Interview: Allo Darlin’
Published on July 31st, 2012 | Theo Gorst
Since the release of their eponymous debut album two years ago Allo Darlin’ have gone from strength to strength, as can be heard on their triumphant sophomore LP Europe. Having overcome a disastrous European tour the the band – comprised of Elizabeth Morris, Paul Rains, Bill Botting and Mike Collins – are about to undertake what should be a terrific tour of England as long as some of the good luck they richly deserve finally starts coming their way. Rocksucker spoke to the band’s guitarist Paul Rains about Europe, the band’s future and ‘borrowing’ lyrics from Weezer…
Thanks very much for speaking to us. Given that two members of Allo Darlin’ hail from Australia, how did the four of you get together?
You’re welcome. It was basically through friends and all of us being in London wanting to make music at the same time. Mike and I have known each other since our school days and we’ve always played in bands together. Elizabeth was working at a sound post production place in Soho with one of our friends, Virginia. She’d been bugging Elizabeth and I to work together for a while; we didn’t really know each other at that time but Elizabeth invited me to play on a cover version of “Atlantic City” for a Springsteen compilation.
Then we made the Henry Rollins Don’t Dance EP together and needed a drummer. The drums were not Mike’s first instrument but he was always a good drummer and stepped forward. Elizabeth knew Bill’s sister originally, and he’d played with Elizabeth before at some shows. We needed a bassist for our first gig and Bill was recruited. It was all pretty accidental to be honest, there never was a grand plan.
As an Australian, what made Elizabeth want to come to England?
I think she was inspired by The Go-Betweens to come to London and follow in Robert Forster’s footsteps.
I love how your name gives so little away: it’s like the antithesis to a band like Slowdive. How did it come about?
It was Virginia who suggested it to Elizabeth as a joke originally. The Darlings had to change their name and this is the one that stuck. It’s a cockney thing that Elizabeth and Virginia heard in the markets on their way to work.
Whether it’s featuring in a 7-inch club [wiaiwya singles club] or playing at club nights, the band very much feel part of a community. Would you agree? And if so do you think such a sense of community is exclusive to indie-pop as a genre?
Yeah we do consider it a community and we feel very privileged to be a part of it. I don’t think that’s exclusive to indie-pop, no, but I think it is true of any genre that has some degree of DIY element to it, whether that be punk or some of the more lo-fi singer-songwriter stuff that’s around at the moment. I don’t think indie-pop as we know it today would survive without people pulling together and being nice to each other and getting off on what each other are doing. I’d actually like to see that kind of attitude spread to musicians who make work in any genre, it’s the only way to really be a proper force really considering the amount of soulless bullshit that’s around.
We love being part of the indie-pop community; I think the only danger that comes with that exclusivity is catering to your audience too well and falling into artistic pitfalls as a result. Part of what we do is really a celebration of pop music as a whole so ideally we’d want that to appeal to people whether they’re part of that community or not.
Which bands do you feel have influenced your records most?
Paul Simon is a big influence, particularly Graceland, so too are The Go-Betweens and The Velvet Underground. Elizabeth was listening to Jens Lekman quite a bit before we made our first record; I think her idea of dropping in lyrics of other people’s songs came from that, except we didn’t have a sampler so we just sang them. The new record was influenced partly by things we’d been listening to in the van on tour in Europe, mostly Kirsty MacColl, The Cure, Teenage Fanclub and Fleetwood Mac. I’m a Yo La Tengo fan, so that band have definitely influenced the sort of sounds I like to hear on a record.
How are your songs generally written? Do you all chip in or does someone take the reins?
Most of the time Elizabeth would come up with a fully formed or close to fully formed song, then we write all the other parts together. So all the hooky bits, the turnarounds and the intros or whatever are sort of bashed out until something interesting happens.
Sometimes those things are worked out completely, other times they are worked out in recording, then Simon will guide us in some way until the song starts to take shape. “Silver Dollars” and “My Heart is a Drummer” were both written like that, making it up as we went along in the studio. “Wonderland” was one of those that was worked out in quite a lot of detail before we started recording.
“Darren” was arranged in a tent before going on stage at End Of The Road in 2010 where we performed it for the first time. “The Letter” was initially a co-arrangement by me and Elizabeth before we added the bass and drums. It really depends on the song, and where we are at the time. Elizabeth always does her homework first though.
