Friday, 24 August 2012

Danny Garcia and Matt Costa

Pro-skateboarding guitarist and friend of this column, Danny Garcia, was recently in the UK to record an album with his friend Matt Costa (and half of of Belle and Sebastian) at Mogwai's Castle of Doom studio. Matt's signed to Jack Johnson's Brushfire label, and while he gets used to playing bigger and bigger shows, Danny is finding ways to split his time between skateboarding and musicianship. I caught up with the two of them to talk about music, skateboarding and life.

Danny Garcia and Matt Costa, Glasgow, 2012. Photograph by James Anderson

So what are you up to?
D: It's Matt's record. It's pretty much fully his thing. He lined it up, and figured it all out, and just invited me out. We've been out here for a couple of weeks. We went to Amsterdam, for a week, just to hang out, then hit it here.

Amsterdam can be cool if you avoid the centre.
D: It was crazy. We didn't know it was 'Queen's Day' out there. It's basically their big national holiday. The reputation is that you can do whatever you want in the street, but one this one day people go really crazy. It's packed, and everybody's fucked up. It's pretty interesting! We were gonna leave that day, and we couldn't leave, because you can't move around.

How do you two know each other?
M: Through Raymond.
D: Yeah, through Raymond Molinar.
M: Raymond would always show me stuff that Danny was working on, and he'd be all "Yeah, Danny, he's pretty good", and then we ended up being in the same place at the same time and we just sorta got along, and gradually started hanging out.

Is this the first time you guys have played together?
M: The last record that I'd done was the first time we'd done any playing and recording together. Actually, we played together with Mothers' Sons, a band Danny was in. They're not together any more.

Why did you come all the way to Scotland to record?
D: Matt talked to a load of different producers. I think he talked to the guy who works with the Flaming Lips in upstate New York or something, and he knows Tony (Dougan), so he passed the songs over to him. He thought Tony would dig it, and that it'd work out.

It's a long way to come. It must be expensive to stay here, just because it's where one producer is.
D: Yeah... I think when you get into it, that's the thing though. You get the opportunity to be somewhere else and work with different musicians. We're recording with a few of the guys from Belle and Sebastian - Bob (Kildea), Stevie (Jackson) and Chris (Geddes) are playing too. Matt's a big fan of the music that's come out of this area. He's a big Donovan fan.

Donovan was born in Glasgow, but I don't think many Glaswegians think of him when they talk about Glasgow musicians.
D: Maybe Bert Jansch?

Yeah, more so. I think Bert Jansch fits with what people think of as Glaswegian music more.
But anyway, are you going to be touring this record with Matt?
D: Probably. For the last couple of years it's been pretty easy for me to get in when I want, and get out when I need to.

So it suits your skateboarding?
D: Yeah. It's kind of the other way around. I make music to suit the skateboarding. But I've been concentrating on music more lately.

                               Danny Garcia and Matt Costa, Glasgow 2012. Photograph by James Anderson

Your Habitat shoe is out. Does that mean you're gonna have to be deep into skateboarding as soon as you go back?
D: The Habitat thing was pretty easy. I had a conversation with Joe Castrucci, and I said I didn't want to go crazy with it, and skateboard all day every day... I mean I skateboard every day, but I mean more like doing the whole thing, playing the game, although I still want to be a part of it it. Basically the conversation went, "We'll give you a shoe, and here's the very minimal list of things you have to do", you know? They're not going to pay me a bunch of money, it was a minimal agreement. Which was nice, because that's why I did it. And because I had left éS to free up my time.

So you'd left
éS before 'the announcement'?
D: Yeah. I didn't know if they were gonna can it or not.

So had it been discussed?
D: Yeah... I dunno, I think they were probably struggling, but I always hear that - that companies are struggling. So you never know what's gonna happen. So I'd left to free up that time, and when Joe asked about the shoes I was like "Nah, I feel pretty good right now, where I'm at". But then... Not that he talked me into it! But he kinda talked me into it. And it's Habitat, so it's kinda the same sponsor I've had all these years. It's not a weird shift, or some shock to get used to new people or anything. It was easy.

Easy to skate for your board sponsor's shoe division.
D: Yeah, I'd just dealt with them before. You start stacking up sponsors, and then you have like four or five jobs. Not like it's crazy, but you're dealing with four or five different groups of people, and you have different responsibilities to them, and sometimes they get in the way of each other. It's always been easy riding for Habitat. I've always been off on my own thing, you know?

What did you think about the reasons behind why Sole Tech pulled the plug on éS, and about Nike and adidas being in skateboarding?
D: It's interesting. I don't know what to think about that. It's kind of happening now, that shift, into those big brands. I don't know if I like the idea of it, but it seems to be happening nonetheless. I think you can keep peeling the layers back, and find positives and negatives about it. There's multiple sides to that coin. They're supporting a lot of good skateboarders, and keeping them in the game, keeping them around. It's a difficult one.

