The Death of Pop – Seconds – Interview (english)
The Death of Pop is a london based duo lead by brothers Angus and Oliver James. They just released their third album in March. It’s been nice to learn more about the making of the album and all the influences around. Here is a deep interview with many musical and movies references. You can also find them in the March 2021 indie pop and rock playlist.
How do you feel by these album releasing days ?
Angus James: It’s an interesting time to put out a record because there is no way of doing an album launch party or a show. That being said it’s been great putting a record out after a few years of not releasing much music. We’re looking forward to taking these songs into the live environment and we feel lucky to have a lovely bunch of friends helping us with this release.
Oliver James: We’re still very much a self-contained/self-producing unit and are probably a little out of touch with how to do things. It’s certainly difficult releasing music to any huge fanfare. There are too many great records being made! It’s a great time to be a music fan. What else? We are shit at Instagram. That’s important though apparently. It is easy to release music as hobbyists and find an audience online though and we have grown to really appreciate the fanbase we’ve built up over the years. We’re grateful every time we hear from someone who’s enjoyed our music. Getting messages from people over the world is still really cool.
Going through all the official channels of releasing music is exhausting and you need to be so much more prepared than we ever seem to be. Having such great friends in Discos De Kirlian and Hidden Bay who have put out the record with us has been great support to have. Also we can’t neglect to say that there is an incredible community of passionate music writers online who make all the difference in getting bands and new and old music heard. We have always been passionately DIY and I think that’s very much a prerequisite these days. Or we really need to stop trying to do everything ourselves (that’s never going to happen).
How would you describe your new album ?
OJ: This album represented something of a reset for us. We wrote and produced it primarily as a duo, just as we had done in the first year of the project. We had taken some time off from actively doing band stuff, instead spending a year or so just hanging out when we could and demoing songs with no particular plan. So hopefully you hear the sound of a rejuvenated band. We tried to make an album of short and sweet catchy pop songs. It’s happy and sad at the same time. It sounds familiar but you can’t quite put your finger on why.
AJ: It’s probably our favourite collection of songs that we’ve released, listening back the songs feel like they belong together as an album. That always felt like a challenge because we enjoyed doing singles and compilations in the past. We made the decision that we wanted the album to clock in at around 30mins and it was great to work within that kind of time limitation. We also had the choice of 40 songs to put on the LP but we also wrote some new songs to include, it felt good putting fresh material on the record. We’re currently sitting on a lot of material but we can’t stop writing new songs. I wrote ‘Fade Away’ to be the last song on the album but when we finished it, it quickly became the ideal album opener, it’s nice to open a “new” album with an actual new song.
Your sound seems to have evolved, switching from guitar-based songs to much more synth ones…
OJ: We’ve started to take an approach where we trust in our instincts and what comes freely at the time we’re working together. We don’t get to spend enough time making music as we’d like, so it’s important we work on what’s currently exciting or fun for us to make. We make the best music when we’re relaxed or laughing about it. The songs on ‘Seconds’ just happen to be the songs that felt right together and we finished comfortably. I think it’s the first time we’ve actually released something coherent! I’m really excited by how many songs we have written and started recording though by taking the pressure away. I promise there are a lot more guitar-based songs to be released soon.
AJ: I think the song-writing was always switched up between writing on the guitar and writing on piano. With this album lots of writing was done on keys and we definitely put a bit more emphasis on keyboard sounds. Those elements have always been part of our sound, however on this album i think we’ve dialled up the “80’s” element a bit more then on previous releases.
I’m a big fan of this video and I miss The Sun In my Eyes with its dreamy-even shoegaze-sound…
AJ: We do have some songs in the pipeline that are a bit more classically shoegaze and are closer to our original sound, I think early on we invited a lot of Ride and Lush comparisons which is fine by us. I think because we’ve been releasing songs for a long time we’ve had to evolve to keep it interesting. We also realise that ‘Sun In My Eyes’ was one of our most successful songs, so it’s always a good sound to draw from. I still try and put together loads of noisy sound collages, but the results don’t always make it into the running for being released. I’m always thinking about what something would sound like reversed, I just can’t help it.
OJ: As Angus has said, we’ve got some new songs that sound familiar like that on the way. Producing everything ourselves means we’re easily distracted/eager to keep exploring sonically and song style.The project has always been us having fun with what’s possible as a pop band. The shoegaze aesthetic always came after the songwriting. We definitely are gravitating towards making more euphoric and shimmering songs though – ‘Disappear’ was the last song we recorded for the album and though it’s very pop I think we will make more big wet reverby songs like that!
We did recently watch a documentary called ‘The Atomic Cafe’ which was full of terrifying images of nuclear annihilation, etc. That was something we were submerging ourselves in when we made ‘Sun In My Eyes’ back in 2013. I think we will be exploring that terrifying nostalgia again soon…
What do you refer to in your texts ?
OJ: More often than not we hit upon themes we want to explore in our music through the films we watch together whenever we have the opportunity to hang out. Our new album’s title came from watching John Frankenheimer’s ‘Seconds’ from 1966. There’s a bit of an urban legend surrounding Brian Wilson’s supposed reaction to seeing that film which obviously had us intrigued. But the film itself is a real trip, a claustrophobic identity horror with grotesquely paranoid cinematography. It’s a film about a deeply unhappy man who throws his life away for a chance to start it all again. It doesn’t solve his problems.
I think we were really taken by this aching feeling of regret, and the question if it’s too late to change. It wasn’t really a conscious decision but that’s certainly something that runs throughout all of the songs on the album. Even though our lyrics are pretty depressing I think there is a tinge of optimism. Watching that film prompted us to write the title track the next day, and everything else followed over the course of a year.
