The four-piece pop-psychedelic art rockers have returned with another album of crazy beats and melodies, Marble Skies. There is no one quite like them. Jimmy Dixon takes some time out of child rearing activities to have a chat with Brightonsfinest.
Early start for you today, then? (It’s 10am when we chat on the phone)
I’ve got twins, so to be honest, it’s usually a six am rise. I’ve been up for a few hours already. They are nearly ten months old, they’re pretty full on at the moment. They’re working their demonic magic on me. Me, Tommy and Vinny all have two kids now.
Marble Skies is your third album, this time recorded in your own studio…
We finished this record last summer. It’s taken six months to get it out. When we recorded the last record we already had this unit in Tottenham which we rent, but we hadn’t soundproofed it. We got it finished about a year and a half ago. The last record we made was at Angelic, up in Oxford. It was an amazing studio with everything you could imagine or need. But, it was nice getting back in our own space, and having no time constraints or having to worry about money. It was also quite close to where we all live so we didn’t have to come and go. It was more of an organic process. And we wanted a more familiar and comfortable environment to record. The first record was literally recorded in bits and pieces in Dave’s bedroom. Vinny would go around one day and work on guitars and melodies. I would go round and put backing vocals and bass down. So, we wanted an in between place, between a big studio and Dave’s bedroom.
You recorded your first album in Dave’s bedroom?
Right at the start it was Dave and Vinny. Dave was essentially producing Vinny’s songs. I don’t think he had much of an idea of what it was going to be. I don’t think he particularly wanted to be in a band. But they got gig requests and that’s when me and Tommy came aboard. It happened over a period of two years in the lead up to the record coming out.
How does Dave find gigging these days? He’s not such a fan of the live stage?
I’ve stopped asking him. He definitely prefers being in the studio. It’s not so much playing live that he’s not into, it’s more being on the road. Travelling around in a splitter van can get very intense and, unless you can find an hour here and there to do your thing, it gets very intense. That’s what riles him the most. He complains about it, but he still does it. It can’t be that bad for him!
Who is Self Esteem, the vocalist on ‘Surface To Air’?
It’s a girl called Rebecca Taylor who plays also in Slow Club, from Sheffield. Self-Esteem is her solo project, and Dave was working on a couple of her tracks. She was in the studio quite a lot in the summer. We had the recording pretty much finished, but the top line melody didn’t seem to suit mine or Vinny’s vocal. So she had a go at it, and she brought the track to life.
Who else plays on the album?
James Mainwaring, who plays in Roller Trio – who were nominated for the Mercury’s the same year as us – plays clarinet on ‘Sundials’. The piano riff was a kind of sample taken from a Jan Hammer record called ‘The Seventh Day’, one of his mid-70s experimental records. We took that piano line and fleshed it out. We were in touch with him by the end of the process, to get permission. He was really nice, and was on email, making suggestions. It would be nice to meet one day. Usually if someone pops into the studio we try and get them to do something on the record, somehow.
Sounds like an open invitation…
Pretty much. It’s just an excuse for us to not do any work!
Django Django have a very particular and distinctive sound. What would you put that down to?
I guess all four of us have particular things we bring to the band. Dave has always produced the records. His production style and the way he works, it brings the songs together. It’s like putting a layer of varnish on a painting, it brings everything together. That’s always been a distinctive and constant thing we’ve had. And the way me and Vinny will layer up our vocals is something we naturally do all the time.
Are the lyrics a collaboration between all four of you?
Yeah, generally. We might have a little phrase that will pop up. When we’re trying to come up with melodies we’ll have the track there and me and Vinny stand in front of the mic and sing random words and try and pick out little melodies. Often, a phrase will provide the building blocks for a narrative. We’ll generally work from this loose theme or narrative and go away and write lyrics. Then we’ll pick and choose lines that work. It works for us. We don’t get too attached to lyrics. We become less precious about changing things.
So the lyrics are secondary to the music?
Definitely. Music is what we enjoy the most in a studio. Lyrically, once we’ve got an established theme, like a film synopsis, writing is enjoyable. It’s just getting that started. We’ll have a song and the melodies worked out, and then we’ll tackle the lyrics right at the end. Sometimes the mood of the track will end up influencing the lyrics. We’ve never brought in lyrics and built a song around those.
And you’re not that keen in tackling heavier subjects, such as immigration, Trump and Europe?
Personally, whenever I hear really explicit lyrics referencing a particular political event, it always make me cringe a little. I try and stay away from writing lyrics that are like a stepping stone, where you know exactly what they’re trying to say. It does creep in there, but for us we always want the songs and the lyrics to be escapist. We use them as a way to build a little story and a little film, and almost like remove ourselves from the everyday humdrum. Although with the track ‘Beam Me Up’, we came up with that phrase in the midst of Trump and Brexit. That’s as close as we get to explicitly referencing things. You know, if there was something or someone who could get you out of that whole situation we would have happily done it.
That’s no bad thing. Pop music has nearly always been escapist.
Different people want different things from music. When we made the first record we were holed up in Dave’s flat in Dalston, in grey London. If you could transport yourself to a desert island, writing lyrics about being adrift on a desert island… we’re all big film fans, escapist stuff.