Detroit Social Club interview - part one - David Burn Interview
You know those bands you love, the ones you got into after they hit it big? And you always wish you could have been there at the beginning, wondering, as you wait in the queue for their Wembley show, what it would have been like to have seen them when they were barely filling tiny clubs. Well, it's a good bet that Newcastle boys Detroit Social Club will soon be one of those bands. That is certainly what the packed crowd at Manchester's intimate Sound Control is thinking as they watch DSC charge through highlights of their soon to be released album Existence. Before the show, band leader David Burn graciously granted me a generous portion of his time to talk through the recording process of what is certainly to be one the the best albums of 2010. In the first of this two-part interview Dave talks about the inspirations for the songs, the recording process and everything it took to get his "babies" onto vinyl.
The album is finally finished. It feels like a labour of love. Would that be true?
Definitely. I think it’s kind of….I think the nature of the music is quite like that anyway because it’s all like first person narrative and situation-based writing. So I think it is that anyway because it’s talking about very personal things, it’s not just talking about fancying a girl or anything like that which a lot of music is now. And obviously, I mean you’ll know how long it’s taken anyway. It’s taken about a year between starting the actual recording process and now it being released kind of thing. And then before that, superceding that was a year and half of writing and demoing and things like that. It’s definitely true to say that our heart and soul is in it.
Let’s start with the cover which reminds me of Joy Division’s cover for Closer. Was that an inspiration for you?
It wasn’t actually. One of my favourite artists, Caravaggio, it’s all like really dark, he was quite innovative because before he came there was a lot of like Da Vinci and all these people, even the sculptors, they thought their talent was a divine gift and they had to portray beautiful things, and Caravaggio was kind of the first person to come around and say “That’s not me.” He hated himself because of all the crimes he had committed. He was very dark and it was all like really dark shades and little bits of light in all this blackness, and Ralph Meatyard who was a photographer who was around in the 20’s, 30’s was inspired by that and if you look him up and look at any of his stuff it was all really ugly kind of images, like kids with masks on coming out of dark caves. I’ve always loved that kind of photography and those kind of images. I’d done like a scrapbook for the people who’d done the art work, done a big scrapbook, and obviously a huge part of a that was a lot of Ralph Meatyard’s photographs which they’ve taken and luckily they’ve been quite loyal to it so the image that’s obviously on the front of 'Kiss The Sun', the one that’s on the front of 'Prophecy'....they’ve done a session and about 20 photographs came from it and we had to choose which ones we preferred. You kind of want your front cover to look a little bit iconic as well. You want it to look memborable and something that people want on the walls and not just be a photograph of the band, of us just kind of standing there sort of thing. So when we got the 20 photos it was kind of very easy, I was 'Yup that’s the one' we want to use. I’m really happy with it, I think it looks really good.
One of the things I love about the album is that it has this epic, anthemic feel to it that you don’t seem to hear much of these days. It seems more introverted, the music these days, and the album has a very extrovert feel. Was that deliberate?
Yeah, I think it’s inherent in the bands and producers that I’ve always really liked. Like Phil Spector and Motown, It was always about being abrasive and standing up there and kind of standing in front of people and putting yourself on a pedestal and going “This is me” and shouting it as loud as you can where as I think with British music it’s kind of frowned upon a bit I think, everyone tries to go for subtle and standing back from it, and I’ve never really been up for that. I think if you’re going to do something you might as well say it proud and loud.
Do you think that’s the natural British reserve? Because I think that too. I think that’s why the album killed me so much, and why 'Prophecy' killed me so much, because it was something I wasn’t hearing, not even from American bands. I wonder if they’re afraid of doing it for fear of being portrayed as, or of coming off as maybe a bit too...
I think it’s bombastic, I think they’re scared of being bombastic.
Yeah because I think you can go the wrong way. It’s being extrovert and inspirational and powerful, there is a risk if you don’t do it well enough of becoming a bit cheesy, like Linkin Park or something.
Totally. I think there is a risk of that but if you’re frightened of yourself you probably look at those external factors like that and the possibility of that kind of criticism, but I’m really not arsed by that, I’m not bothered. The music I listen to, like 60’s soul and 60’s Spector stuff, those kind of productions, they’re all big, they’re all as big as they can possibly be, and that’s the kind of music I like. So if people want to criticize us for doing that then they can queue up and do it as far as I’m concerned.
It also feels quite positive and uplifting. Did you set out with a clear idea from the beginning of the scope and feel you wanted the album to have?
