Many musicians join bands to avoid the nine-to-five daily grind, yet Django Django are happy to allow some routine into their lives in the wake of this year’s well-received second album, Born Under Saturn. The four-piece that gestated at Edinburgh College of Art in 2009, then moved to London, have returned home briefly after conquering the festival circuit with their pulsating live show, before heading out on European and US jaunts.
This is a more focused outfit than the one that emerged in early 2012 with an effervescent, Mercury Prize-shortlisted, eponymous debut album that combined Futurist robo-disco and twanging guitars, a sort of Silver Surfer pop.
Following rave reviews, the band hit the road for two more years, building a sizeable following to their evident surprise, in a journey that ended in front of some 60,000 revellers at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations.
This time, Django Django aim to concertina all that travelling into a 12-month period, drummer/producer Dave Maclean explains over pints of Guinness with guitarist Vinnie Neff and bassist Jimmy Dixon at the Irish pub near their Tottenham rehearsal space. Keyboardist Tommy Grace has made himself scarce. “It’s a good run, but this time we just felt we would call the shots [about] when we stop. Last time it snowballed from nothing, us making an album in a bedroom, to Fuji Rocks in Japan,” says Maclean.
So when the band allude to the repetition of daily life, as on current single “Pause Repeat”, they are not looking askance at the plodding they have avoided, but something they are intimately aware of as four guys working in often confined spaces, as the Northern Irish Neff, looking very at home in a Republic Of Ireland football shirt (“it’s the only thing I had clean”) admits: “You do the same things every day, there is a pattern to it. Even in the music studio and it’s a creative thing, there is that repetition.”
“We’re creatures of habit and it’s hard to break out of it,” Maclean muses, “But it’s a necessity or you wouldn’t get anywhere. A lot of our songs are quite escapist and weird, so every so often we knock ourselves back to Earth a bit.”
In Grace’s absence, his bandmates make their synth wizard the butt of a joke, about him being keenest on moving them in a kitchen-sink direction, that ends up with him gardening in cut-off leather trousers. Par for the course, Maclean admits. “We’re terrible at planning anything or sitting down and talking seriously. When we’re together, the four of us, it’s all very daft conversations, stupid voices and characters. Maybe that’s all to avoid talking about anything real. We’ve never talked about the kind of band we want to be or what songs should be about. It’s an unspoken zeitgeist between the four of us that helps things bubble out.”
Other factors have enabled them to avoid worrying about the expectation of following an acclaimed debut. That record was mainly built from band contributions pieced together on computer by Maclean, while Born Under Saturn has been a more collaborative effort, Donegal-raised guitarist Neff explains. “I bring the surf guitars and Jim a lot of the vocal harmonies, Tommy obviously has that huge analogue synth rig and Dave has production.”
“The hardest thing is trying to make sense of it all,” Maclean adds, “getting a coherent line between all those personalities.”
“But we’ve got more variation now, with all our personalities coming through,” Neff points out.
After the space-trip of “Hail Bop” and Heath Robinson-style charm of “Default” from the first album, Born Under Saturn starts in much more ominous fashion with the quaking footsteps of “Giant” and tectonic rumble of “Shake and Tremble”. It was a deliberate dramatic entrance, Maclean admits. “We wanted something that had a bit of weight and tension behind it, but we hadn’t thought of it until we had to sequence the tracks.” Dixon, along with Neff one of the band’s key lyricists, was inspired by the pair’s trip to the Italian volcanic island of Stromboli. “It’s constantly erupting, a background presence. You walk down the street and you hear it.”
These tracks certainly balance the caffeinated piano-house riff that leads “Pause Repeat”, though elsewhere you find the band’s more sinister side. “Found You” tells the grim tale of someone realising the enormity of a Faustian pact, while “Shot Down” follows the parallels between a relationship gone sour and a pair of criminals that has been double-crossed. Maclean claims that inspiration may have come from the group messing in the recording studio with Ouija boards, though also refers back to his and Grace’s time composing music for a Royal Shakespeare Company production of a bloody revenge tragedy, John Webster’s The White Devil.
“Between us, certainly me, Jim and Tommy, we read a lot of occult, macabre books. I’ve been heavily into that stuff since I was a kid. Around the time of “Found You” we were watching [Forties fantasy film] The Devil and Daniel Webster, a take on Faust. With a lot of these things, it’s books, films and conversations that dictate direction in the studio that night. And with The White Devil, our heads had been in that gothic tragedy, so that seeped into our songwriting.”
While the SNP may be disappointed to hear that Django Django are far from planning a political, Manic Street Preachers-style, anthem, the party enjoyed vocal support from Maclean in last year’s 2014 independence referendum campaign and the run-up to the party’s overwhelming success in this year’s General Election. Although only he and Grace are Scottish, the foursome are often referred to as such, which the others take lightly. Dixon bluffly shrugs: “It’s the same with Franz Ferdinand, only two of them are Scottish.”
“It’s good we have a foot in every camp,” the affable Neff beams. Maclean is more interested in the political differences between his home country and England than any nationalist fervour, seeing Jeremy Corbyn’s success as a sign that the nations could still bond.
“It is important that, if the United Kingdom sticks together, it finds its left-wing voice again – and that’s important for Scotland as well. I would rather the UK stayed the UK and became a socialist country. It’s split only because people in Scotland can’t really see that happening, especially after they felt screwed over by Labour. When I was younger the SNP were such a fringe party, it was only after Iraq and Afghanistan that they started to gain a stronghold, as the new left and the new voice of Scotland.”
Now the band are looking forward to finishing touring in February and returning to the studio. After learning to work more collaboratively for Born Under Saturn, they are keen the third album arrives much more quickly, Maclean explains.
“We’re dying to make another album already. Concentrating on being a good live band had a bit of an impact on this record, but not as much as I would have liked. We had no time to record or jam, but enough to know how to do it better next time. And a lot of stuff on this album was a hangover from the first that didn’t get finished or had been on people’s phones or hard drives for four years. Now it feels like a clean slate. We can do whatever we want.”
Whether that includes a kitchen-sink dirge remains to be seen.
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