Jet lag. That ‘thing’ that happened in Chicago. Pool parties. Celebrity hangouts. Groupies, Dawn French and Joolz Holland. Spend five minutes with Two Door Cinema Club, and it’s clear that their ever-growing status as ‘rock stars’ is something that still dominates their dialogue; still fills them with childlike awe. Their conversations twist and bounce, the happy in-joke banter of a group of inseparable childhood friends. Singer Alex – a man who can’t go ten minutes without strumming his guitar nonchalantly – plays off the group’s joker, bassist Kevin, who’s determined to gas the tour manager out of the van with a bad case of flatulence he refers to as his ‘American gas’. Sam, the quietest of the bunch, tends to sit calmly and take it all in, occasionally cutting in with a pointed quip or off-hand reference. The vibe – Kevin’s contribution aside – is of three down to earth lads who are determined to make the most of a mammoth opportunity, but, equally importantly, to have the time of their lives doing it.
At the turn of the year these three ‘boy next door’ rockers were labeled as ‘on the brink’; the Northern Irish music industry’s great white hope, endorsed by the BBC, NME and of course, AU. The Bangor lads – mischievously named after Sam’s inability to pronounce the name of their local Tudor Cinema – were yet to even put out an album. Those pre-album-release support tours in early 2010 were the calm before a thunderous storm; come March, debut ‘Tourist History’ was about to put a big, red danceable indie-pop mark on Ireland’s music map. The journey that’s taken Two Door Cinema Club from local heroes to internationally hyped gold-record owners has seen them flog nearly 100,000 albums, appear on numerous TV shows and become the talk of Ireland’s biggest festival. With 240 shows to be squeezed in before the end of this year on four different continents, supporting the Maccabees in Dublin’s 1000 capacity, half-empty Academy just under a year ago must seem a distant memory.
While the group never forget to mention their time at home – performances at Oxegen and Reading are still fondly discussed – their new international experiences inevitably jump to the fore. Kevin explains: “Japan was crazy; really intense. In Korea they stuck us with two-dozen sweaty journalists in a room for half a day, and other than that we only saw the festival site. We don’t even know where it was. Everything takes twice as long as it all has to be translated, but just being there’s unreal.”
Looking to America has always been a major landmark for musicians. Alex prefers to argue “we want to make it everywhere”, though “making it in America would make life a whole lot easier”. Getting their music on TV shows such as Gray’s Anatomy and reaching number one on website Hypem has cracked the door to a substantial market, one that allows them to head off elsewhere and avoid saturating the British and Irish gig-going public. Candid as ever, Kevin reviews their American experience with mixed feelings: “New York and LA were big sell outs, and they were great. Some other places, though, we were playing to almost empty rooms. In Kansas City, for example, we had to wait until an hour before the show to set up because a kid’s birthday party hadn’t finished. We don’t mind, though, you can’t expect to sell out somewhere the first time you play”. The work ethic is relentless: a week after the American tour, three days off are bracketed by an appearance on Joolz Holland and today’s Late Late outing. In two days time, the next tour begins. Problems with jetlag aside, feelings towards the schedule are overwhelmingly positive: being busy means going places.
Today, though, is all about the well-worn promotion trail. Whilst a year ago that might have meant scrabbling around for a little press attention and fielding questions from journalists who have only the vaguest familiarity with their music, these days Two Door are in high demand. Spending a day cruising Dublin’s radio stations before finishing up with an evening performance on an Irish television institution ‘The Late Late Show’ is as much as they can cram in, but it’s not for lack of requests. Being from Northern Ireland and not owning televisions, only tour drummer Ben has ever seen today’s biggy, The Late Late Show; we opt not to tell them the average viewership is around 15% of the Republic’s population: 650,000 potential fans is a whole lot of pressure.
Like most bands, promos are not something Two Door particularly enjoys. Kevin starts the day by telling us “if I make it to the end without getting angry or frustrated it’s been a good promo day”, and jokingly gives out about the “torture” of an atrocious promo session in Japan that came in at an excruciating four days. Despite their apprehension about the media spotlight, the happy demeanor never slips, and the closest we see to an ego is Alex’s continuous but very sarcastic requests to keep his on-loan acoustic guitar.
The acoustic vibe is something Two Door rarely brings out in live shows. Alex is a collector of original Fender Bullets, a make of guitar he became obsessed with after borrowing one from Laurent Mazzalai when on tour with Phoenix earlier this year. Despite the first-edition version being produced for only one year – eight years before his birth – he’s already managed to acquire four, and intends to collect a whole load more (“They’re cheap on ebay as nobody knows what they are, but they sound great”). When it comes to the radio shows, though, the tiny studio spaces mean set ups must be acoustic.
Visiting Phantom FM, Spin and finally RTE’s 2FM, the three-piece disappear into padded boxes and produce stunning rearranged versions of ‘Undercover Martyn’, ‘I Can Talk’, ‘Something Good Can Work’ and ‘Cigarettes In The Theatre’, each minus the electronic trickery. Performances like these toned-down radio shows emphasize the musicianship: these tracks are at least as strong when tweaked and mellowed, emphasized with ‘oohs’ rather than bleeps and strummed subtly. Alex’s voice is given the chance to shine, and it’s utterly outstanding, yet for all the professionalism there’s also a laidback charm: you can still picture the group practicing in their bedrooms trying not to wake their parents.
