"If there's so little of yourself in a song that you can't remember when you wrote it and where, something has gone wrong"
The British quartet Django Django released their self-titled debut album in 2012 and received brilliant reviews and a Mercury Prize nomination in return. The follow-up, 'Born Under Saturn' from 2015, was just as hyped up by the media, and suddenly the boys found themselves playing the biggest festival stages and touring constantly
The band's third album, 'Marble Skies', hits the shops and streaming platforms today, and we had a chat with two of the members at their studio in North London. Sitting between walls covered in stacks of vinyls, a floor full of cables and all kinds of instruments, the boys tells us that this time, they've gone back to the DIY approach they used on their first album.
"The first album was 100% 'Do It Yourself'," keyboardist Tommy Grace says. "The Second was the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we used lots of time and money in the studio. So this time we could look back and see what was good about each approach and choose how we wanted to treat each song. And everything was recorded by the four of us, right here in this studio."
He says the biggest challenge this time was to take all the experiences from previous recordings, without actually repeating yourself. Taking on board knowledge, but not using it the exact same way you did last time. "It's like a mass-produced Chinese vase. The very first one is beautiful, but despite all the copies only contain minor variations, when you compare the last to the first, the first one is still a lot more beautiful."
Most of the song writing happened in the same studio.
Writing songs while touring is difficult, there's not a lot of privacy, and no time to sit down and write in peace and quiet. So the band collects inspiration through everything they experience on tour, and write the songs when they return home afterwards.
"Sounds like an excuse to not have to sit down and work" bassist Jimmy Dixon grins, and Tommy lets out an ashamed chuckle: "I'm absorbing! Taking it all in... or something, haha!"
The last album, 'Born Under Saturn', had a lot of darkness to it. The intro is quite sinister, there are songs about selling your soul to the devil, and large parts of the album is inspired by a fascination of the occult. The contrast to 'Marble Skies' is striking. The new album is playful and centres around light evenings, happy memories, feel-good melodies and upbeat rhythms. The band assures us that this has as much to do with the actual songwriting process, as it does with where they were and are in their lives on a personal level.
"The first album was mostly written by Dave, whereas when we made the second one it was the rest of us that wrote together. It was the first time we'd done that, and it took us some time to wrap our heads around how to make that work" Jimmy explains. "This time we didn't have to spend time on that, we didn't have to be in a massive studio with lots of deadliens and money involved, and we already had two successful albums so there was less pressure there.. I think all these things affected the mood and the feel of the songs. The whole process felt lighter and easier and less stressful."
Dave Maclean, producer/drummer, has entered the room and managed to shove Tommy's breakfast down from the desk onto the floor, causing Tommy to collapse in giggles.
When asked whether their songs feel a bit like musical snapshots over their lives these past few years, Tommy ponders a bit: "They're definitely snapshots over where we were musically when they were written, but I..." He giggles uncontrollably: "I don't really ever listen to our music! I probably will at some point and then it'll be the same as with smells, it'll take me back to specific times."
"And suddenly your eyes go red and you grow pale," Jimmy adds, making Tommy giggle again.
"But that's what is so amazing about music," Tommy continues, and snaps his fingers, "You hear a song and suddenly you're back to that summer as a child when you heard it the very first time. It's just like smells. And also, If there's so little of yourself in a song that you can't remember when you wrote it and where, then something's gone wrong," he chuckles.
"I just read actually," Jimmy says eagerly, "David Bowie couldn't recall writing and recording any of 'Station To Station!"
"Well yeah, but..." Tommy smirks.
"I know," Jimmy smiles, "I imagine that recording process was a little bit more... bonkers than sitting here in the studio drinking a Guinness before going home for Christmas."
One of the moments the band's music might remind them of in the future, was the boating trip that inspired the song 'Champagne'. The band's French record label had managed to get the band nominated for an award at an award show (the guys are still not sure which one) and according to the band, this was not exactly popular locally, as the band themselves aren't French.
"It was the weirdest experience ever," Jimmy states while Tommy and Dave laugh at the memory. "We were on this boat, tootling around on the Seine, and everybody was just getting absolutely hammered."
"Our sound engineer phoned me up at five in the morning and had left all his stuff on the boat. He was meant to be getting a flight at seven and phoned me up asking where we had gotten off the boat, and I was like 'I've no idea Paul, we were all absolutely hammered, it's somewhere along the river in Paris', so he had to borrow someone else's glasses and broke into this boat and found his bag with his passport and all. It's just this hazy weird night, but that's where that lyric comes from. Being on a boat on the seine, getting very very drunk on Champagne."
"It was a bit Apocalypse now," Dave nods, "Sailing down the river into madness. Or darkness. But it was good fun."
Jimmy starts giggling again: "I just keep picturing him with these borrowed milk bottle glasses breaking into this boat!"
When asked whether we might get to see Django Django live in Norway at some point, a ten-minute discussion erupts about whether they've played Norway before. "Wasn't it in Norway we played a festival where Snoop Dogg was arrested for doing drugs?" Tommy asks.
"Oh shit, yes!" Jimmy laughs, "Somebody who worked there for the first time had been sent out to get him weed and then Snoop got busted! This poor kid was just crying their eyes out, convinced they'd never get to work there again."
"But yes, we definitely have to go back to Norway," Jimmy nods. "It has obviously been way too long."
'This interview was first published at Musikknyheter.no.