So you left éS without a shoe sponsor to go to. Was that not difficult?
D: No, it was kinda nice. I wanted to make time to tour, and just play music. I just wanted a little bit of time for myself, and financially I was able to get by. It's nice to get those pay cheques and things, but I'd gotten them for a few years. I wasn't completely well-off, but I was able to get by.

Talking of money, do you predict changes at Habitat now that Dyrdek's bought DNA?
D: I don't know. I wonder. I just had a conversation with Joe, and he said something about how it's back to Carter, Hill and Dyrdek. I think it'll still be a year or so before they fully transfer the thing over. I don't even understand how these things work, or how much change there's going to be. I didn't notice any change when Burton came in, you know? I'm kind of detached anyway. I think it's cool though. I'm backing the story. It's a good story. And I like Dyrdek, so it's alright.

Matt, you're signed to Brushfire Records, which is Jack Johnson's label. How did that come about?
He's pretty big.
M: I met him through Emmett Malloy, who does music videos and films. More music videos, really, but he did some surf films too. They wanted to use one of my songs for the soundtrack to one of their films, which led them to hear more of my music, and then they asked me if I wanted to go on tour. At the time I didn't know what I was getting into, because I didn't know we'd be going and playing these huge outdoor shows. I didn't know how big he was. So anyway, it was after that that he asked if I'd want to put the record out through their label. Up until then I'd just planned to put stuff out on my own. I'd even put it out myself, independently. Before that I'd just done local shows around LA, around Orange County. But it afforded me so much opportunity. Which is what you want when you're making music, but you never expect it to happen.
D: Was the label new?
M: It was relatively new. It was maybe a year or two old. They've expanded a bit since then, they have a load of different artists now.

What's your background in skateboarding?
M: Oh man... I started skating in Florida, when I was about twelve. Eventually I moved out to Huntington Beach which - at the time - was like the Mecca. It was at the time when the park was there, so it was like the meeting point for the whole world. I ended up meeting a lot of people, and I wanted to get sponsored and do the whole thing, and I guess I did. I worked my way through some different sponsors, and filmed a bunch and everything. I think I even met Danny at the Brea park, around by his house...
D: For some reason I thought we first crossed passed at that gap...
M: What gap?
D: In San Diego, the parking lot to parking lot one. Maybe it wasn't.
M: The big one?
D: Yeah, the big one. Have you never been there?
M: Yeah, I've been there. Maybe we did. I don't remember. So anyway, I just wanted to skate a lot. I dropped out of school to skate, and it kinda kept me out of trouble. I eventually broke my leg skating, so I couldn't skate any more.

More time to play the guitar?

M: Yeah... I'd gotten an electric guitar when I was twelve as well, and when I moved to Huntington and was skating a bunch I actually ended up trading my guitar to Brian Sumner for a pair of shoes and a board, 'cause he wanted to learn how to play guitar. The shoes and the board lasted about two weeks... When I finally broke my leg he'd been playing a bunch and he'd got a nicer guitar. Mine was just a janky Japanese guitar, and the frets would fall out if you got too high up. So it was kinda useless. But when I broke my leg, he'd call me up and ask me over to show him how to play certain songs. I think, randomly, he gave that guitar to Jim Greco, and it ended up somewhere, God knows where.
D: It probably ended up at the Whiskey A-Go-Go.

In pieces.
M: In pieces, or burned or something. But yeah. Of all people.

Is there a tour planned for this album? Is that something the label would deal with?
M: Touring and stuff is more at my end, with my manager and stuff. It's up to us to sort that out, but it is much easier when the label's there to help with promotion, and to let people know that you have a record out. That you exist. There's no tour planned, but it's in the works. I didn't get a chance to travel to the UK with the last record. It'd be nice to do that this time, especially since we made the record here.

If you could have a band made entirely of skateboarders, who would be in it?
D: Based on the music or the skating?!

Based on the music! So you can't just say "Cardiel on drums" or whatever.
M: Ha! It could be fun, if it wasn't based on the music...

But look at, say, Blacktop Project. Or 'Blktop Project', as they're actually called.
D: Who's that?

It's Tommy Guerrero, Ray Barbee, Matt Rodriguez and Chuck Treece. And they're awesome.

D: Ah, that's their thing? I didn't know that's what they'd called it. Those are some of the guys that are pretty awesome. Umm... Stefan Janoski can play. He's a pretty creative guy. He plays the same way he skates. He just tries it, and just stumbles into being good. He played a little bit when I was staying with him in Sacramento, and I was like "Just buy a guitar!" He'd kinda mess around with my guitar but we went one day and got him a guitar. He's pretty good. Raymond can play. I'm just naming the Habitat team for you! I don't know Leo Romero that well, but he plays music.
M: I know Don (Nguyen) has a full rock band, they put something out.
D: Don, really? I know Ethan Fowler can play, of course.

