The Familiar is a duo composed of Ruth Mirsky and Mads Martinsen. The two of the collaborate from across the world, on separate continents. Ruth writes, records and lives in Brooklyn while almost 4,000 miles away, Mads does the same thing. The two came together by chance and have created a stunning shade of dark electro-pop. I was given the opportunity to ask them some questions about how they met, how they manage writing music from so far away and much more. Read on!
MFL: What was that first conversation like when the two of you met in Tromsø and what events followed that lead to your collaboration?
Ruth: Our first conversation was immediately about music. We were all at a Christmas “nachspiel” or afterparty in Tromsø and I played a track for Mads and — it was the age of remixes, so he asked if he could do a remix, which was just magical. Once I returned to NYC, we started working on new original music together, sending tracks back and forth — that’s how The Familiar was born.
MFL: What kind of musical projects have you had experience with in the past and how is The Familiar different?
Ruth: I’ve been in indie rock bands and electronic rock bands. The Familiar is the only band I have ever been in where we don’t ever work together in the same room and do absolutely everything ourselves start to finish, which is incredibly liberating.
Mads: Electronic stuff. I went through my French house phase, and made that kind of music for a while. It never went in the direction I really wanted to, so it was nice to go there with The Familiar.
MFL: How have your common Norwegian backgrounds shaped the sound and content of The Familiar?
Ruth: I’m not sure there is a straightforward answer to that. We are such different people who come from such starkly different places, but our artistic aesthetic is perfectly aligned. Personally, I feel very connected to my Norwegian roots and am endlessly inspired when I visit by the landscape and culture, and in particular northern Norway where Mads and my family live. It is a dreamland that I’m constantly trying to return to.
Mads: In some ways it probably has. Where we come from and where we’ve been as people always reflect artistic output to some degree.
MFL: What is the purpose of your music? Is it to send a message, for listeners’ personal enjoyment, the enjoyment of creation?
It is the enjoyment of creation and of sharing that journey with each other, never knowing exactly what the other one will send back or how that will inspire the next piece of the puzzle. When other people enjoy it, that’s pretty wonderful too.
MFL: What is the reason behind collaborating with such great distance between? Is it necessity or otherwise?
It was just the necessity of our circumstances.
MFL: Do either of you have musical projects besides The Familiar?
Ruth: I lead another band based in Brooklyn called Syvia that plays dark indie electronic rock and work on other side projects with friends whenever I can. It keeps my ears fresh to have different projects going on.
Mads: I have a couple that are in progress, in a few different genres. I’m also working on the never-ending first solo project. Some day…
MFL: What does your life look like outside of music?
Ruth: I just became a mother, which is a whole new world full of joys and challenges, especially when it comes to creating music since I do most of it at home. I have had to become a lot more creative and patient with the music making process, but in turn, it has also made the writing process and the songs that emerge from it that much more precious.
Mads: Is there a life outside of music? Most days are spent locked away in the studio, so I can’t say I have much of a life outside music.
MFL: What kind of life or world events have inspired the writing/musical creative process for The Familiar?
We have a lot of respect for each other’s lives and obligations – and never pressure the other one to create, which is a real gift. In practical terms, it means that our writing process can sometimes be very fast and other times be very drawn out, but we let the music happen very organically, and are happy with the results so far.
MFL: How much of the musical process behind The Familiar happens in separate countries? Explain how you make The Familiar happen from different geographical locations.
Everything is done separately. We begin by recording in our respective rooms and sending pieces back and forth over the internet. We have never stepped into a professional studio together. It’s entirely DIY and that gives us a great deal of independence to do it in our own time and in our own way until it sounds just right to the both of us.
MFL: What does the next year hold for The Familiar?
Even though we just released our sophomore EP Seconds, we are already at work on our next one as we try to continue to explore new sonic territory. And live shows are always on our horizon!
Big thanks to Theresa Montgomery of 24West for arranging this interview. You can find The Familiar’s most recent EP on iTunes and Bandcamp now.