Without meaning to, Josh Ford and Andrea de Varona of Fake Dad became lo-fi gearheads in the making of their debut EP, Old Baby. Over Zoom, the Brooklyn duo gave me the tour of their home recording setup, gleefully pointing out the fake-wood-paneled tape machine that lends its hiss to “Pretty / Ugly,” the 808 clone, and the Casio Rapman keyboard they tracked and supersaturated for the indie-electro single “Breakfast in New York.” “We got it for five dollars,” de Varona laughs.
At one point, Ford pulls a classical guitar down from a wall hook. “I went into Guitar Center and said, ‘Give me the cheapest nylon-string guitar you have,’” he says. “We just love stuff that sounds like this was the best they could do. There’s so much polish in music these days, and the polish is so accessible that you sort of need to, even at our level, manufacture that a little bit.”
What you can’t manufacture, of course, is the skill with which the two harness that equipment, bending retro drum tones and pseudo-sample voice snippets until they sound warm and original–not in the analog sense, but in the way they mold around Fake Dad’s personae. Likewise, the rapport they’ve built over their four-year musical and romantic relationship, combining Ford’s background in guitar with de Varona’s R&B-influenced vocals, each of them growing as formidable co-producers in the process.
Before the EP release, the duo spoke to The All Scene Eye about mastering vintage mimicry and confronting the once-and-future-selves who brought Old Baby into the world.
How did the two of you first connect and start making music together?
Ford: We met right when I started college at NYU. I had a friend I had known from high school–you know, when I came to NYU, I was like, “Can you help me make friends?” [laughs] And he was like, “Oh, why don’t you come to my friend Andrea’s apartment-warming party?” We met there and really sort of hit it off.
de Varona: I’m a year older, so I was already a little more in the music community there. We were both in music programs within different schools at NYU, so it was cool ’cause we did have some crossover friend groups and classmates, but not completely. It was different courses and professors that we had, so we got to kind of spread through both.
Ford: We started dating really soon after that, and it was always part of our dynamic to show each other music. We knew we were both music makers, but at first, it was just like, “Hey, listen to this band I really like,” etc.
de Varona: Sharing playlists and whatnot.
Ford: That was always part of our love language. It was really only a couple months before we started making music together unofficially, and it just blossomed into this thing. Now we’ve been together, like, four years, so I look back, and in the grand scheme of our whole relationship, we’ve pretty much spent the whole thing making music together.
de Varona: Before that, we both had worked with other folks here and there, but we’d never really experienced having a main collaborator. We were more like solo working artists–
Ford: Creative control freaks.
de Varona: Yeah, yeah. [laughs] We also had kind of diverse tastes when we started.
Ford: Very different from each other.
de Varona: Yeah, and now I feel like we’ve discovered new music together, and in that, both of our individual tastes have expanded.
Who were the early artists the two of you bonded over?
de Varona: Early one for us was Alabama Shakes.
Ford: I remember Blind Pilot’s album came out around then–
de Varona: Oh, ‘cause I was interning with their label, ATO, a little bit–right? When we started dating.
Ford: You were, so you showed that to me, and I was like, “Oh my god, I love these guys, but I didn’t know they were coming out with new music.” We really bonded over that.
de Varona: You had been a long-time fan of theirs, and I was a new fan, so it was cool.
Ford: I came into it from this really sort of sad boy indie folk place, and then just starting to get into a synthwave thing, and you came into it from–
de Varona: I liked older music. Traditional, like, female jazz vocalists, and some 70s and 60s, and more, like, funk stuff, R&B stuff–which you like. It’s not like you didn’t.
Ford: But I didn’t have an in for it. I didn’t have a touchstone for it the way that you did.
de Varona: Both also lo-fi hip-hop. That’s one of the things–
We’re gonna talk about lo-fi hip-hop, for sure.
Ford: And that was really buzzy at the time, too. The first song we made together that’s out there is “What’s Wrong?” and that has this spooky synth, soulful vibe to it, and it’s actually got some Twin Peaks samples in there, and I think it was the first time that we both realized that the other had something in our palette of sounds that the other was missing, and I think because we came in with such different things and were both so opinionated, we weren’t really afraid to be vocal about what needed to change if we were working on something together and what didn’t. I think we both ended up with something much better than we had before.
de Varona: Totally, yeah, and to backtrack, I feel like that was already happening. The first song that we actually ever wrote together was one that I had written, and I wasn’t so much into production then–it was four years ago, and now we’re co-producers–so I was working with another person producing it, but that just didn’t work out. Josh had heard it and was like, “Wait, I feel like I can help you make this what you really want it to be,” so we talked about it a lot, you worked on it with me, and it ended up winning this kind of–what was it, like, festival songwriting thing at NYU? Point being, we had to perform. That’s around when Fake Dad formed as it initially was, which was a five-piece band. It lasted for, what, six months that way?
