INTERVIEW: Django Django Talk New Album, Collaboration And Technology
By Gianna Hughes; thumbnail by Pavla Kopecna on September 20, 2012
Earlier this year, the electronic four-piece Django Django released their self-titled debut album in the United Kingdom. And now, almost a full year later, the band is set to release this same album to American audiences on September 25 via Ribbon Music.
Surely, it can be frustrating for an artist to wait so long to share the same album that has already been received in their home country, but for David Maclean, the band’s producer, drummer and frontman, this belated release will only lead to new opportunities.
Now based in East London, Django Django pulls inspiration from the streets of the city they live in, as well as digital effects and technology, including the work of Daniel Swan, the creator of the visually stunning “Hail Bop” video.
Django Django will be heading stateside for a national tour in support of their debut self-titled release. And while traveling the vast country that is the United States, the band is certain to stumble upon new sonic influences, whether they are the blues of the South, the construction in New York City, or the solitude in the Midwest.
I had the chance to speak with Maclean about Django Django’s upcoming release, collaboration, and the appeal of playing to a small room. And one thing is for certain: this band won’t be playing to small rooms for long.
How are you feeling about the upcoming release of your debut album in the States?
It feels like a relief because I’ve been itching for it to come out over there and let people hear it because it’s been out since January in the U.K. It would’ve been nice if it arrived a bit earlier in America, but that’s just the way things go.
Do you feel like you’re starting over since you released the album a year ago?
It feels a little like that everywhere we play at the moment because it’s not like we have a huge following in one specific place. Yeah, there are more people in the U.K. that know about us. When we went to France we realized we’ve got a pocket of fans there; and when we went to New York last time, we had a pocket of fans and played a good show there. So it’s not scary because we’re playing small venues and that’s something we like to do anyway. Even if 20 people came to a show in the States and enjoyed it, it’d be a success for us.
It doesn’t matter if it’s one person or 200 people in the room. As long as someone is connecting to it, that’s what’s important.
Exactly! I’ve got this weird fault where I think you’re always just playing for one person. It’s not like the crowd becomes this all-knowing brain that has one opinion. And in fact, small gigs in small venues are more rewarding because if you hear the echo of an atmosphere it’s easier to feel a connection with the crowd because you’re not miles away from them. Personally, I’m looking forward to coming and playing those sweaty basements of yours in America.
As a producer, how important is it for you to have control? You seem pretty hands-on with most decisions being made about your band.
If I have a strong idea, I’ll just completely be blinkered and go toward it until I’m happy with it. Of course, sometimes you have to compromise. My personal feeling is to just stick to your guns and stick to your idea until you’ve accomplished it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. It’s hard for me to listen back to the album because I see mistakes rather than successes, but that’s just because my mind is always picking apart songs when I hear them and thinking about the layers. It’s a fun thing to do for me even though it has its headaches.
I also find fun in lyrics. I sit down and write lyrics together with Vinnie [Neff]. I generally like working with other people and bouncing ideas off them. I don’t think I could be a musician with an acoustic guitar and write heartfelt, personal songs.
You’re more into the collaboration process. It’s a completely different experience playing an acoustic guitar and being a singer-songwriter onstage.
But it takes a lot of confidence to be a lone musician. Personally, I would be too self-critical of everything I did. I think it’s easier to pull apart your own work than it is for other people’s. I find it easier to have confidence in other people’s music, and that gives me an excitement to want to produce it. And that’s something I admire about solo musicians. They’ve got to make all those decisions on their own about their own work, which I wouldn’t find easy.
I look at it as being micro versus macro. When you’re so involved in it, you can become lost in the details and you can’t look at the bigger picture, so it’s difficult to make those finals calls when you don’t really have that perspective.
I think the only thing that gives you that perspective is hindsight, and that’s frustrating because you make a song and only time can tell if it’s good or bad or average. I feel like people like Nick Drake or Arthur Russell are people whose stature has grown with that hindsight, but they’re not around anymore to bathe in the glory. That’s something that’s quite difficult because there’s that thing with artists who work on their own and are basically ignored until after their death. That’s quite tragic.
I think of Van Gogh, who lived his entire life thinking he was a failure. For artists, you don’t necessarily want to make art, but you feel this calling to write songs or paint pictures. And if you dedicate your life to something and it doesn’t work while you’re alive, it’s going to depress you.
I went to art school so I know the struggle of being a lone painter in a studio wondering if what you’re doing is a complete waste of time. I spent so long doing that, that to work with a band and to have people around was amazing. You’ve got four brains to work out a problem, which is what I really like and is what makes bands work; as opposed to when Vinnie was working on his own and me working on my own. The music we were doing on our own before Django just never worked because we needed each other’s experience and each other’s strengths.
Do you think London influences your music at all?
Definitely. You can’t walk down the street in London without hearing music. Whether it’s Turkish music blasting out of a kebob shop, or a guy driving past listening to dubstep blasting out his window, or an African market playing music—it’s just everywhere and that definitely seeps in. It’s something I’ve always loved about London.
The black culture here is the most exciting for me with the way that Jamaican, Trinidadian, Caribbean, and African cultures have immersed themselves here. They brought reggae, and that’s mixed with things from all over because it’s such a melting pot. And then what you end up with is this jungle, which is perhaps a specific London sound.
If we lived in the countryside we wouldn’t be exposed to so much. And those things would never end up seeping into the music. Cities are just exciting and vibrant. London is one of the most vibrant places to live, especially in East London where I’m staying.
Can we talk about the concept behind the “Hail Bot” video a bit? It’s pretty abstract. How involved were you in the creation of this video?
I discovered that I liked Daniel Swan because he made a video here in the U.K. for a dance producer called Jam City who made a record called The Courts, and Daniel did the digitals for it. Straight away it spoke to me because it had a mixture of surrealism, off-kilter ideas, and strong visuals.
I approached Daniel and he was up for it. This video is beautiful to look at, and it was fun to make. And green screens are always great because you go to a room and prance about not knowing what the hell is going on. And then you watch back and you’re like “Oh, right!” He had me standing, jiggling car keys, but didn’t say much else. And in the video I’m next to this Lamborghini. It’s just fun what you can do with technology and digitals, even when you’re working from a home computer like Daniel does.