London Quintet Duologue Revitalize Electro-Rock Music With Genre-Blending Sonic Experimentations
Electro-folk rock band Duologue has returned to New York City for their second year of CMJ, and this time around the band earned coveted spots playing Tuesday's Communion Showcase, Wednesday's Music is GREAT Britain event hosted by Ben Sherman and the British Consulate of New York, and tonight's Baeble Showcase at Spike Hill in Brooklyn.
Although they don't have any more U.S. tour dates planned this year, they are a band you must see when they return in Spring 2014.
The London five-piece has a dynamic sound, which comes from their three-tiered process of songwriting. Rather than trying to emulate any band or sound, their approach is to find distinct elements from various genres, throw them in a "digital" blender, and see what happens. If they like the sound, they recreate the song on instruments then produce it with a concise electro finish.
At a time when much of electro music has become tired, Duologue are a revitalizing force with their genre-blending experimentations. They take the best of classic rock, folk, dubstep and electronica and mix and match them with fitting lyrics to create an invigorating and challenging sound.
The band is fronted by Tim Digby-Bell on vocals and keys with Seb Dilleyston on violin, Toby Leeming doing live programming and beats, Toby Lee on guitar, and Ross Stone on bass.
Their debut album Song and Dance is due out in physical form via Killing Moon Records on Oct. 22 but is available digitally on Spotify now.
Music Times sat down with Tim Digby-Bell and Seb Dilleyston earlier this week at the Bowery Diner to talk about their album, the songwriting process behind it, how they translate all of that to the stage and what they are most excited to do while in New York City.
Music Times: So your upcoming album Song and Dance is available digitally now, but what else will fans get with the physical release?
Tim Digby-Bell: We took ages with the artwork. We got a really designer to help us. We trolled the Internet looking for pictures of empty theatres. In an age when people aren't buying CDs much, I'm really proud of the physical thing. I think it's really beautiful. We want to keep that stuff alive.
MT: What influenced your album thematically?
TDB: It was really a span of quite a few years. So it's hard to say it's due from one source. I suppose it's that thing that every artist goes through when you start and you're very much in the dark seeking an audience for what you're making. And so many things start in such small places and end up on these big stages. And this was lyrically me trying to find my voice as a writer. I write plays as well, and both of those things kind of went hand in hand. That's where the idea for the artwork from the theater came from - that sense of being on a stage without an audience but waiting for that to happen. There's a tension to that, I think. Certainly in your creative life, that sense of just doing it for yourself initially then making the leap to doing it with the intention of being heard. It's like making the leap from being a diarist to writing something that somebody else is going to read or hear.
MT: How do you translate what you've done in the studio to what you're doing when you mix the live performance?
Seb Dilleyston: What see live is certainly different from what you hear on the record. With the structures, we might give ourselves time to get involved in one particular part of the song. Sometimes we meld songs together and mix them. So the live element, I suppose, gives you the ability to do more or add or re-imagine the song.
TDB: And sometimes it's adding more and developing sections that you felt it wasn't cool to do on a record because you wanted to be concise. But live, you're very much more free to do strip things back to their raw essentials and really find a way to play the songs as songs. Some of the songs on the album were more kind of electronic numbers. And it's interesting to strip them back and find the song at the heart of that and find a way to play it with five people and make have the same impact and have the same intensity to it.
MT: Is it hard to engage with the audience when you are focusing on mixing sounds, switching instruments and using different pedals and equipment?
TDB: It's a question of being comfortable with what you're doing and becoming proficient at it. It took us a while to get to that point. It's quite tricky. I remember a friend of mine coming to see us and saying, "God you really couldn't be pissed -or drunk, sorry - and play in this band." But the more you do it, the more that frees you up to focus more on delivering the songs. I don't think anyone really wants to see us pushing a load of buttons. But that said, with electronics, I think it's hard to break through that live barrier and not feel like this is playback. And we've been really careful to make that bit as live as possible. Toby is doing lots of live sampling and live mixing and loops and stuff just to try to make it as accessible and interesting as possible and as live as possible, you know.