L'il Wayne or J. Cassanova?
D: (Immediately) L'il Wayne. Do you know who J. Cassanova is?
M: No, I don't know who that is.
D: Jereme Rodgers. It's like his rap pseudonym.
M: Oh, man. I'm not up to date.

It's so bad you could almost believe it was a joke. If it was somebody else, you might believe he was... I mean, you might think it was a pastiche.
M: Were you about to say "taking the piss", but you didn't? You adjusted it for the Americans.

Ha! Yeah.
D: The music's pretty screwed.

TNT or Rob Welsh?
D: I'd go Rob Welsh. From years ago, I was into that, Mad Circle and everything.
M: "There's panhandlers in the street", from that Mad Circle thing. He was doing this whole Kerouac thing. That was rad. Remember the screen was all green, it looked like night vision or something?
D: What, in 411?
M: Yeah, it was the Industry section. With Justin Gerard in it.

Talking of something like Mad Circle, what companies just now do you think are doing things right?

D: I don't pay too much attention to stuff like that... Slave, I like that. Not so much the company, but some of the artwork's pretty cool. Some of the Roger stuff's cool, I like some of their riders. It's cool how they splice together all the video clips. It's a kinda Workshop vibe.

D: Timecode.
M: There's a Vonnegut short story that springs to mind. A story in Welcome to the Monkey House. Sorry I can't elaborate any more than that!

Hieroglyphics or Gang Starr?
M: Oh, Hieroglyphics. But they're close.
D: I think I listen to Gang Starr more. But yeah, it's close.

 Matt Costa and Danny Garcia, Glasgow 2012. Photograph by James Anderson

What skate videos do you think have really benefited from the music? Or are there any where the music ruined it? Like the Rhythm video, maybe...
D: Yeah, that's the one that popped into my head. But it's funny, because now that I'm 'in' skateboarding, you can be biased towards certain things but when that video came out I was totally fine with it. I was just a fan, and I don't think I latched onto the music, but I still didn't question it. (FTC's) Penal Code is a reference for great music. That turned me on to a load of stuff. But the Rhythm video, it hung around - we're talking about it now, you know? You either want to be offending somebody or pleasing somebody. Maybe you need to go either hard left or hard right.

I thought it was weird at the time, but at the same time I figured they had a reason to do that, and therefore it must be the right thing to do.
D: Yeah, it doesn't always have to agree with you. Skateboarding's so abstract that you sometimes forget you can do whatever you want. Even on a skateboard. But it's human nature that you create these walls, and these rules, almost to a pinpoint where it's like, "This is it." I might not agree with it, but I don't mind widening those rules, and opening it up a little bit.

Everybody just skates to indie now.

D: Yeah. It's just... Rock. And even on your skateboard. Not that I'm backing it, or that I would do it, but it's funny that you just can't push mongo. It's just an unwritten rule. These rules are just kind of created out of the air.

Or like 360 flips, if your back foot's too far off, then you're doing it wrong.
D: Yeah, you're wrong! There's tons of rules like that,
M: Going back to what we were saying, I think a by-product of Penal Code was kids listening to their parents' record collections. They had two Procul Harum songs, right?

Yeah, 'Conquistador' and 'Whiter Shade of Pale'.

M: And Van Morrison. That was how I found out about 'And It Stoned Me', because I was looking for 'Caravan'. I went through my dad's records and I found that. The first time I heard 'Domino' was in an old Sophisto video. It was the first video I bought.

That was Andy Howell's company?
M: I don't know... Jamie Thomas was on them, and I think Drake Jones was on 'em. They had that 'Get Thy Bearings' song on the video too, way before it was on Reynolds' part in the Baker video. I thought that was, like, a reggae song! Eventually when I got that record, 'Hurdy Gurdy Man', I was like "Holy shit, this is that song!" and I freaked out.

Plan B videos were good for music. Like the Steve Miller Band in Virtual Reality, that was rad.
D: Plan B got me turned on to Cream. Jeremy Wray in Second Hand Smoke.
M: It's a crazy one, but Aerosmith for Rodney Mullen! I remember loving that!

Why do you think that people are so pedestrian with their music choices these days?

D: It's hard now because everybody has to pay for everything. It's trickier to get what you want. Video makers these days can't even get half way with it. It's just "Shit, we can't use Cream". Even if they have permission, they're just scared to do it. These big companies like Nike are so scared of lawsuits. Even if it was agreed they'd need signatures, they'd need pictures of the artist signing it... They're so scared to do it that it's not worth it. Like, "Who cares if it's a good song? We just don't want to get sued".

You skated to a Françoise Hardy song in one of the Habitat Field Logs. Are you a fan?
Are you a fan of any music that people might consider 'exotic'?
D: I didn't choose that song, I didn't know we were gonna do that. But I listen to a lot of British stuff, sixties British stuff, and a lot of American stuff, and a little bit of South American. The Brazilian Tropicalia thing.

You're South American.
D: I was born in California, but my Mom was born in Peru, yeah.

