Today, the brother duo Modern Tales, comprised of veteran producer Jonas Rathsman and singer Franz Novotny, deliver their debut album together, Stars Align, via RÜFÜS DU SOL’s Rose Avenue imprint.
Stars Align marks a milestone for Rathsman and Novotny both for their artistry and for their relationship as brothers. The two were established artists in their respective fields, but their individual sounds made it difficult for them to find a middle ground. Motivated to find hope in the darkness of a global pandemic, they were able to shed their egos and write whatever music came to mind. Stars Align was then crafted in the span of just two weeks. According to them, it’s some of the best music they’ve ever written.
Nurtured in the enchanting surroundings and misty forests of Sweden’s West Coast, Modern Tales’ music offers a dreamy, nuanced perspective of the human experience. The duo pays homage to Brotherhood – love, fear, and hope – throughout the 10 tracks of Stars Align through mesmerizing melodies, powerful rhythms, and striking vocal work.
The tracks continuously build upon each other while also calling back to one another through similar sonic themes, creating an interesting phenomenon for listeners where we are introduced to new ideas that move us forward throughout the album while also feeling like we’re on a familiar, circular journey. The opening track, “Pretty Little Things,” which is also the only track on the album that mentions the album title, features staggered piano keys that are recollected further in the track list on “Together.” Vocals take front and center in much of the album, rightfully so given the messages Modern Tales imbues within the lyrics. From the fleeting whimsicalness in “They Can’t Take The Sky Away” to the heartfelt declarations in “Brother” to the urgent recollections of “Wide Awake,” we experience the various ways in which vocals can be mixed and distorted to amplify the resonating thoughts behind what it means to be a human. Interspersed are tracks that focus more on sound production, like “Monster” and “Lost In The Future”, grounding us in the beats and rhythms that accompany our ever-shifting experiences while keeping us alert and paying attention.
I had the chance to ask the brothers a few questions about their new release, so read along for the interview.
First of all, congratulations on the release of your debut album! How does it feel to have this album out in the world for people to listen to?
It feels amazing, as we’re both really proud of the result. It’s also the first time we’ve released an album for both of us and that in itself it’s for us a huge milestone. It’s a very personal album for us both as the album was produced during COVID and we were both going through a time of personal and professional changes. The album feels like a reflection of that. It was also during this process the artist project, Modern Tales was born.
Seeing as you’re both musically talented brothers with successful careers of your own, why did you decide to collaborate on this new project? What was it that inspired the intersection of your independent backgrounds?
We’ve been trying to make music together for quite some time, but we never really managed to find the right style of music to make. It was during COVID that we sat down and made a body of work for the first time. Individually, we both felt really uninspired since the whole music industry basically shut down. So we thought, let’s make something together that isn’t Jonas’s sound and isn’t Franz’s sound – just something outside of our own musical zones. It started out as a project for film/tv, but quickly morphed into something more artistic, and a few songs in, suddenly Modern Tales was born. So you could say that creativity was born out of us not feeling creative at all – thank you COVID!
As you worked together on this album, what did you learn about yourselves, and what did you learn about each other?
We both have really big egos, so when you share a three by three square meter room with shitty air supply and no air conditioning, that will eventually reveal your worst sides 🙂 Jokes aside, it’s actually been a very educative experience. As we both come from different backgrounds and have been working in different fields of music, we’ve learned a lot from each other. We’ve learned to be more patient with each other and also became better listeners.
In its entirety, the album takes a lot of different sonic turns, but all under the theme of exploring the nuances of the human experience. What was your favorite track to create and why?
Yeah, it’s definitely a musical rollercoaster. We wanted to make sure that we never have to stick to one specific genre, instead, we’re just making the music we feel like doing in the moment. Also, you don’t get tired of it – because you can constantly make completely different styles of music. Our favorite track to create was probably “Wide Awake”, because we finished it soooo quickly – and that’s always the best. We just went into the studio with nothing, started messing around with synths, drums, and by the end of that day, we had a full song with vocals. When you have to work on a song for more than a few days, you reach a point where you’re just pushing yourself to finish it and it can get a bit tiring.
While the album is titled “Stars Align,” the phrase is only used during the first song, “Pretty Little Thing.” Why did you choose this title? Is there a greater meaning to it?
This album is connected to some of our favorite recent moments. The moment when we decided to create music together as brothers, as Modern Tales. The moment when we were asked to support RÜFÜS DU SOL on their Europe tour. The moment of learning how to play our music live for the first time. These moments are all proof of what can happen when the stars align. This album is a homage to brotherhood, to creativity, and to never stop trying.
During the first half of the album, the vocals are front and center, and “Brother” takes the most stripped-back approach to keeping the vocal performance at the top of mind. What was it like to work on this song together with your own brother?
“Brother” was probably born out of subconsciousness. When we wrote the lyrics, we had a story in mind, about two brothers who were separated because one of them had to join the army and go to war. Pretty sad story, which has absolutely nothing to do with our lives or experiences. But we think that there is some sort of unconscious message about brotherhood that we haven’t figured out yet.
As we enter the second half of the album, the synth production moves to the forefront. In particular, “Lost In The Future” has more of an experimental feel to it. How did you use this album to explore new sounds?
The whole process has been very experimental. In the beginning, there wasn’t even a plan of making an album, that came much later on. We wanted to write music for movies, we wanted to create outside of our comfort zone. Exploring new sounds and different ways to create new sounds played a big part in creating the album. You can absolutely hear both of our individual artist projects in the Modern Tales music, but we both believe we’ve created something new and for us very special.
Throughout the album, we hear a lot of references to human connection, whether through brotherhood or romantic partnership. After listening to the album, what is it you hope your listeners take away from it?
Our goal is always to make people feel something, whether it’s sadness or happiness, or both. So hopefully the messages in the lyrics can give the listener a wide range of emotional trips. We also hope that people like the fact that we’ve mixed some dancier tunes with very calm and stripped-down songs and that all the songs resonate with them, even if one style might not be their cup of tea.
The final track, “Coming Back 4 U,” leaves us with a sense of closure, but there is also an underlying sense that there is more to come. Is this indicative of what we can expect of Modern Tales moving forward?
Haha, glad you feel it’s a closing track, That’s exactly what we were aiming for 😉 There’s more to come for sure, we’ve been writing tons of new music already and are planning our next steps for the future.