SD: Also if the audience is into it, to some extent you feed off that in a live setting. It's weird it's like non-verbal communication and it might bring you up a level.
MT: How do you go about the songwriting? Does it start off acoustic then build onto it with electronic elements?
TDB: They all come from different places really. And that's often the real frustration certainly for me as a writer is that I don't have a set process of how I go about it. Often there are accidents or trying loads and loads of different ways to try to make myself write some music, you know. And the album is a real product of that. "Push It" was one that we put a loop of 4/4 kick on it and just jammed for weeks and weeks. So everything comes from different places really, which is good and bad. It takes a lot longer to write. It's not like I'm a pianist and I'll just sit down at my piano and write my song. I constantly gravitate from instrument to instrument.
MT: What was your process like for recording the album? Was it done in segments?
TDB: Well we chipped away a lot on one really cheap microphone that the whole album is recorded on that a friend gave me years and years ago. There was one point where we thought we'd try to mix the whole album ourselves. But we just felt it wasn't quite good enough, we hadn't been mixing long enough. So we got Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele) our producer onboard to help us. And he brought this fantastic mixer along. So a lot of what's on the record is us in our bedrooms. But we finished with one big session together and knocked it all out there. But a lot of the recording was done in drips and drabs over the preceding years.
MT: I hear a bit of Radiohead in your sound. Who or what are your influences?
SD: There are a lot of influences that come from the electronic side, from the folk side, to the rock stuff and we all brought that on board. It didn't come with the intention that we wanted to sound like this band or that band or go in some specific direction. We just want to create music we love and hopefully that translates to the audience.
Tim: A lot of the earlier things were just sort of sonic experiments. "What would it sound like if you took a folk-rock guitar sound and mixed it with a really Jamie XX dubstep thing?" It wasn't trying to sound like somebody, it was often trying to NOT sound like someone. And that's when you feel like, "Oh yeah that's something I've never heard before." We would all be excited if we felt we didn't know another example of a song that mixed those kinds of things, for good or bad.
An example of that is the song called "Cut and Run," which came about when Toby Leeming was listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin and I was listening to a lot of MIA and Mad Decent stuff, so we thought it would be sort of interesting to take the production and percussive ideas from MIA and combine it with a kind of classic Zeppelin-style riff. So that had sort of a classic rock sound with an aggressive ragga beat and a really dubstep wobble bass. So it's a lot of that. It feels like you're learning a lot, and you're experimenting and casting your net really wide. I find it a really healthy process to have.
MT: Are those conversations that you're having or does it all just come together organically?
Tim: We all start with something we found even if it's just a guitar sound or a beat or a synth sound. And then you can start thinking, "Well this would sound interesting if we could give it this tone?" or "What if Frank Sinatra sang this song?" Electronic music provides a great platform. We will start it on a [computer] program then take it off that and put it onto live instruments and play it without any electronics at all. And we've done that for every song we've written. We find a way to play it as a band, even if its nothing like — as it often is — the way it will sound eventually. It is a really important process, particularly if you are writing this type of music, to take it off any type of programming platform and figure out how to play it so you can actually feel the impulse of it and once you've found that, those sort of muscles, you can bring it back to the electronics and emulate what you've found. So it's sort of a three-tier process.
MT: What will you be doing on your time off in New York City?
SD: We're going bowling, that's the first thing. We also got a friend out here that has a 1983 Buick, so he's going to take us on a little tour of the city.
MT: Any bands your excited to see while you're here?
TDB: I'd like to see Fuck Buttons and I heard Arcade Fire was in town.
MT: What would be your favorite venue to play in the City?
SD: Fat Cats. We love Fat Cats but haven't played there. It's near the Village. There's pool, table tennis, shuffleboards, minority sports. It's awesome. Ah, I would love to do a show there.
TDM: I like those grimy, more intense venues better than the pristine ones. It's so much about the relationship of the stage to the audience.