By: Curtis Sindrey –
Indie rock trio Two Door Cinema Club are back with their new album, Gameshow. Perfectly marrying the band’s pop sensibilities and hooks with a continued sonic invention, Gameshow is a real statement of intent and a bridge to introduce their dedicated fan base to Two Door v2.0 – it’s a sound that’s ambitious, but never alienating – off kilter, but always danceable.
Challenging themselves to indulge in a wide and varied range of styles and influences stretching way beyond the traditional Two Door Cinema Club sound took in a broad range of influences like Prince, Chic, Krautrock, Neo Soul and modernist pop, and is by far Two Door Cinema Club’s most enthralling record yet, albeit one full of the uncertainties of finding yourself and your place in the world.
Having spent the whole of their adult lives in each others pockets on a gruelling ‘record-tour-promote’ treadmill, the three school friends from Bangor, Northern Ireland took a self imposed break from band life. Giving themselves space to discover their individual identities outside the band, they all realised that for Two Door Cinema Club to have any future they needed space to alleviate the increasing passive aggressive tensions within it and battle their various demons.
Dispersing to their homes around the world – Portland for frontman Alex Trimble, Los Angeles for bassist Kevin Baird and London for lead guitarist Sam Halliday – the band initially began to exchange thoughts and ideas that had excited them during their break over email. Sketches of tracks and ideas being openly discussed, pulled apart and reassembled from three corners of the world, and with the air cleared, the band reconvened in LA with renowned producer Jacknife Lee (REM, U2, Bloc Party) to get in a room together and record the album.
Re-energised by their self imposed hiatus, Gameshow is the sound of a band back in their stride, with a creative fire in their loins and a whole new centred sense of purpose. They’ve been to the brink, they’ve had their inertia. Now for the action.
In our new interview, lead guitarist Sam Halliday discusses the making of Gameshow, enjoying success, finding yourself, and more!
What was the writing/recording process for Gameshow like compared to Changing of the Seasons?
Well, Changing of the Seasons was a strange one because that was kind of like, a B-Side, to begin with. And we just went into a rehearsal studio in London with a song that Alex had written and we sort of worked it into a Two Door song and recorded it ourselves. We met Madeon, the guy who remixed and reworked it a little bit, and we met him in LA a couple of months before that, and we thought it would be nice if he put his finishing touches to it, which was cool, because we’ve never really done anything like that, for an A-Side release, anyway.
Yeah, with the new album, it was different in the fact that we were all like, writing in different places, which compared to Tourist History and Beacon it was totally different because we had always been living together or super close to each other, and we just went into rehearsal spaces or in our house and wrote songs from there. This time around, a lot of it was done over email and Skype and we had less finished songs when we went into the studio, and we collaborated a lot with the producer Jackknife Lee. Which was cool, because it meant that we were improvising a bit in the studio and it kept us on our toes and kept the songs pretty fresh. It didn’t allow you to dwell on the parts for too long. It was a bit more instinctive than anything we’ve done in the studio before. We’ve always gone in with a finish product and recorded it. So it was more fun to experiment this time around.
With this record you experiment with a lot more diverse set of sounds and different genres, and that sort of thing, instead of a straightforward rock record.
Yeah, I think the genres thing in particular we’ve grown up in term of amount of years, obviously, but music-wise, having a break from the band allowed us to discover other sorts of music, especially digging into stuff from the past that we missed out on in our younger years of loving temporary-current, alternative rock and dance and stuff. So yeah, definitely, there’s been a lot of musical discovery over the past few years.
So what are some artists that you’ve discovered in that period?
I think on this record, Prince probably is a big one that pops up. Sort of delving into his back catalog, we listened to a lot of his records and The Isley Brothers, and a lot of Motown and stuff as well. We’ve always loved Motown stuff, but we’ve never really felt that it was our place to bring it into our music. So I guess that as well has come with growing up and caring a bit less in terms of sticking in the boundaries of what we’re expected to do as a band.
This is the second album that you’ve made with Jackknife Lee. What did he bring to the table this time around?
Aside from the fact that he’s just like, a really creative person and is really inspiring to be around someone like that, he just provides a really nice atmosphere in the studio. It was especially very important for us this time around that we were with somebody we were really comfortable with, and that knew the dynamic of the band. And yeah, just that sort of relationship we had there, we could further let it grow and all be very comfortable sharing ideas and being creative together.
And he definitely opened our eyes to new records every day, if we were sort of not sure where to go next, he would just put on some crazy record on his vinyl player in the middle of the studio, and we would sort of get new inspiration from that. I think that was the main thing was the atmosphere he provided, which was just what we needed.
I think we just needed it to be really fun making this album. I think that’s something, for us, the band, had sort of lost… some joy lost in making the music the last time around. So I guess just with doing it non-stop for so long we lost the fun to it.
So around mid-2013 doing hundreds of shows a year, and being together constantly on tour, at that point, how strained was your relationship with the band and everyone’s relationship with you?
Yeah, mixed, I think…we are one of those bands, or I don’t even think you need to say bands, but group of friends even that never really been good at airing problems. I think we always just swept things under the rug, even when we were teenagers. And it was fine, because we could go home and forget about it the next day. But when you’re living with people, you sweep things under the rug and it just builds, and builds, and builds until somebody has to move out, and you decide, “We’re really good friends, but we probably just shouldn’t live together.” I know loads of my friends who’ve been to university have realized that, you know, that’s the part of growing up or whatever. But we don’t really have that option so I think we realized that it’s fine to not get on all the time, and we’re still friends but like, we don’t have to bebest friends every day.
In that period, did the topic of breaking up ever arise?