Is there any music you love that you'd never skate to?
D: Probably most of the music I listen to. I've never been able to have the ability to hear songs in the skateboard video context. I don't think like a video editor, things just appeal to me sonically. Most of the music I like wouldn't be proper for skating.

John Lennon or Jim Morrison?
M: John Lennon.
D: John Lennon. I never got into Jim Morrison. It's cool, but I never got down with it.

Sonic Youth or The Sonics?
M: I don't even really know The Sonics.
D: The Sonics are a garage band, sort of like a 'Nuggets' band. I never really got into Sonic Youth.
M: I'd say Sonic Youth, because I've heard of them. Just from Ed Templeton.

What do you guys think of composed music for skate videos? Obviously there was the Flip video, but it goes back to Mr. Dibbs doing the music for the Habitat section in Photosynthesis. Do you think there's a future in that?
D: Yeah, why not? Especially if it was skaters. I've even talked about doing it. It'd be fun to really do it. I've never gotten the chance to make music for a video, it's always just the case that you get a call one day before they need it. If you're a skateboarder who is a musician, and understands a little bit about the video thing, it might be interesting to see. If they took it seriously and had time.

You skated to one of your own tracks in a shoe ad, didn't you?
D: Yeah. But once again, everything that's ever been in a video, they needed it so quick. Usually I don't even 'do' it, I just find something that I've recorded already. I've never actually had an opportunity to actually spend time with it and think about it.

Do you think there's too much music available, on things like Soundcloud? It was much easier to be selective with MySpace.
M: Yeah, but I think the ratio of good and bad is still going to be the same, because it's still humans making it. There's always going to be taste, and there's always going to be reaction to things that are popular, or other things that have been done. The idea of what constitutes 'music' is the same thing that makes humans human. It's something that comes from us. Even if it's just pushing a button or something.

Do you think there's more of a nobility to being a musician than to being a skateboarder? A lot of people would.
D: Like it's a hierarchy? No, I don't think so. Maybe it's more romantic. But it's the same thing. You're just playing with a toy, you know? That's really it. You're trying to create something out of this piece of wood, and people connect to it, and that's why they'll back you. Somehow they connect to it because they do the same thing. Who knows? It's a funny idea when you step back and look at it.
M: For me, personally - yes. I remember skating with people who were just really natural at it, and I always felt I had to work extra hard to do some things that maybe someone could learn in a day. As far as songs go, I feel a lot more comfortable doing it.

Skateboarding's dangerous, and it's hard. Do you think that's an equivalent value to the emotion that goes into writing a song?
M: Obviously there's an artistic side to skateboarding, but it's more of a physical strain than music. Physically, you could be really dexterous and play lots of crazy scales, but writing songs takes a much more introverted approach than skateboarding. I find that anyway. But there are so many parallels. It has a different validity to each individual. I definitely have less anxiety when I'm about to write a song compared to rolling up to a handrail!

But being signed to a label is similar to filming for a section. Now people are expecting something good from you.
M: Oh yeah. The expectations are always being raised.
D: It's internal stuff. It's always made up by yourself. You kind of give yourself those pressures. It's nice to do that, but I find the with the people who are a little more carefree, it comes out more naturally. Delivering something with less anxiety seems to be a little bit nicer. More natural.

So how does the satisfaction vary between writing a song and learning a new trick?

D: It kinda is the same thing. It's that funny sense of accomplishment. I don't know why the hell I strive for it. Most of us need a little bit of that every day, whatever it is we do. I get the same feeling if there's a big load of dishes and I finish the dishes. I just feel that I can go to sleep at night and feel comfortable. It's the slight obsessive compulsive thing that everyone has. I little amount is healthy, a crazy amount not so much.

It's a healthy thing to have if you're a musician or a skateboarder. When you need to discipline yourself to get stuff done.

D: That's the thing. I've seen it in people where it's so too much. If you're so obsessed with making music where you stay in all day, it's like being in jail. There's a certain point where I feel bad for people who are so obsessive, because they're kind of imprisoned in that obsession.

Danny, do you see yourself - at the moment - as a professional musician?
D: I don't know. I don't think so. Trying to make a living off it is kinda tricky. Any time I'm doing something like this, I'm paying for it. I spend a lot of money, you know? Skateboarding kinda allows me to do it. I could do it, but I don't know if it could be a living. I mean, that's a living for a really small amount of people. 

Do you think you will, eventually?
D: It's kinda hard. I don't know. I mean, I could do. I don't have any ties, you know? I'm single, I don't have a family, so as far as going out on the road, I could do that. To make it as a musician you have to constantly do that. It just depends if you could be away most of the year. I guess I could do it for a little bit.

But you were just talking about the parallel between being a professional musician and a professional skateboarder. Would that not make the transition easier?
D: Yeah, maybe. Maybe with the lifestyle. Yeah, it's really similar, so it's just a matter of if I want to do it. Maybe that's why I find myself playing with the idea, and being here, experiencing it. I'm benefiting from my skateboarding, which allowed me to do it; and benefiting from being able to do it because of my friend doing it. It's the experience that I'm comin' after.

