Mixing indie with soul, the eclectic Queens, New York musical duo Hoax has a new album out this month simply titled b?
From indie pop to R&B, Michael Raj and Frantz N. Cesar have created many soundscapes since they formed the duo in 2016 during their college years at Hofstra University in New York. Their versatility has led them to create some incredible tunes of cosy melodies and emotive lyrics that cut through your soul.
Their brand of alt-pop with Raj’s seductive vocals and Cesar’s basslines combo is a treat to the ears with distinctive influences from the 1960s pop, 70s Motown and new alt-R&B.
Hoax is not a music act to be generalised as they draw their inspirations from so many outlets, which makes them one of the most exciting music acts to have come out in recent years for their originality approaches.
Their brand new album, simply titled b? is a story of self-discovery and so much more.
We spoke to Raj as we unpack the meaning of the duo’s friendship, how they got together musically, and Hoax’s new album b?
Hey guys, how has 2022 been for you so far?
It’s been pretty busy, especially these last couple of months, between finalising the album, planning our two album release parties in Los Angeles and New York, and trying to have some semblance of social lives – but I can’t complain!
We really love music, and we never actually thought we would finish this album, so to be here now staring so closely at the finish line – it feels surreal.
Do you still remember the first song you guys worked on as a band?
I don’t remember the exact song it was, but I do vividly remember working on the first couple of songs we released.
One of them was only released on SoundCloud called “Simply”. It isn’t the best representation of where our sound is now, but I think even back then, there were hints of our style and sound coming through those early songwriting sessions.
I do remember working on our debut single, “Beach House” – that was the first song where it really felt like there was a solid style and sound we wanted to explore that would eventually lead us to finding the core of the “Hoax” sound.
What was the journey of finding your sound together?
Frantz and I naturally gravitate towards the same songs sonically, so from the beginning, it was very easy for us to write music together. We also have similar tastes in movies, fashion, and other forms of art, so all those inspirations boil down pretty cohesively into our music.
The hardest part for us was learning how to do everything ourselves. We made the decision pretty early on that we wanted to write, produce, and record everything ourselves, so over the course of five to seven years, we began to buy and acquire analog recording gear.
The most fun part of using analog gear is that there is always something new to learn, and the limitations are actually very freeing. With our debut album, it felt like we finally hit the level where we were able to hear something in our head and produce it accurately. We are really excited for this album and know it's the next progression of Hoax’s sound.
How did the two of you meet, and how did that lead to forming Hoax as a duo?
We met in college in an accounting class (laughs). And almost immediately, we realised we had similar creative interests. Very early on in our friendship, we started writing music together, and Hoax was born off of those early jam sessions.
Which artistes did you grow up listening to, and how has it changed since?
We have a pretty eclectic taste in music. I feel like we still listen to the same artistes from our youth on top of a bunch of great new artists.
As a musician, I just feel like you are your own filter for all your inspirations, so it's really cool that just constantly adding new music into our playlists is actually helping us on our journey to develop our sound.
Why did you decide to go with the name Hoax?
It’s meant to be a reminder to make sure that you fill your life with passions and things that you love to do – to do the things that you do when you have nothing to do, to be authentic to yourself, kind to yourself, aware of yourself, and to find peace for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll feel like a Hoax.
After working together for so long, what would you say each other’s strengths are?
I definitely think one of Frantz’s biggest strengths aside from his creative talents is his patience.
I am a bit neurotic and obsessive when it comes to songwriting, and I tend to sit on lyrical ideas, melodies, and chords for years at a time. If I don’t feel 100% about something, I tend to hide it, and Frantz has helped me to harness that power of not feeling rushed with creating and to trust the process.
I can think back to our song, “Soju”, where we had the instrumental portion of the song finished almost three years ago, but I could not get the writing to line up and make sense.
During that time, Frantz knew we had a great song on our hands, but didn’t rush me at all to finish the lyrics. Fast forward to three years later – it all clicked and the lyrics came very easily to me.
He’ll also let me do hundreds of vocal takes if I need to without complaining, all the while still being super engaging and helpful during recording sessions. His patience and grasp of the overall bigger picture for our music works perfectly with my kind of erratic attention to detail.
Plus, it helps that we are best friends and have many similar interests outside of music.
How do you think your creative process has changed since you started?
When Frantz and I started Hoax, we would often jam with other musicians during our songwriting process.
I think oftentimes “Jam-Writing” is a much more laid back approach that can often devolve into conversations, storytime, etc. As we began to develop our sound and what we wanted to highlight with our music, we decided we wanted the lyrics to do most of the work with our music and have the sound design be the perfect complement to the lyrics.
So often (not every time), I’ll sit just with a guitar or piano to solidify the full lyrics and melody, and then I’ll send those ideas to Frantz for suggestions or approval of the direction before we began flushing out the idea.
Now – because we are older and busier – we’ll either work at separate times on the same song, or together, but the final touches are always done together and anything that requires big structural change is done together as well.