Ford: We did that for, like, a whole year, but we never released anything that way, which is why our first songs are from three years ago, even though we’ve been working together for four.
de Varona: We were more so playing the songs live with the band.
Ford: And we realized that, you know, everyone in this band is an NYU student too–or not all of them, but are music kids, basically. They all have their own personal projects, so nobody in this band is prioritizing this band, and how could you blame them? They’re prioritizing the thing that has their music just like we were prioritizing the thing that was about our music. Who wouldn’t?
We realized, “Oh, that’s a symptom of the modern age and the accessibility of being able to make your own music, and rather than see that as a weakness in trying to get a band together, we should see it as a strength in that we can be self-sufficient without that traditional structure.” We ended up having to play a show that was just the two of us because we couldn’t rehearse with everyone in time. We were like, “We can do this, and also, we don’t have to pay $60 every time we want to practice,” because we were already living together, you know? [laughs]
de Varona: Yeah, so we didn’t have to go to a practice room. Our music evolved into something more electronic anyway, something that we figured out a way to play live just the two of us, and it’s worked out since. That’s where we are today.
Tell me about this new EP, Old Baby. When did these songs first start to coalesce?
de Varona: I’d say the oldest song is–is it “Breakfast in New York”? Actually, no, it’s technically “Listen.”
Ford: It’s technically “Listen,” but that kind of cycled back around.
de Varona: “Listen” is one of those that I had the crux of it, or I guess the main melody and stuff, written out back at the end of 2018, but it was a completely different beat that we didn’t end up using. We kind of just lifted the–
Ford: Building something from the ground up to fit it a little better.
de Varona: It just kind of resurfaced. It just popped up in my mind in 2020. I was like, “There’s that song–I feel like we gotta do something with it.”
Ford: Yeah, but overall, we’ve had an idea to write an EP for a long time. From the beginning, we’ve done single-by-single release, because when your main target audience is people who haven’t heard you yet, which was definitely the case–and there’s still a lot more people that we’d like to hear us that haven’t than vice versa–people are going to give you, like, 15 seconds of their day. Whether you say “Hey, I released a song” or “Hey, I released eight songs,” they’re still going to give you that same 15 seconds and decide whether they like it and move on or not, you know? By doing everything as singles, I feel like it gave us an opportunity to make people who were following us feel like they were always hearing about something new, but as we started to make things a little bit faster than we were releasing them and we started to have the beginnings of an actual backlog, we realized it was the right time to put out a full project. Something that was its own concept.
de Varona: There’s this overarching theme–I guess we both have this obsession, if you will [laughs] with the concept of growing up and these older versions of ourselves versus the present versions of ourselves, and like, the future versions of ourselves. We just tend to get stuck, or at least I do, with this notion of, “Oh, the person I used to be, sure, had all this baggage and all these things that still affect me, but also makes me who I am today–but if things were different then, how would I be different today? What am I doing now that can change or affect what that future version of me is going to be?”
Ford: It’s called an anxiety disorder.
de Varona: [laughs] Exactly. It’s called me slowly trying to get comfortable with my anxiety disorder.
Ford: Which we both have, which is why all the stuff we write ends up being about either obsessing over who you used to be and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, and obsessing over who you want to be in the future and how you’re not living up to that. And never getting to actually live as who you are in the moment. That’s this thing that exists throughout all of these songs, is either struggling with who you’re gonna be and how you’re getting there, coming to terms with or maybe even just idolizing who you used to be, and in the end, learning to be okay with where you’re at.
de Varona: You know what I’ve realized recently? To put it simply, I feel like it’s really about relationships, the EP. Mainly what we were just talking about, the relationship with yourself, being your past self and your future self, but a lot of it is our relationships with our upbringing and our concepts of parenthood and family. Romantic love isn’t as much of an abundant theme in our stuff, but it is there in certain songs for sure, and then all kinds of relationships and their, I guess, fleeting nature–would you say?
de Varona: I was just thinking about that recently. It is kind of still a relationship project at the end of the day. [laughs]
Ford: We really only realized that once we could look at the full project and realized, “Oh, they all have these things in common,” and it feels like it was less because we were attempting to create a cohesive series of themes and more because it’s just a product of what we were fixated on at the time.