What things inspire you to make music, besides music?
M: One thing I'll say, is that when I was growing up, watching skate videos, that was the first time I actually 'placed' music with movement. I think that spending so much time watching sound and motion together played a lot into how - when I started writing - it was more of a visual thing than it was an aggressive thing, or whatever. I was always going to this visual place for it. I think that had an impact on why I started songwriting.

A visual sound...
M: Yeah. That was the goal.
D: I've never thought about it like that. For me it's the feeling of accomplishment, the need to get something done, day-to-day, and feeling kinda good for the day. Not just to get it done and out the way, but to feel good about something. Almost posterity too, for some reason. To log these things, and have 'em. Just like how you would take a picture.

That's the skateboard mentality talking.
D: Yeah. I would go out and shoot a photo, just because it felt good and it would put me in a good mood.
M: It makes your place on the Earth feel worthwhile for a little bit longer.
D: Because we're humans, everybody's doing something all day. Pecking away at something, whatever the hell it is. Everyone's got their own version, but that's my version.

The basic need to create and evolve.
D: Yeah, that's it. Especially to kind of pass along some sort of tradition. And to live longer. We all know we're going to die, so in a weird way, I think that informs the way we act sometimes. We're going to die fairly soon, so in a weird way you're always trying to live a little bit longer by fuckin' painting on walls or things like that. Trying to communicate longer.
M: For me it's almost like a barometer of who I am. Like I'm getting to know myself every day. Placing yourself and gauging yourself. If I don't have it I almost have a self-crisis. I need it to reflect myself, almost like a mirror. Even just to know how far you've come. It's the closest thing to perceiving yourself from the outside, and a lot of times it helps you learn what you need to improve about yourself in other parts of your life. Interpersonally, or maybe things about yourself that you've neglected in the past.
D: Gaining perspective, and being able to look at yourself objectively.

Who inspires you musically?
D: There's been a lot, and it changes over the years.
M: I like Dando Shaft a lot. I've been listening to them a lot lately. We're gonna go see some Chopin today.
D: I get into stuff sonically, like the way things sound, and sometimes I get into songwriters. Sometimes you just get into the attitude of something. It's usually American music of the last hundred years. That's what I always go back to.

Danny's solo album - as Reverend Baron - is available on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify right now, and it's great.

 Thanks to Danny and Matt for the drinks. See you guys next time. Massive thanks to James at North Colour for taking the photos.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Forest Swords

This one-man project from the Wirral has constructed one of the finest records the UK underground has heard for a while - imagine Burial crossed with the Velvet Underground, crossed with Seefeel crossed with Lee Perry, crossed with Ennio Morricone and produced by Timbaland, and you're getting close. Dagger Paths (out on Olde English Spelling Bee) is a record of shuddering psychedelic hip-hop/dub/drone, made from processed guitars and bass, fragmented vocal samples, dubbed-out drones and analogue celluloid atmospheres. It's a widescreen vision of an indefinably bleak-yet-lovely late night Britain, and I think, one of the few indispensable records of recent years. My friend Roddy and I grabbed Matt Barnes after he finished one of his rare gigs.

N: You've just played to a sold-out Stereo, despite being signed to a tiny label and having had virtually no press. How did that come about?
I dunno, I guess a lot of it's word of mouth. People just find out about it through YouTube and stuff like that, or they'll see my name on the bill and just stream it and decide to come along. Obviously it depends who you clash with, but it's incredibly flattering - I've never been to Glasgow before, and you never know what to expect, or to expect from a crowd. I'd maybe know what to expect from Liverpool or Manchester, but to come this far up and get a response like that is just amazing. I've not really played live before, so I guess that's why people are maybe curious about it. I had a kind of year off last year, because I had some hearing problems, so I couldn't make any new music or play any shows. It's maybe snowballed a bit.

N: You've not had a record out for a while.
Yeah, not for about eighteen months.

R: I bought the Rattling Cage 7", and it was expensive, it was eight quid or something. Then it was his birthday, so I had to give it to him. I went back to buy it and it was only on eBay, and it was twenty-five quid. That was just in a couple of days.
It's crazy. It's hard to explain without sounding like a dick, but maybe it just connects with people in different ways. In different ways to how people normally discover bands. It's maybe that it's just this different vibe, this different energy that people engage with.

R: I used to listen to a lot of ambient stuff when I was younger, but it seems like what you do is miss out all the bits that aren't really necessary.
That's really interesting. I agree with that. I went to art school in Liverpool, and did a degree in design, and the first thing we got taught was that everything you do has to have its own place, and justify its own place, within what ever you do. So it makes what you do more articulate. If something isn't necessary, you take it out. Because you can't justify it being there if it serves no purpose. You have to strip it down to the bare bones of what it has to be.

