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Indie rock may not only be the most crowded genre in modern music, it might also be the most fickle. No sooner have you just listened to the latest album from the current ‘it’ indie act, than the self-appointment tastemakers herald in a new champion.
It is this that makes the success of Two Door Cinema Club’s second album, 2012's Beacon, all the more impressive. After being crowned the kings of indie rock in 2010 behind their debut album Tourist History, TDCC’s sophomore record has once again placed the band among the frontrunners of their genre.
However, there’s little time for the trio from Northern Ireland to revel in their return. Behind Beacon TDCC are once again resigned to the rigours of the road, a lifestyle the band became accustomed to while touring their debut LP. In an attempt to give an insight into the band’s nomadic existence, TDCC uploaded a four-part tour documentary titled What We See on the trio’s YouTube Channel.
Having recently stepped offstage after a TDCC gig in Munich, lead guitarist Sam Halliday elaborates on the themes of the documentary and the work ethic it takes to stand out in the realm of indie rock.
Watching TDCC’s doco What We See, the grind of touring looks pretty exhausting at times. Is it somewhat of a stroke of fortune that you guys play such upbeat music that it re-energises you each performance?
Sam Halliday: Yeah, you definitely come off stage with a bit more energy than you go onstage with, which is strange. Sometimes when you’re tired, it’s sometimes tough to get up to speed with the music, if that makes sense.
Like it’s hard to fake enthusiasm when you’re tired, but it definitely helps whenever you play to crowds that are super fun. But yeah, there are some times when you play to maybe an older audience who are a bit more reserved. That’s tough work sometimes, but when everything clicks, whenever the audience are dancing around and having fun, it’s very easy to get lost in it.
What kind of audience did you have in Munich?
SH: It was great; it was very mixed. Like definitely the age sort of got older towards the back. So it was kind of fun, there were a lot of younger teenagers [and] twenty-somethings at the front having a dance. And then it got a bit older and a bit more reserved towards the back. It was nice, yeah.
One element of touring that What We See accentuates is the amount of media you have to deal with. Obviously your music is a form of self-expression, so is it then strange to have to explain yourself to the media over and over again?
SH: It’s the worst. I mean it’s fine, I don’t mind talking to people – it’s nice. But it’s definitely strange whenever you have to put extra meaning to things that don’t really have meaning.
You know, like, ‘Why did you do this in this song?’ You can’t really just say, ‘Because it just sounded good’. I don’t really know why. Something within me just says, ‘I think this sounds good’.
People want more of an explanation sometimes when there isn’t one. So you kind of have to make yourself sound more like an artist, I suppose (chuckles), without sounding too pretentious.
Is it a strange experience for you when people get nervous in your presence?
SH: Oh yeah, it’s tough. Like I turn up at a show, for example, and there’s younger guys waiting around at the bus…just waiting to say ‘hi’ and get an autograph or whatever. It’s very hard to get used to, because a couple of years ago we were just doing whatever.
You know, we were happy if anyone wanted to say ‘hi’ to us. And we’re still in that zone, we’re still just like, ‘Hi, how’s it going? Nice to meet you, I’m Sam.’ and they’re like, ‘I know, I know everything about you’.
It’s hard…to try and get used to that, but I think you have to step out of yourself in a way and sort of become what people expect, whenever they need… if I’m at a party, for example. However, with friends at home I won’t be Mr. Networker. I won’t be like the life and soul of the party.
But whenever you’re meeting and greeting people outside a gig you sort of have to become a lot more chatty and outgoing…so it’s bizarre.
So it can be challenging on tour to relax and have some time to yourself?
SH: Yeah, a little bit. There are definitely times for that though: just certain times of day; you have to be aware.
With TDCC you travel the world, but do you get to experience the world or is that something you have to do away from the band?
SH: A bit of both, I mean it’s almost like a little preview of a holiday or whatever. You go somewhere and you like the vibe, the people seem nice, the food’s good, or whatever. We’ve been to the bar after the show and it’s very friendly and a nice different feel.
It’s more just a little glimpse of an experience… Not often do we get days off whenever we go to these fun places. We spend twelve hours on a plane sometimes (then) we’ll spend a day there, then go back and go somewhere else.
So it’s kind of a little preview sometimes, you get a feel for a place. But we’re getting better: whenever we do have a day off, we actually go exploring (and) make the most of it. But sometimes it’s tough when you’ve got jet-lag and stuff you can’t get over.
Behind Tourist History TDCC have toured 300 days a year for the last 2 years. Have you taken measures to ensure touring behind Beacon is more merciful?
