Darkstar Talks New LP 'News from Nowhere,' Recording Fire, and Their Year-Long Country ExcursionBy DJ Pangburn
Darkstar broke their back working on their latest album, News From Nowhere—the group's first for Warp Records. Seriously. Just over two weeks into recording, vocalist James Buttery was unloading gear and fractured a vertebrae. While obviously unfortunate, Buttery's accident and subsequent recovery gave bandmates Aiden Whalley and James Young ten more weeks to write new songs and refashion existing ones. When Buttery returned, the group was able to record the sounds and arrangements that they'd been searching for before the fall. The result is a rather perfect integration of electronica and psychedelia, though the band didn't set out with any intentions of it being strictly psychedelic.
The writing and recording sessions were not without their troubles. Questions of approach cropped up. “But the common ground was the aspiration to make something that would paint pictures in the mind of the listener,” says James Buttery. “Something unique and interesting that could help escape the mundanity of life.”
The band wanted a brightness, an energy in the recordings, which is evident on News From Nowhere. Opening track “Light Body Clock Starter” pulls the listener into Darkstar's intricately beautiful and occasionally haunting world. There is a spectral quality to News From Nowhere, as though sounds were floating about the studio and Darkstar simply plucked them out of the ether—which is, in a sense, exactly what the band did.
Noisey: The album is full of swirling sounds, but it's not exactly dense. There is space to it. Were those sounds synthesizer-based or from other sources?
Aiden: We played around with objects in the house initially, just recording anything that made an interesting sound. Rubbing a finger on a wine glass to making weird wailing sounds, or knocking on wooden doors and recording the old country hearths, the crackle of the open fire.
News From Nowhere has a psychedelic sound, though not in any traditional way. Was this on your minds when writing and recording the album?
Psychedelic sound hasn't really been a thing we discussed, but it seeped into the record through the environment we were in. We moved to the countryside, and there's a lot of open space and nature, and it gave us a lot of free time. It enhanced the experimentation.
James: Between the three of us, we listen to a lot of different music. I only ever listen to a handful of records in a year; if I get into something, I will study it intensely until I know it inside out. I was listening to quite a bit of older stuff in that period. I discovered Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom record, which is an interesting thing—I love the experimental approach to his vocals. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band got drilled to death. I love the Beatles, which is probably a bit cliché. I think it's the blend of experimental production and great songwriting on that album that I am drawn to.
How did you end up working with producer Richard Formby?
Aiden: We almost went with Tim Goldsworthy (of DFA), but for one reason or another, it didn't happen. After that, we were a bit deflated. So we thought, "Right, we'll do the record ourselves again." Then Richard came over and we had a chat with him. We thought we'd still do the record ourselves, but within 15 minutes, we knew we were going to do the record with Richard. There was no doubt about it.
James: Working with Richard was a step forward for us. He really encouraged us to be creative and experimental. I think it's amazing that people can create music on a laptop, as it's opening the doors to new sounds and ideas. But I think being able to then take those ideas further with a producer in a proper studio just enhances everything.
Your bandmate James Young noted that the track “Amplified Ease” was inspired by George Harrison's comment about the recording of “My Sweet Lord.” Harrison said it was more of a mantra than a song, which inspired James. Can you elaborate on that thought?
Aiden: It's a very simple backbone to the track—it's literally two notes. I suppose it's the simplicity that gets you in a trance. The mantra was the repetition of the vocal track. The lyrics are about being quite happy, content, and a little bit self-assured and self-confident. James keeps saying "I'll be fine on my own" and "I won't complain."
How has it been working with Warp Records?
James: It feels good to know you have such a great team of people behind you supporting and helping you make the music that you feel needs to be made. We definitely felt a kind of responsibility to create something worthy of that label, too. So I think it made us think more about what we were trying to say and how we were going to say it.
You guys streamed the new album in full on the Warp Records website. But you did something that really flies in the face of modern music consumption: you disabled track-skipping. The listener had no choice but to experience News From Nowhwere as a complete, aesthetic whole, unraveling its various layers moment-to-moment. It was a nice touch.
We didn't realize people would perceive it as such a statement. I think one thing that definitely hit home throughout making this record was the importance of taking your time with things—probably as a result of leaving London and having time to reflect on life in a more simple place.
Aiden: I've always had a strong feeling that an album should be listened to as the artist intended you to hear it. Obviously you can't control people and disable the skipping on a CD, but if you put it out before it officially comes out, then you can disable the skip and put it out there the way we intended people to hear it. The way we approached the album was different. We went back to a certain level of craftsmanship. We wanted to really try and push ourselves as much as possible, and we thought we created something that sounded good as an album.
James: Modern life seems to pressure us into this high speed lane where we simply slide past all the subtle things of worth and beauty. I hope we made something that people can escape into for 40 minutes. Maybe it will help their well-being a tiny bit. That would be nice.
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