Interview: Our Time Down Here
Our Time Down Here have come a long way since their exuberant 2007 debut. As second album ‘Midnight Mass’ is released out into the wild, vocalist Will chats about how the record was painstakingly constructed, how they owe as much these days to Bowie as they do to Skiba, and why the South Coast scene is on the rise…
At the time I’m writing this, ‘Midnight Mass’, your second full length, comes out tomorrow. You seem really excited about finally getting it out into the world, judging from various social networking posts. It’s great to see such optimism and anticipation.
We are so excited about this record, probably more than anything we’ve ever done before. It is a terrifying experience (as anyone who is artistic can tell you), when you release something out into the world that means an awful lot personally to you and that you have emotional attachments with. That being said, we are very lucky with the people who are into our band, in that they seem to really care and support us above and beyond what I’ve known before. How we’ve come to be blessed with people like that in our lives, I have no idea. But we’re very aware of how privileged we are to be supported the way we have been.
I read an interview with you just as ‘Last Light’ was being released, where you were talking about how that EP was a kind of ‘stepping stone’ towards where you really wanted to be. Does ‘Midnight Mass’ show where you really wanted to be, or is it another stone on that journey?
I think this record probably is the climax to that EP, much in the same way I kind of feel the last full length was the climax of the EP which preceded it. However without trying to sound like a pretentious douche bag, I think all of our records are part of an ongoing journey between a bunch of friends writing music together, exploring different sounds and ideas.
I’m hoping whatever we do next will be yet another progression, and that as long as we’re together we can continue to evolve and play music that excites and interests us enough to keep performing with conviction every night, and not to be just going through the motions.
I felt like parts of ‘Last Light’ leaned towards a kind of mid-period Alkaline Trio sound and I know that’s a comparison that’s been made before, even though it goes without saying that there’s a lot more to it than that. What kind of influences will we see in the themes and song writing this time around?
I’m always very flattered when people compare our band to the Alkaline Trio, they are without a doubt in my top 5 of all time. This record worked a little differently in terms of writing, compared to Last Light. Whereas before, we sat down and wanted to write in the vein of the bands that first inspired us, this time we had a better idea in our heads of what we wanted the final sound to be before we began.
Over the years, I’ve become fascinated with how my favourite records are constructed. Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ record was incredibly important to me growing up. How that record began, and the way the listener was introduced to its themes with ‘Five Years’, how it ended reaching its theatrical crescendo with ‘Rock n Roll Suicide’, and all of the dynamics in-between, was something that really interested me. Before we even began writing a song, we’d written up a skeleton for ‘Midnight Mass’ itself on a note pad. We knew we’d have an introduction (which purposely features drums fading in from nothing as a nod to ‘Five Years’) and an end song at its apex. In between, we’d drawn arrows going up and down, with words like ‘kill pace’ or ‘fast build’ written on different lines. We referenced things we’d learnt when writing ‘Live. Love. Let go.’, like dropping down to vocals and guitar at the end of one song, and then beginning the succeeding one with vocals and acoustic alone, before the band rejoins. We try and heighten the dynamic and keep people guessing as much as we can. I guess this technique managed to give our ideas a lot more structure.
Lyrically, coming from a punk rock background, I’ve always admired the way bands like Jawbreaker could put into one line something I’d been trying to articulate for hours. I take a lot of influence from the way Blake writes lyrics. For instance we have a song on this record called ‘The Reckoning’, which was massively influenced lyrically by the way the song ‘Shirt’ was. Musically, this is probably more diverse than we’ve ever been before, though still sounding like a punk band overall. We had our bassist’s niece and her school friends come by to sing as a little choir on some songs, after we fell in love with Ryan Gosling’s band ‘Dead Man’s Bones’. It came out really creepy and cool and added to the whole theatrical vibe we had been trying to create throughout.
