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Los Angeles band Conditioner pulls the ‘Ripcord’ with debut album

Conditioner’s Riley McCluskey talks influences and deeper meanings

L.A.-based indie-rock band Conditioner released their self-titled debut album on Sept. 24. Beginning with the track “Leonora,” influenced by surrealist British-born Mexican artist, Leonora Carrington, this album sets the tone for what’s to come from bandmates Aaron Kirkbride and Riley McCluskey. 

Playful guitar, soft and soothing percussion, a pronounced disco-like bassline, gentle keyboard and light vocals from McClusky make this project a perfectly constructed classic indie record. With its inventive lyricism, creative storytelling and ultimately a sound reminiscent of Vampire Weekend or Fleece, it’s hard not to like the musical duo. 

The inspiration for “Leonora,” a song that highlights an often overlooked female artist, comes from a 2018 trip to Mexico City where McCluskey learned of Carrington’s life while at an art museum.

“I was totally blown away,” McCluskey said in an interview with The Eagle. “I just thought her whole saga was fascinating. It was like, this feels like fodder for a song.”

Prior to the release of this record, the band periodically released singles, starting with their 2016 song, “That’s Not Me.” In 2018 they began the album writing process, first learning how to produce their music on their own. 

“It took an incredibly long time to make this album because we had to learn how to produce music without any help,” McCluskey said. 

Both McCluskey and Kirkbride ended up writing and producing their music in Kirkbride’s make-shift recording studio in his house. As the coronavirus pandemic hit, the two were mostly finished with making the record, but decided to wait to release it for when the global health crisis was more under control. 

For a debut album, the duo’s songwriting capabilities are put on full display. Obscure storylines prove to be a common theme on this record, especially with “Ripcord.” Pulling listeners in with a groovy bass, the song is, unexpectedly, an imagined narrative of an alien arriving to Earth, analyzing human life and being terrified of the uncertainty of human connection. 

Next, “Til Tomorrow” is an ode to a long-distance lover, wanting them to come back home. “Baby, spending this time on our own/just makes me want you even more,” McCluskey sings on the track. The musician admittedly wrote this love song about his wife from when they were dating and began a long-distance relationship, he said.

“Suddenly, I found myself in another situation like, oh s--t, like, the person I love is not here,” McCluskey said. 

Musically, disco-group Sister Sledge’s “Thinking of You” served as a major influence to the band on this track, incorporating fast-paced, upbeat guitar strumming similar to that of the band, McCluskey said.

“I heard it on the radio and I'd never heard of it before,” McCluskey said, referring to the song. “I thought, ‘oh my god,’ this is the coolest thing I've ever heard. I want to play guitar like this.”

At its heart, this record is shameless in its desire to creatively question the world and human connection. Confident in their musical ability, Conditioner doesn’t shy away from innovative, yet melodic lyric writing.

“A lot of the songs are trying to explore that idea of, how do I go from the chaotic, unpredictable world that we occupy [to] … how do I find that beautiful, rather than terrifying?” McCluskey said. 

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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