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Django Django

Supernatural Inspiration

Oct 01, 2015 Issue #53 - April/May 2015 - Tame Impala Bookmark and Share

It was a dark (and possibly stormy) night. The members of London-based Django Djangodrummer/producer Dave Maclean, singer/guitarist Vinnie Neff, bassist Jim Dixon, and keyboardist Tommy Gracewere recording at Angelic, an old barn that had been converted into a residential studio. According to Maclean, “It was quite spooky at night.” They were drinking Hungarian moonshine, and someone “had the bright idea” to set up an Ouija board. They laid it out in a room containing an old, Victorian piano, and before long they’d made contact with a spirit from the beyond. It spelled out its name beneath their fingers: “Jeff.”

“We said, ‘If you’re there, can you make a sign?’” remembers Maclean. “And then the upright piano started playing itself! It got more and more angry, its keys just stabbing randomly. We all ran out of the house in complete terror. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared!”

What Django Django hadn’t known was that the studio techs had modified the piano to play on its own, and were able to trigger it remotely. They eventually ‘fessed up to their practical joke, but only after stringing the band along for several hours.

“They got us good,” says Maclean, with a laugh.

The resulting album, Born Under Saturn, is the follow-up to Django Django’s wildly successful, self-titled 2012 debutDjango Django was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize and appeared near the top of many best of the year lists, including Under the Radar‘s. That album had been famously recorded in Maclean’s bedroom with a single microphone, only one drum, and without a bass guitar; this time around, of course, Django Django had access to professional studios and a wide selection of gear. They found that having all of these new luxuries at their disposal changed their approach to songwriting very little.

“We started off in a big [recording area] for a couple of days, but we all gradually moved next door to this tiny, little room and used one mic again and half a drum kit,” says Maclean. “[This] tiny little room wound up looking exactly like my bedroom.”

Fortunately, that old adage (“If it ain’t broke…”) rang true when it came to Django Django’s sophomore full-length. Born Under Saturn is the band exploring a similar sound, but testing how far they can go with itthe songs are as propulsive and genre-defying as before, but of a much larger scope than expected. The album’s impressive opening suite“Giant,” “Shake and Tremble,” and “Found You”morphs from classic pop harmonies, to foot-stomping rockabilly and sweeping psychedelia over 15 minutes of rapid musical mutation, and works as a serviceable capsule version for the record as a whole.

“The first few songs on the album felt like we were trying to tame a huge beast,” says Maclean. “They’re sprawling, big songs that were difficult to tame and work out the right groove for. These are the most ambitious songs that we’ve done so far.”

That ambition comes across in every song on Born Under Saturn, and was thankfully not extinguished mid-recording by the band’s startling encounter with the “poltergeist” named Jeff.

“Jeff became kind of the spiritual guide for the album,” says Maclean, who later learned they weren’t the first musicians to fall for the studio’s prank. “We joked about it the rest of the time…. They played the same trick on Ozzy Osbourne and he lost it.”

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s April/May/June 2015 print issue. This is its debut online.]


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