Punk rock and basketball certainly aren’t the first things that come to mind upon listening to singer-songwriter Stefan Pruett’s debut single, but both make up the cornerstone of “Carefree” – a smooth slice of 80s dream pop that plays like a lost track from The Breakfast Club and the National’s first foray into EDM. If that sounds like an earful, listen and judge for yourself:
If the culture clash of punk and hoops isn’t immediately apparent, Pruett wouldn’t blame you. The evolution of his music into the dark pop sensibility of “Carefree” was a long, deliberate process. “Basketball’s what actually got me into music,” he says. “I used to watch a lot of highlight videos—big dunks, great plays—set to music. If I wasn’t able to play at a high level, I wanted to create the soundtrack to the game I loved.”
His first soundtracks, however, bore a closer resemblance to the ferocity of Fugazi and Operation Ivy than the cerebral soundscapes of M83. Only after a friend and former punk acolyte introduced him to 80s new wave did the “Carefree” sound start to take shape. It wasn’t the smoothest transition, but once he finally took a listen he couldn’t stop. His list of influences now includes the likes of Bauhaus, Joy Division, New Order and he Talking Heads, yet his solo project is far more than the sum of its disparate parts.
He may owe his synth-heavy sound to the forefathers of new wave, but he maintains the punk attitude that guided his music at the onset. “Carefree” is a visceral piece of EDM showmanship in addition to its vintage nostalgia. It all manifests into what he refers to as “Darkwave Pajama Pop.”
“I think of my music as a sleepover when you were kid. There’s a purity and effervescence to that get together with your friends. It’s a slumber party. It’s fun. That’s the pop side,” he clarifies. “But it’s at night, which to a kid is scary in and of itself. But there are also the secrets you tell, and stuff you do that might be a little titillating, a little dangerous, but seductive. That’s the tinge of darkness that creeps in.”
That intertwining of fun and darkness rests on the sleeves of “Carefree.” It’s a thumping dance number that begs bodies to move, but its electronic soundscapes still border on the sinister.
Perhaps this dichotomy can be best explained by Pruett’s less than idyllic upbringing in (ironically enough) Carefree, AZ. Suffering from a congenital heart defect since birth, he underwent three open-heart surgeries and was fitted with a pacemaker at a young age. Despite these hardships, Pruett still managed to live a typical suburban life filled with all its ups and downs.
“The heart condition is weirdly empowering,” he recalls. “Not to sound cliché, but because of my condition and having a pacemaker, I felt like I was on the clock literally. I felt I had no other choice but to be positive, be fearless about living life and imbue that into my music.”
And “Carefree” is only the first taste of that empowerment. Pruett’s debut EP is due early 2015, promising more of his dark wave pajama party blitz.