Pushing Themselves

25 July 2012 | 8:15 am | Nic Toupee

“[Dave] was always in bed and I’d usually have to go to the shop and get him a Cornetto ice cream; he couldn’t start the day without it. I was like an old auntie buying him sweeties to keep him happy.”

More Django Django More Django Django

To begin with, one might ask what exactly is a Django, anyway? There are people – Django Reinhardt, the gypsy guitarist; there's film – Django, the classic spaghetti Western; even Django, some piece of fancy coding software. But at the heart of it, there seems to be no meaning to 'Django'. Perhaps that's liberating – an onomatopoeic opportunity to use a word with sound but without meaning. Certainly, something about it appeals to British psych-dance-pop band Django Django who like the word so much they use it twice. Django Django formed in 2009 but have only recently released their first album and just to further show their love for the word that sounds like a guitar strum and looks like a spaghetti Western, their album is self-titled – which gives us Django squared.

Currently on tour in Europe, to promote a release given five stars by The Guardian and a glowing review by the ever-unpredictable NME, singer/guitarist Vincent Neff gives some surprising insights into the making of Django Django. “It took us quite a long time to write the album,” he confesses. “It was all self-produced – we did it in Dave's [Maclean, drummer] bedroom. We had written an initial few tracks, so we converted Dave's bedroom into a home studio and worked on them there. We decided that we actually liked the way the sound was progressing and also, because at the time we were still unsigned, we didn't have any money to go into a big studio anyway. So we decided to keep on with the way it seemed to be working.”

Neff and the rest of the band – who have become known for an unconventional-sounding collage-ist approach to some well-worn forms (psychedelic, electronic, minimal, lo-fi) – found that after putting together those initial sessions in Maclean's bedroom studio, they enjoyed the imperfections and uniqueness of the acoustic space far more than they might have a more glossy and produced result.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

“Dave worked really hard on getting a nice ambience to it and we realised we wanted to keep on with the way we were going. If we had gone with a producer, the album might have gotten cleaned up. All that high-end production would have lost the earthiness of it.”

The sonic results were gained by a delicate mystical balance of domestic chaos and luck, something the band lost forever when the album was done and they moved out of Maclean's grotto. “Dave's place is just a dirty flat,” Neff laughs. “It's really small and has a double bed with a table at the end and lots of shit everywhere. He's a hoarder and collects loads of masks, old broken record players that are in pieces, and heaps of vinyl. I'd go over there and spend thirty minutes cleaning up his room enough that we could work and then after he'd gotten himself together we'd start working “

Whilst his description suggests a certain bohemian charm – you can imagine the dishevelled yet cool squat, the kooky ornaments, the teetering piles of records and bits of audio equipment all leading to a charming lo-fi warmth – Neff recalls it in a far less romantic light. By the end of the recording the gloss of independent studio life had worn off and uncomfortable grotty reality was giving him splinters.

“I hated it, in the end. I went around one time only to end up ringing the buzzer for half an hour just to try to get Dave to wake up. He was always in bed and I'd usually have to go to the shop and get him a Cornetto ice cream; he couldn't start the day without it. I was like an old auntie buying him sweeties to keep him happy.”

Whilst he had no background in studio production, Maclean's Cornetto-fuelled 'trial and error' methodology came up trumps. “The recording process for the album was... very not typical,” Neff struggles to find adequate terms to describe climbing over bricolage and crouching on Maclean's bed in search of the right minimal tonality. “Dave hasn't done a course in recording or production, so it was very much his own process of experimentation. Over time, he's learned – and we both learned – the best way to get something we were happy with out of what we had. It was all cheap equipment, we even didn't have a drum kit so we would sample electronic kick drums and snares and use trebly sounds from recording guitar noises. Also, my vocal style is, I would say, quite unelaborate so Dave would layer it out to make me sound more impressive,” he laughs.

Whilst Maclean was conjuring impressive vocal layers and percussive guitar squeaks, Neff took his developing resentment towards their cramped creative environment, added some design nous gained from a rather handy side career in architecture and built the band a new studio. He enjoyed the pristine and clean simplicity of it – at least for the first two days until Maclean moved in.

“Dave mixed the final part of the album at his house and while he was doing that I was building a studio. I managed to get the studio soundproofed so we were in it for the last sections of mixing the album. I'm an architect as a second profession, so I did loads of research on acoustics and isolated Dave from it so he could concentrate on working. The new place is quite a big room – at least by London standards – and has big windows so there's a lot of natural light. It feels quite homely for an old warehouse. But when it was done, Dave slowly started bringing crap there from his home, so now it's starting to feel like Dave's bedroom again! And once again I'm getting into my auntie cleaning mode. I'm not painting a very good picture of him, am I?” he laughs again.

Because the finished album spans a couple of years and two studios, not to mention an experimental and developing approach to writing and recording, it's no surprise to hear Neff can hear the layers of their evolution as clearly as a geological slice.

“I definitely think you can hear the different periods in our writing on the album and it's kind of weird to hear some of them from even three years ago now. We would do a song over a few weeks, sit with it, do some gigs and then find a gap and do another song – and we did that for about two years. Only when we got to having nine or ten songs did we think, 'Here's an album.' We weren't writing songs we thought should go together, we were always just reacting to the last song we did. If we did a stripped-back track, the next one we would make more up-tempo. Once we had done something with synths, we'd want to make something more raucous and rock'n'roll. We kept trying to push ourselves in areas we didn't think we could go.”