Django Django’s Art Rock Fantasies

It’s been quite a year for London band Django Django. After releasing their self-titled debut album at home to great acclaim in January, they crossed the pond and made their American live debut at Brooklyn’s Glasslands Gallery before the whirlwind of SXSW. Over the course of 2012, the psych-rock quartet racked up over a million YouTube views for the addictive single “Default,” accolades from around the world, and a Mercury prize nomination. They’ve won the approval of everyone from NPR to Ryan Gosling, and it’s well deserved. Django Django is a richly textured sonic journey, the band’s art school background showing through in their willingness to experiment and their trippy videos. They make songs that are genuinely weird and genuinely catchy, influenced by everything from diss rap to visions of Egypt and the wild west.

I talked to singer/guitarist Vincent Neff and keyboardist Tommy Grace during their trip to the U.S. last month about touring, Fox News, and developing a sense of style.

Things have definitely changed for you since the last time you were in Brooklyn. How would you sum it up?
TG:
It’s been just a surreal, fragile rise. It’s been pretty amazing. We released the album in January and then just the audience numbers have gone up and up and up. To be playing at Bowery with a packed out house, I just couldn’t believe it. It’s been really nice.

How does it feel now that the album’s properly out in the US?
VN:
Brilliant. Even just the tour over here is one thing, but getting it released here, it’s brilliant to go into a store and see it, the vinyl sitting there.
TG: It was a real protracted process, wasn’t it? Took a long time just to get a distributor in the US. People can buy it legally now instead.
VN: Loads of people were coming up to me at the Bowery and saying "I got it illegally back in February, but I bought it officially when it came out over here." It’s quite nice to hear people do that and be open about it.

Well, we all knew the songs back at Glasslands.
VN:
Glasslands was one of the highlights of our year.
TG: Someone’s asked us in an interview, pick out a highlight of being in the band, and I just remember that show was totally brilliant. It was the first time we had played in the US.
VN: We didn’t know what to expect. There was no release here, so we thought we’d run the risk where no one would really know who we are. But it was just totally great. It felt like a little partisan kind of crowd. It was very good fun.
TG: We saw a lot of recognizable faces as well.
VN: At the Bowery we saw loads of faces [that we’d seen before]. It was about 1:30 in the morning as well, that always helps.

So things have definitely changed now that the album’s out here?
VN:
The only thing we could really go on was the New York thing, and then we went on to SXSW after. I kind of followed on Twitter that we were getting some radio play over here and some write-ups and stuff coming through, but that was only really recently. We went to LA and had a sold out venue, Chicago was the same. So it’s totally been amazing, playing these quite small little places but getting a good atmosphere going. The fans have been really good as well.

Now that you’ve been in the US for longer, has there been any sort of culture shock that you didn’t experience before?
VN:
I just get really addicted to television when I come here.
TG: I just dive straight into the burgers. Then I have this sort of relapse, and about a week in, you’re searching for all the salads you can find. You’ve got so much great food in New York, you’re so fortunate.
VN: I think the snack food here is so much better than in London. That corner shop over there doesn’t really look like much, but apparently it does amazing sandwiches. Dave, our drummer got one and he told us about it. We had these sound engineers talking about the sandwiches and saying, "Don’t get the cucumber in that, that Birdman sandwich, because it wrecks the sandwich, don’t mess around with it."
TG: Everyone’s an expert on food in New York. Even if you don’t have a lot of money, you can be really picky.
VN: [People have lists of] the best chicken shacks, or the best pork ribs, the best Mexican, salads and stuff. And then there’s the TV, I’ve been watching so much TV. It’s like a drug. There’s endless adverts about blenders and workout videos and Fox News, it’s just the funniest…We don’t really have that level of wearing-its-heart-on-its-sleeve news channels. It’s more regulated, more subtle. It’s kind of intoxifying, you just want to watch more of it. We watched a bunch of Yankees games last night. When you don’t really see baseball and football and basketball, you don’t tend to watch it, but when you come over here and it’s everywhere, you get kind of hooked and you start to learn very quickly about who’s doing well. From the last time we were here, for example baseball, they used to wear the tight socks around the bottom. Now, they wear these baggy trousers. We kind of notice these little subtleties.
TG: Just the TV in general, we’re doing this interview and my eyes are going to the screen over there. They’re everywhere. They’re so difficult to avoid, it’s just like omnipotent, as well as all the advertising and billboards. It all seems new to us, because we’re not used to it.