It’s funny because the records we reference musically were more often than not released over 10 years ago now. The Art Of Drowning by AFI and Good Mourning by The Alkaline Trio are probably the most prevalent still. In many ways you could argue this record is a love letter to those two albums. While I’d like to think that’s only partly true, I think it’s interesting that the two bands that influence an awful lot of what we write, both derived part of their style from Danzig and The Misfits. All of these bands are incredibly exciting to us still. We still take loads of influence from bands like Lifetime and Shook Ones, and a lot from older Offspring albums and early Drive Thru bands too. We just like to see this record as a dark punk rock album with theatrical tendencies really.
The ‘Midnight Mass’ preorders will come with a copy of an exlcusive illustrated zine, ‘The 6am Sermon’. What was the thinking behind that, and do you feel more bands should go the extra mile and get creative with the way they package and present their music?
The record title ‘Midnight Mass’ is supposed to be in reference to the place you ceremoniously put yourself in night after night when you’re laying awake over-thinking. The idea we had was to follow that faux religious imagery and put a kind of hymn book together to go alongside the album. It looks incredible, Zoe did an amazing job imagining the songs as images and is so ridiculously talented.
I’m not really too sure how I feel other bands should do things, I’m no authority on this sort of thing at all. What we think is right for us isn’t always right for other people. But I did get the idea originally from a Lucero LP, which featured a hand written zine about the songs alongside the album. I guess the whole reason you make records is to be creative and to express yourself, cute things like this just all tie it together nicely.
I was reading on your Facebook page, you announced that you’d been shooting a video. What song was that for, and what can we expect from the video?
We did indeed! It was for a song called ‘Precognition’ and hopefully it will be creepy and dark. It’s the first time we’ve ever filmed a video with a narrative, and we managed to film it in the old hotel building that the passengers stayed in before they boarded the Titanic, so it has some great history. We weren’t actually cleared to film there, we just knew somebody who had a flat in the complex so just ran around trying to avoid security with a film crew. The story is basically me as a ghost haunting this girl, she then realizes it’s a ghost from her past and we have a little cuddle and a kiss. I’m not sure whether I was a good actor or not, I also feel bad for the actress who had to work with me, I was pretty awkward all day. There is some awesome live footage we filmed with a dry ice machine too, which I’m hoping will come out really well. It was a really fun day and I’m hoping it’s going to look cool.
It feels like with each of your releases, you seem to edge towards creating a darker mood with more complex arrangements. I feel like the addition of a second guitar probably played a part in that, and ‘Last Light’ showcased a much more varied vocal style too. Do you feel like that’s accurate, and if so has that been a deliberate effort on your part?
I think everything you’ve said is pretty accurate, It’s most definitely been deliberate too. We’re very proud of everything we’ve created before now, but in the interest of staying excited about what we’re doing, we need to progress each time. Some bands have made a career out of releasing the same kinds of records again, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all, in fact some of my favourite bands could fit under that banner. It’s just not for us though, sometimes that benefits us and sometimes it really doesn’t.
I guess ‘Midnight Mass’ is quite a bit darker, we’re the least miserable bunch of Goth kids though. We’re probably a lot happier than most bands you’ll meet. Some nights you’ll catch us wasted, dancing and doing cartwheels to Stevie Wonder on a dance floor in Cardiff after a show. It’s just other nights you might catch us listening to Bauhaus sipping absinthe alone in the dark.
I caught you at an all-dayer in Plymouth not too long ago and, although I do really love ‘Last Light’ and am looking forward to hearing ‘Midnight Mass’, I couldn’t help but notice how the set drew exclusively from songs on that EP and the new record. Was that just coincidence or is it a case of time naturally distancing you from your older material?
We made a choice not so long ago to drop the older material from the set, it happened a few months after we recorded this album last year. I guess we figured we’d never properly move forward if we played older material all the time. The way we see it is that we only have a half hour to play to you so we’re just going to play the most relevant and important songs to us at that time. If we do another headline tour later in the year though and we have a little more time to play with, I’m sure we could be persuaded to play a couple of older jams. I’m stoked people still want to hear them.
