Since the world changed last March, we’ve been presented with a host of albums that appear to speak to our collective moment despite being written pre-Covid, with no knowledge of what would hit us. Escapism isn’t a new concept, but the world Django Django have created on their fourth album ‘Glowing In The Dark’, which they wrapped up in January 2020, presents another existence to step into for 45 minutes – something that’s never been needed more.
“It’s like cooking a Christmas dinner for 12, and wondering if it’s all just going to be burnt,” guitarist and vocalist Vinny Neff laughs over Zoom, insisting that nervous butterflies still remain ahead of the release of album four, despite being a decade into their career. “We’re just waiting for the headline,” drummer and producer Dave MacLean quips in response: “Django Django have overdone the sprouts!”
Ahead of the release of ‘Glowing In The Dark’, Neff and MacLean talk to NME about working with Charlotte Gainsbourg, the influence of sci-fi on the other-worldly feel of the new album and how writing a song per day helped give the album an intuitive, loose feel.
You worked on a schedule of getting one song written per day in the studio – how did that affect your songwriting process and what we hear on the album?
Dave MacLean: “If something that we’d been deliberating over for a month wasn’t working, we’d just start a new page. It was to stop us umm-ing and aah-ing over one song for ages. Sometimes we’ll have these behemoths sat on the computer that we’ve been trying to finish for years, and we would think, ‘If only we could crack this, it’d be amazing!’ It’s easy to get frustrated, but if you’re just starting something new the next day, there’s less preciousness and pressure about it. You’ll either wrap it up or move on.”
Was there a particular moment where you saw the shape of what was coming together with the record?
Dave: “Getting the album cover was really important. I was back home at my parents’ house in Scotland, and discovered this painting that had been kicking about in the loft that my friend did back in my art school days. It became the cover, and I thought that it looks like the album sounds. After that, you can hang the album around it, like if you imagine you had to hang loads of paintings in a house, you’d start with one key bit and then hang the rest around it. Having that visual guide was quite a big moment.”
Escapism is everywhere on this album – where did the impetus come from to create a piece of work that you can escape into?
Dave: “A lot of the books I’m reading and films I’m watching are quite out there and esoteric, weird sci-fi. They’re not kitchen sink or mundane things. They’re usually quite weird ideas that I want to get my mind blown with. Music’s like that for us – we want to muck about and experiment and get those little explosions in your brain of ideas that can take you other places.
“That’s the great thing about making music – you’re not pinned down to a time or a place. We could write a song through the eyes of a character, with a little film synopsis. The first time we did that was with ‘Love’s Dart’ from the first album [2012’s self-titled]. We were all kicking about in Dalston working in pubs, and we didn’t want to make a gritty East End London album about living in a squat in Hackney. Everybody was doing that. So we thought: ‘What if we were this guy who’s lost in the desert and looking for gold?’
“It takes you away. If you try and write a song about your own problems, it just becomes a real trudge of talking through your issues. Sometimes you just want to escape and imagine that you’re someone else, somewhere else – and music is a great vehicle for that.”
Do you think the next music you make will hone in more on the universal themes of isolation surrounding the pandemic?
Vinny Neff: “There’s a lot of music that’s focusing on the experience that we’re going through. If you put the radio on and listen to new stuff that’s coming out, it all talks about isolation. We tend not to go too far down that route… we see it as a thing that can take you out of that. You can imagine another world. If you’re stuck inside, the last thing I want to do is go inside my head and examine the sense of isolation. I’m more interested in imagining another place or another life or another world.
Dave: “The music we’re making now will have aspects of isolation I think, in the sound if not in the lyrics. We’re separated at the moment and can’t make music together, and that will give us some parameters of how it’s going to sound. Maybe we’ll make an album that’s completely electronic, or completely instrumental, or completely acoustic. It’ll give us some boundaries, which might be refreshing in a way.
How have you found working as a band during lockdown?
Vinny: “I’ve got a studio in Tottenham where we recorded the album, and one at home as well. Dave might send me little starting points for a song, and we’re living in a WeTransfer world, just putting stuff in a shared drive. If it’s good, you get comments back, and if it’s bad… radio silence. There’s been a fair bit of radio silence recently.”
How did you end up getting Charlotte Gainsbourg on the record, and what was it like working with her?
Vinny: “We had a track which me and Tommy [Grace, keyboards] had worked on, and we played it to Dave and from memory, you thought it could do with female vocal.
Dave: “When I heard it back, I could just hear Charlotte singing on it in my head, and you just have to go with that gut instinct, telling you that it needs another dimension. Luckily she’s on the same label as us and said yes straight away.”
Vinny: “I went over to Paris after Christmas in 2019, and we got a little studio. I’d sent her over the parts before, and we bashed the vocals out in an afternoon. I was quite starstruck, and we were so pleased she signed up to it.”
Dave, you started a house and techno project in lockdown – how was that experience, and do you see it crossing over with Django Django in the future?
Dave: “I’ve got a little studio in the garden, and I went in there and just kept making music during lockdown. I’ve got all these hard-drives of electronic music, house, techno, dancehall, hip-hop, that goes back to the mid-’90s when I had a four-track and a sampler and was just making stuff. That sort of ended up becoming the first Django album. I started putting that out under an alias. I think I’m gonna change my name again for the next one and start a different sound. “I’ve got tons and tons of that stuff, and sometimes it feeds into Django Django, but sometimes it can’t because it’s too industrial or too four-to-the-floor. That’ll start to see the light of day.
“I’ve DJ’d a long time, and I’d just play a certain type of techno, because it was before a lot of eclectic DJs came out like Gilles Peterson and Andy Weatherall and Coldcut. You had your hardcore DJ, your jungle DJ. By the time I got to art college in the early 2000s, all my mixtapes were all over the place. It’s been a good practice for putting Django Django albums together. In my mixtapes, I’d try and get from The Velvet Underground to Link Wray to the Wu-Tang Clan, and when we try and track our albums, it’s like drawing on the mixtape and DJ experience to find the lines and the connections, to find the right path.
– Django Django’s ‘Glowing In The Dark’ is out on February 12 via Because Music