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Dark Captain Light Captain interview

One of the most innovation bands around, East Londoners Dark Captain Light Captain have their debut album "Miracle Album" coming out. We had a privilege to talk about it with Dan and Neil!

For starters, how does it feel to have your debut album coming out soon? Are you excited?

Dan: Yes, definitely. The main ambition I had, once we signed with LoAF, was to put together something which was coherent and accurately represented us at a certain point in time. And I think (or at least hope) we've done that. We were lucky enough to work with Daniel Lea (By The Fireside) and Robin Proper-Sheppard (The God Machine, Sophia) on the recording, and I think they've contributed hugely to the sound of the album as well.

Neil: We are really excited to finally get the album out. In some ways it feels like the end of an era and the beginning of another. Births, marriages, deaths and great friendships have occurred during the writing and recording of these songs so in some way it has been the soundtrack of our lives over the last couple of years. We are just glad to get these songs out there and begin the next chapter.

This is the one that probably everyone asks of you but we're curious - why the name "Dark Captain Light Captain"?

Dan: We started out as Dark Captain, but then I got worried that this was too "dark" (!), and became obsessed with adding an element of symmetry to the name. So it's ultimately meaningless! I now think it's a little bit wordy, but people seem to like (and remember) it, which is the main thing. And maybe it captures our sound a little bit.

Neil: I'm actually trying to remember myself! It was probably just a stupid idea after consuming many cans of strong beer. No in all honesty I think we chose the name because we liked the imagery it provoked and also the duality of light and dark seemed to fit with the music.
[ Dark Captain Light Captain ]

Dark Captain Light Captain

You started as a duo and now you are a proper 6-member strong collective. Why the growth and how did the songwriting process change since being a duo?

Neil : (a LONG answer) Well we started out as a two piece - myself (Neil) and Dan. We had been friends for a long time and started collaborating to write songs on my laptop - very much a bedroom recording project with no real aspirations to play live. We had both been in bands before and were quite up for as little hassle as possible and, at the time, didn't really fancy carrying guitar amps and drum kits around the country again. Anyway, one day we decided that things were going well and, for a laugh, we would book gigs in Norway and Berlin. We learned how to re-interpret the songs as a two piece using looping pedals and real-time sampling and decided to start playing live regularly in London. The sound was minimal but just about worked. After a while, another old friend of ours, Giles started adding additional guitar and vocals and the majority of the album was written as a three piece. Towards the end of the recording we realized that in order to do these songs any justice live, we really needed even more people and then other friends Chin, mike and Laura were brought in. When we first rehearsed as a 6 piece it just really made sense. It was surprisingly powerful and muscular and now our live sound has become quite different to our recorded work. It's a lot more aggressive and powerful in some places and Chin's drums just really add a huge amount of drive, and dare I say it, groove. We always been very ambitious in the studio in using it to its full advantage, adding any instrument we feel that the songs needs (even if we can't play it properly!) and now with the six of us, the depth of the songs really comes out. We can't wait for people to see some of these songs performed live as I think they'll be quite surprised.

Dan: So far, as a six-piece, we've mainly focused on learning songs which had already been written by myself, Neil and Giles. The songs you hear on the album, basically. But Mike (bass), Laura (brass) and Chin (drums) have all brought their own thing to it - we've never really directed them too much in terms of what to do. And they've definitely made it loads better. I think when we do start writing together it'll be pretty democratic, if I can tame my unattractive dictator-like tendencies! Everyone's quite intuitive and capable. We're all really happy with the line-up at the moment - the others flesh out the sound beautifully.

How would you describe your sound? In our opinion it's very fresh, quite original and thankfully far away from all the bands that are emerging lately that all sound like carbon copies of Arctic Monkeys and Libertines. Where are your influences?

Dan: Don't know! It's impossible to give a suitably non-committal answer to these kinds of questions without coming across like a flaxen-haired, dandelion-smoking, wispy creative type. But I would say it's not a good thing for musicians to think about this sort of thing too much - then you end up second guessing yourself and over-thinking things. If the next record comes out as ambient reggae/gabba with klezmer overtones (which I'm guessing it probably won't!), then as long as it feels like a natural progression then that's fine. Influences-wise, I like all the usual singer-songwriter suspects I guess, but also Robert Wyatt, some jazz, hip-hop (MF Doom, Def Jux, early '90s US stuff), US punk/new wave, loads of bits and pieces. Artists I have been obsessed with at some point or another include Pavement, Fugazi, Elliott Smith, Nation Of Ulysses, Nick Drake, The Residents and Wesley Willis.

