DiScover: Dark Captain Light Captain
E-mail from Dan Carney, guitar and voice with Dark Captain Light Captain:
"I've just been to the Lo Recordings office, and had the principles of music publishing explained to me for about the fifth time. I still don't understand it."
Dark Captain Light Captain are fresh, young, hip, bangin', phat… hang on… no. They're not. Looking at their MySpace categories of ‘Experimental/Folk/Lounge’ and you might want to call them hip and fresh and several other vacuous things, but they're just not. Dark Captain Light Captain are beautiful, dense, textured, slightly scary and constantly engaging. Their Elliott-Smith-discovers-Akai approach initially functioned as Dan Carney (of completely wrong and ace art-agit-arses Father Of Boon) and Neil Kleiner (who can be heard tootling on many of Keiran Hebden's records) singing words, playing guitars and clarinet and looping electronic sounds. Now they've expanded to include ex-Finlay members Anamik Saha and Giles Littleford, who play other things and sing words. What's more, they've just signed to Lo Recordings, releasers of experimental delights by Blur, Thurston Moore and Aphex Twin among others. DiS met up with Dan, Neil and Anamik (Giles is apparently on a work do) for a mini pub-crawl round London's Old Street. We start in The Foundry, before declaring it too noisy. We move to some bar where hip-hop videos and leather sofas are everywhere…
Let's talk about your two new members, Anamik and Giles.
Dan Carney: We got them in to kind of flesh it out, really. We've known them for a long time and we trust them. Because we have a lot of laptop stuff going on and a lot of looped stuff happening, it frees me up.
Neil Kleiner: From a practical level, it enables us to do more than we had been able to do live before. We started out as a kind of studio project with a very high quality control, and somebody thought, "let's do a gig". What we tried to avoid was the karaoke laptop thing. So up until recently, the live stuff has been a lot more stripped-down than the recordings because I didn't want to just press the space bar and have Dan play along while we both sang.
DC: Though we have kind of gone in that direction a bit! I don't know if that's a kind of live instrument snobbery…
NK: But now the stuff we use the laptop for live is rolling textures, backgrounds, and I'm able to drop in loops and play the laptop more like an instrument. The idea of getting more members was to flesh out the live sound to make it more like the recorded sound.
Anamik Saha: I only saw you for the first time a couple of months ago, and I was surprised by how stripped-down it was.
DC: It's a lot scarier for me, because there's only two of us and if one of us fucks it up then you really notice. We played at an open-mic thing with Giles the other day and it was very nice to kind of hide behind him!
There's quite a lot of nature in your songs.
DC: Is there?
AS: Yeah, very pastoral…
NK: I think it's more about machines. There's definitely a lot of science-fiction in the lyrics.
DC: And technology. I like the idea that… this is going to sound like such a load of wank… but I like it when technology goes wrong.
AS: Like when robots turn on their masters, yeah?!
DC: Well, I was thinking of something a little more Orwellian. I sit down to write lyrics and it ends up being about satellites that got broken and things like that. With MSN and e-mail I'm always thinking about how it affects our relationships. A lot of the lyrics we write are paranoid, people having covert motives.
AS: I know what you mean with the whole nature thing. When you're using acoustic guitars, obviously that connotes certain relationships…
DC: The reason for that is that we can't be bothered to cart an amp around. I also don't like this thing where being literal is honesty. "Oh, I went down the kebab shop and got my head kicked in." Well, well done mate. What is there after you've thought about that? Where do you go?
Let's talk labels. You're working something out with Lo Recordings?
DC: The labels that came in for us, there were about five, most of them were electronic labels which I found quite curious. And encouraging. I get so pissed off when we get described as 'folk'.
NK: We weren't intending to be a folk-electronic band at all.
DC: Yeah, all of this fashionable freaky stuff. I like a lot of those bands, I'm obsessed with a lot of those bands, but a lot of that's because people come up to me and say, "You sound a bit like Grizzly Bear, you might like them!". I view what we do as having more to do with things like Pavement. I've forgotten the question… right, the label thing. It looks very likely that we're going to go with Lo. They seem really into making a lovely product and take a bit of care with the music. We're not ultra-ambitious, but we want to release music. And I think they're the same.
NK: What was encouraging was that we went into their offices and they were just very casually saying they'd been listening to it round the office. It seemed like they honestly liked. They weren't overtly complimentary, but…
AS: (in New York Jewish accent) The drummer, I don't like…
DC: We gave them the first track that we've done with Giles and Anamik. It's a bit of a banger.
