“Complacency’s known our name forever,” declare Django Django during one of the many twists of comeback single ‘First Light’, “The higher we are the further we will fall,” they continue. It’s a brash turn of phrase that highlights the potential flaws that came with trying to follow up their self-titled debut. Then, across the thirteen tracks that make up ‘Born Under Saturn’, the London-via-Edinburgh four-piece show just how much higher they can go. Sitting in the DIY HQ canteen, all natural light and high ceilings, sits Jim Dixon. Around him lie a couple of national newspapers - interviews with Django Django appear in both - and half a sausage sandwich. Recovering from a press trip to Paris, he describes how “It feels like we’re building up to something. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Formed in 2009, Django Django began with Dave Maclean producing Vinnie Neff’s songs. After posting a couple online, offers started coming in from promoters and Django Django needed to change from a bedroom project into a live entity. Tommy Grace and Jim joined their ranks and it became “this organic thing that snowballed.” They released their self-titled debut in 2012 after a stint touring tiny clubs and “learning how to be a band.” Years of touring followed until they concluded with a headline set at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay event at the close of 2013.
“When we were first nominated for the Mercury Prize,” starts Jim, with a hint of disbelief still dancing on his tongue, “everyone was getting really excited. But when you’re in a transit van going from Norwich to Nottingham, you just don’t notice any change. It never felt like one morning you woke up and everything had changed,” continues Jim. “It felt like a really natural progression.” Dave was “definitely aware” that things were moving. “We were always quite a few steps behind, we were always running to try and keep up with the record,” he says.
“We make this music because we want people to enjoy it.”
— Dave Maclean
Leaving the stage at the close of 2013, the band retreated home for a few weeks before reconvening in London to start work on what would become ‘Born Under Saturn’. “We treat each song like its own little universe,” explains Dave. Like their first record, “it’s more a collection of ideas rather than one concept,” but still, there’s a narrative to ‘Born Under Saturn’ that’s difficult to ignore. “I like to think of it as a mixtape,” Dave continues. “Even though it twists and turns in the way our influences come through, there’s things that hold it together as a Django Django record that we can’t escape from. It’s the follow-up we wanted to make.”
“We just wanted this album to be bigger,” says Jim. “We really wanted to push ourselves with our songwriting [this time split four ways] and it feels like we’ve taken a big step forward.” From the playful dance of ‘Giant’, through the stuttering stare of ‘Vibrations’ until the grand swaggering finale of ‘Life We Know’, ‘Born Under Saturn’ is a bounding leap onwards. “There was no shortage of ideas and each song felt strong,” Dave reflects. “We were going to have ten songs but no one could agree on which ones to drop.” “Every time we took a song away, the album didn’t feel as strong. It just seems to work,” adds Jim.
‘Born Under Saturn’ is “more realised.” The first one was made over a period of time (and recorded on a £50 mic), with bits and bobs of ideas floating around. “I was doing a post grad degree and we all had jobs,” explains Dave. “This time around it was a lot more focused.” “‘First Light’ was one of the first songs we wrote,” Jim continues. “It’s about knowing where you are and where you’re going. I suppose writing lyrics helps you make sense of what did happen in those two years. We weren’t sure about ‘First Light’. It was just a tiny scrap of synth that Tommy had and for a while it sounded really pastiche. Then Dave came in; cut it apart and put things together.”
“Getting through that process gave us faith in what we were doing,” shares Jim. “To see the light, you have to get through the dark. We were working on that song for a month and the lyrics were borne out of being really unsure but then feeling like we could go and tackle the rest of the album. It was a cathartic start to the album, clearing things out and starting again.” That sense of starting afresh is a theme that dances throughout ‘Born Under Saturn’. “After touring for two and a half years, it was like sweeping all that aside and starting again. I think that underpins a lot of the songs,” ventures Jim.
“We’re good at hiding behind characters to get things across,” starts Dave. “Little love stories or your own personal feelings. It’s not quite wearing your heart on your sleeve but within each song, a lot of your hopes, fears, and desires come through. Quite often we’ll write a little film in our heads and we’ll all latch on to that, rather than someone coming in saying ‘I’ve been feeling like this, can you help me get my feelings out into the world’.” It makes for wonderful listening; grand ideas wrapped around a real sense of intimacy. “We just run with something until it starts sounding right, until it starts working, then we follow it down that avenue. During the writing process, all sorts was seeping in,” admits Jim.
The title is taken from an 18th Century book looking at artistic inspiration as a form of madness that was spotted in a charity shop while Dave and Tommy were working with The Royal Shakespeare Company. “We were locked in this studio for three weeks and you do start to go mad but I think that’s half the process of making art,” explains Jim. “Making music you can get completely lost in. There’s a famous image of Brian Wilson sitting in a sandpit in the studio with a fireman’s helmet, and Dave’s always worried he’s going to end up like that. I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Jim assures before adding, “As long as we’re all there to keep him sane.”
“We spend so much time with each other you don’t notice things changing, but Vinny’s just had a baby girl, Tommy’s just had a baby as well. We’re all changing but in terms of the band, we’ve just grown a lot more confident and have much more belief in what we’re doing,” explains Jim. “We didn’t notice it until we’d finished but I think it shows in the album.”
“We’re not making difficult avant-garde music,” reasons Dave. “It’s accessible. We make this music because we want people to enjoy it.”
“Hopefully when people listen, they can get lost in their own little world. I think it’s important to be able to forget what’s going on around them,” says Jim. “We want it to be a joyous thing that lifts people’s moods.” With the rest of 2015 booked up, there’ll be plenty of chances for Django Django to see just how celebratory ‘Born Under Saturn’ is. “In the 80s, the tendency was to write music that was dark but then Manchester’s house scene was built around people saying, ‘Fuck you, we’re going to build our own world,’ and made it into a positive thing. It’s a celebration that came out of a grey northern time at the end of the Conservative government,” concludes Jim. “We just want people to go somewhere else with our music.”
Taken from the May issue of DIY, out now. Django Django’s new album ‘Born Under Saturn’ will be released on 4th May via Because Music.
Django Django will play Field Day (6th - 7th May), Open’er (1st - 4th July) and Latitude (16th - 19th July), where DIY is an official media partner. Tickets are on sale now. Visit diymag.com/presents for more information.