Good Hype and Bad Hype
Dec 21, 2012
Photography by Pal Hansen Web Exclusive
Arguably the breakthrough indie band of 2012, Scottish art rock four-piece Django Django consists of David Maclean (drummer, producer), Vincent Neff (guitar, vocals), Jimmy Dixon (bass), and Tommy Grace (synths). They were recently nominated for and subsequently only narrowly missed out on the prestigious Mercury Music Prize back home in the U.K.
Their eponymous debut album has been raved about throughout the year by both critics and fans, as have its psychedelic pop singles such as “Hail Bop” and “Default.” Under the Radar’s Dan Lucas is one of many who has been buzzing about this album for a while now and recently spoke to David Maclean about gaining fans before actually releasing anything, ad hoc recording equipment, trying to stand out from every other busy electropop group, and the influence of his brother John Maclean’s old outfit The Beta Band.
Dan Lucas (Under the Radar): One of the most impressive things about the record is how mature and assured it sounds, especially for a debut record. Was this a deliberate aim that formed part of the reason for the four years between you guys getting together and actually putting out the record? Or were there other reasons for waiting that long?
It was a bit of a weird one, because we got together in about 2008 to record some of Vince’s songs; it was never really obvious for us to start a band, but I was going to produce his songs up to a sort of demo quality. And then the more we listened to them and the more we gave them to friends and what have you, then the more we thought “let’s just keep going and record a few more.” Eventually we thought that maybe they weren’t demos and we should just keep them as they were and move on.
Soon we got asked to do a gig and before we knew it we had to put a band together, but with so much going on in our lives—I was trying to finish a degree at Art College and others were working—I guess that the way that it happened was that eventually we got an offer from a record label and we decided to put out what we’d done so far as an album. But then that meant getting it mixed and all of the stuff that you have to do, the whole operation to bring an album out, so that was another year. So time just goes by, and I found we seemed to have gained fans before we’d even talked about being a proper band.
With that hype that had built up around you guys, especially in the blogosphere and the online music community, there must have been quite a weight of expectation on the album. Did you find that this created any extra unwanted pressure? How did you react to that?
It probably suited us that we were quite oblivious to it, living in a bubble. At that time I didn’t really go online ever: I mean I had Myspace but I didn’t even know what blogs were so it kind of passed us all by. It wasn’t until we released the album that we realized people had been following us.
I guess there’s good hype and there’s bad hype. There’s hype where people just stir things up because they want something that’s “The New Thing” and there’s hype which is genuine expectation from people who want to hear more. But if you say there was a genuine excitement that’s good to know because as I said, we were a bit oblivious.
And then since the album came out the acclaim has been huge [British newspaper The Guardian awarded it five stars, for example] and a lot of people have been talking it up as a contender for Album of the Year. How has that, suddenly being a prominent part of the British indie scene, been for you?
Erm, strange! I guess when you have an album out, as a producer I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I always want to move on very quickly so I’ve not really listened back to the album much. But when I listen to it back now there’s certain things I hear where I think, “Ah, I could do that better.” And that’s about all I could think about, how it could be better on the next album – sort that out, or push that. So I guess I’m thinking more about the future and recording another record than what this record’s doing.
But then that’s partly as you were saying because it took a while to come out. That’s meant that we’ve been sitting around with it or playing with some of the songs for a few years now. So that’s why I’m keen to get on with the next thing and put this one bubble away. People can like it, but my head’s looking forward to the next thing rather than thinking how this one’s doing.
Also we’ve kind of got our live hats on at the moment and we’re trying to work out how to become a good live band so that’s a whole different kettle of fish. It projects you into another place. Basically there’s not much time to think about it doing well, and that’ll come later when we hopefully have a bit of a rest and can look back.
As you’ve talked about looking forward and moving on to something new do you feel like you’re in a place to do that now? Where you’re ready to record or to write something new?
Totally, I would personally love to start work on something new. I mean this album was made as I say in a bedroom between working and college and was never quite intended to be an album to be honest. So now that we’ve got a little studio we work in and we’ve got a full band and a drum kit and stuff it’d be exciting to see what we could do next.
We’ve already started thinking a bit about what we want to do. It’s not about trying to beat the last one as such or make it better—it might not be everyone’s cup of tea what we do next—but I think it’s more important just to keep working and keep creating new things and pushing ourselves.
One of the most noticeable things I found about the record is that there seems to be a lot going on, on every track: lots of different instruments and lots of effects, yet still it sounds really minimal and restrained. Was this deliberate? How did you approach the recording sessions to get that sound?
I think at the time of making it there was a mixture of listening a lot to stripped-back acid house, Joe Meek production, Phil Spector, so there was a bit of a weird mix of influences production-wise. Then that matched with the limited resources we had—we had one guitar, we didn’t even have a mixing desk...we had half a drum kit, a floor tom and a snare drum. No wait, we didn’t even have a snare drum, it was a floor tom and a rack tom—so it was just a case of “well we can’t mic up a whole drum kit so let’s play the toms, pitch them down, hit a tom in 4/4 and pitch the bass drum down, pitch the guitar down to make it a bass guitar because we don’t have a bass.” Then over the next year I was trying to get the sound in my head and just use those very minimal resources to create an atmosphere and the full sound we wanted.
We wanted, as you said, loads going on because there was so much layering and layering. Some of the songs have like, 60 to 80 tracks on them, 10 tambourines and two drum loops and 10 vocals. Because it was literally us in a room with a computer and a few bits and bobs that seemed to me to be the way to sound like the things that I liked—The Beach Boys or whatever it was I was obsessing about at the time—we were trying to find a way to match that.
Does that make the live shows any harder? With everything that’s going on, when you’re onstage it’s obviously harder to recreate that depth of sound, that many layers. Is that a difficulty?
Yeah it’s a real challenge, but I think we decided as a band that we weren’t going to bother to try and recreate the album live. We wanted to take songs and reapproach them, keeping some elements and adding new elements. We want the live show to be quite, you know, bombastic and dance-y, which means stripping things back and pushing the essential parts rather than worrying about having loads and loads of layers going on. But yeah it’s been a headache at times and I guess it still is a headache sometimes; I mean the song “Zumm Zumm” we’ve never even bothered playing live because we wouldn’t even know where to start!
It’s difficult when you make an album like that and also we don’t want to use backing tracks and samples, we want to try and keep everything live. So yeah it’s a challenge, but we feel that the best way is to approach it as a different kind of beast really.
Perhaps inevitably there have been a lot of comparisons with your brother’s band [David’s brother John Maclean was the keyboard player and DJ in The Beta Band]; does this get tiresome or were they something of an influence on you?
They were a strong influence in that me and John both grew up eating together, collecting records, and we both got into using samplers and 4-tracks: the sensibilities we have and the influences we have are the same as we’re both a product of the same environment. It’s just impossible to avoid in sounding similar because I would have to try really, really hard to get that out of my blood, the way that we approach music having grown up loving mum and dad’s record collection.
Then on top of that The Beta Band themselves were an influence because I’ve DJ’ed live for them quite a lot and got involved in that whole thing. So we’re from the same stock and have so many similar sensibilities that it’s kinda inevitable. But that’s fine by me, they were a great band, and it’s funny because it’s always The Beta Band, Hot Chip and… who else do we get compared to? Super Furry Animals, Animal Collective—it’s bands that, I guess, if you talk to us you find out we all grew up in basically the same years and loved the same music so that’s kind of come out in our sound.