Neil: I think there was a bit of a conscious effort at the beginning to not really think about what kind of music to make and just let it happen. The decision to use acoustic guitars was purely because that's what I had laying around in my room really. We all share a love of Krautrock, Folk, Hiphop, Black Metal...anything as long as it's good music and has a spark of integrity. It just takes so much effort to be fashionable, you know what I mean? Personally I think The Arctic Monkeys have some pretty good tunes though!
[ Dark Captain Light Captain ]

Dark Captain Light Captain

Was it hard making it as band in London? Did you have any problems finding an ear that wants to listen to your music? It seems to us like there are billions of bands coming out every day and sadly lot of really great bands get under the radar because of that.

Dan: Maybe, but I also think that bands reach the people they're meant to reach. I'm never sure that there 's this whole raft of amazing bands labouring away in total obscurity, although it depends how you define "under the radar" I guess. We never set out to be "a band" - it was just me and Neil messing about, recording stuff for no particular reason. When that stuff started sounding good, we thought we'd send it to a few labels which we'd hand-picked as being possibly interested in the sort of thing we were doing. LoAF were one of those, and they got in touch about a week later. It was pretty painless - no years of labouring away asking ourselves why we're doing it, or anything like that.

As regards the huge number of bands, I don't know really - I think that the people who are doing it for the right reasons will carry on doing it whether they're selling out Brixton Academy or strumming away in the privacy of their own bedrooms. People with something to say will always be making music to express themselves, and motivation, ambition, timing, aesthetics and pure luck can combine to take things further (or not), I guess.

Neil: London is great to grow up in if you love music. You can be exposed to so many genres and types of music that I think it's great to give you a well rounded musical education. Plus we have great record shops (well, we used to!) and many good music venues. To be honest MySpace has been a really important part of getting our music out there. We've got into the ears of many people that we wouldn't have if it wasn't for good old social media. We've also discovered many other amazing artists through it ourselves. MySpace is a bit of a leveller really..if you make good music, people will find it. Simple as that. It now goes beyond geography.
[ Dark Captain Light Captain ]

Dark Captain Light Captain

We've seen that you have your own website, myspace and facebook on the internet. I guess it's a must these days but what is your honest opinion on these services? Can they really help a band?

Neil: See above. Seriously, I think the internet has really allowed a lot of musicians to get out there that wouldn't have been able to previously. It has also allowed lots of crap to appear as well, but that's the flip-side to democracy. MySpace enabled us to collaborate with musicians in different countries when we first started. When we played our first gigs in Berlin and Norway, people had heard our songs, when though we didn't have a record out and were nowhere near that place.

What is your opinion on all the release schemes going around these days? Do you think the future of music is online or that these are just clever marketing plots that work in a certain moment?

Neil: I think music is in a really good place at the moment but the music industry is in a terrible place. It's great that bands like Radiohead are trying to experiment with the way that people purchase and interact with it. Of course, the marketing around 'In Rainbows' was an added bonus for them but my feeling is that at the moment something has to change and I respect people who are trying out new things. I think the future (full stop) is on-line, not just for music.

Finally, what do "Dark Captain Light Captain" read and listen to lately?

Neil: Books - Anything by Jose Saramago. Music - a lot of '70s jazz like Alice Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Miles' 'On The Corner'. But also Fennesz, TV On The Radio and too much Barry Manilow. Also some of our friends are putting out great records, like Jess Bryant, By The Fireside and Sophia.

Dan: Personally speaking, I've spent most of this year being pleasantly out of touch with what's going on at the moment musically. But this week I've listened to Caribou, assorted grime mixtapes, Elliott Smith, Townes Van Zandt, The Hold Steady, Herman Dune, Pharoah Sanders, Sufjan Stevens and The Impressions, which is the band Curtis Mayfield fronted before he went solo. They did a few amazing records, especially 'Young Mod's Forgotten Story' and 'This Is My Country'. And Neil's introduced me to some of the drone/noise stuff like Fennesz, Sunn O)))), Rhys Chatham and stuff like that, which I've been enjoying. But in case I'm in danger of seeming a bit achingly cool, I also listen to quite a lot of Slayer. And I still can't quite get my head around how good Can and The Stooges were. Reading-wise, I'm currently doing a PhD in Psychology, so I'm lucky if I get to do any reading outside that! Though I'm currently ploughing through Peter Ackroyd's biography of London, which is both compelling and suitably informative. And I always return to 'Lords Of Chaos', which is a great book about the history and development of the Norwegian extreme/black metal scene.

Good like with the release, we are very much looking forward to it coming out. The world needs more records like "Miracle Kicker".

kris // 18/10/2008

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