Given their name, SALES probably aren’t what you’d expect. For one, the duo makes smart, tender, indie rock that ropes you in with its pleasant disposition, not flashy words with the plasticity of discounted goods. There’s the fact that they hail from Orlando, Florida – a place far different from the stock-invested streets of New York City or Chicago. Then, of course, there’s the musicians themselves: 25-year-old Lauren Morgan and 26-year-old Jordan Shih. The two met in their high school Latin class. Shih sat behind Morgan. As the way things go, they soon realized their common interests within music and put carpe diem into practice. Come 2013, they had their first official single: “Renee”.
“At the time, I was pursuing other projects and Jordan had a pretty solid project as JSHIH,” says Morgan. “We took turns motivating each other, carrying a false confidence that this project could be a real thing. Collaborating and scheduling just between the two of us had, and still does have, plenty of challenges. Bringing a drum around everywhere sounds like a nightmare – been there, done that. Have you ever tried to fit a drum set into a 2DR coupe?”
It’s almost been three years since the band first appeared on the scene, but they only have one EP to their name—2014’s SALES—and nine singles, an unintentional strategy that holds audiences’ attention without overwhelming. Usually that guarantees a band obscurity in this day and age, but SALES’ sound is too good to get lost in the muddle. Without a label, promoter, or a middleman of any sort, the duo has accumulated pools of fans across the world, garnering the type of cult following that sees dozens of fans purchase one of their singles the moment it appears on their Bandcamp.
“Our goal has always been to maintain our independence, and operate as our own label,” explains Morgan. “We want to see this project grow organically, and be sustainable for us. This mentality has its challenges. Bands blow-up over night with a label, but that’s not what we are looking for. We are in this for the long game.”
That DIY mentality carries into their artwork – arguably one of the strongest reasons why their music has risen in popularity without a full-length. Two of the band’s first fans, artist Alana Questell and designer Guillermo Cassanova, saw SALES releasing singles on plain color blocks and decided to reach out. Immediately, they redesigned the artwork, coming up with collage absurdities glued to the center of each square. “They let us know real quick that if we we’re going to put out music, we oughtta’ do it correctly,” says Morgan. That they did. It’s the string connecting all of their releases, displaying a clean sense of cohesiveness and style that’s hard to imagine the band without.
Those designs mirror SALES’ music. It falls in a weird venn diagram where the softer side of The xx, the dark pop of Lykke Li, and the collage freedom of Katie Dey meet, prioritizing softness and universality above all else. The vocals on “Jamz” were improvised and later tracked via iPhone headphones. The crickets in “Renee” were a lucky mistake from leaving the window open while recording. They push experimentation into the mix without ever trying too hard. Fans wanted more, and suddenly, it happened. The long-awaited self-titled full-length was released quietly on April 20th of this year.
SALES finds the duo at their strongest point. Without hesitation, Morgan and Shih flush worries aside. The 15-track LP brings auto-tune, bass, and keys into the mix moreso than they ever have been in the band’s music, allowing interpretation to guide Morgan’s lyrics as well as Shih’s guitar lines.
The success of the band’s sound comes from carefully structured production. The two reference mainstream pop and hip-hop for volume and bass, an act that requires precision and pretty good ears. “We are victims of the war on volume,” Morgan says. “While mixing and mastering, we’re listening to artists we would be paired-up with on a playlist.”
Now, the duo find themselves ready to lift off – and with fans eagerly pushing their wings, it may be an easy transition into flight. The two quit their day jobs for tour—Shih worked at a call center and Morgan was a cashier—and are all packed up to hit the road. “You have to know what you don’t want to do to know what you do want to do,” says Morgan. “I am proud of us for maintaining our independence, the rights to our masters, staying clear of label debt, and, for the most part, doing an okay job as team of four people who—starting out—had no idea what they were doing.”
SALES + TANGERINE + PEOPLE LIKE YOU. WED 4.27. MIDDLE EAST UPSTAIRS, 472 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. 8PM/ALL AGES/$12. MIDEASTOFFERS.COM.