Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Darkstar interview

Darkstar interview

Blackdown: By all accounts, writing this album was quite a personal struggle for you guys, having to scrap material and start again etc. Can you describe this process and do you think it was important to go through? Would the album have sounded different if you hadn’t struggled to make it, for example? Were there times you didn’t think you’d ever get there?

Jay Darkstar: When I listen to joy division, I can hear the labour, when I listen to Radiohead I can hear the labour, when I listen to Burial I can hear the labour. If we hadn't of struggled it would have significantly less labour within it. I like some of the awkwardness, the lack of musicality at certain points, the lack of technical ability at others makes it what it is. There were time's we were wandering when we'd finally get there, brief flirtations with e.p rather than l.p ideas, but to be honest we were always going to get there.

B: Can you tell me about the emotional or thought process you went through to change your musical direction. You’d been vaguely affiliated with the dubstep scene, and “Need You” was pretty 2steppy. Most of your music had been loosely percussive and club orientated, whereas “North” is very different album. Swimming against the tide isn’t the easy route, but you took it… how come?

J: Well, we listen to lots of music, like everyone else but we are curious naturally, it seems pointless to not experiment. When we make music there is no criteria, we don't consciously think about going for or against anything, we like to create something we are interested in, if we get to that stage then we finish it. We won't finish half baked tracks. We haven't got a set goal apart from making albums, we are itching to get back in the studio now.

B: Do you think the time of year this album is released is important? It seems to fit the autumn feel to me…

J: Yeah I suppose so. I wrote about seasons in a couple of tracks and what was going on during winter or summer. We never designed the album specifically for autumn though. It's just heavily textured with synths and other instruments, it's not particularly rhythmical either so I think it's easier for the brain to associate those pads and swells with maybe a certain time of the year or mood.

B: How did you find James Buttery, why did you choose him and what was it like accommodating him into the band? Producers are typically very comfortable with each other in the studio in what is a quite personal, emotional experience (writing music), how did you find having a third person part of it?

J: James is a good guy. Aiden has known him for the best part of ten years. He has a great voice and we first started working with him covering 'Videotape' by Radiohead. On North we wrote all the material, melodies, top lines and lyrics so James creatively didn't get so involved. Obviously the next step which is underway is all three of us writing and seeing how that goes.

B: Writing songs, where you invest personal emotions in lyrics rather than just the moods or textures of percussive music, must be quite different. How did you find the process of moving from tracks to songs, personally? How did you find digging within yourselves to find emotions to share publically?

J: I think it's important to sometimes put yourself on the line. I'd rather get slated for the lyrics than not having the bottle to follow through with it. We always wrote songs really even 'Need You' is a song, it's just limited in lyrical content. I didn't doubt the songs so it made it easier to let people hear them. Certain songs were tougher to write than others but all the content came fairly quickly. I didn't over think the songwriting, it was something that we walked into and we wanted the album to be this way. We wanted a difference from past material a clear stepping stone in direction.

B: Tell me how you feel about melancholia, why are you drawn to this mood, why is it so prominent in your work? [I love it personally, equally to hype tracks, but not everyone draws for it…] Was this connected to the fact that you said you guys both sadly lost people during the recording process or was there an element of melancholia to it before?

J: I think we were always drawn to it and even before the album, 'Need You' and 'Aidy's Girl' aren't your regular club tunes. It's not a case of us being emo or anything, it's just when we get those moods in the studio we naturally keep more interest and focus within the track. We like working on emotive ideas. They get the best out of us.

B: Why is it important to you guys to process and add effects to James’ vocals? I also find them slightly buried in the mix sometimes, like you can only half hear them, like they’re hidden or fleeting. Can you tell me about your approach to this “instrument”?

J: The simplest way of answering this question is that it just feels right to hear the vocal this way. When we record the vocal, we'll get the take then I'll effect it accordingly using various plug-ins and by cutting the audio. Then it's just a case of balancing the mix and the vocal. With all the production and distortion of the synths, drums and bass added to the vocal gives us the sound of the album. It became vital to our sound to manipulate in this way. Our master recordings of the vocals are sometimes sketchy, we live on upper clapton road and literally took every take in the flat, so it's not ideal to get a great take. We rely on these techniques to make up for spillage from the road things like buses or sirens were a particular nuisance but manageable with our sound.

B: Can you tell me about the inspiration for the lyrical content of “Two Chords”? It sounds like the song of a heartbreak or a breakup…

J: “Two Chords” was written after I'd read an interview with Martin Scorsese whilst he was promoting Shutter Island. He said his work had burnt through four marriages. I thought about my own work and how it effects your relationship with people around you. The hook was directly taken from that interview. But it's not a heartbreak tune it's like washing your hair, it's like the part of life before the clean break and focus. It's not a sad song it's about the break and then the climb back to normality and work. Refocusing your thoughts and reflecting on that time.

B: Synths… synthesisers are inherently, well, synthetic. How do you go about finding the organic, humanity in them?

J: Balancing the synths with the vocal was not that difficult, again the vocal is typical for the album, the pulse synth throughout the track is automated to intensify when the lyrics and the choirs do so the whole thing peaks as one.

B: The album’s called North, you grew up there and talk amazingly about it and also your Hackney experience in the interview with Kode, but can you describe how much either being from the north or the relationship between being there but now living in London has on the album, because as a listener, it’s not entirely clear to me?

J: Yeah I understand that notion but the bigger picture is saying this all started in the North, and then the title track is directly about both ways of living North/South. I looked back to things up there to help with not only lyrics but more so textures and ways of structuring tracks, all the bright synth stuff the digital sound is gone here, we didn't go near it. It's grainy and drawn out. Our dancier tracks before the album were always cut out for London and directly influenced by fwd. But this was about moving on and looking for a different kind of inspiration, one that could span the length of an album. It was important for us to move on and grow into a sound we are comfortable with.

B: After the album comes out, what are your plans for 2010/11? What else would you like to do musically?

J: Our plans right now are the live show. We are rehearsing and looking at the sound of it, the method and how to perform in front of an audience. We are also tentatively writing again, which is exciting, James is on board and writing with us and it's very much a combined process now. We are trying to cover all the angles and keep making good tunes.

-- My full Pitchfork feature on "North" is here. I don't listen to that many albums these days but this is the best one this year so far...

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