“It’s more optimistic…there’s more fun in it.” Darkstar discuss their hugely anticipated new album for Warp
On Darkstar‘s debut album North they not only reinvented themselves as a group – evolving from a duo (Aiden Whalley and James Young) fixated on processed computer voices to a three-piece, with real life vocalist James Buttery – but flipped their sound, releasing a claustrophobic record of more conventional, but still forlorn pop tunes. Now, signed to Warp for their second album, the trio’s outlook is quite different.
Written in a village in West Yorkshire, as opposed to South and East London, and then recorded with producer Richard Formby (past credits include multiple albums for 4AD and Creation), we’ve just heard the first taste of Darkstar’s second album, the airy, more optimistic ‘Timeaway’. FACT caught up with James Young to find a little more about what fans can expect from album number two.
It sounds like the place you wrote the album, in West Yorkshire, was pretty idyllic – river at the bottom of your garden and all. It was clearly really different to where you wrote North.
“It made a massive difference, generally just being away from London. It’s a very different approach to writing when you’ve got lots of time on your hands, rather than various things going on, whether that’s social things or paying the bills.”
Yeah, living in London’s got that keeping your head above water feel to it.
“Yeah, and this was exactly the opposite. We were in a really big house, we could take our time and come up with demos that we were really happy with, then move onto the next ones.”
Was it easier writing this album, then? Obviously with North it took a long time, and you scrapped a lot of stuff.
“I think so, generally. We toyed with a fair few sounds, rather than thinking about where we wanted to go with it – though there was an eventual direction the album took. It’s the first thing people have heard from us in a couple of years, so it’s interesting to see the reaction.”
Is ‘Timeaway’ quite reflective of how the album sounds? It’s really different to North, it’s fluttery and pretty, rather than claustrophobic.
“It’s its own thing, ‘Timeaway’, but it is reflective of the album in the sense…Well the album overall is more optimistic than North. I think there’s more fun in it.”
Were you more optimistic, or generally in better places as people, when writing this time around?
“I think we toured for about a year after North, maybe longer…”
Which must have been pretty draining, to be fair.
“Yeah, exactly. We learned so much through North, about releasing a record then touring it, and doing that kind of slog. Which is really enjoyable, but it can get to you. So when we finished that whole stint, we had a bit of a break and started writing again…and we were in a completely different place. It was pretty extreme, moving from London to a small village in West Yorkshire, and I think it was a huge change for James [Buttery, Darkstar's third member] and Aiden too. We had to get used to our surroundings, then slowly piece the album together.”
How far into writing the album were you when you signed to Warp, or had you already signed when you started?
“They signed us before we started. Steve from Warp was very much involved, from the early demos.”
Because ‘Timeaway’ really sounds like a Warp records tune to me. There’s elements of Broadcast in there, and maybe Boards of Canada too. Were you conscious that this album’s on Warp, and kind of a bigger stage?
“I think so. I think ‘Timeaway’ definitely does sound like us – and it’s interesting, because that’s been a demo for about half a year. And then you finish it, and you eventually let people hear it, but we’ve lived with it [in its final version] for about eight weeks. And it’s a strange feeling: we were rehearsing yesterday, with one eye on the reactions it was getting. It’s a really interesting reaction we got from it – we were really pleased, but it’s just strange to watch it.”
You must lose all perspective by that point though, to an extent.
“Yeah, exactly. It was strange, it feels good though. We never really felt under pressure to rush anything, so we got to be quite meticulous, and I think we’ve chosen the right path.”
It sounds like working with Richard [Formby], and particular using his tape machines, was a real revelation for you.
“Definitely. It’s more evident on the rest of the album than it is on ‘Timeaway’, but we had a lot of fun with Richard. We were just able to have a play around with things that we usually wouldn’t get our hands on. We did the demos at home, then took them over to him and he helped fill them out, and process them in a completely different way to anything we’d done before. But I still think it sounds like us. Do you think ‘Timeaway’ sounds like us?
I think it does. That melody that’s there from the very start, the way it hits me anyway has always been there in Darkstar records – even pre-North.
‘That’s the interesting thing about ‘Timeaway’, I think it sounds more like the 12”s we did before North. I’ve been saying that for a while. But at the same time, it’s a very different process – James [Buttery] has been involved this time, rather than it just being me and Aiden writing when we did North.”