The Late Late Show is a different story. Two Door has never mimed before, and while Alex will be singing live, both Sam and Kevin express their discomfort at faking the guitar parts. Two Door have always come across as comfortingly genuine, and the option of removing strings from the guitars – or doing something else to make the miming obvious – is briefly thrown around along with banter about Muse’s line up alterations while miming on an Italian show. The scale of the show in the Republic eventually tips the balance. Playing under the studio lights is an experience Sam later describes as “one of the weirdest ‘performances’ ever; we have no idea how it went. How can you even measure that?” Things can’t have been too bad; the Twitosphere explodes, and the walk back to the dressing room includes Dawn French rushing out of a locked door to greet them.
Six to eight months ago something like the Late Late might have been life changing, but shooting through Dublin’s backstreets in Kevin’s people carrier ten minutes later, tonight’s TV appearance barely warrants discussion. It’s this relaxed take on life that often comes to the fore. The walk from the dressing room to the TV studio at RTE sees Kevin coolly strumming a bit of Hendrix before being silenced by the studio runners. Back at the radio stations, the band shows the effect of playing together every day for months on end: nearly every pre-recorded track is reeled out immaculately in the first take. Tuning up, though, involves a tongue-in-cheek rendition of Toto’s Africa (“we’ll bring it out on the next tour”). Even the production of an unrehearsed Christmas song at the last minute is considered, though it’s shot down by a media-savvy band manager after the station suggests Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’, a track which Alex only knows the chorus to.
The nerves that made early live shows a touch uncomfortable have largely faded, but the sense of appreciation surrounding newfound stardom still shines through: ‘It took us a long time to actually think we’d make it,” Alex explains. “Signing the record deal didn’t feel like a turning point. We did it in Kevin’s parent’s kitchen, which shows where we were at that point. Releasing the album – and seeing it do well – was perhaps the biggest moment. But it’s incredible, the landmarks just keep coming. Every one’s worth celebrating. We can’t take it for granted”.
After a year like 2010, you could be forgiven for suggesting that the traditionally difficult second album could be a cloud hanging over the newcomers. Not according to Alex: “the tours are great, but they’re relentless. Our lives are basically on tour or in the studio, and it’s been forever since we were in the studio. People keeping asking us about pressure, but we’re not feeling it that much. We’re just looking forward to it. The new album will be a chance to show how we’ve evolved”. Having just released an enhanced version of ‘Tourist History’, the next step will be to write some songs on tour, but the more substantial moves towards album number two will get under way come April. One track’s already been penned, and will feature in the up and coming shows. It’s an ode to Alex’s experiences in a London backstreet, where a drugged up local with a broken bottle threatened him. It’s yet to be named. The rest of the album is likely to follow a similar lead: while ‘Tourist History’ explored their hometown of Bangor, the follow up will take on a more expansive, global theme that reflects the groups experiences.
As for the long term, Two Door’s upwards trajectory of sell outs shows and international attention shows no sign of abating: even NME treated the band with a certain amount of respect second time round (“First time it was like we had to pass a test. They were quite hostile in their questioning and acted very indifferent. The second time one of the journalists met us, they said ‘I can be nice now, you’ve done your first feature’” – Kevin). It’s a building process, but should Two Door end up in stadiums, they wouldn’t change a lot: “We like to connect with our audience, and keep things simple.” Alex assures. “If we had a U2-esque level of budget, we might add some extra live backing and a few stage props, but we like to keep things clean cut. Our music’s designed for dancing, and you need to connect with the crowd. We want to show them a bit of our personality”. As three lads in their early 20s with an enviable talent and – perhaps even more importantly – love for what they do, the latest focus has been quietly different but markedly defined: longevity. With a legion of new fans behind them, things are a far cry from the slightly shy up and coming act that was Two Door Cinema Club just a year ago. Come December, when they’re presented with their Irish gold record on stage at their Dublin show, the celebrations will include at least one eye on a platinum future.
Best Show – “There’ve been so many. Playing the second stage at Glastonbury was amazing, it’s great to go back and see how it changes year on year. The main stage at Oxegen, coming out and seeing 40,000 people was special, too. And Reading. Reading was one of the best shows of our lives. The benchmark just keeps getting higher through the year” – Alex
Most Rock And Roll Moment – “We broke into the rooftop pool of a hotel in Melbourne at 3am. That was great. But everything’s so surreal, you’re never really taken aback by anything that happens. It takes going home and telling people about it for someone to stop you and say “your life’s ridiculous” – Sam
Best City – “It’s a really weird answer, but we loved Brighton. You’d expect us to say somewhere really exotic. So many places are really cool. We loved Seattle, too, in part because the first time we were there we hated it. If something bad happens, you automatically associate it with the city. Brighton’s a feel good place. You never really see much in each place, though. It’s just a quick taster.” – Alex
Most Interest Celeb – “Prince Charles? The most surreal one was when we met Guy-Ma from daft punk. They came back stage at our show in Paris. Anybody can sing you a Daft Punk song but nobody has any idea who he is to look at. I could only concentrate on how small he was. We haven’t met all that many big celebs. We met Will Farrell, and watched the World Cup Final next to Jay Z.” – Kevin
Key Touring Lessons – “We’ve learnt to speak slower. At first in Japan, and in America, we found that people just didn’t understand us. We’ve also grown in confidence a lot. There’ve been bad shows, but we’ve really gelled as a unit over the year. It’s inevitable when you play so much together.” – Kevin
Cover Story for AU Magazine, December 2010 issue. Photographs by the outstandingly talented Lili Forberg.
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