What are some other staples of your touring life?
VN:
In LA, we find a lot of really good diners, we’ve been to the Museum of Modern Art there. Once we get to a venue, we try to take a look around the shops and such. It’s been quite a fast tour and we’ve flown everywhere, so we haven’t seen as much landscape. We’ve felt very much dropped-down, turn around.
TG: We really enjoy Williamsburg, this is a nice neighborhood.
VN: Canada was amazing, I really enjoyed Montreal, we had a really good gig up there. It felt really foreign, even though it’s only a couple hours from Boston, it’s completely French-speaking. All the road signs are in French.
TG: And there’s such enthusiasm for music. Loads of buskers, loads of people just playing guitar out on their balconies. There’s a real appetite for music, and the crowd in Montreal was great.

What’s the most memorable thing that’s happened on this tour?
VN:
Celebrity spottings. We had Owen Wilson sitting at the next table over from us in San Francisco. In LA, the lead actor from Drive was at our gig. I texted my sister back in Ireland, and she was going absolutely mental. She was like, "I’m going to fucking come the next time, for fuck’s sake!", missing out on it. And then we saw Martin Sheen at the airport. We were like, "That guy looks remarkably like Martin Sheen. It is Martin Sheen!"
TG: It’s all terribly glamorous.
VN: And then you’ve got us, four pasty white Scottish/Irish/English [guys].

Back in the spring, you played Chanel’s party for Paris Fashion Week. Have you gotten any more love from the fashion world lately?
TG:
It’s funny, we’ve got two rails of garish clothes back there to try on, we’re shooting a video tomorrow. It’s not exactly a fashion parade.
VN: It’s for the video for "Life’s A Beach." We’re shooting it in Williamsburg. We’ve got it all set up, it should be fun.

Any hints as to what we’re going to see in that?
TG:
It’s going to be watery.
VN: That’s all we can say.
TG: There are going to be big volumes of water in the studio. Pool party.

Your videos are always so memorable.
VN:
The more busy we get, the less time we have to input in them in some ways, but we always try to [get] similar concepts. Dave and Tommy kind of bring through the concepts, but we’ve had to hand them over because we haven’t got time. Like "Default," Dave and Tommy worked pretty much full time on that with this other guy.

How did you come up with the distinctive t-shirts that you wear onstage?
TG:
Dave came up with them, I think he’d just been to Barcelona and was inspired. It’s great fun throwing bleach around on a t-shirt, trying to make something that looks good that seems sort of full of life. We’ve been using them for quite a while, I think we need to change them up.

Do you have any tips for new bands trying to come up with their own looks?
VN: One earring is always good. One earring and one shiny glove, that’s a good start. Tommy used to wear little seahorse medallions when he was a kid. That should come back, and waistcoats. There’s always a fine line to walk between looking like a complete idiot and looking [good].
TG: You should be afraid to look like an idiot.
VN: No, you shouldn’t be afraid to look like an idiot. If you’ve got conviction, just say, "I’m going to wear it, I don’t care what everybody thinks." That always seems quite good, when someone just walks down the street and they’re not too self-conscious. Just have conviction over it, and ignore the people who snigger at you.

Yeah, because what you have going on is a distinctive look, but you don’t have to ask if it’s working or not.
VN:
Yeah, and the more intricate you get, the more likely you’re going to hit a snag. We used to have this white gaffer tape in different shapes, but invariably I sweat a lot and the gaffer tape would fall off onto my guitar and I would be stuck to my guitar. So make it user-friendly, able to put on easily, able to take off, and make sure it goes with what you’re playing. If it’s just a tambourine, then you’re okay, but if you’re playing intricate solos on a keyboard or a guitar or drum solos…
TG: Don’t wear tassels.

