From a laptop-hawking electro-bedroom duo to a sextet of sonic bending falcons soaring in perfect formation, The Dying Seconds have certainly spread their wings wide these past eighteen months. An appearance at Electric Picnic, the release of second album Glimmerers and appearances on numerous “Best of 2011” lists have filled up the Dublin indie sixsome’s year quite nicely.
Founding member and frontman David Cantan took time out to answer a few questions before embarking on a five date tour of Ireland including how Aaron Dessner of multi-million selling indie kings The National became a fan.
The Dying Seconds consisted of just David and Jack when you released your debut album back in 2007. Did you become a six piece before the writing/recording of Glimmerers began?
It was a gradual process, we're constantly demoing and recording so it's hard to say when this album really began in those terms and also hard to say when people joined. It was such a natural process, everyone coming on board with The Dying Seconds, that it's hard to put a finger on. There were never auditions or anything like that, we're all just friends who have been making music together in different capacities for years now. Both the album and the line-up just sort of crystallised over time.
Did every member have an equal input to the shaping of the sound of The Dying Seconds mark II or was it still you (David) and Jack doing most of the writing?
No-one's parts are ever written for them. We just couldn't work that way, we have too much respect for each other's abilities and creativity. Apart from the words, which I don't think can be written by committee, any member can literally try anything they want during the recording process and whether or not it makes the mix is decided fairly democratically. Even when we use musicians from outside the band we wouldn't want to tell them what to do. On 'Rubbernecks', for example, a lot of credit must go to Grainne Dunne (violinist for Dublin's Cfit), whose string parts really gave us a whole new eerie perspective on the song.
Electronics form such an integral part of your sound yet at the core of the majority if not all of your tracks is a solid song. Are the more electronic sounds layered after the core song is written/recorded or how do you approach recording?
It's back and forth. We're mostly interested in occupying the space in between the two worlds but you have to start somewhere. Sometimes it's writing on acoustic, sometimes it's working from an interesting beat or atmospheric electronic sketch. 'Lavender' was a instrumental piece Mark [Rooney] wrote which was sitting in our shared dropbox for ages before the song side of things jumped out at me one day and came together in literally a matter of a couple of hours. 'Competitive Learning' on the other hand used to be a song with much bigger beats and electric guitars all over it. Whichever angle we start from, by the time we're finished and everyone has worked on a tune, it's going to end up sounding like The Dying Seconds.
Glimmerers has so many layers to it, your live shows are very powerful due to so much happening onstage but then there are plenty of occasions (such as some backstage videos for Indiependence) where you have performed acoustically. Do you find having a sound like this allows you to be very flexible and adapt to various different surroundings?
I guess the feeling is that as long as the song is good enough it should work in any context. We really enjoy deconstructing songs and trying them out with different arrangements of instruments and we love things like Blogotheque where other artists perform their songs in sparse and stripped down ways. It's just a really fun thing to do and hopefully interesting to hear for people who like the originals.
Do you feel this gives you an edge over many other bands out there at the moment?
We really don't think of this in any way in terms of how we compare to other bands. We're honestly just one hundred percent focused on what we do and making our music the best it can possibly be. We're only competitive with ourselves.
The bio reads "Glimmerers is a love-story in three acts". Please be so kind as to elaborate...
Hmmm... I don't like to elucidate on these things too much as I truly believe the best songs and albums are ones which each person is able to personalise by having their own take which is relevant to them and what they're going through or have been through. Suffice to say there was hope and longing, followed by optimism and expectation, which ended in disappointment and heartache. 'All In The Dark' is a bit of an epilogue though - the moving on. I have a feeling the next one will end a lot more happily!
How fulfilling is it to have the power of a full band behind you guys now when playing live?
I don't think there's anything that compares to it. Having your face in a laptop for most of the set was not a fun experience for us when we first started touring the first album, playing live wasn't very lively. For me personally it's so much easier to get into a performance and really enjoy it with the full band there, especially with an amazing drummer like Charlie [Keegan] giving it so much energy.
Glimmerers has been receiving some great feedback and appears on many best Irish music of 2011 lists. What does it feel like to receive such positive attention?
Any attention from blogs or any form of media is all about one thing really: allowing people to be exposed to our music and decide for themselves if it's something they're into. So, in that respect, we're hugely grateful for any article written on us or radio show that decides to play us or anything like that. It's all a massive help to us in growing an audience which will hopefully allow us to do this full time eventually because that is our biggest ambition, to get to make as much music together and play as many shows as we possibly can before we're old and infirm.
And of course The National’s Aaron Dessner is a fan. How did a renowned international recording artist stumble across your record?
He was a friend of Naomi [Moriarty]'s before he ever heard the band, it must be said. After he came to see us play live and was complimenting us on the performance I asked him was he just saying those things to be nice and he assured me that if he hadn't enjoyed it he would have left after five minutes because he wouldn't have been able to lie to us. For him to back that up with such a lovely quote in public is just so encouraging for us and we're really very grateful. We're obviously huge fans of The National. Their music is just so heartfelt and truly touching in the best way possible and that's what we're striving to achieve - something deeply personal and individual that resonates with others. I think great music should make the listener feel like they're not alone and that they're in good company.