N: Is your music a hobby?
Yeah, I've got a day job.

N: Which is?
You won't believe this. I design the Celtic magazine.

R: No way!
I went to the Celtic shop before, and I was totally geeking out. We publish it down in Liverpool. They write it up here, but we design it in Liverpool. That's my job. Because of that I know everything about Celtic - I know fuck all about any other football team, but I could tell you anything about Celtic.

N: Do you sit down with the intention of writing a tune, or do they just come together?
I kind of play around with riffs and beats and stuff, and it's just a case of layering it, and seeing what works. It's just all layers.

R: We'd first heard of you through a skateboard forum. This guy from a place called Cumbernauld posted the Miarches video.

Oh, wow! You see, that's crazy to me. That's an example of word of mouth I guess. The internet just diminishes everything, so you don't need to make so much of an effort to find out about stuff.

N: What do you listen to yourself?
I listen to a lot of hip-hop. I listen to hip-hop radio stations so it just kind of seeps in. Old stuff's brilliant, but I like the production on the current stuff. It's quite pop-y, but if you listen to the sounds, there's these weird things that sometimes get through. It's very over-thought, whereas early hip-hop is a lot freer. It goes back to what we were saying before - it's articulate. There's no bullshit. Stuff like Ennio Morricone too. It's weird too, I was saying to my friend, there's a lot of Glasgow bands I grew up with. A lot of Chemikal Underground bands. A lot of electronic music. Lots of Kraftwerk.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Django Django

With their outstanding debut album appearing seemingly from nowhere earlier this year (only two super-low key singles preceded it), Django Django have recently embarked on a tour of much bigger venues than any 'new' band might expect to - and it seems that translating their avant psyche/indie/kosmiche/drone/techno pop from its beginnings in drummer Dave's bedroom to 1,000 capacity venues hasn't been a problem, because they're absolutely killing it live right now. Dave and singer/guitarist Vinny gave us their time.

Django Django. Photograph by Mikael Gregorsky.

The tracks 'WOR' and 'Storm' have been around for ages - they were both singles a while ago and have been up on YouTube for a couple of years. What have you been doing in the meantime?
D: Loads of stuff. I had to finish the post-grad I was doing at Chelsea Art College, Vinny was busy being an architect... Trying to make money. The weird thing was, we put out 'Storm' and 'Love's Dart' on this little Glasgow label called Shadazz in 2009, and we had no more music. We didn't have a band, or anything.

Those were your only songs?
D: We maybe had three or four, but they were so rough, and we just weren't ready. After we did that we were just like, "Shit, what do we do now?" We did 'WOR' to sort of bridge the gap while we were learning to be a band.

You make it sound like it isn't a significant part of the album!
D: No, no, no! It's still my favourite track, and it's one that people love live. But we had to literally hide away, and make an album, become a band and get a record label. Then when we did finish it we had to get it mixed, and that took ages...
V: ...and then there's the whole marketing thing, like when it should be released, and it was released eight months after we delivered it. But we did most of it at Dave's flat. We didn't want it to sound lo-fi, so there was a lot of learning to be done. We were trying to get good production values in terms of the equipment we had, which was next to nothing. It took so much longer than when you go into a production suite, and there's mics here, here and here, when the guy just mics it up and you're ready to go. It was kind of the opposite of how you'd have done it in the eighties or nineties where you'd build up loads of songs and play loads of crappy bars and just gig for years and get really tight; then an A&R guy spots you and you're ready to go. It was the opposite for us. We were trying to catch up with ourselves.

So did you have a supreme amount of faith in the album, to know that you could go away and make it yourself, and then just appear with it?
D: No, I think it was more that we just took one step at a time.
V: We kind of just went along with the knowledge that there wasn't much heat on us. That's what it felt like anyway. It gave us the space to keep going with it. Obviously when we did 'Storm' it created a bit of a buzz, and that kind of spurred us on to do more. Each new thing kind of geared you up for the next stage. It took us about a year to get the live set-up going, to be able to interpret the songs, because there's a lot of layers and they're quite complex. How do we represent that on a stage, with four people, when potentially you've got 150 layers on a track, you know? To pick the key things, then make that work was the hard part.
D: We're probably quite stubborn. We thought "Well, if we like it, then that's all that matters". With every track, we just thought "Does it reach our standard?" And then we had an album we liked, and we thought that was a good enough start. It was good to have a label that let us do it the way we wanted to, and do it in the flat rather than put us in with some super-producer or something.
V: They came in at the right time, because we had the album almost done.

Who produced it?
V: Dave.
D: Yeah, I produced it, and then we mixed it in a proper studio with a huge outboard mixing desk and echo rooms and stuff like that. That just brought it up another level.

Was it a big move going from making an album in Dave's flat to playing in front of thousands of people, with nothing in between?
V: I think our heads were so stuck in it we almost lost sight of what was happening. It's like if you're writing a novel, your friends eventually stop asking you how the book's going, and it gets quite claustrophobic.

