Django Django on new album Marble Skies
We catch up with Django Django at the end of 2017 to talk about their busy work schedule and their latest record, Marble Skies
Django Django burst out of the gates with their self-titled debut in 2012, a sun-dappled, paint-flecked slice of psychedelia. But long before Mercury Prize nominations and gold records they were just a group of friends, classmates and flatmates attending Edinburgh College of Art in the early-2000s. “The whole band thing took me by surprise,” Tommy Grace (synths) explains, “I was more into art and graphic design; I imagined myself doing something visual.”
It wasn't until the group had moved to London that they began making music together. “We were all doing things separately [in Edinburgh], I would be doing art and Dave [Maclean] DJ'd a lot... I don't know why we didn't [make music], there's no excuse really, the college had a great little studio.” It's now been ten years since the group's first performance (December 2007), Grace remembers wistfully, and they're getting ready to release their third record, Marble Skies. The album is being described as something of a 'return to form' as it hews closer to the sound of the immensely successful Django Django.
Grace recalls the differences in the recording process of their second album, Born Under Saturn: “We spent a lot of money in studio fees last time round, we went to a big studio and lost a bit of control over what we did. We were recording on a programme we didn't know that well and relying on a conduit, a go-between.”
What the band gained in polish and studio expertise, they lost in creative autonomy, something that they were eager to recover for the new album. “Don't get me wrong, we learned loads of stuff – and got some really lovely recordings – but this time we wanted to be in control of it ourselves. [Marble Skies] is a bit of an amalgamation of how we made the first and second record, taking the positives of both.
"It's a bit more all over the shop," Grace laughs, "...in a really good way."
Grace is speaking to us ahead of a day of rehearsals at the band's hideout in Tottenham, where they're “getting a wee set together” for the Other Voices festival in Ireland. They recently premiered some new material at the Alternative Peers' Ball at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh. “[It's] slightly terrifying taking new material out on the road when the record's not even out... but I think we got a good reaction,” he says, despite some misgivings about the venue and it being a little grander than the band are used to.
The Django writing and recording process, like much of their approach, runs contrary to accepted practices. Grace explains that the band generally record the songs, then figure them out, instead of “writing them and then going off to record them, it's the opposite.” The same happens when transferring them to a live setting, but he assures us that it's “coming together... we're confident of the songs this time round, that they can hold their own.” An optimistic tone is constantly present in Grace's voice, revealing a real belief in the new album, although possibly in reaction to the slightly less emphatic reception to their second album.
Despite forming in late-2000s London, Grace doesn't believe that the band were particularly informed by contemporary trends. “You get bands that come to be noticed as part of a scene... we always felt like outsiders, very much in our own bubble.” While they've drawn comparisons to other art-rock/psychedelic bands over their career (Clinic, for example, or The Beta Band, helped by the familial connection between Django's Dave and Beta Band's John Macleans), Django Django have always felt like a group standing apart from the zeitgeist.
“The thing with Django is that it's never been about a single influence, it's like a total smörgåsbord," he says laughing, "...we're not minimalists by any stretch of the imagination; every song is its own world.” During the making of their first album the band “tried to make a poster of influences... like Daft Punk's Teachers, where they namecheck all the people who've inspired them – all the people we love; directors, musicians, poets, whatever, and we had this list that had to be chopped down because there was just so much.”
Indulging every whim and influence is usually a surefire way to create an overstuffed, overblown and over-budget collection of songs, but it is testament to the behind-the-scenes skills of drummer/producer Dave Maclean that the material doesn't buckle under its own weight, with each disparate part able to complement the whole as opposed to taking focus. “Dave's usually the one behind the computer at the end saying 'Yeah, pile it on.' Maybe on the next record,” Grace muses, “we were talking about getting out of our comfort zone, take an instrument each, make a record, self-imposed rules, so we can make something more focused and minimal.”
However, this sounds like the sort of constant creative pondering that the band seem to embody: next year is firmly about the road. “We'll definitely have our touring heads on, for sure,” Grace maintains assertively, “we're always working on bits and bobs, though.” The different projects that the members have pursued over the years is demonstrative of the varied artistic background of the band.
In just the last few years, despite Grace claiming that the band have been “totally hunkered down in our cave,” they've written music for Slow West (John Maclean's directorial debut, featuring Michael Fassbender) and travelled to Mumbai with the British Council to record with local musicians, something Grace found to be “really inspirational.” Dave also found time to join Damon Albarn in Mali with the Africa Express for his Maison des Jeunes album, and to write a score alongside Grace for The White Devil, a Royal Shakespeare Company production of the John Webster play.
A hands-on, workaholic streak is a constant thread for this band, though they now find that they have to delegate a little more than at the beginning. For example, in the creation of the video for second single, In Your Beat, which came out at the end of November. “Dave had the idea that we could design loads of posters, snippets of lyrics and stuff, then we would animate them... but we don't have time to be designing hundreds of posters, so we approached Brodie (Kaman)... and I think it looks great.” The cut and paste, psychedelic style of the video is certainly in keeping with the band's DIY aesthetic, and their tendency towards artistic endeavours outside of music.
“The band is a great enabler,” Grace gleefully admits, allowing the members to find so many creative outlets. It has slowed down though, he thinks, as three of the four band members now have children. Despite making them less aware of whatever else is going on in the cultural sphere, it doesn't seem to have dimmed the creative force of the band as they prepare to release new music and hit the road.
We tell Grace about one of the first times we saw Django Django in 2012, and the sheepish and awed reaction of the group to so many people turning up. “I don't think that much has changed," he laughs, "I'm still amazed when I see so many people... you've just gotta work hard to keep it fresh.” With the seemingly tireless work ethic and creativity exuded by this band, that shouldn't be a problem.
Marble Skies is released on 26 Jan via Ribbon Music
Django Django play Leith Theatre, Edinburgh, 10 Aug as part of Edinburgh International Festival's Light on the Shore series