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Two Door Cinema Club’s Sam Halliday talks BitTorrent, success and Michael Jackson

Dan Webb
Two Door Cinema Club are an indie rock trio from Northern Ireland who have achieved immense commercial success worldwide since their formation more than a decade ago. We recently spoke with guitarist Sam Halliday ahead of the release of their latest album, False Alarm.

First up, I’d like to get to know you a little bit better as a music fan because you wouldn’t go into music unless you were a big fan of music to begin with. So how do you personally consume music? Do you prefer Spotify or vinyl, headphones – perhaps cassette tapes?
(laughs) Yeah, mostly Spotify to be honest now. A lot of radio actually now because I’ve moved back to Belfast from London last year, and I drive a car now and yeah, radio is something I’ve discovered again, which has been fun. I guess it’s kinda like Spotify really (laughs) but with people as well. Yeah.

With the advent of streaming services and the decentralisation of tastemakers, do you think that it would be easier or more difficult to break through if you were an emerging band in 2019?
Oh, yeah. I think there’s something like 30,000 songs on the daily with Spotify. So it’s, yeah, it’s a lot to get through. I suppose it’s like a level playing field now I guess, for everyone. Like, you know, it’s pretty awesome that you can just record music at home and put it on Spotify. But I guess so can everybody else. But yeah, I think it’s a very exciting time. You don’t need thousands and thousands of pounds now to release music. I think it’s really cool.

Congratulations on the new album. It’s perhaps your most experimental and biggest shift in direction yet. Would you put that down to perhaps changing trends in music, growing in confidence, a change of labels, or something completely different?
Well, it’s kind of a mixture of all of those things. I think another thing would be we had a lot more time as well. You know, I think that diving in with sort of – total time of making the album was about 18 months from the first sort of conception of very early demos. It started off with Alex (Trimble) going out to LA to work with Jacknife Lee at a very early stage, which I guess was sort of a year. Yeah, he would have went down on for a couple of weeks at a time to work on demos, and sort of get them in a place, in their place of being more structured songs. And then from that point he shared them with Kevin (Baird) and I, and we were, you know, working our own parts and sort of bringing our bits to the table. And then that sort of culminated in a recording session in London. Where we sort of then dropped together everything and made the album. So, yeah, I think the trips out to LA really benefited the sort of more experimental side of the album. I mean, I think Jacknife and Alex could spend weeks on end just playing with synthesizers, I think the fact that we got songs out of it was a bonus, you know?

I understand back in 2010 you would start with a melodic loop or drum loop and you’d get a general structure for a song, and then you’d individually go away and record your parts over the top of the song. Has working with different producers over the years affected the way that you approach writing and recording?
Yeah. I think it definitely has. I think even the approach to, yeah, writing that especially, like working with Jacknife Lee, it’s sort of a lot stricter in terms of even constructing vocal melody. I think that’s something that none of us had ever really thought of before. We just sort of threw everything, like “kitchen sink” sort of thing and see what stuck. Whereas now it can be a bit more methodical… I never really thought about songs as a full spectrum on each tune. You know, I think the way we sort of sit around like, trying to make anger a sort of avenues with, especially with the guitar. Not making such linear parts, I guess. Because they just sort of take up room sometimes they’re there. I think sort of shift to be more angrier and, I guess, disruptive with it. And cut in and out, and things like that or stuff that I’ve never really considered before. Yeah, sorry that wasn’t great (laughs).

It would be like an anxiety every day…we’d struggle to make this music, just because we didn’t want to be around each other.

No no, that’s fine (laughs). Now, Alex has described your second album as an incredibly safe record. If you had your time over would you re-record it?
No, I wouldn’t (laughs) personally. I think that it was a big sort of part of our journey, I suppose, without sounding too cheesy. I think it was a really tough album to record. I think it was at a time whenever we had been on the road for like two or three years promoting our first album and probably touring far too much and not communicating enough with each other. And it sort of led to us living in a house together straight after recording, straight after touring the world, a few times over. We lived together and in the basement of this house we sort of wrote this album. And you know, it would be like an anxiety every day. Like, “are we going to write music today, I really hope not. Oh no, I can hear somebody down there, I better go down”. You know, and we’d struggle to make this music, just because we didn’t want to be around each other I guess. But nobody really spoke up or, I guess generally that’s a life lesson learned, in terms of how to deal with (laughs), you know, adult problems and communicating our feelings in an adult way. So I think we learned a big lesson in that, and yeah. So I think it’s a good album. I wouldn’t regret it. I think, yeah, it’s just a really hard one to do and, I think, I wouldn’t want to go back to that place. I think we’ve come through the other side of it and we’re better friends now for it.

As band you’ve all been quite open in previous interviews about your struggles with addiction, alcoholism, and the pressures of touring. Do you feel that these topics are being normalised by today’s media? Or, do you think that there’s still some way to go?
I think it’s been great. Like especially last year, the amount of artists that came out about dealing with depression and things on the road. It’s amazing that, you know, I think there is a little shift in culture of it’s not really cool to glorify alcoholism or drug addiction. I think there is a bit of a shift now… I think it’s much better now. And it’s been really great, actually meeting people after shows and stuff now. They just talk about it like it’s sort of not common knowledge, which is nice. And sort of being understanding of, I don’t know, just the fact that it can be a bit weird to talk to strangers… I think people are much more aware of that you’re just people, you know. Which is cool.