SH: No, I think we’re just very ambitious. I mean it’s a good problem to have. A lot of bands from the UK probably do the major cities in Europe, for example, maybe go down to Africa if they’re lucky and do the East Coast or the West Coast or both and then come back. But it’s definitely nice to feel wanted in places that maybe aren’t so common for bands like ourselves to be able to play.
So we definitely want to capitalise on the momentum that we’ve created. We don’t feel like we’ve made it in any sense. We were just in regional France last week; we were in a few cities I’d never heard of before… You know, I think you’re naïve if you think you’ve made it if you can play a big room in London.
It doesn’t really matter; it doesn’t translate to the rest of the world. So we just want to play everywhere like it’s our home country. Do the small shows, come back, do the bigger shows, and go to the places people don’t really go to… I think for this to be a career and not just a couple of years…then you have to do it. You’ve got to look long-term.
How young were you guys when you started touring behind Tourist History?
SH: We finished school when we were eighteen and we went on our first tour the September after we finished school, so we’ve been touring since we finished school, I guess. I mean it wasn’t as crazy as it is now, obviously. It’s just gotten a lot more crazy the more we are wanted.
Looking back, how unaware or underprepared was the band for the sacrifices you’d have to make to tour and grow TDCC?
SH: It’s strange. I mean I think we don’t really know anything else because we did have so much momentum at the start.
If you come from Northern Ireland and you’re in high school, the next step is to go to university, like everywhere else.
But you know, there’s maybe only one university in Northern Ireland, so most of our friends moved away to other parts of the UK. And we were left living at home on our own just practicing and maybe going on a tour every couple of weeks for a few days.
So we sort of felt a bit bored and abandoned in a way. And then we started to tour more frequently and were able to meet up with our friends in different parts of the UK, which was fun. We probably saw more of our friends than we would have if we weren’t in the band.
But then we started to get more success in Europe and America and the rest of the world. So we’ve been away a lot more and it’s a few years later and our friends have finished university and are settling down in different cities. And I think it’s now that we’re missing out on that other aspect of life, of normality, in a way. Just living somewhere and having a group of friends and having a chicken dinner for yourself. We don’t really know what that’s like.
Has the constant touring made you value the friendships you have back home more?
SH: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s nice to have those friends who you haven’t seen in a few months but every time you see them it’s like nothing’s changed, it’s like you haven’t been away at all.
I think it gives us … it makes it exciting again; it’s fun to meet up with different people. It’s helped us become people who are more outgoing and more appreciative of having those friends who are always there when you come home.
And people who aren’t affected by your fame?
SH: Yeah (chuckles], I had a friend text me the other day, one of my best friends from school, who said he used the fact that he knew us from school to get with a girl.
It is funny, some people do act a little bit weird and you’re like, ‘What’s wrong? Stop asking me about stuff, just be normal’. But I guess it’s different for different people.
Did the band choose the title of Beacon because it’s a fixed light that leads you back home after touring so extensively?
SH: I mean it’s a bit of both; it’s kind of ambiguous. It’s a beacon in the sense of the stuff we’re clinging onto from home and we want to continue keeping time for, and it’s there in the distance, you know, we’re obviously not going to tour forever.
But also at the same time, we have another record, and we’re sending it out there. We want to be playing more cities to more people. It’s definitely something that’s hopefully going to draw us to where we want to be career-wise as well.
So it’s kind of contradictory in a way.
TDCC will be back in Australia over New Year for Falls Festival and Southbound. Again on What to See you talk of your set as becoming quite regimented – has the new material from Beacon allowed TDCC to play it a little faster and looser on stage and keep it more interesting for yourselves?
SH: Yeah, I mean we’ve switched it up a bit. We’re still sort of juggling around the set in a way. It’s hard to know what works unless you try it out set-wise. There are a couple of tracks on the album [Beacon] that are a bit slower and it’s hard to find a place for those in the set without slowing the whole gig down. So it’s been kind of trial and error sometimes, but at the same time, it’s nice to have those moments where you can have a breather and…a different sort of feel, I guess.
But yeah, it’s fun to be able to also substitute songs every night, to try songs we don’t play all the time, and it’s nice to keep it fresher, I guess.
Have you guys ever considered working like Jack White and having no setlist at all and just winging it?
SH: We couldn’t. We use a backing track. We’re like Madonna. We have to have a setlist arranged before coz we don’t have enough musicians to play the album. Don’t tell anyone.
We’ll keep it just between you and me, Sam.