Today marks the U.S. release of the debut album from Django Django, a Scottish foursome with one of the most interesting sounds in indie rock. Like a collision between the pastoral and the futuristic, Django Django's songs blend clean, pared-down guitars and acoustic percussion with digital production that includes synth bloops and squeals, all over insistent, danceable beats. Led by harmonized vocals that can't help but recall the socialist anonymity of Devo, Django Django sounds like a jam session between them, Talking Heads, Link Wray, and Giorgio Moroder. (Or perhaps Ennio Morricone?) Already out in the U.K., the band's self-titled debut album has garnered widespread praise and a Mercury Prize nomination, along with many glowing reviews.
But as we found out during a conversation with guitarist and vocalist Vincent Neff, Django Django's music is largely the result of happy accidents and constraints imposed on the band members while at art school and working in Edinburgh. Speaking with us a day after the band's first tour stop in Chicago, Neff walked us through the six or so conditions that led to the development of Django Django. The band performs tonight, Sept. 25, at the Independent, in its first-ever San Francisco show.
1. They couldn't use a drum kit to record their album
From the time they wrote the band's first song -- "Storm" -- all through the recording of the album, the members of Django Django worked in flats and bedrooms. There was no way they could use a full drum kit there, and they didn't have the equipment to record it even if they could. "The only decent recording percussion you could get really was from little wood blocks," Neff explains. "That was the only thing that would record really well. If you tried to record a floor tom, it would always sound like a big flabby box." So drummer/producer Dave Maclean used computer software to program the band's kick drums, and layered the recorded blocks, tambourines, and coconuts on top of that, lending Django Django's rhythms an scrappy, exotic quality.
2. Neff learned guitar from a great: The Undertones' John O'Neill...
One of the most striking elements of Django Django's sound are the clean, muscular riffs of Neff's guitars. Turns out that, while growing up in Derry, Northern Ireland, Neff studied at the Nerve Centre, a kind of creative youth community center where John O'Neill, guitarist for influential Irish punk band the Undertones, gave guitar lessons. "It was a pretty good start," Neff says. From there, Neff says listening to old greats like Link Wray and Bo Diddley -- and playing guitar all the time -- helped him develop his sound.
3. ... And that guitar style happened to fit just right with Maclean's beats
"I knew he'd been doing production, and he knew I'd been writing songs," Neff explains. "But it was only when I kind of played him the kind of riff for "Storm," and then he kind of changed and mixed in the drum beat -- it was a bit of a happy accident for us. We seemed to be on the same page."
4. They had a good single before they even had a band
"Storm" was recorded by Neff and MacLean on their own -- before they'd ever played live. After it was a success, they had to find other musicians to actually play live with. And since the two of them had never been in a band, there was a lot of learning to be done. "It took us a lot more time than maybe some other people who'd been in different bands, who kind of knew songs or musicianship and stage presence," Neff explains. "We were playing catch-up from when people saw the single."