You get lost in it?
V: I think so, yeah. And you've heard it so many times, because you're always tweaking things in the recordings. You might have heard a track 1,500 times, and you can't make a critical judgement on it anymore. Obviously it's been really great how it's been received, but we'd have been happy with a lower level, like a 'cult buzz'. Our aspirations were quite low.
D: Yeah, it's kind of smashed my expectations. I mean I hoped that people would like it, because we spent so long on it, and we really put everything into it. We just hoped that people would 'get it'. I didn't think it would break out like this, and be played on the radio, and us do gigs this big... I thought that maybe that would come some day, after three albums, but I never thought it'd be today. It's great. I guess we feel that we've just slowly built up and built up, so I feel that we're kind of ready for it now. I think that if we'd done the album earlier and then been thrust into this situation we'd be "Oh, shit!" But it's nice, everything's come at the right time for us. It's been good.

Is it your day jobs now?
V: Yeah.
D: Yeah. For this year anyway. Which is good, because it was a nightmare to try to work 'round jobs. This whole year is dedicated to touring, and we're going to Australia, America and Japan. You can't expect to keep your job!

Have recent changes in technology - with the downfall of MySpace and stuff like Spotify getting massive during the time that you've existed as a band - changed the way you approach making music, or approach marketing?
D: I think MySpace totally revolutionised the music industry, and it became clear to us that when you put four tracks up on MySpace, you've released an EP. Whether you like it or not. People will take those recordings and copy them, burn them, share then and put them on CDs. We soon found out that that's it - you've released music to the world - and I think that's great. It made everything really fresh for bands. It was exciting.
V: It was great that it by-passed all the formal routes people take to make music.
D: And it took ten minutes. You didn't have to wait for anything. You could put a song up in the morning and then by the evening you had a load of comments and feedback. People have got to move with technology. I'm a stubborn vinyl-head - I never moved to CD, and MP3s are beyond me a bit - but I don't think it matters how you consume music. It's a personal thing.

But does it affect how you make music? Were you writing for a 'side A' and a 'side B'?

D: Not necessarily two sides, but definitely 'an album', rather than just tracks to be put up here and there. But that's probably from growing up, from listening to The Beatles, and Neil Young, and Pink Floyd - proper albums. We wanted to do it like that, even subconsciously. As I say, I only buy vinyl, but you can't tell 15 year-old kids to go and get a record player or they'll think you're mad. To be honest I think most music consumption now is done through YouTube. I do that myself too. If I'm going for a shower I'll put on an album, or a mixtape on YouTube.

It was the first opportunity for a lot of people to hear your music.
D: Yeah. I think for as much music as we're into, whether it's dance or hip-hop or whatever, I guess we are in an 'indie' bracket, and you're not going to go down to (legendary London dance music retailer) Black Market Records and ask for a dubplate of us. You've got to be out there on blogs. I think blogs and SoundCloud are the record shops now, I think that's where people get fresh stuff. I won't DJ music unless I've got it on vinyl, and it's becoming more and more difficult because stuff doesn't appear on vinyl so much.

So it was an easy decision to have the album released on vinyl?
D: Yeah. We would never have signed to a label that weren't into doing vinyl.

What was your musical upbringing? What bands brought your individual outlooks together?
D: I guess we were all into sixties psychedelic stuff,  from our parents' record collections. Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Love, Bob Dylan... When I was eight or nine I was digging around in those, just discovering the classics really.

That isn't really stuff that's reflected in the music you do now though.
D: I think it's there, deep in it somewhere.
V:  I think that's the foundation, maybe, that you build everything else on. I suppose like most people with a healthy musical outlook we were open to new stuff. Like you meet guys who are 50, and they were into punk, but now they listen to some post-dubstep stuff or something. It's great when you meet people like that, who aren't stuck in 'their' era.

So what new stuff are you digging then?
D: For me, Night Slugs stuff. Jam City. This new breed of house, Pearson Sound. It's this mish-mash of dubstep and UK garage, mixed with classic house. I mean, my first love was hip-hop. I discovered Public Enemy and spent my youth DJing hip-hop, and then jungle. I think that after the jungle scene I started getting into anything and everything, and just started buying loads of reggae and calypso. I think the two things that have stayed with me throughout my record collection are hip-hop and house. Chicago house, like Relief Records and Dance Mania.

I think that's reflected in your production.
D: Well that's what I was doing before I met Vinny. I was sending tapes away to Trax records. I've always had this obsession with certain sounds of Chicago house, and I think now that kids are discovering that music again. In Jam City you can hear stuff like Wax Master Maurice or Boo Williams, those guys who were making - at the time - this mad, new, out-there music, and I remember first getting Boo Williams stuff on Relief and thinking "This is house, but it's nuts". It wasn't like anything I'd heard, and I get that when I hear some of that Night Slugs stuff. It's almost avant garde, and it shouldn't work. That excites me. Clone Records as well, from Rotterdam - the Jack For Daze stuff is really good.

