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Music March, 31 2014

Highsnobiety Q&A | Darkside Talk Psychics, Improvising On Stage and More

Having released a three-song self-titled EP in 2011, American duo Darkside went on to release a hugely successful remix of Daft Punk’s entire Random Access Memories album, entitled Random Access Memories Memories under the moniker Daftside. A collaboration between electronic musician Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington, the band released their debut album Psychic in October last year to rave reviews. Their unique blend of experimental blues-oriented electronica has quickly garnered them a firm following by critics and fans alike.

Currently undertaking an enormous world tour that’s taking them across North America, Europe, Hong Kong, and Australia, we sat down with Darkside before their recent Berlin show, which incidentally is where the band originally formed. They talked about getting in sync with each other musically, how no two live shows are ever the same, and being eager to get back in the studio to work on the follow up to Psychic. To see their full upcoming tour schedule head here.

You guys met when Dave you joined Nicolas as guitarist for his solo tour a few years ago. How did Darkside come about from that?

Dave: We were in Berlin, almost exactly three years ago and we were in the same hotel that we were just in now. And Nico’s like “Dave do you wanna make a song?” We had an off day on tour and we made a song, that’s all.

How long did it take you guys to get in sync with each other musically? Was it instant, did you know straight away that you would work on something together?

Nicolas: Well the syncing part was us trying to learn how to play my songs.

Dave: I think we developed through that first year of touring a kind of a language, a way of playing. And navigating Nico’s solo music and figuring out ways to use songs as vehicles for improvisation.

Nicolas: Basically we just messed around for a while and then we were like “Let’s make some music.” You know, one thing is that things get kind of overly complicated. The truth is that I needed someone to play music with on stage, found Dave, Dave is great, we became friends, we made a record. That really is how it is, nothing else.

Do you have a process when you’re writing?

Dave: Itʻs the two of us in a room, you know neither of us come from songwriting backgrounds.

Nicolas: We both suck at songwriting, all we know what to do is play free jazz. We’re just like “Oh this sounds cool,” so we just did that for a while.

Did you have a visual context for the album in mind while creating it?

Nicolas: No not me, I’m mean I had Dave’s face. The most visual, one of the most beautiful images is, let me remember… I remember Dave in the studio and we were recording him and I was on the other side and I could talk to him via this little microphone, which was very nice, and we were drinking red wine and eating spaghetti bolognese. I mean to me, it’s the process of actually going through it because it’s our life. We just do this, we don’t do anything else. So a lot of it is that I enjoy just listening to Dave improvise for 30 minutes on the guitar and then saying “Let’s build a song out of that.” That is enjoyable for me. In a sense it’s just like watching TV.

How did the cover art for Psychic come about?

Nicolas: One of my best friends shot the picture.

Dave: We had set out with this whole elaborate idea.

Nicolas: Well first of all, we were like let’s call the record Psychic. Why? No idea. Just sounds great. Cool. Then we set out with an elaborate idea of going into a psychic shop, you know like an American, stupid, shitty New York type place with neon, tarot cards. And we’re like this is what the music is all about, this. It’s like God and itʻs like nothing, you know. Not the music, but it’s this middle point I like, it could mean everything, it could mean nothing. I like that. So we wanted to have this actress he knows to be the psychic and take a picture of her doing something.

Dave: This whole elaborate staged thing. We had the vision, we even bought a tiny television, just doing all these different things. And then Jed, Nico’s friend who took the photo, was just snapping. He took like three of them while he was setting something else up.

Nicolas: He just took a picture of a cat, took a picture of a cockroach, took a picture of this. But that’s the first thing he showed us, he was like “I think that’s the best picture I took” and we were like “That’s the record cover.”

When you improvise live, do you adapt each show from the blank canvas of the album or do you build on preceding shows?

Nicolas: Preceding, like “Oh that worked last night, let’s do it again.”

Dave: Yeah we kind of collect things along the way.

So if you see two shows three months apart compared to one week apart, it’s going to be quite different?

Nicolas: Yes for example, the last show we played in Berlin in October or November, well this one is gonna be very different. Much better.

Is there a show you’ve had so far or one that you’re looking forward to, that was particularly great or memorable?

Nicolas: We had a really good show, well my favorite show, was in Antwerp. We just clicked and did a really good job I think.

Does the audience influence each show or is the outcome dependant on how you guys are feeling between yourselves?

Nicolas: Everything.

Dave: All of it yeah.

Nicolas: It’s very nice when an audience is very responsive, but also very respectful. But you almost never get that. What I mean by that is like silent during the silent parts and loud and dancing during the loud parts. That is a very hard thing to get all the time.

What about the visual side of the shows, what do you have set up for the tour?

Dave: We’ve been traveling with the mirror, which is a singular gong-like portal into some other universe. A portal into the middle. And we have an amazing tech, Nick, who’s setting all that up, who’s now become like another member of the band. Like our sound guy Lance is like another member of the band, and Nick who runs the lights is like in the band now.

Do they improvise parts of the show as well?

Nicolas: Yeah totally. We let Lance the sound guy do some dubbing and loop some stuff if he wants to. They know us very well and they see that we improvise all the time and we tell them that they can improvise just as much. So sometimes we’ll all have a great show where we all took chances and did something great. Sometimes we all take stupid chances and make a bunch of stupid mistakes.

Is there a downside to constantly changing and evolving your shows rather than keeping it the same?

Dave: Well it would be easier in some way to just play the same exact thing every night. I think ultimately when you’re gonna go out and play 25 shows in a row in 25 different cities, who would know (the difference)? But that’s not what we do, that’s not fun for us and thatʻs not true to who we are.

What’s next after the world tour?

Nicolas: Well the tour ends in September and then we wanna go and record the second album as quickly as possible. Because the truth is that we wrote most of the songs two years ago now, and so it’s been a long time that Dave and I have wanted to get in the studio and make something new.

Have you been working on anything new while you’ve been touring this time?

Dave: You always are, I think it’s inevitable. Whether it’s stuff we learn or improvise on stage that maybe will end up somewhere, that are new ideas.

Nicolas: I have a bunch of iPhone memos of Dave doing great stuff.

Dave: We’ll be jamming in soundcheck and be like “What’s that thing?” and then stop and record.

So you’re really just eager to get back in there and actually put it all together?

Nicolas: Yeah I mean it’s really nice to play shows and there’s really great things about it, but it’s also really hard.

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