I’ve heard you’re big X Factor watchers and the song ‘Draper’ features a soundbite from ‘Mad Men’. Clearly you aren’t a band who are afraid to embrace things outside of the punk rock bubble. Do you feel like a lot of people do still get caught up in watching the ‘right’ TV shows, listening to the ‘right’ music, things like that?
Yes absolutely. What’s hilarious is when the people who are most desperate to shove their opinion down your throat are really those most terrified to have one in the first place! There is that awesome Oscar Wilde quote: “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation”. Obviously this is hugely ironic, it being a quotation itself, but it holds genuine weight on this topic. There is too much bullshit, kids should just like what they like. Our own band is basically just a bunch of awkward weirdos and misfits who like all kinds of strange things, but that’s what punk rock is supposed to be about anyway right? A bunch of weirdos who just don’t fit in anywhere else but here.
You’ve been touring and releasing records for a few years now. What’s changed within the band, and what changes have you seen happen around you?
There is so much that has changed. Almost too much to keep up with sometimes. The main thing lately is the divide between the hardcore and punk rock scene. When I was 15, the older kids band would all play together, hardcore bands with punk bands and vice versa. It seems a lot more segregated these days. I’m not even so sure why. I just wish those lines were a little more blurred, because we’re all supposed to be here for the same reasons and each side misses out on some amazing shows.
You’ve got a few dates coming up with the likes of Mest and MxPx. I’m hoping to catch you at the Cavern in Exeter at the end of April. How are you looking forward to those tours, and is it different preparing for a support slot to preparing for a headline show?
Awesome! We are very excited to be playing on these shows! I guess you do prepare differently than you would for a headline show, as I said earlier you have less time, so you have to focus on getting through as much as you can in that time. It is an amazing opportunity to play with bands like this though. We’re very lucky to have been invited to play.
It seems like there’s a fair bit coming out of Southampton at the moment, music-wise. I’ve been listening to The Long Haul’s new EP a lot lately. What other bands should the world be made aware of and what’s the health of the scene like in general?
The scene is amazing. With The Long Haul as you’ve said, also Kerouac, Witch Cult, Burn The Fleet, Mothbites, The Lion And The Wolf, For This World Is Hollow And These Hands Have Touched The Sky. Things obviously fluctuate depending on the Universities, but promoters like Ricky Bates work hard to bring in some great shows into Southampton.
I ask this question a lot and I’m sure you’ve been asked it before too, but what do you think the internet has done for independent music in the 21st century? I noticed you were using Tumblr quite heavily to give a glimpse into the recording process for the new record.
I think the Internet is great for bands our size. Last Light was uploaded on torrent sites within an hour of it’s release, but I don’t mind people finding our music online or any way they can. Obviously we cannot survive on people taking everything from us, but if they like it, they might end up coming to a show, or buying our next record or a shirt. I know it’s a two sided coin, but I think the people who really struggle from it sit at the top of the industry. We sent out ‘Midnight Mass’ preorders to places all over the world the other night, there is no way that would happen without the internet. At our level it’s a great thing.
2012 is already shaping up to be a year of reunions, with Verse, At The Drive-In and Refused all coming out of hibernation to appear at festivals around the world this summer. What’s your take on bands getting back together like that, and are there any bands who would you like to see reform?
I’m not for or against that really. We all went to see the Gorilla Biscuits reunion in London a few years ago and it was great, but then loads of my friends went to see the Descendents last year and were gutted. Other bands it would be cool to see reform are The Steal, Osker, Jets Vs Sharks and Crime In Stereo.
What’s in store for OTDH in 2012? Any plans for future releases, tours, festivals, etc? I know you’re playing Crash Doubt, along with a couple of other bands I’m featuring this month, Great Cynics and Apologies, I Have None. That looks like a great lineup…
Crash Doubt is going to be incredible this year! Seriously everyone needs to be at that festival. We have loads planned this year, we’re going to try and play some festivals, tour loads, go back to Europe and hopefully record some songs for a split at the end of this year.