Hey kooks, it’s Jon, the singer from the band Controller. Along with our annual Christmas card from Play Too Much, we received an invitation to write a guest post, so like any good guest, we brought something for the host: a meticulously curated playlist that offers a little peek at the strange, magical and slightly demented writing and recording process that led to our latest EP, No Future. We also threw in some tunes that draw back the curtain on our approach to shredding faces and breaking hearts onstage, and forecast where we’re going as we head into the new year, upward and onward to God knows what.
This is a super weird list of disconnected songs, but they’re all different points on the warped compass we use to guide us on the path to musical enlightenment. We take inspiration from literally everywhere. It’s not unusual at practice to throw around references to like, Katy Perry, Motorhead and Scott Walker, all in relation to a single song, so each song on this list–and the musical idea or influence each song represents–is equally important for our dark musical alchemy.
Wavves — All The Same
Power chords. Chorus pedals. Fucked up drum machines. Big melodies. That’s the Controller blueprint. The mother yeast. It’s funny that we ended up being a pop band. We grew up listening to punk and hardcore and metal, but those aren’t genres that are really well-known for being super strong when it comes to melody. So we love “Wavves” because it has all the stuff that gave us teenage guitar boners while still working as totally hooky pop songs. It feels like metal but it sounds like pop. That’s something we aspire to.
Don Henley — Boys of Summer
This is basically a perfect song. Every time we sit down to write a song, this is the gold standard against which our efforts must be judged. The intensity. The wistfulness. The swagger….all bundled up into a song that’s tailor-made for an 80’s brooding, post-breakup male lead montage. We haven’t even gotten close, but “Flame” is our best effort to rip off this song. If you ever do karaoke with us, this is my jam. Only I am allowed to do this one.
Whitney Houston– How Will I Know
I don’t understand why more rock bands don’t use saxophones. It’s the most amazing instrument, especially live, and it adds so much character to pop music. I’ve wanted to work in a sax solo for a long time, and “Midnight Man” was the perfect song for it. Most people our age have never seen a live rock band with a sax and they are always blown away by the raw power of it. You can literally feel the air being pushed at you. Plus, that key change. Holy shit. We tried a key change for the last chorus of every single song on this EP.
Sky Ferreira — You’re Not the One
A producer we work with once described our sound as “gutter pop.” We deliberately were going for a really trashy sound on this record, even though the hooks are really slick and other elements of HTE production are really glossy and radio-ready. We’re always interested in finding that perfect gray area between polished and fucked up, so we’re drawn to drums that sound kind of broken, or really scummy guitar tones. This track has that perfect blend of sparkly and grimy, and we used it a lot as a reference when we were in the weeds finding tones in the studio.
Robyn — Dancing On My Own
When I write, I always like to start with just two elements: the bass line and the melody. We only start building everything else out once those are in place. Every Robyn song, but this one in particular, works on that level and doesn’t even need the production. “Bright Light” started this way and became our own torch song for the Lower East Side we first moved to when we were 20 years old and that doesn’t really exist anymore.
Eddie Money — Take Me Home Tonight
There’s a kind of storytelling that you used to see all the time that’s kind of missing from pop music these days. Melodrama, melancholy, but with a triumphant chorus. It tells a real life, average guy story from the loser’s perspective. And he’s fucking going for it. So much pop music is told from the winner’s perspective these days, but we’re interested in the greasy romance of the seedy underbelly.
INXS — New Sensation
When people ask what we sound like, we usually say “INXS plus Van Halen.” This song just screams NYC in the 80’s. Go watch a youtube video of them playing it live in like, 1988 or around then. The song fucking kills live. We always aspire to bring that kind of swaggering, stadium excess to our live show, even when we’re playing a rat trap in a basement. And that, in turn, has a heavy influence on how we write songs. If we don’t think it’ll be amazing live and get people dancing, we don’t even bother. I like to think “Midnight Man” is about a guy like Michael Hutchence if he had never become famous.
Blur — Girls & Boys
This is a hilarious song, and it was a giant hit. Like, it’s genuinely really funny, in both the lyric and the arrangement and how the two work together. I think one of the dangers of being in a rock band is that it’s so easy to take yourself too seriously, assuming that you can’t totally fucking rip and be funny at the same time. That’s why I always like to work little jokes and dumb ideas into our songs.
Lil Wayne — Right Above It
When we were mixing the record, I was binge-watching the show Ballers, starring The Rock. I would talk anyone’s ear off about it who’d listen, and I went surfing with my friend one day and we were out in the water screaming the trumpet hook the entire time. It’s one of those songs that slipped into bed with me in the middle of the night and when morning came, i did not kick it out. The thing about this song that gets me, and that’s important to understanding Controller, is the blend of crazy, over-the-top pomposity and serious introspection. Those trumpets are so indulgent and ridiculous, but Lil Wayne is all in. Totally committed. I respect that. You kind of see this influence at work when we play live. We are not humble.
Kate Bush — Hounds of Love
This song is so amazing. It’s so romantic and menacing at the same time. I was thinking about “Hounds of Love” a lot when we wrote the song “No Future”. She lifted some of the lyrics for this song from the 1957 horror movie “Night of the Demon.” But the song is mapped onto a really personal story of feeling trapped by love. “No Future” is a grotesque murder ballad on its surface, but underneath the imagery is a simple story of choosing to drink the poison that you know will destroy you.