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Future Days

Future Days

With new lead singer Sinosa Loa, art-pop group Fol Chen keep pushing their sound past the present. By Jessica Hundley. Photographed by Sarah Soquel Morhaim

Forget about the past. Fol Chen is a band that exists a few steps into the future, in a strange, undefined state between computer-generated beats and operatic symphony, plumbing murky emotional depths for their esoteric dance jams. An “art” band in the classic, literal sense, the Los Angeles-based act are continually experimenting and evolving, pushing their pop music into new, and extremely beautiful, places.

A six-piece ensemble spearheaded by producers Samuel Bing and Julian Wass, the band has embraced an air of sly mystery. They rarely appear in their own videos, promo photos, or album art, (and when they do, they are usually in some sort of clever disguise: masquerade masks in the shape of silhouette portraits, bandit-like strips of black across their eyes). They play museums and galleries and only the occasional rock club, and their live shows involve audience participation and self-made instrument inventions. But now for their third album, The False Alarms, they’re coming out of hiding—sort of; they’ve ditched their usual, predominately male vocal line-up in favor of a female lead, keyboardist Sinosa Loa, and she’s just fine with being the face of the band.

Loa meets me on the street in Los Angeles’s Echo Park in order to guide the way to her small cottage. Her clapboard home is tucked away down a flight of rickety stairs, perched on a hill overlooking Sunset Boulevard, like the cabin of some reclusive writer. It is the perfect hideout for the lead singer of band bent on mystique. Loa herself is thoughtful and soft-spoken, with glossy black hair and an exotic, refined beauty. She joined Fol Chen when they were working on their second album in 2009. “They were looking for a new female member and mutual friends introduced us,” she explains. “I ended up touring with them. Then, when we started making the new record, Samuel and I began writing together.”

Despite the fact that they live in the same city, the band members initially sent digital files back and forth, Bing and Wass creating soundscapes and Loa adding layers of vocal melodies. “We just liked the idea of hiding away, each of us doing our own part by ourselves,” says Loa of the online collaboration. “I would sit, just me and my computer, and play with sounds.” Loa’s powerful voice lends a warmth and a distinctly feminine undertone to the band’s signature production style and crystalline electro beats. “The rest of the band have been working together for years. They really developed the feel of what we do,” says Loa. “It’s rewarding for me to insert my own voice into that context. I think I benefit from the tone of their production—it takes me out of myself.”

The False Alarms is an album that simultaneously soars and shimmers, running both dark and deep. There are plenty of foot-tappers—dancefloor moments composed of grand synth textures and frenetic beats—but in the sonic woods beyond, danger lurks. The single “200 Words” could easily score a sci-fi horror film; “Hemispheres” is spooky and ritualistic. But the unified thread here is defiance—of reference or categorization. Four years after their inception, Fol Chen continue to push the boundaries of pop. “Our ideas and inspiration come from thinking about where things are going, rather than examining where things have been,” says Loa, pausing thoughtfully before continuing. “The future is what fascinates me. To imagine things yet to come, I love that. And I think that makes its way into our music. A lot of people are interested in vintage sounds. I’m much more interested in what things might sound like in the future.”

Loa looks up into the Los Angeles dusk and smiles. “I love L.A. for that reason, too. You can’t get any newer than here. If America is the New World, then California is the New America. That newness is really inspiring and great for art, for trying to look and see what might be waiting up ahead.”