Jimmy Dixon of Django Django – 'It feels like quite a reflective album, we're all a bit more mature and aware of what we're doing now'
- Henry Northmore
- 26 January 2018
The bassist chats about the creation of new album, Marble Skies, and the challenges of reproducing their lush, multi-layered sound on stage
Despite being formed at art school, Django Django hate the term 'art rock.' 'It seems like a really odd, lazy term,' states bassist Jimmy Dixon. However, he admits their output is almost unclassifiable. 'When anyone asks, I feel like I have to describe every single song, they vary so much. I think it was a fan who said "cosmic rockabilly" which is about as succinct and close to how broad the music is. I have no idea how I would describe it.'
Their new album, Marble Skies, is equally hard to categorise. A lush collage of aural experimentation that ping pongs through the 80s synthtronica of the title track to the smooth jazz of 'Sundials' to the pulsating beats of 'Real Gone.' A mix of new wave, disco, house and indie rock that refuses to be constrained by genre.
Django Django is the brainchild of drummer / producer David Maclean (brother of the Beta Band's John Maclean) who started collaborating with vocalist / guitarist Vincent Neff at Edinburgh College of Art. 'It was just the two of them at the beginning, literally in Dave's bedroom,' explains Dixon who first met Maclean while studying at Glasgow School of Art. 'They posted a couple of tracks on MySpace and straightaway they were getting gig offers so they got Tommy [Grace, synths] on board and eventually I got involved. We almost just stumbled into it, there was no pressure or expectation.'
The resulting eponymous LP went on to be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2012. Second album Born Under Saturn was an interesting follow up but at times felt disjointed, as if they were cramming too many ideas into 60 minutes without considering the larger picture. Dixon admits they felt the pressure of following up the critical success of their debut and time constraints in the studio amped up the stress levels.
Preceded by addictive single 'Tic Tac Toe', Marble Skies feels more cohesive. It's a sentiment Dixon shares. 'This time we did most of the recording in our own studio in Tottenham, it was a lot more enjoyable and I think we feel a lot more confident. With the last album, we ended up putting pretty much every song we'd written on, but this time we had time to sit with the songs and be a lot more diplomatic and honest and make an album that works as an album rather than a bunch of songs thrown onto a record. I think it's much more true to ourselves.'
It also features a couple of gorgeous collaborations. Firstly, Rebecca Taylor of Slow Club, who the band first met at a British music showcase at SXSW in Austin, Texas, provides the dreamy vocals over the reggae grooves of 'Surface to Air'. More intriguingly, 'Sundials' was built around a piano loop written by Czech composer Jan Hammer (probably most famous for his searing theme tune to 80s TV staple Miami Vice). 'We had the album finished, then we had to get in touch with Jan and hope he would give us permission to use this piano riff. We thought it would just go through management but he was great, emailing back and forth, giving us suggestions, he was really into the track.'
The real skill is taking all these elements and binding them into a coherent whole. 'I think we've been lucky because we've always had Dave producing the records,' says Dixon. 'It's like doing a painting then putting a varnish finish on it, Dave's production holds all the songs together.'
It wasn't until the record was completed that Dixon found he could sit back, take stock and pick out overriding themes and moods. 'For me it feels like quite a reflective album, particularly something like "Sundials", which feels like an end of summer track. We're all a bit more mature and aware of what we're doing now.'
Translating that sound from record to the live environment is a difficult task. Their multi-layered sound is built up in the studio and it's almost impossible to recreate on stage. However, it's a challenge the band enjoy and embrace.
When we talk to Dixon, Django Django are deep in rehearsals reworking Marble Skies for their upcoming tour. 'We hardly ever record them live as a band so we end up finishing a record and almost have to start from scratch, pull them apart and learn how to play them again. It doesn't make life easy but it means you can deconstruct a song. You can end up stripping it right back or speeding it up, you just have to accept that you won't be able to play half of these tracks live like they sound on the record. It is tricky but generally it's worth it, because you go out on tour playing almost a new song, it keeps it really fresh and interesting.'
Marble Skies is out now on Rough Trade; Django Django tour the UK from Mon 26 Feb.