Amplified Ease: Darkstar and producer Richard Formby discuss making News from Nowhere, the band’s tape-soaked second album
On Darkstar‘s second album, the band sounds completely different. But you probably knew that already.
The follow-up to 2010′s bleak North – an album preceded by several years of suffocating computer-funk singles for Hyperdub - News from Nowhere finds Darkstar sounding breezy in comparison. More Animal Collective than Alien, founding members James Young and Aiden Whalley and vocalist James Buttery have settled into life as an alternative pop act with ease.
It’s a process that’s been aided by Richard Formby, a veteran producer whose CV sports work for Wild Beasts, Creation and 4AD, and whose armoury of tape machines shaped News from Nowehere almost as much as the Yorkshire cottage that the band wrote it in. FACT’s Tom Lea got Formby and Darkstar back together in London to find out more.
First off, tell us how you two ended up working together.
JY: “It was a weird one for us, because we’d met a few producers before Richard. Richard wasn’t really in any of our thoughts or conversations – we were close to doing [News from Nowhere] with Tim Goldsworthy, but that fell through. At that point we decided to do it on our own, and then at the last minute Paddy our manager told us we should listen to the Wild Beasts record [that Formby produced]. Richard came over to the house, and it was pretty clear that we both wanted to work from each other.”
R: “I wasn’t aware of the band before, but that’s not unusual. There’s an awful lot of stuff I miss out on. I listen to demos without researching the band, so I can go into it with no preconceptions. And when I went to their studios, and they had Pro Tools open, and I could see what have gone into the demos… well, they were more like early versions of album songs at that point. They ended up quite different though, didn’t they?”
JY: “It was nowhere near as textured as the record that we [eventually] came out with. I think those textures are quite a big part of what the record now is.”
R: “I’d never heard North, but thought I didn’t really want to hear it. I got the impression that they’d moved on. I’m sure the band were aware enough of what they’ve done before and how people might react to those changes, so I didn’t need to share any of those concerns. I tend to not think about what’s gone before anyway, though it depends on the band.”
How much material did you end up recording together?
R: “There was an album’s worth of songs that went by the wayside.”
JY: “When we got in there we started with what we thought was the strongest material, and we finished about four songs in four days. We had the luxury of Richard’s equipment, and it was like hearing it in a whole different light.”
R: “Just hearing it in the studio made a massive difference, didn’t it? They’ve got a home studio of course, but once we had it in mine with different channels on the desk and so forth, it’s completely different. There was some really good material that got left out though, even in the closing stages.”
JB: “We started writing a new song on the second-to-last day.”
JY: “We tried to be as ruthless as possible though. If one of us wasn’t too keen on something, then it went.”
R: “I like that. There are a lot of bands who are too precious with what they make, and you’ve got to learn to let go of things at some point. You can always take a good idea and use it somewhere else, if it’s relevant. With the opening track of the album, I think we cut two minutes off of it. I think I came out the room, and came back and you’d removed half of it [laughs]. It’s really nice when a band can do that, usually it’s me that has to tell them and it makes me feel uncomfortable.”
Having a separate pair of ears around must have made you look at the early album tracks differently.
JB: “When you play something to somebody for the first time you always hear it differently, you hear all the flaws – like argh, I should’ve done that differently.”
JY: “You pick up on an atmosphere in the room if something doesn’t sound that good. Having an extra pair of ears though – it’s interesting going that route, compared to everything we’ve done in the past. It’s better. Richard facilitated certain things that we don’t like doing, and it gave us more direction, rather than doing random things around the house and being distracted. With Richard’s studio, we were there to work – we were there for 10 hours a day, we were paying for [the time], and you just kind of juice everything out of it. It’s a different mentality to what we’re used to.”
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