And because Frantz and I are so in tune musically now, we can often predict and or come to the same musical conclusions even without being in the same room. I think that aspect of creating is so freeing – because now music feels like the easiest part of our job and we have more time to focus on the other aspects of storytelling with our music, like our live shows, music video creation, and building our vision.
What do you think is the most challenging thing about being musicians these days that people may not realise?
I think nowadays, there is so much musical content being produced, whether it be YouTube videos, TikToks, or Reels, it is very easy to get discouraged or feel like you are spending hours upon hours creating something so intimate and meaningful to you but merely be consumed by someone for only a short minute – and then never again.
It is very easy to feel meaningless, and with how quickly content is produced and consumed, it is very easy to feel like you are not doing enough creatively.
We’ve been working on this album for almost three years now, and during that time, we had to learn how to navigate those doubts, impostor syndrome, and being authentic to our art in this new modern era of instant creation.
It is definitely a challenge, but all great art comes from adversity.
Tell us about the concept of your new album b? and the meaning of the title.
When we first started creating songs for the album – we wanted each song to represent a theme, character or story by which the listeners learned more about what it means to “be” versus what it means to “do”.
I used to think “being” was a direct antonym to “doing”. What I mean by that is that so much of American culture is based on quantifiable levels of success that can only be achieved through some metric of doing.
For example, people idolise being rich – and the only way to “become” rich is through occupation, family, or exploitation.
Let’s say you take the occupation path. There are so many people I know who are so internally miserable because they chose a career or occupation out of practicality or for security of income – and I can relate to them too.
When I first went to college, it was to be a physician assistant – even though I had shown no interest in being one up until that point. It is such a common trope for people to seek practicality and money over being authentic to their passionate selves.
As we got deeper into the album, though, I realised that “being” is not an antonym for “doing”, but rather, a synonym for peace.
This album is all about making peace with yourself, or finding it altogether. It is okay to “do” – just make sure you take time to really know yourself. To be alone with yourself, and understand who you are at your core being.
That is how you will find peace within. That is why the album is a question: “b?” – it’s not a command; more so an invitation to yourself for self-discovery.
What’s different about this album?
Well, first off, it's pretty long (laughs), but through all 17 songs, we tried to experiment through different sounds, tempo changes, and to just create music we wanted to hear.
It’s crazy because there is a whole group of songs that still didn’t make it onto the album. If it wasn’t for Frantz, this album would be 30 songs long if I could have my way.
I think with this album, we really tried to lay down the Hoax sound while also trying to refresh it. Truthfully, I think we are inspired by so many artistes and musical styles – the one thing you can always expect is for us to not do the same thing twice.
Where do you draw your inspirations from when it comes to sound?
All over. As I get older, I find I am more inspired by moods, themes, and ideas even more than other music.
On this album, Frantz and I had numerous conversations about the human condition, the curse of consciousness, if time actually exists or is man-made, why death is so hard to bear, and more.
All of this firstly bleeds into the lyricism, then the job becomes making sense of the lyrics to create the colour palette for the auditory picture we are trying to create.
That being said, I've recently been very inspired by the lyrics of Frank Ocean, Father John Misty, FKA Twigs, Weyes Blood, Sharon Van Etton, and probably a bunch of other artists I am forgetting right now.
Let’s talk about the incredible cover artwork you have been coming out with. Who is the designer?
I do all the graphic design work, and most of the images are directly inspired by the Mexican card game, Loteria – the idea being that with all the themes and ideas explored through b?, life can feel chaotic and random, much like a game of chance like bingo or Loteria.
The idea, though, is that there are things you can do to not feel so random, small, and meaningless, and the songs on b? explore some of those themes, like unconditional love, our relationship with time, our comprehension of life and death, and, well, I’ll let the album explain the rest.
Which Hoax song do you think best represents what you guys do? Is there one that’s the most meaningful?
If we are going with a song that is already released, I would say either “Pretty”, “Barely” or “More Than You Know”. They just really capture the full range of our sound, I feel, and the different extents of the lyrical style.
If we are talking from the new album, I would say “Drew”, “b?” (the title track of the album), and “5” – and I would pick those songs for the same reason (laughs).
If b? were a film, what would it be and why?
I think it would be a sci-fi drama where the focus isn’t so much on the otherworldly technologies, aliens, or future, but rather focus on the complications from living through that world and how humans feel out of touch with reality, how they feel about their mortality, and if we are living in a simulation.
Something similar to Westworld (the show) or Aniara (the film).
What else do you want to do or achieve before the year ends?
We have a couple of really cool album release parties that we are hosting for the album, and even though the album is finished, we are writing so much these days that we want to get some of those new songs finalised as well. Then, we will be planning our tour, which is long overdue.
Cover Credit: Alejandro Pena
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
When he isn’t making sure Sound of Life stories are published in a timely manner, Kevin enjoys wandering aimlessly in Kuala Lumpur city, going down the YouTube rabbit hole and discovering new music.