I can understand how it might be difficult not being able to say, clock off at five o’clock each night. I’ve spoken to other artists who find it difficult in the sense that you’re basically working 24 hours a day. You can’t stop being you. And, I guess, at the end of the day you’re selling yourself to an audience. I can definitely relate to that.
Yeah, no, I think you’re right. It’s something that I struggle with in terms of meeting new people and things, just whenever you’re working. It’s like you sort of, I don’t know, don’t want to let people in just sort of beyond what you’re comfortable with and probably that persona that you put on, I think.

How difficult is it to form and maintain meaningful, lasting personal relationships, especially when you’re on the road and working constantly?
Again, no, it’s really tough. And I’m not the sort of personality that is great at, you know, being the centre of a WhatsApp group. So I just tend to disappear a little bit. But it’s something I’m aware of and trying to contain within myself. Yeah, trying to keep up the little things like when I go away for three weeks and not just sort of come back and expect people to call when I’m back (laughs). So, yeah, it’s definitely tough. You know, I’m quite happy just being in the present, in terms of… just sort of getting on with things. So yeah, no, it is a struggle.

I understand when you were starting out that you wanted to sell copies of your EP so that you could save up and buy a van to tour. How do you define success and how quickly do the goal posts move in that regard?
Yeah. Yeah. I think with the goal posts moving, that’s a real tough one, because I think whenever we were releasing the second album, the extra success was, you know, a top ten album. You know, that was like “oh wow that could be great”. And then now streaming has taken over. Like nobody downloads on iTunes anymore. Nevermind buying CDs, that’s (laughs) long gone. But, yeah, for a band like us sort of the long term projections, I guess which is ideal. Because you know, we’ve always said things about the long term, about, you know, measuring our careers. So making an album and releasing it on Spotify or streaming services. Sort of (laughs) hoping that people continue to go back to, I guess. Which sort of, it means I guess you have to make better quality music now for it to last longer to be able to stream it how you want to. But yeah, it’s a weird one to sort of debate I suppose, but in terms of success because you sort of have to wait around and see what happens sort of thing. But it’s an interesting time in music I think. Like the past ten years it’s changed so much. So, it’s interesting for sure.

Yeah, especially I imagine from your perspective, seeing the industry change over the past five to ten years would be – it’s a unique position to be in.
Yeah. Like I remember our first album, we did find a lot of people just used BitTorrent, you know, we all did it as well (laughs). You know, we went online, were in the back of a van watching 100 years of TV shows we’d downloaded on BitTorrent and probably listen to music that we’d also, you know, stolen. So definitely not criticising. But yeah to go from that and whenever albums seemed to leak in advance and things like that. And now people just pull it up on Spotify whenever they feel like it. Yeah we’re still doing, I guess, the sort of long release on the pop front. But, yeah, it’s completely changed.

In a 2016 interview, I think it was you and Alex, you compared learning about the Brexit referendum results to learning about Michael Jackson’s death. Now I note that public perception has shifted a great deal on both of those things in the years since.

Have you seen Leaving Neverland and would you still consider yourself a Michael Jackson fan?
I haven’t even been able to bring myself to watch it. Because I have been such a fan for so long and I’m still living in denial. But I mean, I think it’s difficult because of the incredible art, then what’s official law and it’s part of people’s DNA almost, you know like… I think that maybe the one thing to sort of justify still being a fan is you sort of think about it as not supporting somebody that’s doing something terrible, you know. It’s not like you’re furthering his career by glorifying it or anything. You’re not supporting an active career I guess. But, yeah I don’t really know what the right answer is I guess.

I think probably up until six months ago I was checking on the news articles about (Brexit) and now I’ve been defeated by the boredom of how long it’s gone on.

What your current thoughts are on the state of Brexit?
Yeah. Probably the same that they’ve been all along. It’s like I’m also living in denial that it probably won’t happen. But it seems to be, like some people desperately do want it to and they’re gonna make sure of it. So, yeah, I probably need to start dealing with it. It’s just so, I think probably up until six months ago I was checking on the news articles about it and now I’ve been defeated by the boredom of how long it’s gone on. I’m sort of losing interest. Which is probably a terrible way to be about it, but it’s just so boring listening to it go on.

If you could collaborate with any artist in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?
Oh wow (laughs). Crazy. I think it’d probably be with the Talking Heads, just at the minute I think we are all appreciating them at the minute and they were a big influence on the last album. I think like in terms of the attitude that they had to the sort of world and lyrics and things would sit really well with where we’re at right now with modern technology and I think we’re interacting with that. And yeah they sort of, they work with Brian Eno a lot as well and that would be a very interesting process, sitting on the outskirts of that and looking in. Yeah it’d be fun to make an album with them I guess.