in bed,” he details. “There’s always a double or triple meaning in the lyrics.”
Perhaps one of the best keys to unlocking Manhood and the aesthetic in which it was created, is through the album art, which features four different cartoon characters of Muslces’ persona, based on Copulos’s own sketches.
When asked about this, Copulos was both surprised and eager to explain, “the four characters on the front are old muscles, new muscles, scary muscles and party muscles – they’re the four sides of myself that that kind of dominate what I do – some good influences, some bad.”
So why doesn’t Muscles promote this insightful aspect of his record? “I think people could probably write essays or theses on the album if they so wished. But from my point of view I don’t like to talk too much, I like to keep things a bit of a mystery and have people try and figure it out for themselves, interpret it differently.”
“That’s part of the fun of being in the position that I’m in of creating albums and having a really great fan base,” reveals the man – no longer boy- behind Muscles. “I’m really blessed to be doing this job.”