Sydney art-pop quintet Dappled Cities have steadily grown in status in the last ten years with home-grown audiences as well as pushing 2006’s Granddance and their most recent psyche-pop opus Zounds down the throats of the Americans. Shortly after the Australian release of Zounds, Chris Berkley of Static spoke to Dave Rennick, guitarist and vocalist of Dappled Cities about birthing and touring the album.
How’s the tour?
Oh it’s an absolute blast. We’ve just done the first leg — the “southern leg” as they call it on the Australian circuit — and to be perfectly frank I am quite worn out already.
It must be a relief to have Zounds out last week and touring and everything else?
A huge relief, yeah. Yeah, no it’s great.
It was a bit of a long gestation in the end — it was starting to look a bit like Chinese Democracy.
It really was! Like right from the word go when we started writing it even, it was a mammoth undertaking that we’d got ourselves into. The writing process took a year and a half, the demo-ing process took six months and then the recording itself took another year or so.
Why is that? Did that seem like a longer process than the first two Dappled albums?
Well yeah, absolutely, I think for some reason we’re getting worse at doing this. We’re becoming less efficient, we’re taking longer per song, and that’s just it.
Maybe there’s more distractions in life Dave?
No I think we’re just more particular now — we just have more of an idea now, and I think we just want to achieve that idea.
And as if that all wasn’t fraught with drama enough, you guys have also not been backward in coming forward about the problems you had with producer Chris Cody, so even when you had the songs finally ready it was still a bit of a nightmare to get Zounds together?
Yeah sort of, there’s a bit of misinformation, because we’re good friends with Chris Cody and as a bloke he’s great and even going into the studio we had the same ideals and the same idea of how sounds work, and obviously we have the same taste in music. It really just came down to when it came to doing stuff, like methods, and that just clashed. It’s probably because Dappled are so in touch with the way that we do things, and we have such a strong method.
But he must have worked with some pretty out-there people before you — I’m sure Animal Collective aren’t a walk in the park sometimes.
I’m sure, I’m sure, and well… I can’t explain it. We just walked out realising that from now on we probably just need to be working with engineers and facilitators rather than mentors. We don’t need mentors anymore.
So you really don’t need someone to tell you how you should be doing it I guess?
I don’t think so, and that sounds arrogant but I don’t mean it to. It’s just the way we roll, we’re very industrious.
Is it hard having someone else? I guess you go into their environment, and you’re working the way that they want to set things up and the way that they think the band should sound.
Well it’s sort of a clash of both, it’s just that clashing against each other and that’s where the problem arises.
You’re still on speaking terms though? You’re still on his Christmas card list?
I believe so, yes. He’s a fantastic guy, he’s hilarious. He himself would love to see himself as the Woody Allen of the music industry, and that’s just what he is.
That neurotic is he?
Well you guys are a bit neurotic as well, I mean are you in Dappled putting pressure on yourselves with this album?
Absolutely, we really wanted to make the record of our career, and that alongside the amount of money and expectations that was thrown into it was all adding to the boiling pot of Zounds.
I guess it does amplify it when there are overseas expectations and all those kind of things riding on it.
Oh yeah, kind of, but I mean all that is aside of the fact that we really just wanted to hone our art very well on this set of songs.
It actually seems though that you guys have still kept a lot of tangents on the record, and it actually took me a while to get my head around Zounds — it seems to be a bit more of a freakier album than Granddance.
Well it’s certainly freaky: it’s epic, long and mammoth and it has all these twists and turns. That’s the Dappled sound isn’t it?
It is, I mean I guess Granddance seemed like more of a pop album. This does seem like it does stop on the road to get a bit weird here and there.
Sure, it’s more psychedelic.
Do you sit around and use all these adjectives when you try to put an album together?
Ah, no we just do ironic jams that somehow turn into songs.
Because you had said that you were worried that with Granddance you thought people thought you were a bit of a “safe” band?
Sort of yeah, we came out of Granddance and we wanted to break free of the three-and-a-half minute pop song mould basically. And that was a real intention coming out of Granddance, and playing these sort of jangly guitar songs with beautiful melodies and so on. We wanted to fuse that with a real classic acid out-there experience.
So the songs on record are succinct, but live they freak out a bit even more do they?
That’s right, and we’re trying to convince our label and our management and all the powers-that-be that we should be releasing six-minute singles. I mean what’s wrong with that these days?
Yeah, what is a single?
What is a single? Yeah!
Songs like “The Night Is Young At Heart” is this weird head-rush, which would have seemed out of place maybe on something like Granddance.
Well funnily enough that was the first song that we wrote for Zounds, way back just after we finished touring Granddance, I think we must have had this pent up youthful angsty energy in our bellies, and we were just like “Let’s write a song like, heaps long, and I’m gonna scream throughout the whole thing, and it’s gonna have a disco beat!”
Even the vocals on Zounds seem a lot more prominent than previous records, I mean you guys all along have had that shouty off-kilter thing from time to time, but it does seem like yours and Tim’s voices are really prominent on this record as well.
Yeah, I suppose another thing going into this record we wanted to try and express more with our voices and with our lyrics and perhaps be a little more introspective. But at the same time we tried to couple that with long instrumental non-vocal bits.
Yeah, well some of the songs go into instrumental territory and never come back…
Dappled were a very different band when it came time to make Zounds as well weren’t you, because Hugh, your long-term drummer had left.
That’s right, yeah.
And you’ve had Ned as keyboardist pretty much since Granddance came out, so was even the dynamic of how you made a record different?
I’m sure it must have been, I mean it was all instinctive really, but I’m sure those things like Hugh leaving and Ned joining and Alan joining, they were probably earth-shifting really for the band. And in hindsight it probably took us a year to really get back into momentum and so on. At the time though you’re just following your instinct and just producing music the best way you know how.
There’s plenty of soaring keyboards on Zounds as well — they’re all over every track, so Ned’s definitely made his influence felt.
Ned, he went into the studio and set up his little station in the corner and we weren’t allowed in there and he just went to work.
Has that freed you up a bit as well in terms of what you need to do onstage? Because a lot of the time you were having to bend over and tinker.
Yeah that’s right, I’ve lost my little keyboard now. The little Casio made way for another vocal mike, so there, there you go.
And Dappled of course have spent a lot of time between albums touring in America, and that’s obviously a big deal for you guys again with this record. It comes out there next month – how much does that weigh on your minds, is this an important step?
Well also this time round we really just wanted to focus on what our role in this whole thing is and that is creating the album, so we’ve really tried to let the US label and all those guys do what they have to do over there, so to tell you the truth I’m not really sure how it’s going to unfold there, but we’re certainly going to go over there and tour again.
At least they’re happy to be releasing it, there’s no emails back saying…
No they’re very happy, they love it.
Dappled must have a pretty solid fan-base in America by now as well. Do you see the same faces?
Yeah yeah yeah, very much so. It’s fantastic there, there’s just such a large underbelly of All-Star wearers.
A market to be tapped into in America! And are you still enjoying it all – having fun in the band?
Absolutely, that’s what we do – that’s what we’re born to do.
First broadcast on Static on 19/08/09. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).
Transcription: Chris Butler