It took their singer being hospitalised for Two Door Cinema Club to admit they needed a break. Hamish MacBain meets a band back from the brink
The story of Two Door Cinema Club’s three-years-in-the-making third album begins in July 2014, in a hospital bed: a bed occupied by their singer, Alex Trimble. Alex wasn’t supposed to be there. He was supposed to be headlining Latitude. Instead, while Lily Allen replaced his band at the last minute and threw in a cover of ‘Something Good Can Work’ for the disappointed throng, Alex was being treated for stress-induced stomach ulcers.
“I was in there for two weeks,” he says. “So that became the point where we had to stop.”
Six years of non-stop touring – they wrote and recorded second album ‘Beacon’ in just a few weeks at the end of 2011 after three years, then dived straight back in – had taken their toll. And the physical deterioration was only part of what had gone wrong. “Communication had broken down through being in each other’s company constantly for years,” Alex continues. “It’s hard to communicate when you just want to escape. The hard work, for all of the damage it does, is undoubtedly beneficial. But it also generates a fear that if you stop, then everything’s going to go away. It’s ‘living the dream’, but you fear that once you have it, you could easily lose it. So that’s what stopped us giving ourselves time to breathe. It did have to come to an ugly end before we put our hands up.”
“It was forcing our hand, in a way,” lead guitarist Sam Halliday concedes. “We didn’t have anything else outside of the band. It makes everything seem so much more important, because you’re there in it all the time. Stuff that really wasn’t that big of a deal became a massive deal.”
Essentially, Two Door Cinema Club were sick of the sight of each other. Among the issues were the fact that Alex “wanted to be making music, whereas the other two enjoyed being out on the road more than I did – so I’d get frustrated when tours got extended and we couldn’t get back in the studio.” But, more broadly, as bass player Kevin Baird puts it, “We began to realise we were very different people: we’d started to feel like we couldn’t express ourselves individually and that we were always ‘that guy from that band’.”
Cue a long, open-ended break. As well as a place he has in Portland, Oregon, Alex spent a few months at his parents’ house “in the middle of nowhere” in Donegal, Ireland, doing “simple things: like learning to eat better, reading and just focusing on nothing but figuring s**t out”. Sam stayed in London, having got married at the end of the last campaign, while Kevin and his fiancée went to LA: a city he didn’t like at first but has now come to enjoy (“I don’t really know anyone there,” he laughs, “so I enjoyed spending a lot of time on my own, and… not doing a whole lot”).
When the three of them did reconvene after about a year, it was by swapping music that they were listening to and, as Alex puts it, “trying to get into each other’s heads”. Again, there were differences. “I sent them some ELO and some Bee Gees,” Alex says. “They were listening to dance music, electro, more club-based stuff. I’d delved back into the past, while they were more up to date. So we’d gone off in opposite directions. But they both fitted in perfectly with what we wanted to do going forward.”
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Certainly, the above pool of influences will not come as a surprise to anyone who’s heard latest single ‘Bad Decisions’. It sounds exactly like disco-era Bee Gees reimagined for the modern-day dancefloor (Alex: “We always all want to make danceable music”) and is also indicative of their third album’s aesthetic: a dense-sounding, propulsive electro-disco record, but with classic, soulful melodies over the top. It turns out, in light of the still-evidently-raw issues, that it took shape over Skype and email. “It was difficult at first,” says Alex. “We hadn’t resolved a lot of the differences, so there was a feeling still of a lack of communication.
“But then we reached a point that everyone had sent through ideas that everyone else was loving, and we realised we were genuinely excited by what each other was contributing. Then we realised that to make it sound like us, we needed to be in the room together.” Lyrically, Alex had a lot of stuff to draw from. There are traces of the crises that he, Sam and Kevin went through (“I’m a sinner / I’m the victim / I’m an alien when I’m myself” opens ‘Good Morning’), but not too much. He spent some time with producer Jacknife Lee drinking coffee and figuring out what he wanted to say. And what he wanted to say – or rather express – was a bafflement with, and fear of, what he on ‘Bad Decisions’ calls “generation information”. The title track ‘Gameshow’, driven by a Joy Division-esque bassline, continues on a similar theme: Alex adapting the persona of a Instagram addict (“I’ll be the souvenir of this cheap champagne year / Spilling bubbles on designer clothes”). And in truth, many of the lyrics feel like they have a more direct message to impart. “I knew I had stuff to write about this time,” Alex agrees. “With the first two records, the lyrics served a different purpose: they were there to fill the gap over the top of the song, to fit in with the melody. I wanted to still do that this time, but I wanted to get a message in…get something out of myself, I guess.”
So Two Door Cinema Club return to the same lifestyle that nearly finished them off for good, but now with some very clear things to say, a fresh outlook on what they want their band to be, and what they want each other to be (in a word: communicative). They are, of course, a bona fide big band now: on a major label (they signed with Parlophone back in 2013 just prior to disappearing), with big tours made up of big shows – bigger than they’ve ever done before – now not just a possibility, but more than likely a necessity. Which might, for someone who literally put himself in hospital through what turned out to be over-commitment, be a little daunting. But there have been lessons learnt from that near-fatal almost-implosion, and what has resulted, even overlooking any interpersonal resolutions, is a band who’ve made an album that’s a giant leap on from what they’ve done before.
“This is what we want to do, for as long as possible now,” Alex says. In the darker days not too long ago he might not have meant that. But today, and for the foreseeable future, his words ring more than true.