It must help opening a lot more doors to have such a high profile name give your art the rubber stamp?
It has been a tremendous help. I think a recommendation from someone in such a great band would make most people want to listen but after that they will make up their own mind so hopefully they like what they hear.
Are you aware The Dying Seconds is also the name of a Scottish horror movie currently being filmed in Aberdeen?
I saw that recently, actually. Interesting that it's a horror, we think of the name as incredibly positive even if it does have the word "dying" in it! For us it's about the necessity of making every moment count because time is limited for everyone so life shouldn't be spent in situations which are unhappy or unfulfilling.
It has a great tagline!
“When the world as we know it has come to an end the dying seconds of life is all we have left.”
Oh, I hadn't seen that, actually. Maybe their spin on it isn't so far from ours after all.
If you were to score a movie in future what would kind of movie would it be?
Every kind. This is something we're really keen to do. Jack has already done some work scoring a documentary in the past and myself and Jack have done some commercial work to pay the bills. Even though it's a job we thoroughly enjoy the process. Recording with the band is all about what we want to do and how we think things should sound but having to match someone else's vision for how things should be while also trying to bring your own personality to the table is a really great challenge and very enjoyable.
The Dying Seconds are not new to video though are you? I especially love the hand-drawn video to ‘Kid Logic’. Was the video your own idea?
That was all the work of Kev McGuinness, a good friend I went to college with. He and I collaborated on the story but all the hard work was his doing and I think it turned out wonderfully and really captured the wide-eyed wonderment at the core of that song. We're working on a new video with him at the moment. It involves marionettes but I will say no more.
Did you work with the same people for the video to 'Mora Minn'? The finished article looks great but in reality was it fun or tedious to record? Be honest...
'Mora Minn' was all Jack, from conception to direction to editing with help from another good friend of ours Brian Fortune on camera. It was such an experimental idea that I don't think any of us knew at the time how good a job he was going to be able to do. It was a painstaking process editing it but he really knocked it out of the park. I think the shooting was most painful for Charlie who had to witness some awful drumming technique and lost a lot of sticks that day. We all definitely had that rhythm ringing in our ears for a few days afterwards.
Is this your first headlining gig in Cork?
It's our first gig in Cork city. Can't wait!!! We've wanted to come to Cork for a long while now and Good Cop Bad Cop and The Pavilion offered us this opportunity so we're really looking forward to it.
Is it true you are soon heading across the pond to London?
We are. In February.
How easy/difficult a decision was it to make?
Like most things we do it just kind of felt like a natural step for us.
Is there a masterplan or is it simply move over and play as many gigs as possible?
We're going to move over, play as many gigs as possible and record as much as possible. Do what we love, basically.
Do you feel you have got as much as you possibly can out of the Irish music scene?
Not at all! We're hardly filling the Olympia or The O2. We will be back lots to play throughout the year. We just feel that London will be a good base for us for the next while. Somewhere we can work from and tour from. Having all our gear there and literally being able to drive to Europe (with the Eurostar bit in the middle) and play shows wherever we want will make things a lot easier and more financially viable. We will still be paying a lot of attention to Ireland, it's our home and we love it here but we're going on an adventure.
What major changes (if any) do you feel the Irish music scene has undergone since the release of The Dying Seconds back in 2007?
I've never really thought about it. I don't know about there being a scene as such. There's just always a lot of people making a lot of music, some bad, some good. I think Richter Collective are doing amazing work in promoting their bands, it helps that bands like Adebisi are also awesome and worthy of being promoted... more industrious and creative label management like that would not go amiss.
January is always a time of lists. What records have caught the eye/ears of The Dying Seconds in 2011?
I really like the Youth Lagoon album: lo-fi production that proves that what matters in music is heart. There are lots of others, but that's the standout for me. Oh, and everyone should check out Caleb Groh, from Boston. In my opinion he will someday be recognised as the best American songwriter of his generation. Sickeningly talented for someone so young and he has that heart thing in absolute abundance.
The big question: how can we get our hands on a copy of Glimmerers?
From our website, www.wemakeweapons.com and from us at the gig in The Pavilion on the 21st. It'll also be available in Plugd from after that date and on itunes from the 26th of January.
Ever played the animal game before? (Basically you begin with one letter, eg. 'S', and everyone has to name an animal beginning with this letter. The person who cannot name an animal beginning with 's' loses one life).
The easy animals such as 'snake' are always taken quite early so can ye give me a rare animal beginning with 's' that I can use as back up for the next time I play the game myself?
Since we use 2 macs on stage and 4 of them when recording, I'm gonna go with Snow Leopard.
- The Dying Seconds and The David Nelligan Thing play The Pavilion on Saturday, Jan 21st
- ‘Glimmerers’ is available to purchase from www.wemakeweapons.com and Plugd Records on Tobin Street
Glimmerers Preview by thedyingseconds