Mama Juana is a drink made out of honey, tree bark, and some other irrelevant ingredients.
Soon after London trio Darkstar signed to influential electronic label Warp Records, they stowed away to the rolling Yorkshire countryside to record their new album News From Nowhere. The time away appears to have had a profound impact, because they’ve returned with a refreshingly lush new sound, leaving behind the cold synth-pop of their 2010 debut North in favor of a much more breezy layering of crazing melodic samples, playful harmonies and subtle percussion.
3 way Skype conversation by Brenda Bosma, images by Dieter Durinck.
Presuming a darkstar is something like a wormhole, what kind of stuff would get sucked into it?
Clocks and clockworks. We used samples of ticking sounds throughout the album. What else? iPhones and iPhone chargers!
What about abstract stuff?
If we can put in the space we were in where we wrote the album, we’d throw that in. The vastness, the silence, the green, the nature. Yeah, basically just those countryside vibes.
You were in a cottage in the middle of nowhere. How did the time pass out there?
It was pretty uneventful. You kind of had to amuse yourself. We played Megajump on the iPhone a lot.
What’s the news from nowhere?
The title is from a book by William Morris. We were looking for a title that reflected clockwork sounds and intricacies and our producer suggested this book. We wanted to capture the little in-between moments with this album. That’s the news from nowhere: the stuff you wouldn’t actually take much interest in. After being exposed to the hecticness of London, it takes you a minute to adjust after you’ve been in a peaceful surrounding like we were. You start looking at things maybe the way you used to as a child. That does not really happen in the city. There’s an eternal distraction there.
In your press kit it says: ‘This is a totally different record to North. It’s somewhat brighter in mood, but deeper in feeling and intention… it’s much more rhythmic and fluid. It moves quicker.’ From and to what does it move?
We just meant that in a rhythmic way. There are more intricacies within the tracks, it’s more percussive and melodic, more floaty textures. It has a wider spectrum. The first record was purposefully concise; for this one, we allowed ourselves to travel a bit more, kept it more open.
Was there a specific reason to leave the mood of North behind?
We didn’t think we could go back into that type of thing and take it further. Our own amusement and entertainment were the main factors for leaving that behind.
You were bored with it?
Yeah, basically. There’s no point in doing it for someone else.
What was the attraction in the first place?
Because we got bored of the other thing. That’s it. Also, it’s about curiosity. We like to experiment and explore new things after every album.
Quite a lot of bands seem to be exploring abstract sounding, more linear soundscapes at the moment. Do you think you’re part of a new avant-garde?
From our perspective we can’t really say we’re part of something. There isn’t really a sense of community here in the UK. But I do get what you mean: a lot of bands are experimenting with electronic elements. I think you should judge the output rather than the method. We like to experiment with the sonics that we’re using. It’s almost natural to us now. It’s probably also one of the things we shouldn’t change now.
If we focus on the lyrics, what’s the most concrete thing James is singing about?
It varies, but it touches the feeling of being in that open space.
What about the song ‘You Don’t Need a Weatherman’? Why don’t you need one?
Because it’s obvious. You just have to take an umbrella with you. That track specifically is about a compass you got inside of you. You’re always drawn to home.
Where’s home for you?
During the album it was really blurred. Even now it’s still unsure. All of us, apart from James, have got quite a lot going on in London – like girlfriends and such – but we’ve been a little bit in between.
When do you think you’ll settle?
It won’t be for a while: we go on tour next week. We enjoy touring. The early mornings are a bitch, though.
What kind of surroundings do you prefer to be in?
It’s good to know those moments you see when you’re in a peaceful environment, but at the same time, the options you’ve got in London, you can’t really beat that. I guess we’ll keep travelling between those worlds.
Darkstar perform their new material at next week’s ‘The Rest is Noise’ at Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ on 19 February – free for Subbacultcha! members.