Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Dark Captain

What with having been compared to the likes of Stereolab, Fleetwood Mac, Nick Drake and even a 'folk-Fugazi', Dark Captain's (formerly Dark Captain Light Captain) music probably holds something to intrigue most of us. Having recently scored a number one on the US iTunes chart, they prepare to release their second album, 'Dead Legs & Alibis' on the always-excellent LoAf Recordings label. Moving onwards from the alt/psych-folk label they earned with 2008's debut LP 'Miracle Kicker', we're expecting big things from this London five piece. We arranged an interview with guitarist/vocalist Dan Carney to find out more.

Tell us a bit about the music you make.
It's quite folky, a bit dark, psychedelic but hopefully without too much of a 'retro' feel, bit krautrock-y with electronic tinges. Lots of smooth vocal harmonies, like butter dripping down your face. And hopefully hooky and memorable. 

                                                                         Photo by Will Morgan

Who was Light Captain? Did he leave or get thrown out?
No, nothing like that. We just felt that the name Dark Captain Light Captain looked good written down, but was a bit lengthy and repetitive to say out loud. We always referred to the band as 'Dark Captain', and so did loads of people, so it seemed like the obvious thing to do really.

When were you skating?
From about 1988 to 1998, a good solid decade of throwing myself gleefully at, or off, concrete and wooden structures. I wasn't very good, but I could do quite a lot of no-comply variations! We could usually be found at Wanstead High School, near the north-east London suburb where I grew up, Romford or South Bank. Skateboarding is an extremely noble art- I still keep up with what's going on in the skate world a bit, although nothing like I used to. Skaters who had a big effect on me were Ray Barbee, Gonz, Neil Blender, Ricky Oyola, Tom Penny, Jamie Thomas and Rodney Mullen. 

What do you remember about the music you were listening to then? Did the stuff in the videos influence what you do now?
I remember reading in the old 'Skateboard!' magazine about all these hardcore punk/indie bands with exotic, slightly nihilistic-sounding names, and realising excitedly that there was a densely-populated musical world beyond Metallica, Guns & Roses and the like. Back when I started I remember skating as being more synonymous with that type of music (the hip-hop thing, as far as I'm aware, was more a 90s thing), so my being involved with it led me to investigate things like Black Flag, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Sonic Youth (still relatively obscure at that point) at a much earlier age than I would naturally have done had I been into stamp collecting, snooker or falconry. So skating and music listening were two pretty inseparable activities when I was young.
As far as musical moments in skate vids, nothing I would say really 'influenced' me as such, but there's a few classics. That Aerosmith song to Rodney Mullen's part on that Plan B ('Dream On' in Second Hand Smoke) vid is always one I remember. And after seeing 'Public Domain' I remember covering 'My Weakness' by Chuck Treece's band McRad in a number of pre-pubescent punk bands I was in. And Toy Machine always used to have great music on their videos - isn't it 'Welcome To Hell' where it goes from the Misfits into a jazz-fusion/funk cover of one of the songs from 'Jesus Christ Superstar'? Marvellous stuff.

How did you get hooked up with LoAF?
The old 'put CDR in envelope' trick. Early on we didn't really think much about gigging, but were quite adamant that we wanted to put records out pretty quickly, and not just drift along. So we thought of about 20 or 30 record labels that we really liked, and were hopeful might like us, and sent them a few demos and bits and pieces. We had about five offers come back, which I was amazed about, but chose to go with LoAF as they seemed really into what we were doing, or trying to do at that time, and are clearly doing it for the right reasons, coming from the right place. They've consistently shown faith in us, and have trusted us to do good stuff without interfering with the creative aspect, so we're well happy with that. 

What's the new album like? How is it different from 'Miracle Kicker'?
It's more of a full band sound; some songs are a lot more full-on, or full-on by our standards anyway! But there's still a couple of whispery ones like we used to do. When we played in the Czech Republic earlier this year someone told me that they thought the new songs sounded happier, so maybe that's a difference as well!

Why did it take so long?
Well, it's a cliche, but when you make your first album you can pick from all the best songs you've ever written. Once the second album comes around, you've inevitably used all that stuff already- we had a couple of bits kicking around, but were pretty much staring at a blank piece of paper when we started. We were also a bit stricter - as we were mainly recording at home this time we weren't so time-pressured; that enabled us to follow various creative whims to their oft-unsatisfying conclusions, but that in turn meant quite a few songs didn't make the cut, or got ditched along the way. So the set-up this time definitely helped from a quality-control point of view. There's a couple of songs on the first album (won't say which ones) which wouldn't have made it on there if could do it again, but we didn't have the luxury of time the first time round. And then with this one we weren't sure who was putting it out, who to have mix it etc... The actual writing and recording of about fifteen songs in total (album, b-sides, couple discarded) took about nine months, which I don't think is too bad! And we've got 14/15 new demos on the go for the third one already! We're quite prolific and work pretty quickly when we get going, but we also want to be sure that what we're putting out there is the very best we could have come up with at that point.
Also, I was doing my PhD throughout the making of this one, so that was pretty time-consuming, as you can imagine!

What were you listening to when you were making it? I'm hearing some kosmiche stuff in there...When we're knee-deep in lyric sheets, chord changes and overdubs I try not to listen to anything, as I find I get too easily swayed by anything which I'm significantly impressed with. Like, "I want to sound like this, now!" But in general, German 70s/psychedelia is never far from the equation. Also lots of folky/acoustic stuff (as I guess is obvious), bit of drone and soundtrack stuff, Canterbury stuff like Soft Machine and Robert Wyatt, as well as no small amount of questionable heavy metal! But I'm just as likely to be found listening to grime or hip-hop as Pentangle, Neil Young or Elliott Smith.

What are the best and worst bands you've played with?

We've been lucky enough to play with lots of great bands in the last couple of years. Highlights were maybe touring Germany/Austria with Sophia (the current project from Robin Proper-Shepherd of God Machine fame), who also featured Adam Franklin from Swervedriver on guitar. Also playing with Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab) this year. And in London we've put on shows with people we know and love- Jess Bryant is an amazing singer-songwriter- kind of dark, swirling and beautifully unusual folk-pop with a voice which can silence a room in under two seconds. Check her out!
As for worst bands, I'm too nice to single anyone out here! Just because I don't like something, it doesn't mean there's no value in it. This is an outlook I'm forcing myself to adopt as I hurtle towards middle age. But I don't think it's nice to be negative about anything, or anyone, in print.

The Lo labels are known for their amazing artwork. How does the design process work out? How much input do you have?
Yes, that was one of the things which made us want to go with Lo in the first place! Shallow lot, aren't we? A company called Non-Format are the ones responsible for the LoAF "look", although we get quite a bit of input. Our drummer Chin did the last album cover, while this one, which features a parachutist, is a collaboration between Chin and Giles (other guitar player).

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