Ireland’s Two Door Cinema Club Won’t Let Defecting Drummers Or Parents Get In Its Way
The men of Two Door Cinema Club grew up in a small Irish seaside town called Bangor that was something of a modest tourist destination. “There was a beach there, and a fun park, so people would have their holiday there,” says singer, guitarist and keyboardist Alex Trimble. The constant influx of visitors made enough of an impact on the lads that they titled their band’s debut, Tourist History. “It made sense to us. We grew up in this tourist town and left that to become tourists ourselves.”
Two Door Cinema Club released the optimistic, toe-tapping Tourist History via the respected European dance label Kitsune with help from Glassnote in the US. The band worked on the debut all through 2009, recording with producer Eliot James (Bloc Party, Noah And The Whale) on the weekdays and gigging on the weekends. The album was finished with a mixing assist from Philippe Zdar, who recently helmed Phoenix’s smash Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. (There’s quite a bond with the two bands: Glassnote previously helped break Phoenix with Amadeus, which probably explains why Two Door opened some shows for them recently.) And the band has been on the road nearly constantly since its release earlier this year. But Two Door Cinema Club haven’t really done much sightseeing.
Earlier this year they dropped by New York for two shows, and were especially jazzed about playing the Bowery Ballroom. “We were there for five days, but we had no time whatsoever to hang out and explore,” Trimble says. “We were just there the whole time doing interviews, photo shoots, videos and then [playing] the two shows.”
It went on that way for the rest of the tour. The Club’s deep failure as proper, homeland-honoring, sight-seeing tourists was recently confirmed during the summer when one of the festivals it was set to play was abruptly cancelled. Faced with a rare spot of time off, did the band finally live up to their album name and score as many postcards and souvenir shotglasses as its heart desired?
“We decided to be productive and went to a random studio on wheels, of all places,” says guitarist Sam Halliday of their time off. “And we have a new song to play live, which is nice.”
Two Door Cinema Club, which also includes bassist Kevin Baird, has not let much—not even the deep human need to do a little sightseeing while wearing a fannypack—slow it down ever since its members decided to quit covering other bands and get serious about its own music. Trimble (who is hesitant, but polite on the phone) and Halliday (who still has plenty of “holy cow we’re really doing this” awe in his voice) met at summer camp when they were 14. Acoustic guitars and Damien Rice covers were involved. Baird came on the scene when school recommenced, at first attracted by some girls that the other two knew. They formed an At The Drive-In copycat band, but called it off when they realized they sounded terrible. But Trimble says that they couldn’t stay apart for long. “Once we were 17, we formed this one,” he says.
By the time they were ready to start again, for real this time, the members of Two Door Cinema Club had focused their songwriting and broadened their listening patterns to include indie rock, dance music, folk and more. (“Sam is really big into Beyonce at the minute. Whatever is good, you know?” says Trimble.)
They had become so open-minded about looking at rock music from different angles that when its drummer left, the band took it not as an early stumbling block, but as an opportunity to explore. Trimble had already been “messing around” with laptop programs like Logic and Garageband to record demos. So the group just started making its own beats and loops and went back to work without missing a, well, you know.
“At the time we didn’t know anyone and we just wanted to keep writing songs, so it was just a way of putting a beat behind our music,” says Trimble. “Then we started to get a bit more inventive with it. We started experimenting and doing more complicated stuff, using different noises. That kind of gave us our more sort of dance and electronic elements.”
The result of all that experimenting is a sprightly, ambling sound that combines stuttering beats, Death Cab For Cutie-ish riffs, some pleasing electronic washes of sound and Trimble’s fighting-back-the-nerves coo. It is dance music by (and possibly for) people who would like to cut a rug, but need to work up the nerve first.
After lots of experimenting and songwriting, Two Door Cinema Club began posting demos to its MySpace and releasing homemade singles. It was written up in the Irish magazine Alternative Ulster, which also runs an influential club night. The band then started getting tour offers and was approached by Kitsune to release a proper single.
Things were beginning to pick up steam for the trio, but the problem was that all this steam picking-up happened at the same time the members were supposed to be getting ready to go to university. The choice between continuing the band or heading off to school would seem to be a difficult one, especially for Trimble, whose parents are both teachers. But not really.
“[My parents] were pretty dead set on me going to university, but I just felt like, once I left school, that was the right time to do it,” Trimble says. “I mean, we all applied when we were at school, but… I don’t think that would have ever been an option. This was all we ever wanted to do, so we were just going to work as hard as we could, for as long as we could, until something happened.”
After all, the students had planned on majoring in different fields, so if they all went to different universities it was clear that they couldn’t keep the band up at the same time. “Even when we were 15 and in a rubbish band, that was always in the back of our minds as what we wanted to do,” Halliday concurs. “But I guess having some good press [and] a tour under your belt and some stuff lined up was good enough that, when we took the idea to our parents to ask them if it would be alright if we lived in their houses for a year without having a job or going to school anymore, they were cool with it.”
The trio spent that year practicing and writing songs and saving money to go on small tours “in this shit little van [that] the three of us would sit in front of,” Trimble remembers. “We were living off tortilla chips and water.” To buck themselves up during this malnurished time, they wrote “Undercover Martyn,” an early single and the band’s best song. Over a decathlon disco beat and chase-scene guitars, Trimble urges listeners “into the basement, people/many surprises await you,” and makes that notion somehow feel galvanizing.
“It’s about Martyn, an undercover agent who is too scared to go and do something, but he knows he has to. It’s reflected back to what we were doing as a band,” Trimble says, “People aren’t sure if it’s the right thing you should be doing, it’s kind of scary, but you’ve got to do it.” Further validation would come from tours with actual crew members, records made with chic producers and fan acclaim. But before all of that, Two Door Cinema Club had to take some advice from “Martyn.”
“We were going through a time when people were very skeptical and we needed to keep believing in ourselves,” Trimble says. “So we were writing these songs to keep us going.”