[Q&A] Max Heath of Child Actor on mixing dream-pop with hip-hop, making music videos, and synaesthesia

CHILD ACTOR are a beats-and-vocals electro pop project by cousins Max Heath and Sedgie Ogilvy whose debut LP Victory debuted on Connecticut-based hip-hop label Fake Four this October. Though separated by geography and different musical backgrounds (Heath is in Connecticut and cut his teeth on hip-hop beats, while Ogilvy is in Allston and has played with a number of Americana outfits, including Dispatch's Chadwick Stokes), Child Actor's vision is entirely consistent. Their atmospheric dream-pop is further proof that the dominant pop sound of 2012 belongs to chopped and screwed samples overlayed by ethereal female vocals. I caught up with Heath via email to talk about coming from a musical family, Fake Four, and synaesthesia.

I read that you guys were cousins. How did you start making music together?
Max: We both played music from a young age. For many years we basically did the same thing -- singing and playing piano -- so it felt like there wasn't a way to really collaborate. Eventually I had gotten into production through making hip-hop beats and got the idea to remix one of her songs ("Window"), and I think we both saw a lot of potential in working more together after that.

Child Actor, "Window":

Are there other musicians in your family?
Max: Yes, virtually everyone on our mothers' side is involved in music. Our grandfather was a renowned conductor, our grandmother a beloved music teacher, and our moms and our aunt perform vocal music together as The Heaths.

Do you record together or do you record separately and then send the pieces to each other, Purity Ring style?
Max: The latter, though at the time I was under the impression were doing it "Postal Service style."

Child Actor, "Change":

You guys have released two EPs and one full-length, all in the same year. That is a lot of music. Are those all new songs or did you have them on hand for a while?
Max: We were originally planning to release most of the music from the EPs as a debut album, but kept getting more excited about our newer music. When Fake Four gave us our release date, it felt far enough away that we wanted to keep going and see what we could come up with. It then felt logical to just put out everything we had done before the album on the EPs, though there are a few songs on those that are newer than some on Victory.

Video for “I Will Be,” created by Heath:

Max, you put together the video for "I Will Be." Can you talk a little about that?
Max: Yes, Child Actor has been a great chance to make a lot of videos. So far I've done all five of ours, plus the one for our Dark Time Sunshine collaboration "Valiant." Making a video for "I Will Be" was actually a fairly spontaneous choice. I just happened to get a vivid visual idea with Sedgie singing through colored fog and the really crisp animation style superimposed on top of it all. I'm synaesthetic and over the years it has made me "see" increasingly detailed colors and textures when I create music. I think the video comes fairly close to approximating what that song "looks" like to me when I hear it.

Are you guys involved in any other projects right now?
Max: I am working on a solo project called Circadion. I've written and recorded a lot of songs, but haven't released anything yet. It's got more acoustic instrumentation than Child Actor and has a little more emphasis on songwriting than ambience, but I'm still kind of feeling things out. I'm also always playing with (Fake Four founders) Ceschi, and David Ramos in our fairly omnivorous band Anonymous Inc.

How did you start working with Fake Four?
The founders of Fake Four have been my bandmates for years and friends for many more. I've done a lot of different projects in different styles but this is the first one that really made sense to release on FF. Ceschi's very discriminating, even with his friends' music!

Which artists are you listening to right now that might have influenced Victory?
Madlib, The Knife, My Bloody Valentine, Animal Collective, Frog Eyes, Scott Walker, so many. Child Actor is exciting to me because I really feel free to incorporate any style I enjoy. The Chromatics would have influenced Victory if I had gotten into them before finishing it because I'm a big fan!

Fake Four's been hailed as an "indie hip hop" label, and you mentioned making hip hop beats in the past. What's your relationship to hip hop like? How does it inform the stuff you're doing with Child Actor?
I spent years making sample-based hip-hop beats. I collected a lot of vinyl in this time and I still like returning to this library and using them in a different context for CA. But every so often I'll get inspired by something I hear and make a mental note to go back and try to work with it as a sample later on. I love making beats from samples -- I've made hundreds but it always feels like magic when I can transform a sample into something new and fresh. I especially like making hip-hop beats, but the one thing that's slowed me down is the process of collaborating; it's so hard to find rappers with the right combination of taste, work ethic, and skill to match up with the beats. A shorter answer to this question is Child Actor was a very messy way of reconciling my indie rock songwriting history with my hip-hop production.

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