I love how your lyrics are characterised by honesty and idiosyncratic observations. Is there anyone who inspired you lyrically? And what led you to write about Neil Armstrong?
That’s a really a question for Elizabeth. But as an outsider, if I was to think of another honest lyricist with idiosyncratic observations that has probably influenced her I would pick Stephin Merritt. I’ve always thought of the Neil Armstrong song to be an allusion to something or somebody else rather than being about him in particular. And having belief in obtaining the unobtainable maybe. I could be wrong!
As far a tributes within tracks go, yours to Weezer’s “El Scorcho” is an obvious one. Is the story about the Paris fairground within “Kiss Your Lips” a true one? And have Weezer ever contacted you about it?
We’ve not had any contact with Rivers Cuomo, no. Accounting for Elizabeth’s honesty I’m going to say yes, but with some artistic license to amplify the truth.
The statement you put out after your catastrophic European tour shows a real love of playing, but even so I was surprised by how happy you all looked playing at Indietracks. Was that a special show or do you have that much fun at every gig?
Indietracks was a special show for us, particularly as this year we had to prove to ourselves that we deserved to be there again after our first time on the main stage was such an unexpected success. Those Indietracks shows are probably two of the handful of amazing shows we’ve played that we try to live up to every time we perform. It doesn’t always happen that way of course but we do generally aim to have that much fun at every gig if we can manage it.
Do you prefer touring to recording? Recording must be a real ball if you prefer it.
For me it’s recording. The rest of the band might say otherwise. I do love touring, but I’m not really a natural performer, I’m more into the creative bit. The point in my life where I had made the decision to definitely be some kind of artist or musician, I was resigned to the fact that musician = no money = no holidays ever! Now with the tours we’ve done I’ve seen more of the world than I would have done otherwise, and feel very lucky to have been able to do that.
So great though touring is, recording is still the most fun thing I’ve ever been involved in. Sometimes it’s hard work and pretty frustrating, but it’s ultimately satisfying. Just spending an entire afternoon making noises, doing the juicy bits, it’s great. And you get a record to keep forever at the end of it all. Brill.
After your European tour – to quote your own track – “how do you feel about Europe”?
I like the free way we are able to travel around the continent. Perhaps, all recent economic troubles considered, Britain was wise to keep the pound even though the Euro is incredibly handy from a personal perspective when on the road, hopping form country to country. I don’t understand a lot about European laws: some are good, some seem a little anal and unnecessary.
It would be interesting to see Switzerland join the EU one day: if it enables other member states to sort out the mess of offshore banking for good, I don’t think that would be a bad thing. Oh, and Berlin is my favourite city in the world. I’m sorry I can’t give you a more educated answer.
Were you surprised with the new record’s reception? You must have known you had a great record but it’s rare to receive reviews that are so unanimously positive.
It’s always a nice surprise when people like your stuff. I’ve read a few of the reviews, but not all; I’m sure there’s a stinker in there somewhere! I think we just tried to make the best record we could at the time. We probably did aim to make a great record but that’s not for us to make that claim. It was much harder to make than the first one, we had a break for three months halfway through recording because we knew we didn’t quite have the record we wanted yet, and had to find a few more songs to get there.
There are still things I’d change though, if I could, there always is. I hope it stands the test of time and people can still love it a few years from now. It’s amazing to think you could be an important part of somebody’s life like that.
Have you started thinking about a third record?
Yes, we’ve not made our best record yet so we’re going to have another go again soon. There’s no title yet, I can’t reveal anything at the moment!
Are there any up-and-coming new bands you like and feel deserve a mention?
Some of my up-and-coming new bands would be those that have been kicking round for donkey’s that deserve a mention anyway, just in case whoever reads this doesn’t know about them yet. They’re mostly friends of ours: The Wave Pictures, Tigercats, Standard Fare, Eux Autres, The Just Joans, The School, The Smittens, Fever Dream. I’d recommend checking them out.
Finally if you had to spend the rest of your life with the entire outputs of just five different musical artists, whose would you choose?
Well I’m going to cheat with one, which would definitely be a compilation of the best ’60s girl groups, The Ronettes, The Supremes. Even if it’s just one disc I’d be happy with that. The rest would be made up of The Beach Boys, Yo La Tengo, Neil Young and maybe something instrumental…by Arthur Russell maybe? His album First Thought Best Thought is some of the best music I’ve heard recently. In reality I’d probably just grab a stash of Pavement records.
Paul Rains, thank you.