You say you get pissed off when people call you 'folk'. What would you prefer?
DC: Death Metal! No… at the end of the day, we play fairly straight, slightly quirky sort of verse-chorus stuff. I get really conscious of trends in music and this whole weird-folk thing is being bled dry. If we were in the privileged position of having a lot of press, which we're not, then being associated with that immediately gives you a finite shelf life. I get paranoid about that. If people want to say it's folk then I'm no-one to argue. If someone thinks it's fucking circus music, then that's great.
NK: On the flipside of that question, we're quite wary of forming a 'rock' band. That would be an easy thing to do.
AS: Obviously we've got options now. We're not just adding bass and drums to every song. That's the biggest challenge now. There'll be a drum kit there some of the time, but it's not about just adding drums, it's more about adding texture. I'm very excited about getting the glockenspiel out, actually…
You played in Norway. How was that?
DC: One of my friends lived in Oslo and I've been to a place called Café Mono. I just e-mailed them and said, "Have a listen to our stuff", and they asked us to come and play. We were originally supposed to support Grizzly Bear, but one of them became ill and cancelled the whole European thing… it was good anyway, we ended up playing with this girl called Rocket to the Sky, it was sold out. We got treated really nicely, and they're up for us going over again. I'd like to think that in the future we could do more of these random trips.
NK: The idea of getting some cheap flights to Norway or Berlin or Spain and playing a gig is infinitely more refreshing. When we were in Norway, we got asked to play a gig in a town just north of the Arctic Circle. There were only about 60 people in this town, we were supposed to play in a library!
DC: Then we have this childish thing of looking at each other and saying, "What the fucking hell are we doing here?!". It's just using what we do to have a little adventure.
The instrumentation on your songs is very intricate, isn't it?
NK: What's interesting is that it's just a case of recording things properly in the studio, getting a foundation and then asking, "What shall we add?". It isn't really thought out, it's very improvisational. The songs me and Dan used to do on our own were limited to laptop and guitar, and now we're in the studio it's all, "Ooh, a xylophone, ooh, a violin!"
AS: The first time I played with Dark Captain Light Captain was in the studio. It was interesting to see how you start with a skeleton and flesh it out. A lot of the time it's all done on the spot. Obviously you have stuff in your head…
DC: When we record, we record so much. So when we mix songs we never really take stuff out. We get to the point where we have so many options, it’s a nice position to be in. It's not some kind of Mike Oldfield thing…
AS: Maybe we should go with that.
You say, and I quote, "We make music to make ourselves and other people happy". That's lovely. Care to elaborate?
DC: That was at a point where we were doing a few gigs and we needed a biography for promoters. I started writing all this bollocks, and then I thought, "Well, what do we actually do?". And that was it.
NK: There's no posturing. We do it because it's a laugh and we enjoy it. There's nothing better than playing a gig and seeing people mesmerised and enjoying it.
DC: Everyone has those ego needs, we're no different. But we want to like it before we show it to anyone else. Shall I get some more lager?
There then follows a short intermission in which drinks are bought, and Dan Carney asserts that the Golden Age Of Snooker was, in fact, during the mid-‘80s. Then I spill the remainder of Anamik's pint. These occurrences are not related. The Dictaphone does not get turned on until we hit the next pub, and after Anamik has gone to some party or other. One more question, then…
In the last eighteen months of your existence you've achieved an awful lot. What has made you proudest in that time?
NK: It's a slightly hippy-ish answer and maybe not one for the website [too late], but I think it's more to do with how me and Dan have become better mates because of it. I remember playing in Berlin and the day after just walking around, talking about music with Dan. And that was more important than the gig, in a way. Dan might disagree, but I think some of the ‘we’ lyrics have a definite gang mentality. It's a very simple, maybe cynical, defiant attitude. A kind of quiet rage.
DC: The thing I'm proudest about is that we stood up in front of a lot of people and announced ourselves, we've played our songs, and now we've got with a label. That's not the be-all and end-all, it's a fucking means to an end.
NK: I am fiercely proud of these songs. Fiercely proud. This is the best thing I've ever done musically, and that includes playing the Koko with Steve Reid in front of 4,000 people. The new stuff we're writing right now is just as fucking good.
Listen to Dark Captain Light Captain at their MySpace site, here.