Thursday, 15 August 2013

Music: Interview with Django Django

Over the past year and a half, quirky indie band Django Django has gone from strength to strength. Their self-titled debut album received plaudits from international music critics and saw the group nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize.

This weekend, the band is set to headline the Beacons Festival, near Skipton. The festival boasts a bill of some of the best emerging artists including Local Natives, Savages, and Sky Larkin, plus a rare showing by the pioneering punk band Wire.

The London-based four-piece formed in 2009 and are comprised of singer and guitarist Vincent Neff, bassist Jimmy Dixon, drummer and producer David Maclean and keyboardist Tommy Grace.

The name Django Django comes from the band’s love of old cowboy films. “We’re all big fans of Spaghetti westerns and reggae, and a lot of Jamaican artists referenced a lot of Westerns in their music,” says bassist Jimmy. “It just sounded right for the music we were making – it was ambiguous and also rhythmic as well.

“Dave asked one his friends once whether they liked the name, and they said it was probably the worst band name they’d ever heard, so we took it as a good thing and went with it,” he added.

There was never a conscious decision made by the band to produce an album. “As soon as we started writing things together as a band we started recording all our ideas,” says Jimmy. “We were just recording it as we went along on Dave’s computer. So we were literally just going round Dave’s house and building songs up there and writing the album without really being aware of it.”

And until just a few months before the album’s release, every part of the album’s production was home-grown. “We never went to a recording studio or anything like that,” says Jimmy. “We didn’t even have a drum kit for a while, so we were mic-ing up all sorts of things and messing around with different sounds.

“We were really restricted in what we could do, but I think that was a positive thing because we had to be more creative with what we had. It was only once the album was finished that it was sent to a proper studio to be mixed and mastered.”

The band’s song-writing process sees them record different noises and musical ideas onto a computer. These are then chopped and digitally manipulated, with the different sounds being layered over each other, often sounding completely different to the original idea.

“We kind of did things the wrong way round”, says Jimmy. “We layered all these different sounds and melodies up before we really knew how to play them live. It was very strange – we had to learn how to play our songs.”

But with the complexity of the tracks, the band soon realised that they weren’t going to be able to reproduce what they had done on the record – but for Django Django, this is part of what makes the live experience exciting for them.

“We didn’t want to go down the road of using backing tracks or anything like that,” says Jimmy. “We had to strip a lot of things back and work out what was essential to each track. It’s been really challenging, but it’s meant that we’re not so precious with the songs. We’ve been able to take the songs apart and rebuild them – some songs we play live sound nothing like they do on the record. We’ve treated the live shows like another creative process.

“A lot of people have told us that our live show sounds like a progression from the album, and that’s really good to hear.”

The band take pride in their live shows, and see them as more than just a musical experience. “We’ve got a lot of lighting and projections that we’ll be taking to Beacons,” says Jimmy. “It’s by the artist Kim Coleman who we’ve been working with for quite a few years.

“She directed the video to Waveforms and we really liked her aesthetic, so got her to work on the stage show. We always said that we want to make our live shows special – it’s really important to us to put on a good live show.”

For Jimmy, playing in Yorkshire is something of a homecoming. The bassist was born and raised in Leeds, growing up with his family in the Beeston and Morley areas of the city.

“Whenever we played in Leeds I always had my friends and my family there. We did a couple of shows at A Nation of Shopkeepers which were great – it was really fun, and there was a really good little crowd. As soon as the album came out we played in the Cockpit – I pretty much spent the whole of my teenage years in Leeds at the Cockpit, so for me it was a real homecoming,” says Jimmy.

“We’re really looking forward to headlining Beacons, we’re all really excited about playing, and I can’t wait to be back up north.”

Once the festival season is over, Django Django plan to begin work on their second album. “We’ve been touring this album for the past year and a half, so we’re really keen to start recording as soon as possible, says Jimmy.

“We’ve got six or seven sketches for songs that we’re going to record as soon as we’ve got the festivals done. There’s no timescale, but we want to get it out at some point early next year."

This article was originally published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on August 15, 2013.

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