Take one Scottish alt.rock icon (AKA The Atmosphere - owner of some of the tightest jeans in rock) and add in an impeccably obscure sidekick (AKA The Dragon). Throw in three obscure unpublished books and the end result, by way of a healthy dose of electronica and a smattering of post hardcore, is Marmaduke Duke.
The Duke (as they shall henceforth be known to save my typing fingers) is the long time side project of Biffy Clyro's Simon Neil and Sucioperro's JP Reid, who are currently two thirds of the way through a trilogy of concept albums telling the story of the madcap Duke. Debut album The Magnificent Duke told the story of said character's descent into madness, and new album Duke Pandemonium picks up the tale in 2009 with The Duke having had something of a U-turn.
DiS caught up with Neil to get the full story...
So bring us up-to-date with the story of The Duke - the climax of the last album ended with him going a bit mad. Where do we pick up in 2009?
Simon Neil: Well, he's back with a change of heart but pretty much back to his old ways, running ripshod over his minions and reaping what he sows. Some very dark characteristics! The final piece of the story (to be called Death To The Duke) will sew everything up in a 40 minute guitar piece that describes everything unravelling and turning to shit.
How much of The Duke is autobiographical? Or is he merely a collection of the dark impulses living in all of us?
SN: Well I suppose neither, The Duke is actually based on a trilogy of unreleased manuscripts that a friend of ours bought to this country a few years ago. We're really just working to soundtrack those stories.
The first record seemed to veer between ultra lo-fi and all out hardcore, yet the new single 'Kid Gloves' appears to point in more of an electronic direction. How are the rest of the tracks sounding?
SN: It's a lot more cohesive. That range you mentioned was kind of needed, with the last record, to show the different sides to this character, and to define between them but things are a lot more cohesive with these songs. It's a dance record really – or our attempt to make a dance record, at least. I suppose it's in that kind of TV On The Radio vibe, you know, lots of grooves and beats – I'm playing keyboard live on here, I don’t really play any guitars in this band which really helps to keep me out of that usual comfort zone.
Video: Marmaduke Duke 'Kid Gloves'
How does the division of labour work in a project like this? Are these songs he result of the two of you sitting in a room writing together or do you tend to finish off each others half formed ideas?
SN: No, we went in with absolutely nothing for like 7-8 days in the studio, wed go in at 10pm and set up some loops and beats and see where we ended up you know. By 8 the next morning wed be left with the results. All very spontaneous with no real thought process…
And how important a part of the creative process is it for you to make records like this? Do you take a lot of ideas back to your day job or do you keep them separate in your mind?
SN: No, I try and keep them as separate as possible in my mind, it's very different to make a record like this where you can be very spontaneous with less emphasis on the 'perfect performance', you know? Too often when you're making a record you can get bogged down in the detail and lose what made it exciting in the first place. It's quite nice to get to the end sometimes and realise that your gut instinct was spot on.
But it's not completely separate, is it? The other Biffy guys come out on the road with you?
SN: Yeah, Ben [Johnston, drums] and James [Johnston, bass] come out and play with us when we play live, it wouldn't feel right to be out and playing without them, you know?
Video: Marmaduke Duke 'Silhouettes' (Live)
And this album's out on 14th Floor as opposed to Captains Of Industry – has that attention bought any commercial pressure to bear at all running up to this record or have you just been left to it?
SN: Well it was almost accidental that it happened that way, unfortunately Captains Of Industry had gone under when we had made this record, and the guys at 14th Floor heard it and really loved it, and so we kind of gave them a finished piece. It's a weird one for them, in many ways – it's not normally the kind of thing they'd release, I think, but they really loved it from the off.
On some level is a record like this made with one eye on the detractors that were so critical of Puzzle? A lot of the more indie-centric forums and message boards were buzzing that you had watered down a lot of the elements that made you so interesting in the first place... has that played on your mind at all?
SN: Not really, no. I mean it's not nice to find that kind of school of thought is out there and it's not something you enjoy reading but it never really entered my consciousness, all I'm doing is making the best record I can and [doing it] the way I want to do it. I can see why people would have felt the way they did but you can grow into records, a lot of my favourite records – My Morning Jacket for one – I would have hated five years ago 'cos it wouldn't have made my parents spew. But then you look at a song like '9/15ths' and think 'It's not like it's commercial'...
Perhaps people were wrongfooted by the leap from being Kings Of The Underground to opening for Bon Jovi?
SN: Yeah, maybe, but then you'd have to wouldn't you? I remember growing up listening to Slippery When Wet so it was a fun thing to do. The front row were all pink Stetsons looking a little frightened... Jon Bon Jovi actually tried to kick us off the tour when he heard us! I don't know, I understand why some people feel the way they do... but it doesn't really enter my mind, I'm just making the best record I can.
And you're back in the studio at the moment working on a new Biffy record...
SN: Yeah, we're in at the moment for a few weeks just demoing new songs and stuff, and enjoying playing together, you know? Once we're happy with these songs we'll look at producers and see who can help us make this... we've got a few people in mind, but it would be nice to work with [Puzzle producer] GGGarth again, we got to a place with the first few records where we knew we wanted to work with Chris Sheldon for the next couple of records and we're in that place now with GGGarth, you know? We butted heads a few times last time out but it worked out great.
How are the new tracks coming together? What can tell you tell us about the material?
SN: I'm buzzing off my tits about these tunes! We're only early doors, really... we've got a song called 'Born On A Horse' that has got a really sleazy keyboard riff running all the way through it, and we've got another great tune called 'That Golden Rule' that's got a really stoner kinda vibe, lots of really big riffs. We've also got another one called 'God And Satan' that we did at the Little Noise Sessions last year which is a pure acoustic tune, so it's all kindsa stuff really - we're just really excited to be back on with it all!
- Duke Pandemonium is released in April and 'Kid Gloves' is out on March 2nd, both via 14th Floor. The band tour in February and March, calling at the following venues:
28 Edinburgh Bongo Club
1 Manchester Deaf Institute
2 Birmingham Rainbow
4 London Heaven
5 Leeds Brudenell Social Club
6 Glasgow School of Art