BlackBook Tracks #10: Just Chill

It’s been a long week, hasn’t it? Maybe you say that every Friday. Sit back, relax, and ease yourself into the weekend with these songs.

Django Django – “Firewater”

Kick things off with this hangover anthem from the London psych-rockers’ excellent self-titled debut album, currently available for streaming at Rolling Stone.

Phoenix – “If I Ever Feel Better”

This track from the French band’s 2000 debut album United never fails to hit the spot.

Peter Morén – “Social Competence”

The Peter Bjorn and John frontman gets vulnerable with an acoustic guitar in his solo project. Here’s a sample of his other side from 2008’s The Last Tycoon.

Ra Ra Riot – “Too Dramatic”

Ra Ra Riot have been laying low for a while, but hopefully they’ll be back sooner than later with more lush, string-heavy indie pop.

Johanna and the Dusty Floor – “Fishbones”

“Fishbones” is like the audio equivalent of finally getting sheets with a decent thread count and finding it even more impossible to get out of bed in the morning.

Chairlift – “I Belong In Your Arms”

This slice of jubilant dream-pop from the Brooklyn duo always feels like a breath of fresh air.

Chad Valley – “Fall 4 U” (ft. Glasser)

Synth-pop maestro Chad Valley is gearing up for his debut LP Young Hunger, and “Fall 4 U” is the first tease from the album. It’s nothing short of completely gorgeous and transportive.

Divine Fits – “My Love Is Real”

An indie supergroup featuring members of Wolf Parade and Spoon ended up being a good idea! Here’s the stark, captivating opener to A Thing Called Divine Fits.

The Cast Of Cheers – “Family”

Irish band the Cast of Cheers finally released their album Family on this side of the pond, and it’s a good one. The title track is all angles and jangles, with plenty of energy to spare.

BlackBook Tracks #3: 2012 First Half Report

Looking sharp, 2012. In our first two installments, we’ve already highlighted some of the best songs of the year so far, like Tanlines’ “All of Me” and “I Love It” by Icona Pop. Here’s a sampling of some other great singles from the past six months.

Django Django – “Default”

This relentlessly catchy cut from the London-based psych-rock quartet demands to be put on repeat.

Hot Chip – “Night And Day”

Hot Chip have always been pretty sexy, and they reach their full potential in that department with “Night and Day.” With a nasty bass line and characteristic humor, the song simultaneously fulfills their established R&B-inflected electro sound and pushes it further.

Grimes – “Oblivion”

Claire Boucher’s ethereal vocals and looping production make this song both expansive and intensely intimate.

Kindness – “House”

An earnest, quietly anthemic love song from the British up-and-comer. Kindess’s debut album World, You Need A Change Of Mind was produced by French studio wizard Philippe Zdar (Phoenix, Chromeo).

Chairlift – “Met Before”

On sophomore album Something, Chairlift moved swiftly past the previous success of “Bruises” and went in a dreamier direction, while remaining just as charming.

Sharon Van Etten – “Leonard”

Sharon Van Etten’s been around for a while, but she’s earned some new fans from third LP Tramp. This highlight from the album lets the singer-songwriter’s voice soar.

Perfume Genius – “Dark Parts”

Seattle’s Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, is known for his stark, minimalist style. “Dark Parts” shows off his ability to distill imagery and make you cry.

Bear In Heaven – “Sinful Nature”

Bear In Heaven’s shimmering electro-pop sounds perfect right about now. With lines like “Let’s get loaded and make some strange things come true,” this song puts romance in a weird place.

New Build – “Do You Not Feel Loved?”

There’s a bit of overlap here, as New Build is a side project of Hot Chip’s Al Doyle and Felix Martin. This track from their excellent album “Yesterday Was Lived And Lost” is gently delivered, but urgent all the same.

Santigold – “Big Mouth”

It took four years for Santigold to make her return, and tracks like the rattling, blistering “Big Mouth” make sophomore LP Master of My Make-Believe worth the wait.