It would’ve if we had spoken, probably. We didn’t speak about things that were hard to talk about, so we just didn’t speak whenever awkward stuff like that came about. No, I mean, after we sort of stopped and had a rest, we were all a bit unsure if it would ever start back again. For us it would’ve been easier than to deal with any issues. But we got back together and chatted about how everyone was feeling about the way the last album went, and if it was something we wanted to continue doing.
I think we all sort of missed aspects of it, of the touring and the band, I think we have so much history and we’ve done so well considering where we’ve come from and the music that we do. I think we all just realized it would be a real shame to let it defeat us. At the end of the day, I think we all just realized that none of the other guys wanted any of the other guys to be unhappy, and some mutual respect there. Once we talked about it, it was fine, you know? Everybody was on the same page. We just changed a few things this time around with the touring schedules and stuff, just trying to keep each other happy and healthy this time.
So between the first two records, you captured success in a really short period of time, and you had a huge boost of momentum in between Tourist History and Beacon, and in that bigger shows, higher production value, and that sort of thing. Did it eventually become more about status than anything else?
There was definitely a competitive edge with other bands around the same time, and you were going to their shows and looking what they were doing, or what chart position they are, and that sort of pushes you to do an extra show or start worrying about certain other aspects of life that you would’ve never thought about before when you were just making music for fun. I think partly at the end of the day, it’s a business, and other businesses… you should look at your competitors and try to be the best. And I think that’s good to a point, but it definitely crept into it for sure.
At this stage in your career, do you feel like you’ve “made it”, or is it always an ongoing thing to achieve?
Yeah, definitely. I think we’re really comfortable with what we’re doing, which is good, but there’s always somewhere to go, and I think that’s the greatest thing about what we do. Even on this tour that we’re doing in North America at the minute was like some places that aren’t selling so well, other places that are the biggest shows we’ve done in certain cities. It would be great to make it more of an even playing field, in terms of the shows we’re doing, but there’s definitely room to improve in certain places in America and everywhere, and I think it keeps it exciting for us. I definitely would hate it if we were standing still and coming back to the same venues and the same lighting package. I think it’s good, for sure, to have ambition still.
For the 18 odd months you guys went your separate ways, how did you keep busy outside of the band?
I did some different stuff. I moved into a house for the first time on my own with my wife, and spent a lot of time just doing DIY things and settling down, and learning how to cook and be domesticated. Once it all happened and got the studio set up and stuff, it was kind of back to writing music for fun. Kevin, at the time, the bass player, he lives probably a mile away from me in London, so we would meet up pretty regularly to have something to do, almost like a job. We would write most days together, which kept us busy. Outside of that, playing football with your friends once a week and going to the pub, and hanging out.
So when you guys reconvened in mid-2015, how did you get back on track with the new record?
We started getting back in touch, it was kind of just more on a social-basis, we didn’t want to put too much pressure on booking studio time, and we have to have an album done by this… we weren’t too sure if our relationship survives. I guess it was just about getting back to basics, hanging out if we can…
Just being friends first, right?
Yeah, for sure. And then, from that, it was sharing what albums we had been listening to, and then it moved on to musical ideas we’ve been working on, and from there we worked on our first couple of songs. It sort of got back to when we started doing music, that’s what we did for fun. The three of us don’t have that many shared hobbies, like Alex, for example, hates sports. So we don’t play football together. So when we were teenagers and other kids were out playing or whatever, we were just at his house together writing music. That’s what we did as a hobby.
With the new album and this fresh energy in the band, how do you’ve changed in terms of personalities and working together?
I think the band means less to all of us and like, not in a bad way. I think before we had the break and had time to discover other things life had to offer, but before the band was literally everything to us, and that had a negative impact because the three of us were trying to pull it into all different directions and nobody was very happy and I think now that we have other stuff going on, the band is almost a job, but not in the sense of “I don’t care about it,” but just like in a healthy sense of compartmentalizing your life in terms of you know, this is just one aspect of life, I don’t need to have everything from this. I think we’re able to step back in a way and just enjoy it, and not get too caught up if things don’t go our way or go wrong, and just trying to keep it fun.
Would you say, earlier in your career, and the success you had then, you weren’t necessarily able to enjoy it in that moment?
I guess when we were pretty unaware, people always say, “You got so big super quick” but I think for us we were always…I think maybe we would do a TV show in America but we were moving on so quickly that we weren’t sticking around to ever watch it on TV or be aware of what really happened. You’re so caught up in it that you don’t really have time to notice the impacts of the stuff that you’re working on every day. You just kind of keep your head down and carry on.
I really like the track “Bad Decisions” on the new record, it’s probably my favourite. It touches on social media and how “you don’t need to know what everybody’s thinking”. In some way I interpreted that as being young has changed its meaning from discovering yourself to promoting yourself.
Yeah, for sure. It’s strange.
It’s that sort of new generation of people and technology an ongoing theme in the record?
Yeah, definitely. I think for Alex had a bit of time to observe what was actually going on in the rest of the world, and things like that in social media and how people interact with that really struck him and impacted the lyrics for sure, in terms of being confusing about it.
Are you big into social media. Is that your thing?
Not really, I think for us we have to force it. Like, not many guys I know our age are super on all the platforms and Tweeting every day. Definitely unnatural, but it’s important, so we did it, it’s a weird one. I think it’s good, I have a very healthy relationship with it, I don’t live my life on it, but it’s strange, like you said. It’s all about having a brand. Maybe when I was younger and we were on MySpace it was unhealthy and you just grow out of it. Maybe it’s a generation that always had it and thinks that’s the be-all and end-all of life, I don’t know.
Did you guys have a MySpace account when you started?
Yeah, that’s where it all started for us. The ability to just record a song, and put it online, and add people to come and listen to it.