Existentialism, Aliens, and Hippie Life with Django Django
It takes four attempts before the call finally goes through and I can get a hold of David Maclean, Django Django’s drummer and producer. It’s 10 a.m. in New York on a Saturday and I’m sitting on my bed looking out the sunny window, while Maclean, who’s outside a pub in London enjoying a well-deserved day off, talks to me about the ride that being in a Mercury Price nominated band has been. It’s been three years since these misfits –Maclean, Vincent Neff (singer/guitarist), Jimmy Dixon (bassist) and Tommy Grace (synthesizer)– shocked the indie world with their intrepid self-titled debut album, and their new LP, Born Under Saturn, is now here to reinforce that the band’s success relies on their talent to seamlessly merge different dance elements with dynamic instrumentation and thought-provoking harmonies.
With great humor, Maclean told us about the imprint their artistic background has had on their music; the record’s title for instance, was taken from an essay written by Margot and Rudolf Wittkower that discusses the correlation between artistic inspiration and madness. However, on the phone Maclean swiftly waves off this idea that all artists are mad, tormented souls, and points out that the band’s current mission is simply to please their followers with their music and to have a good time while they’re at it. The charismatic drummer also talked to us about going to Mali with Damon Albarn, life’s biggest mystery, and alien theories.
What has been the biggest challenge going from a bedroom experimental band to a world-renowned act?
The biggest challenge has been just learning how to play the big crowds. Changing the way the band works and the way that we approach the songs live to make them translate back to bigger audiences. Making them more bombastic, and speeding them up, and making them more dance-y to give people an exciting live show that isn’t just us replicating the album and every intricate detail. It’s more about having fun and making it a bit more intense and a bit more fun for the crowd.
You’ve said before you make music because you want people to enjoy it. Do you think about your audience when you’re composing?
Sometimes, yeah. When you’re making music it’s more about what it sounds like on people’s headphones. That’s what I think about; how it sounds like in your car or in your headphones, or in your living room. I don’t think about what it sounds like when it’s being played at a party; it’s more about making it good for the people who listen to it, because the strength in a song is about being able to enjoy it anywhere.
‘Born Under Saturn’ is an essay that discusses the idea of the “alienated artist;” from your experience, do you believe that artistic inspiration is a form of madness and that artists live unhappy and eccentric lives?
Not at all. There are just as many different people making art as grains of sand. Well, obviously no, because there’s not as many people as grains of sands [laughs], but what I mean is that every kind of person has a unique experience when it comes to making art, so it’s all about the individual. You can’t say there’s one type of person or that if you’re an artist you’ve got mad temperament. You can be any kind of person and make art. I guess maybe it makes you a bit more introverted in your thought process; you really spend a lot of time thinking about things in a certain way, seeing things in different ways, and thinking about the way that the world works. There’s plenty of room there for people to accuse you of being weird, or outsider, or mad, but it all depends on your own headspace, really.
You were all going to art school before Django Django became your full-time job, do you all personally have that feeling of being alienated artists?
Sometimes. Personally, I go through different phases; I like to hide away in the studio and be on my own, thinking what kind of thing I’m gonna create, but then there’s a social side of it when you want to go to the pub and drink and talk about ideas. So it changes throughout the days; in the morning you can be very into your own thoughts and then by night you might be at the pub drinking and talking about it. There are as many different aspects to making art as of being human, I guess.
You guys went to Mali with Damon Albarn, what’s the most important thing you learned from that experience?
Really that music is not a business. Music is there to be enjoyed by everyone. It’s part of your kind of God-given right to be involved in music; it’s not for music people, it’s for everyone. It’s fun and it’s not there to be used as a commodity. That was the main thing I took away from it, that people with very little money had very rich lives through music.
That’s beautiful. I think sometimes people who live in those places that we think have less, are actually happier.
Absolutely, if you’re always wanting something you’ll never be satisfied. I saw children over there playing with coconuts and they were the happiest children I’ve ever met. They don’t know that there’s television trying to sell them plastic rubbish. They just know that they’re having a lot of fun outside with their friends playing with coconuts shells. It sounds like a cliché, and it sound hippie, but definitely people who have less and want less are always going to be more content. Really you can be happy on very little.
Your music reflects different influences, what or who are your three biggest inspirations?
I know you’re interested in mythology, outer space and anything mysterious; do you have a favorite mystery?
The biggest mystery for me is who we are and where we came from. What goes back pre-history? How did we come to be and how did we evolve? And where did civilization start? How did we get here? That’s the biggest mystery of all. You could wonder forever about, Is there a God? Is there something bigger out there? But really you’re more likely to find clues about where we came from in pre-history and what kind of lives our ancestors used to live. People have a very set way of teaching in school about what happened in history and pre-history, but really it’s a lot of bluffing because people don’t know the answers. We don’t know, but we like to think that we have all the answers so that we can set up universities. But really it’s all up in the air.
What’s the coolest thing that has happened to you since you formed the band?
Lot’s of stuff! I think getting a Mercury Prize nomination was pretty good. Getting to meet other musicians that you’re a fan of and touring with them, remixing them, hanging out with them and all those things are pretty cool. But to be honest the coolest thing is being able to pay rent and make a living off of music. That to me is happiness everyday.
Tell me a secret about Django Django
Tommy, the synth player, irons his underwear before he puts them on.
Photography by Fiona Garden
Django Django is playing Webster Hall tomorrow tonight!
Get the new LP ‘Born Under Saturn’ here