Purr Write Sunny Indie Pop for People Weary About What the Future Holds

Watch the black and white video for “Giant Night,” a track from Jack and Eliza’s bittersweet new album, Like New

If you’ve ever been on the precipice of a big change in your life—moving away for school, living alone for the first time, or getting married—then you’re probably familiar with the feeling of being both hopeful and hesitant about the future. It’s a state that Jack Staffen and Eliza Callahan, the pair behind indie outfit Purr, wrestle with on their debut album, Like New. Born out of the transition between college and “real life,” the project sees the New York-based duo shed their Jack and Eliza moniker for something new. 

While the core of Purr hasn’t changed—their music is still full of harmonies and tender lyricism—the addition of tubular bells, trumpets, and strings results in a warmer, more nostalgic sound. This new approach not only makes Purr sound more expansive than Jack and Eliza, but also situates the project within the late ’60s and early ’70s tradition of sunshine rock like The Mamas and The Papas. Still, Like New is a mostly bittersweet affair, one that deals with the magnitude of change and the uncertainty that accompanies it. 

The cover art’s hazy combination of mellow pinks, oranges, and yellows underscores the feeling of ambivalence. “That image was something that represented an end or a beginning,” Eliza said. “It could be a sunrise or a sunset, and it’s very pixelated and distorted.” Today, they’re debuting a similarly hazy black-and-white video for “Giant Night, which speaks to the impulse to hold onto the past: “I don’t want the real life / behind my back / I just want to keep mine,” the duo sings. 

AdHoc spoke with Purr over the phone about their new project, change, and the future. Watch the video for “Giant Night” below.

Like New is out February 21 via Anti-Records.

AdHoc: Why did you decide to pursue a new project outside of Jack and Eliza?

Eliza Callahan: So Jack and Eliza was a project that we started right when we started college. We were just writing and playing, and things kind of moved quicker than we expected them to. 

When we graduated school, we were ready to shift gears and work on a different project, that would still be us writing the music and singing, but we graduated into something that felt like a natural shift. The music that we put out as Jack and Eliza was just our two guitars and two vocals, and our live performance was just the two of us.

Jack Staffen: When we graduated from school, we started to record together for the first time, doing demos and whatnot. We started to envision these songs with much bigger arrangements and more instruments.

Eliza: Maybe Jack and Eliza felt like what we were kind of doing at a foundational level. The project was never actually really named—it just became our names. We felt ready to start something new.

Since this album is your first under the Purr moniker, what sort of message do you want your listeners to take away?

Eliza: The message on the album is really one about weathering transitions and being able to just use yourself as an anchor in that open space that can feel daunting and claustrophobic.

The world feels so full of doom right now. It’s such a strange time to find your footing. Those are things that preoccupied us. I think the revelations end up being about finding something within yourself and not needing to rely on the people around you.

If the name for Jack and Eliza wasn’t necessarily intentional, was Purr?

Eliza: The word Purr was actually one of the many words that were taped to my body as part of a halloween costume, which was taken from an artist that used a lot of text-based work. Months later, I reached into the pocket of my jacket and I found that the word “purr” had somehow wound up in my pocket, a crumpled up piece of remaining text. That was when we were thinking of a name for this project. We liked the word because it’s both a word and a sound that people like to hear. But we’re also both very allergic to cats.

What was the first song you both recorded as Purr?

Eliza: That would be “Painted Memories”—the first song that we put out, about a year and a half ago now.

Jack: It has another name now. We’re constantly fluctuating between the name “Painted Memories” and “Boy” for the song, and on the album, it’ll be called “Boy.”

What was it like working in the same building you grew up in, Eliza?

Eliza: We tracked the album out in Los Angeles at a studio called Sonora Recorders. And then we came back and did a lot of overdubs and other work in the basement space and the building I grew up in. It’s the space that we use as our studio. It’s a really special spot to us. It’s a little bit of a dungeon, technically a storage space. But it’s a room in New York that is completely silent, so it’s a good space for extreme focus.

What’s the meaning behind the song title “Cherries for Dinner”?

Eliza: The idea of something unexpected, but not complete—having something replace an expected thing. Going with someone and being like, “I’m just going to have cherries for dinner,” as a way of throwing caution to the wind and doing something that might not be expected. Cherries are something that can be sweet or sour.

I’ve noticed that Like New is really an album about transitions. Could you tell me which transitions you were going through when you were writing it?

Eliza: We definitely wrote it during a transitional moment that not only had to do with leaving school and “real life” but also the relationships and friendships we were in. Dealing with dependence and independence. Coming to terms with the life questions that people were asking us at the moment. It felt like a strange time—wanting change but also not wanting your habitual life to shift, and the weird push and pull between those two feelings.

Jack: Being in school our whole lives, structure is sort of given to us. Once you graduate, you have to make that structure for yourself, and that’s really the most shocking part. All of a sudden, we realized that a lot of things fundamentally need to change. You have to be really self-disciplined.

Could you tell me about the story behind the album cover?

Eliza: That image was taken of a sunset in Greece, where Jack’s family is from. We traveled there the year we were writing the album. That image was something that represented an end or a beginning—it could be a sunrise or a sunset, and it’s very pixelated and distorted.

I’ve noticed that horseshoes are a recurring image on Purr’s instagram. Is there a reason why you’re drawn to horseshoes?

Eliza: The horseshoe image that we used was a photo that I took on my phone a while ago of a horseshoe nailed to a barn in Texas. I’ve been really interested in the idea of luck, and it’s been something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. It kind of translated into the next iconic image for the project, [though] it was something that was floating around a lot while we were beginning. It kind of became our mascot. We made the “U” in Purr a little horseshoe.

How do you both feel about the future now, after recording and processing these songs?

Eliza: I mean, we’re excited for the future of our music-making, but in fear of the world. It’s kind of hard to see on a small level when the world feels as precarious as it does right now. We’re hoping for some big political changes in the near future—changes that will positively affect the environment.