‘The House That We Built’ is maybe the most thematically prescient and current song we have written (or maybe it’s just a rare one of ours that isn’t simply about ourselves or falling in/out of love). That song is definitely more of a reckoning with action/inaction when faced with inconvenient truths or problems bigger than oneself. It’s easy to hide behind ambiguity haha, but this did feel like a step up in our songwriting.
Some other films that we were watching over the year or so we were working on ‘Seconds’:
The Face of Another by Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966
Suture by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, 1993
Repulsion by Roman Polanski, 1965
Vampyr by Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932
Europa by Lars Von Trier, 1991
The Night of the Hunter by Charles Laughton, 1955
Atman by Toshio Matsumoto, 1975
Young Einstein by Yahoo Serious, 1988
You, the Living by Roy Andersson, 2007
La Jetée by Chris Marker, 1962
Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman, 2008
Safe by Todd Haynes, 1995
Miracle Mile by Steve De Jarnatt, 1988
Rumble Fish by Francis Ford Coppola, 1983
Le Grand Amour by Pierre Étaix, 1969
AJ: Around the time we were writing and recording ‘Sun In My Eyes’ We were watching a lot of public information films; The War Game, Guide to Nuclear Armageddon and Threads. A film we’ve always bonded over in terms of sounds and aesthetic is ‘Rumble Fish’, the 80s take on the noir genre was a big influence on us. The film ‘Seconds’ which Ollie has talked about was huge for us and was a big inspiration. We’ve recently been blown away by a Czech film called The Cremator which is a brilliantly dark and harrowing comedy about Czechoslovakia before the invasion of the nazis. It took some swipes at the communist regime of the time (1968) and was banned for a long time. Incredibly shot and a very striking film. A lot of our time together is usually spent watching films until the early hours of the morning….
Which bands/albums have you been listening while writing/recording ?
AJ: This is always a perfect excuse to write an exhaustive list,
Guided By Voices and Cleaners from Venus are always the starting point for meUnder pressure by Von Spar has been a big influence, Chris Cohen’s discography is always on constant rotation for us. Patrice Rushen Men I Trust Windows 96Lots of ‘Holland’ by The Beach Boys and ‘In Concert’ album from 1973. Not usually a fan of live albums but they’re incredible on that. ‘A trick of the tail’ and other late 70s and early 80s Genesis. Corridor’s ‘Junior’ Milton Nascimento Savage Progress – a very underrated 80s band.
OJ: I’ve always got a Marker Starling record on the go. Adore him. Really hope to ask him to sing on a future record. I definitely had him in mind when we were writing ‘The House That We Built’. Chris Cohen too but Angus has already mentioned him. Scritti Politti’s ‘Cupid & Psyche 85’ – we’re never not listening to it. Prefab Sprout’s ‘Steve McQueen’ and ‘Jordan: The Comeback’ – we were listening to this a lot when making our last EP ‘Heads West’ and they live by my turntable forever now. Mamii’s ‘Black Phoeniix’ – I can’t remember how I stumbled across Mamii but her track ‘Nobody FM’ was a favourite a couple of years ago and she’s continued to churn out unbelievable music. Obsessed with her vocal harmonies. Stereolab’s ‘Margerine Eclipse’. A lot of Bruton Music records – ‘Bruton Voices In Harmony’ is a favourite we can’t stop singing. We listen to a lot of library music. We made a playlist of stuff we were listening to while making the album:
Do you think of any french bands you like ?
AJ: We’ve always been big fans of french bands, Air, Gong (are they allowed?), Serge Gainsbourg, my dad was really into Alan Stivell and played him a lot when I was growing up. etc currently really into Forever Pavot, Moodoid, Melody’s Echo Chamber and Juniore. Also a big shoutout to Pierre and Greetings from the Beloved Ghosts. He looked after us when we toured France back in 2017, a really lovely man. We really love a band called Alba Lua who we played with in Spain back in 2013, they are brilliant. Also our label and friends Hidden Bay Records put out some incredible french acts, check out Docks, Benjamin Belinska, Special Friend and Camille Benatre. All really worth checking out! We hope to get back to France soon and play live and hang out with everyone.
OJ: There are loads. Lætitia Sadier and Stereolab are about as big an influence as we can possibly think of. Recently really loved ‘Crocorama’ by Odessey & Oracle, Long time Sébastien Tellier fan. Moodoïd – love their tracks with Melody’s Echo Chamber and Wednesday Campanella. Air – love the virgin suicides soundtrack. Gong – not strictly a French band but they’re great. Elli et Jacno – ‘Main dans la main’ – someone put this on at a party at Pierre’s after a gig we played in Rennes and everyone started dancing and singing and I gained a new favourite song. Loads of french film composers (all the obvious ones, Michel Legrand) though that’s not really what you asked.
I must say there is something i did not enjoy on your album: the drums. It sounds very muffled. How did you worked this part ?
OJ: Haha, we thought we’d finally done a half-decent job of mixing the drums this time. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy them! Around the time of our last EP ‘Heads West’ our car was broken into after a gig and we had all of our merch and all of Thom’s cymbals stolen. It was a pretty big financial hit for us and it definitely had a part to play in us taking some time out. We used what we could scrape together when recording drums for this album. In some ways we have started again. We have learnt so much about production over the last few years but there’s so much more to learn. We can’t wait to keep playing in our home studios and we hope we can record some decent sounding drums one day.
AJ: Thanks for your honesty! Our drum sound hasn’t been hi-fidelity at the best of times, this comes from recording in our own houses with not the best equipment and not the best microphones. I really like the sound of deadening the drums with tea towels or a wallet. Maybe that’s the muffled sound! Hopefully we can improve it for next time.
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