INTERVIEW: Dark Dark Horse
Dark Dark Horse is the alliance between producer and Maybeshewill member Jamie Ward and singer James Stafford. Their debut album Centuries originally came out in November 2010 on the Japanese record label Rallye, but has now been released in this country on 27th May on Function Records.
When playing live, former Kyte member Ward and kids in cars vocalist Stafford are joined on stage by Joe Norledge and Robin Southby. God Is In The TV caught up with Jamie Ward on the eve of the band’s appearance at this year’s Handmade Festival in Leicester.
I have just listened to Centuries for the first time and like what I hear, but I wondered how you would describe your music to someone who had never heard it before.
JW: Atmospheric electronica with a frail human heart.
I read how you both met and how the music began to emerge; can you tell us a bit more about that gestation process? Did you always have the notion of a band, of it being Dark Dark Horse, or were plans not as clear as that at that stage?
JW: No there has never been a grand plan at all. A few years back after playing in various bands and finding myself at a bit of a musical cross roads I began experimenting with my first forays into musical composition. Before I'd been a bit more of a bit player. I was starting to feel what I was doing might have a bit of worth and then I met James through recording his old band kids in cars. He is an oddly perfect and yet maybe contrapuntal fit for my electronica. It took a few false starts to find our feet but once we found what we wanted to do we just kept writing music. Constructing the name and live band came later basically as a vessel for the music.
As things began to develop and you started to gain more exposure, where did the Japanese connection come from with the Rallye label?
JW: The Rallye label was an old connection of mine. I sent Fumi the first demos we did and he enjoyed them and said if we could get an album together he would release it in Japan. So that's what we did. We didn't even have a band name but me and James got to work and before we knew it we had an album together. We had an album before we even really had a band. I wouldn't advise anyone looking to launch a band to do things that way but it seemed exciting and tangible at the time.
Sticking with all things Japanese, I see you have supported MONO – I caught them two years back at Sound Control in Manchester but missed the support; was it that tour you played on?
JW: We supported MONO in Leicester Cathedral last December. It was a pretty stunning setting. They ended up getting there really late and sound checked till doors so we had to start setting up and sound checking in front on a cathedral of people. That was a bit unsettling but it was a really special show.
Tell us about the Dark Dark Horse live experience? What can people expect if they come to one of your shows?
JW: I'd say the live version of Dark Dark Horse is a sort of pumped up interpretation of the record. Straight Laptop performance can be a bit problematic/dull for audiences so we present the record with a more traditional full band. It still hopefully retains the character and texture of the record but I feel needs to be a bit more exhilarating to fulfil certain needs and expectations people have from live music. Saying that we recently did a more stripped back tour supporting Fossil Collective where I played drums pads and acoustic. That was a more introspective experience and allowed us to air some different songs. I'd like to combine both of these but we don't really have the resources or set times to achieve this just yet.
I notice you are playing the Handmade Festival in Leicester this weekend? It looks like a really interesting event, I must say. Any other gigs/festivals scheduled after that?
JW: Yeah, I'm really excited about Handmade, Leicester is a tough city for music so it's great to have such a vibrant event happening here. We playing London Social on the 1st of June then doing a launch show for the record in Leicester a bit after handmade where we'll get to play a longer set. We've had a little trouble with venues so it's going to happen a little later than I would like but so is life.
I live in York and must confess I am not familiar with the music scene in Leicester – my only musical experience of the city was catching Spiritualized at the Y Theatre a few years back (where there ended up being a fight in the place, but that’s another story) – is there a scene as such in Leicester?
JW: As I said Leicester is a tough for city for music in that it can be quite hard to attract a decent audience to a show but there are lots of little exciting bands making usually slightly left field music and a few hardworking promoters fighting the good fight. Summer Sundae festival was a great showcase for local bands and allowed me to play De Montfort Hall once or twice which was a bit of a dream but sadly that ran into financial difficulty last year after transferring to a privately funded affair. Hopefully it will be back next year but Handmade has done a great job in stepping up to fill the summer shaped musical hole.
On first listen I must say that Mercury, Nevada is to me the stand-out track on the album and it works really well with the video. Can you tell me how the video came about?
JW: We did intend to do a more narrative based concept but after James came up with an interesting treatment the thought of creating and casting a little 8 minute film just became a bit too daunting. I'm pretty attached to that song so I just couldn't bare the realisation of a narrative not standing up to it. We felt trying to create a more abstract performance based piece that captured the mood of the song would be a bit more achievable. The length of the song could have meant this could have fallen flat on its face if it were not for the dancer Stephanie Warrick doing such an amazing job. The director Fraser West found her via a production website. We hadn't met her till the day so we were very lucky when she turned up and showed us this great routine she'd worked out. Watching her dance in front of these beautiful projections to our music in this dark room was a pretty unbelievable experience. Fraser did a really great job making the cut exciting, I think it was no mean feat considering it's just three people in a room for 8 minutes.
I hear Radiohead and even bits of Arvo Pärt in there; who would you say were the major influences on the Dark Dark Horse sound?
JW: Radiohead are a big influence of course. Probably mine and James’ favourite band. I've been told to listen to Arvo Pärt for a while and after just searching realised I am aware of some of his music. That sparse classical melancholy is definitely something I feel an affinity with and use elements of sure.
Looking beyond the weekend, what are the plans for Dark Dark Horse?
JW: We have a lot more material written and demoed so I'm going to lock myself away at some point soon and finish the production on those. I'm a bit of a perfectionist so getting to the point where I am happy to release something is a slightly torturous experience for me but it's the only way I can be happy with my finished results. We should be seeing new singles in the winter and hopefully some touring alongside those.