Not at all. It was completely the opposite if anything. When I started writing a lot of these songs for this album I wasn’t dreaming of getting a band together, it was just me in the studio with a bit of down time and writing for me, and putting poems and words and verses that I’ve written, all of a sudden I had an outlet for them in music sense. I didn’t have a coherent set of songs, everything was quite different from each other. And I think the one struggle I had when we were doing this album was trying to make it into a coherent body of work. It’s always hard because I always look at the songs as an individual characters, so that one, if it’s slow that’s a character and you can help that, nurture that by thinking of it as one of your friends. I did that. And one of them that’s big and boisterous you can think of that as one of your boisterous friends, but I’d say the danger of that is going from becoming a coherent piece, which every album has to be, to becoming just a set of ten songs. It’s quite hard actually bringing them all in together, but I managed to do that by the person who mixed the album, I got him to mix them all so a lot of the sounds he went for were quite similar so I think that dragged them all into the same sort of feel.
A couple of the songs, like ‘Rivers and Rainbows’ and ‘Sunshine People’ have been around a while. They were released as singles earlier, I know because I downloaded them…
Legally I hope. (laughs)
I paid for them! Was there a shift in your writing style between those two tracks and the newer songs?
I think so, yeah. It's strange, signing the deal didn’t change it. No one asked us to go and write different kinds of songs. I just think, like you said, 'Rivers and Rainbows', 'Black and White', 'Sunshine People', they’ve been around a long time, I think probably two years, two and a half years, and in two and half years people listen to different stuff, and I started listening to different stuff, and the general idea of how I wanted the album to sound changed, shifted a lot as well. The older songs are not a strict arrangement. They’re more experimental, more Velvet Underground, Can kind of stuff. It’s someone, it’s me at a point where it wasn’t important to appeal to anyone else, just me doing something that I like. But the further down the track you get with this band and signing the deal and going further, you realise that you can’t just please yourself, you have to try and make it easy for other people to step into your world, and then they will see things like 'Rivers and Rainbows', and harder to access songs like 'Rivers and Rainbows'. So my style kind of changed. I wrote the likes of 'Northern Man', 'Prophecy', 'Kiss The Sun', songs like that to kind of make it as a gateway for people to step in because without them it would be quite hard to listen to, it’s not obvious.
You recorded the bulk of it at Rockfield with Jim Abbiss co-producing, is that right?
It was Monnow Valley. It’s a studio. Rockfield and Monnow Valley are right next to each other. But it’s in the same place.
Was that your choice of producer, or was that something that the label…
No, it was kind of…we had worked with about three or four different producers and none of them had really worked. We worked with Ed Buller who’d done White Lies but that didn’t really work. We worked with…..trying to think of the names now there’s that many of them! Rich Wilkinson who didn’t really work. We’ve worked with Mike Crossey and that did work, we got on very well, it just wasn’t the sound I was after. We’ve since went back and recorded with Mike and he’s redone some of the vocals on the album, because I got on really well with him. Jim Abbiss has worked with Kasabian, Artic Monkeys, but he’d done a lot of work with UNKLE, and I love UNKLE and I love the drum beats and the kind of sounds and sonics of their albums, and I was interested in working with him for that. It got to the point where the label said you need to pick someone because it’s dragging on, which I was comfortable with. For me I was doing this album for me and no one else but the label kind of…the label [said ] “we need to start recording, we’re wasting money, we’re wasting time.” I didn’t actually work with Jim before we started the album we just met and we got on quite well. As the recording went on the optimism of our relationship shall I say kind of fizzled out a little bit. But we still got on well…
Why, because you wanted to go a different direction, did he want to give you a sound that you didn’t want?
I think I’m kind of like, when it comes to sound, and bear in mind these are like my little babies so I’ve kind of got a right, I’m kind of a control freak, and I knew exactly how I wanted them to sound. I recorded most of it myself and we were kind of putting the finishing touches to the album, and he wanted to send it in a direction that was different to mine and I was of the thinking that, well I’ve worked hard on these, these are two years old, why should I listen to you? And I still to this day say that I was proved right because I’m really happy with the sound of the album.
The songs seem to be about searching for the answers, people searching within themselves. Is that why the album is called Existence? Is it about trying to find some purpose and meaning in life?
A lot of the literature I read is like Existentialism, even contemporary stuff. I just read a novel last year that really blew my mind called Any Human Heart by William Boyd. It opened my mind a lot and made me realise the lyrics I was writing are all very sort of first person and narrative and situations I’ve been in or positions that I found myself in. I can’t write using characters. Like a lot of people, like David Albarn for example, he writes about himself and situations he’s in but using characters in the third person, where as I can’t do that. It’s all got to be about “I” and “me” and “we” and things like that. But I hadn’t realised that that was any kind of particular style until I read that book and when I read that it made me understand that it’s OK to write from this perspective. Existentialism when you get into it you really study human behaviour, we as people and what we are kind of thing, you start realising a lot about yourself. That was kind of the whole thing, and the album was actually going to be called Notes From The Underground which is kind of recognized as the first novel in that sort of genre, but I went with Existence. I was a little bit worried that it sounded a little bit pretentious, but I think it does fit the music.
Part Two of our interview will appear on TMF in a few days.