At Ohio’s Oberlin College in the early '90s, Morgan Geist spent most of his time cloistered in a dorm room studio, crafting what would become his early techno discography. Across the street at the conservatory, Kelley Polar skipped computer science classes to play Philip Glass and Hindemith, practicing eight hours a day and competing in international viola competitions. A handful of chance meetings occurred over the latest 12” arrivals at the college bookstore: Aphex Twin, Underground Resistance, LFO. The two would cross paths doing late-night shows at the college radio station.
After Oberlin, Kelley was living in NYC and attending the Juilliard School. By day, he was the teaching assistant of synthesizer pioneer Michael Czajkowski; nights were spent in an abandoned Williamsburg sweatshop, planning art happenings with his cousin (and future LCD Soundsystem member) Gavilán Russom. Morgan ran his Environ label from New Jersey. Since returning east, he had grown obsessed with tracing modern dance music back to its disco and boogie roots. In search of lush string arrangements to record, he tracked down Kelley, and before long they were creating what were to become some of Metro Area’s most iconic records: "Caught Up," "The Art of Hot," and "Miura." Morgan moved to NYC and co-produced Kelley’s two acclaimed electro-pop albums on Environ, and the pair eventually toured together, planning their itineraries around food destinations rather than festival dates.
While they remained close friends over the subsequent years, their creative endeavors branched off in ways they hadn’t anticipated. By the end of the 2010s, a remix of Morgan’s Storm Queen alias had knocked Rihanna & Eminem from the #1 spot in the UK pop charts. Kelley, now a twenty-year veteran of USIS State Department classical chamber music tours through conflict areas worldwide, has taught at the Moscow Conservatory and performed at the Kennedy Center. Madonna used one of his tracks for her MDNA tour. Perhaps most significantly, Kelley had grown tired of city life and decamped to the woods of New Hampshire. Despite the geographical distance, the pair kept talking about forming a band. Two of each other’s oldest friends, they had still never truly collaborated from scratch—as equal partners, writing new songs together.
That has finally changed. Morgan Geist and Kelley Polar are Au Suisse, a project borne of a long creative friendship, steeped in each member’s traditions, yet simultaneously naïve-sounding and undiscovered. Kelley’s penchant for a maximalist extreme shaped by Morgan’s immaculate production ear; Morgan’s curatorial prowess from years spent record digging and international DJing combined with Kelley’s deep exposure to five hundred years of the Western classical art music tradition. Guest players include friends and labelmates Dan Snaith (Caribou) and Jeremy Greenspan (Junior Boys).
“We had some vague ideas—mainly visual, or perhaps psychological—about what we wanted Au Suisse to be,” says Morgan. “There was a lot of talk about moods and how to establish them, about reverbs and echoes and ‘lonely’ sounds. Ironic, considering we started working just before the onset of the pandemic. But I think a prime motivator was trying to eschew the roles we both fell into in our prior working relationship. I wouldn’t be making things more dancefloor-friendly, and Kelley wouldn’t be doing huge string arrangements."
This goal is evident in “Control,” the band’s debut single. Kelley’s soft-yet-crisp vocals evoke a lonely actor in the spotlight of an empty stage, the thump of drums absent until the song’s final explosions of sound. The ambiguity of the lyrics may provide the most tangible parallel to his earlier work: “The words are concrete and there’s definitely a narrative,” Kelley says, “but in my mind the story is vague: couple dynamics, or some sci-fi civilizational arc?” “I immediately thought it was about contemporary politics,” adds Morgan. “It's absolutely one of those songs where each listener gets their own read.”
“Thing”, an album highlight and upcoming single, showcases Geist’s sparkling disco touch and veers into sophisti-pop territory occupied by the likes of Roxy Music and lesser-known acts like The System. “Morgan’s been my gateway into so much amazing dance music, but during ‘Thing’ it was all about channeling amazing singers I’d never really internalized,” says Kelley. “Bob Wilson, Scott Walker, Tony Mansfield…singing that’s at once full of bizarre, raw emotion, but never rising to something as gauchely overt as mainstream pop.” Morgan adds, “When I sang the rough demos, I left a wordless melody in the chorus with an aim to write lyrics later. Going back and forth, we realized the chorus was probably most powerful left as it was. Working alone, I would have never recognized that.”
“There’s musically and technically so much crossover between the two of us,” continues Morgan. “We each do the other's thing well enough that it was quite easy working together as partners. We're discovered we’re both capable of doing this stuff on our own, but it's far more inspirational doing it together. Getting the emotional balance right—that was the greatest challenge, and the most fun.”