In the way that you got to this warped version of house through Chicago house, do you think that people buying your record will get switched on to weirder stuff?
D: Maybe. We post up a lot of weird music that people might not expect that we're into. People might be baffled and hate it, but I think it's what keeps us us, you know? I mean,  I was making house, Vinny was writing songs and we fused those together. On 'Waveforms', the rhythm for that was for a dancehall record that Daddy Freddy was on that I did in Edinburgh years ago, and I just took the beat and it became 'Waveforms'. It's like the psychedelic indie pop, then you've got this bashment thing, and it works. So there's bits that have just fed in, but I wouldn't want it to sound like a guy who makes house meeting a guy who writes songs. It's got to sound like Aphrodite's Child, where you've got Demis Roussos, and you've got psychedelic rock. It's got to merge and become one sound. And sort of transcend genres, because I think the best rock, or pop, or indie breaks out of being just that. That was something that I always hoped we'd be able to do.

You're kind of in the deep end now, basically starting out playing to big audiences. What live music have you seen in your lives that's inspired you?

D: Well, my brother was in the Beta Band, so watching them was always a bit "Fucking hell!" You could hear stuff like Public Enemy in their music. I think that that's what keeps us at a parallel with them. We get compared to them a lot because we're not just into one thing. Watching videos of Public Enemy and De La Soul was a big thing when I was a kid. I had this skate video called 'Attack', and it was one of the first skate videos I remember seeing, and it had this fantastic, breakbeat, bombastic soundtrack...

Bomb The Bass.
D: It was Bomb The Bass. I don't know if you know a skateboarder called Gordon Dear, a Fife guy..? Goosho? I grew up skating with him, in the Factory in Dundee, and we got hold of this 'Attack' video. I asked Gordon what the soundtrack was, and he said "I'm pretty sure it's Public Enemy", so I went with my mum to Our Price and I got 'Fear of a Black Planet' on tape, and got it home, and it wasn't the music from the video. Because that was Bomb The Bass, but I was just hooked then, completely drawn in. I'd only ever heard The Beatles, and my parents' record collection, until then. It was like "Fucking hell! This is NOW!" It was bands like that who got me excited about wanting to make music.
V: It was probably the Beastie Boys for me. I saw them about five or six times. I saw them at Lollapalooza in Chicago when I was 15 - I'd never been out of Derry before - and it was in this massive arena. That summer, they'd just done 'Ill Communication', and it was all over MTV. I was watching MTV a lot out there, because we didn't have it at home, and then to see them was totally mind-blowing. Where I was from, there was no hip-hop around, so it opened this new channel. I went to see them every time I could after that.

Have you had time to think about what you're going to do next? New album?
D: New album. Trying to think about how we're going to approach the sound of it. I think this album was like a lifetime of musical influence, just sort of puked out.
V: Very slowly.
D: Yeah, puked out very slowly! Dribbled out over three years.

So you'd describe your album as 'dribbled puke'?

D: Haha! Yeah. The next one's going to be projectile vomit!

You're obliged now to have a 'difficult second album' anyway.
V: It's good in a way, because I don't think we're cornered. Sometimes that can happen if a band have a very particular sound, and you think how they'll go from there. Our album kind of leaves the door open for us to do whatever.
D: As much as we ever try to think about it, I know we'll sit down to make it, and it'll come out totally in its own. I think when we try and make music it's like a beast that takes on its own form and it feels like we've created a monster half the time. I think our only philosophy is that we just go with it, and let it happen.
V: Go with the accidents. Loads of the things we've done on this were kind of flukes, or accidents. Like you'll put the drum machine on, and it's at the wrong speed for the song, and you play with it anyway, and it goes somewhere else...

So you can't really approach it the way you did the first one?

D: I think that would take too long now. I don't hink we'll have that time. We've got our live heads on now anyway, trying to be a live band that people can come and see, and hopefully think it lived up to something.

Why are you called Django Django? I heard it's got nothing to do with the jazz guitarist...
D: Yeah. We wanted something like Liquid Liquid, or Duran Duran... More Liquid Liquid! We were looking around the room, literally going through doubles of everything in the room, and there was a rave record called 'Son of Django' - I guess named after the Western, although I never knew that - and it just became Django Django. It was just me and Vinny sitting with a MySpace account, and we'd never have thought we'd be sitting having made an album, talking to you now, waiting to play ABC1 with the name Django Django! We were probably pissed, after work. I asked Andy from the Phantom Band what he thought, and he said it was the worst name he'd ever heard. That was good enough for us. Although I think they were called Tower of Girls at the time, which is a great name.

It's a better name than the Phantom Band. Anyway, thanks for not spelling your name with triangles instead of 'A's.
V: Haha!
D: Haha! Yeah. A 'D' and a 'J' is hard enough. DJ Ango DJ Ango...