One of the ways it becomes cohesive is the way you use samples on this album. You have the little speech samples–the intro to “Pretty / Ugly” was the one that stuck out to me most. How did those elements work their way in?
de Varona: All those little kid samples–I don’t know if this was obvious to you or not, it’s not to everybody–are me, just pitched really high up. [laughs] We’ve been calling it “Little ‘Drea” for fun, but it kind of happened on accident. I was just messing around.
Ford: Yeah, how did that happen?
de Varona: It was first on “Listen” when we were doing it, and I just had this idea, like, “Oh, I want to just make myself sound like a little kid,” or I think I was saying, “I wish we had these little kid samples.” I have a young niece and nephew that are two and four, so I was like, “Maybe I can get them to say these things. It’s gonna be too hard though. I’m just gonna try to do it myself.”
Ford: We used Little AlterBoy, which is the go-to effect plugin for making your voice higher or lower with formant shift and stuff, and the thing is, I’ve noticed that some people, you can do what we did to it and it sounds super unnatural, but–I mean, maybe I’m biased, but for some reason, I feel like it just sounded really organic when we did it.
I would not have known, if you hadn’t told me, that that was you. It didn’t occur to me that was something that you would do.
Ford: Well, and that’s the thing. You’re kind of touching on the fact that over and over in this EP, from a production perspective, we mimic sample convention.
de Varona: Yeah, there are actually no samples in the EP. [laughs] It’s all our own stuff.
Ford: But we love music with samples. I had a professor once who said that the core innovation of hip-hop from the beginning was not rap, but sampling, you know? That being at the center of what really came from that genre, and as rap continues to permeate into every genre, as it is these days more than ever, sampling will always be the thing that was born from an era of people not really worrying about their music getting taken down, or getting sued. Of course, in the modern day, we do have to worry about that, so as soon as we started actually putting music on Spotify and thinking about monetizing it, no more Twin Peaks samples, right?
de Varona: But there’s still something about that feeling from a sample that we wanted to have on this EP, even if we weren’t taking directly from someone. Even though it kind of happened on accident, the baby voice samples, it’s like the more we thought about it, the more we were like, “This is just perfect as a consistent narrative voice to be interspersed throughout the project because it is so much about past selves and about upbringing, and this concept of home,” which is another big thing for us. What home means, and how that changes for all of us.
Ford: There’s also the thing right at the start of the EP, on the first track. Okay, so that one actually is technically a sample.
de Varona: Oh, that is, yeah. [laughs]
Ford: So I lied. [laughs] That’s from a cult recruitment video that we found on YouTube, but other than that–like in “Pretty / Ugly,” we really tried to make it feel like we were mimicking a lo-fi hip-hop sensibility, but that’s just regular guitar that I recorded at, like, half the speed and sped up so it felt glitchy and sampled. We mimic the convention of how you would utilize that if it were a sample and you didn’t have the ability to just go record a different part. You’d have to make it sound different in other ways.
So many of the synths too have this detuned feel to them.
Ford: Oh, yeah, we love that. That’s another thing that I think comes from that lo-fi hip-hop convention.
de Varona: Kind of like J Dilla-influenced stuff, which is a lot of lo-fi hip-hop. [laughs]
Ford: It feels like the songs we’re writing don’t really lend themselves to lo-fi hip-hop, but then again, I don’t know if the genre of lo-fi hip-hop ever really elevated to songs with structure and lyrics and stuff. I mean, there were people doing that, right?
de Varona: That’s the thing. I feel like it’s influenced so many other branches of what indie is today, and bedroom pop, right? I’d argue bedroom pop is influenced by lo-fi.
Ford: It just became this palette of tastes that, again, got distributed through a bunch of different kinds of music, and we’re big fans of that sound. There are definitely other things we draw from. Like, on this EP and “Jesus Chain” especially, we were thinking a lot about Tierra Whack and Whack World, and that kind of minimalism.
For each of you, what do you admire most about the other as an artist?
de Varona: That’s so nice!
Ford: I think what I admire most about you as an artist is your kind of unstoppable tenacity in being who you are and making what feels good to you, and making what it feels like is inside of you. It’s this thing that’s inextinguishable and sort of never runs out. So many people get through music school or just get to a point where they have had their individuality as an artist bullied out of them or beaten out of them, and I always feel like the thing that you bring to the table that I would never be able to get on my own or from anyone else is this fearless willingness to just do what’s right for you.
de Varona: That’s really sweet. And I will say on that note, Josh, there are many things that I feel like you don’t really realize it, but being my collaborator, you’ve lifted that up. I sometimes have ideas that seem disjointed, I feel like [laughs] at least to me, and Josh is always willing to hear them at whatever stage. I’ve worked with people before who are from the get-go kind of like, “Oh, but are you sure?” And I feel like that’s just not helpful. Being always open to your collaborator’s idea, even if it’s not there yet and you don’t know how it’s going to end up, is so crucial to a successful collaborative team.
