Two Door Cinema Club: ‘We went through hell’
Constant touring, drink, drugs and demons tore the band apart. They’ve put the pieces back together for their third album, ‘Gameshow’, and now they’ve everything to play for
Two Door Cinema Club: Kevin Baird, Alex Trimble and Sam Halliday
Two Door Cinema Club are sitting in an Airstream trailer backstage at a venue in Austin, Texas, looking – and I don’t mean to alarm anyone – healthy. Alex Trimble, Kevin Baird and Sam Halliday are set to play Stubb’s Waller Creek, an outdoor amphitheatre, a week before the release of their third album, Gameshow. Trimble’s Bangor accent is now tinged with an American twang. Halliday mentions that they have a juicer on their rider.
The band released their debut album, Tourist History, in 2010; their sound was buoyant, with pop melodies sprinting along guitar frets like a kid flying a kite. On fashionable record labels – Kitsuné and Glassnote – they blew up, hitting the road with gig after gig, festival after festival and party after party – all steps on the trajectory towards big band status. They told themselves that if they kept going they’d get to a point where they would be established and could lean back. But that point, as many bands before them have learned, is a mythical target. At the peak of their success everything unravelled. A storm descended.
There’s a moment in What We See, their tour documentary, released in the aftermath of their second album, Beacon, when Baird says, “I feel terrible.” He and Halliday are shown standing in white T-shirts that accentuate their pallor. “I don’t know how you did it, Alex, with the Olympics stuff,” he continues. In 2012 Two Door Cinema club were so famous that Trimble sang Caliban’s Dream, a key piece of music during Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the London Olympics . In the documentary Trimble responds, “The first record was full-on, but it didn’t feel as full-on as . . . this.”
By 2014, and set to headline the Latitude festival, Trimble was in the midst of a meltdown. His bandmates and management flew to the US to accompany him to the UK, where he promptly collapsed and ended up in hospital for two weeks. The band was broken, mentally and physically. The warning signs were all there: the hundreds of gigs a year; the realisation that touring made them forget about everything and everyone; the skin tone of vampires; the no one shouting “stop”.
One track on the new album, Bad Decisions, opens Gibb-brothers-like with the line, “Save me, I’ve been drinking wine, and I just made a big mistake, happens all the time.”
Inner demonsSome bands try to cover up the internal conflicts and inner demons. Two Door are laying them out and moving on. “We went through hell for years,” Trimble says, his hair longer now and his previously ageless face marked with stubble. “We were on the road constantly . . . The shit hit the fan and we were not having a good time, and we needed the time to recover and all the rest of it. All of that has gone into the record.
“The thing is, for me, I genuinely believe that some of the best work will come from the dark places, but you’ve got to be on the other side of it to get the perspective on it to turn it into a piece of writing or a song or whatever that might be.”
Now they are calm, quiet, courteous, at ease. For Baird there is more to say creatively than ever.
Trimble had seen what happened to his band happen to so many other bands before him. “That’s the scary thing. When we were in it you don’t see it coming. There’s always kind of an attitude – and maybe there’s some arrogance in it or naivety – but you think, That’s never going to happen to me. Even when it was happening, I think, we were in denial for quite a long time. We got to a point where nobody wanted to rock the boat. Things were going good, the momentum, and we just got caught up in that momentum. For that reason – and for the reason that you don’t want to admit to becoming a cliche – you just don’t want to put your hands up and say, ‘I’ve got to get out of this for a while.’ It had to come crashing down around us before anyone said, ‘Okay, let’s cut this out for a bit.’
“The thing is,” he says, “day to day I’m not ‘that guy’. I like my personal time and quiet time. I like to do things that are relatively dull. I like to read, and that’s how I get my enjoyment. But I became ‘that guy’, the other guy, for two, three years. I was a full-blown alcoholic, you take whatever drug you can get your hands on, you’re not looking after yourself. It becomes this escape. That’s how you deal with it. If you’re not getting the sleep, if you’re not getting the fulfilment from other walks of life.
“From a creative point of view what I love doing in the band is writing and being in the studio . . . but we just can’t afford to do that. We’ve got to go out and tour or otherwise we can’t afford anything; we can’t afford to have this as a job, we can’t afford to make records. So you’re forced into this position where you have to deal with what you’ve got. At the same time, no matter how hard it gets, this is the dream I always had. No matter how hard it gets it’s still fantastic; it’s still better than anything else I could imagine myself doing in my life. So I will do anything to keep that.”
It can be tempting to be drawn to the hedonism of bands. It is seductive. But that’s not what Two Door Cinema Club are. That’s not what made them. It’s what broke them, albeit temporarily. Bands won’t get creative fulfilment from being riddled with stomach ulcers or going on the lash. It’s making the art that fulfils.
Nervous startBefore recording Gameshow the band spent so much time apart that the prospect of coming together to record felt scary.
“I would put my hands up and say I was very nervous before we got started,” Baird says, “and I think that really played into why making the album was so much fun, and great, because it was a relief: ‘Shit, we can do this. Everything that happened hasn’t beaten us.’ The whole experience was” – he exhales dramatically, to illustrate the feeling – “a big relief.”
Halliday says that his favourite moment of the recording process was a morning before they went into the studio and met for coffee on the beach in Topanga, California. “Whenever I was thinking about going to make the album there was an anxiety about the three of us having to do this thing that could potentially be catastrophic. Because it’s creativity you’re going to have arguments; there’s going to be real conversations there. I just never had imagined us on a really pleasant Topanga beach, and you’re just like, ‘Yeah, this is a pretty good job.’ ”
They returned to Garret “Jacknife” Lee, who oversaw the production, and can’t say enough good things about him. In preparation for recording Trimble would meet him, hang out, drink coffee, listen to records, talk and try to figure out how they were going to get what they wanted to say into the album.
Halliday describes Lee’s positive mood as infectious. Baird says that Lee doesn’t play into the politics of band dynamics and instead focuses on what’s best for the song.
Touring is an unnatural state for any sane human, and unless they are strangely predisposed to it, or manage to structure it so that it won’t shift people’s brains and bodies off their axes, bands can fall victim to it. How are Two Door Cinema Club meant to go on the road again?
“I’m sure there’s a certain temperament of person that can deal with it,” Halliday says. “There are loads of people who tour and are perfectly happy. I think it’s all down to your personality. I think the reason there is the sex, drugs, rock’n’roll cliche is because it’s easy to do those sorts of things in this lifestyle.”
But as Baird explains, their position in the industry, in their careers, means they have to tour.
“We are in this camp where we want to create albums, create bodies of work and then promote those. So there’s a higher demand on us to tour more, because that’s the financial driver of us being able to make the albums now . . . In the class-system analogy we’re the middle class. We’re not the Taylor Swifts and we’re not this superunderground new band. So that level is shrinking.”
The squeezed middle? “Yeah, we’re being squeezed in the middle, because we’re making less money from selling the actual art, so we have to tour more.”
So now the deal is to play gigs for a couple of weeks and then go home for a couple of weeks. Shorter stretches on the road will keep them steady. If they’re on a bus, staying in a hotel every other night gives them the comfort of being in a real bed. No hitting the booze every night. Chill out. Don’t buy into the bullshit. They’re a little older now, more mature, less likely to let things build up before airing a concern. Jacknife Lee said something every day that stuck with Trimble: “Don’t wait for permission.” Baird adds to that: “Ask for forgiveness.”
Gameshow is on Parlophone