Ford: Well, that that we’re talking about is the only thing that you have that nobody can do better than you. That individuality. That thing that comes from somewhere inside of you. Nobody can top the thing that just comes from you, you know what I mean?
de Varona: But I feel like every artist can tap into that, it’s just a matter of–tapping into that.
Ford: But it’s hard to do that, you know?
de Varona: It is hard to do that. But so [laughs] something I admire about you is, Josh is really great at seeing the big picture of where something is going to be. Every time I’m a little lost in something, you can figure out a way to make it work. I also think–maybe because we’re coming from it from such different creative places, Josh just has these natural harmonic instincts. In terms of chord changes, he’ll come up with all these ideas on the fly, like nothing. I feel like you’re great at coming up with things on the fly too. You think I am, but I think you are. [laughs]
He also can make a beat in, like, five minutes, or under five minutes, which is really impressive. And I feel like also, on that, you’re really good at making a sample you’re using or a plugin sound completely different than it did when you initially opened it up. He just makes changes to the settings and messes with the filters in a way that will make it a completely different-sounding instrument, which is cool.
I love the way that the effects and things are in this project. There’s so much stuff where I don’t think about it until I really stop and listen close, and I go, “Oh, there’s some phase effect on that cymbal.” I swear, in my head that was connected to something Andrea said.
de Varona: Totally, I understand.
Ford: I had this professor that had a profound effect on both of us by proxy, because every song I brought into this production class was one of our songs. His name is Bob Power, and he produced Erykah Badu, right?
de Varona: He produced Erykah Badu, who is my, like, favorite ever. [laughs] I was so jealous, I wanted to be in his class so badly.
Ford: All this killer music from the 90s, and he’s just this crazy-looking dude who looks like he stuck his finger in a socket and always wears Bass Pro Shops shirts, but he always talked about production from this bigger picture setting, and about layers of attention. Like, when you put something in a song, how close to the front do you want this to feel to the listener?
Because there are people who are listening attentively, people who are listening passively, people who do one and then the other, and when you’re coming up with something to put into the arrangement, is it something that you want to feel like it’s the first, second, or third thing people notice? Or do you want it to be something you feel but you don’t think about? That’s the key to prevent something from feeling overwhelming. It’s really easy to make something overwhelming. It’s really hard to make it sound simple and still do everything you want.
How does it feel to be releasing your first EP? What’s the plan for release day and thereafter?
de Varona: We are really excited to just have a full project out there, ’cause as Josh mentioned before, it’s something we’ve been wanting to do for some time, but we were focusing on the single release structure. Honestly, when we actually finished it, I don’t know if anything’s going to top that feeling. When we got all the masters back and had the artwork complete and just got to listen to the full thing–
Ford: We were like, “It’s done! It’s so crazy.”
de Varona: It was like, “Oh my god.” If we get it pressed on Vinyl, that’ll be amazing.
Ford: We have a few fans reaching out saying that they want that. I think a big part of the plan is just getting as many new people’s ears on it as possible. We’ve really enjoyed being independent, and we will keep being for as long as we can, but we also are really looking to use this as a stepping stone to elevate what we’re doing and move to the next step in terms of audience. I mean, a lot of people make music and they don’t really care who hears it because they made it for themselves, and we totally make this music first and foremost for ourselves, but if it didn’t have an impact on people, it would kind of feel like a waste for us, you know?
de Varona: One of the things that has always drawn us individually, before we even worked together, was sharing music with other people and how it can have a potential impact in people’s lives. I still remember one of the first messages we ever got for “Indigo.” Someone, a fan over Instagram, sent a really long DM just saying how it was really there for her on a specific really hard day, emotionally.
Ford: She was having a really hard time, and it genuinely helped her. It was crazy.
de Varona: It really hit me like, “Oh, this is why I do it.” It made me think about being that young–you know, this is a younger fan–being 14, 15, and what my favorite artists at that time did for me. If we could be that, like, even just one song for any group of people–
Ford: That’s the goal, is to get there, or continue doing that for more and more people. On top of that, we’re trying to break into sync a little bit with this EP. We feel like this music could be really sync-friendly. We’ve already started to build some relationships in that department, and other than that, we really wanted to go on tour this year. It didn’t really work out, obviously, but as soon as we can.
de Varona: We’re constantly working on new stuff, so we already have our next two EP titles down, and have at least three of the tracks for the next EP. We’re excited to keep going, and not that we want to just forget about this once it’s out, but it’s exciting to put it out and be like, “This is where we are now, and we’ve got more coming.”