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Interview: Cymbals

CYMBALS 2013 black & white SMALLC

Having just released their long-awaited second album, the stellar The Age of Fracture, London DIY ‘tropi-disco’ four-piece Cymbals have spent the last two months carefully re-imagining their decidedly danceable electro-indie craft. Inspired by the decaying nature of semantics and everyday meaning in the modern age – as written in the book of the same title by Princeton academic, Daniel T. Rodgers – the album is challenging and resolutely enjoyable in equal proportion.

Ahead of their Belfast show at Belfast’s Limelight 2 on Thursday, February 6, we talk to the band’s bassist Luke Carson to discuss concepts, inspiration and the band’s implicit “manifesto” of Cymbals on album number two.

Hi Luke. You’ve just released your eagerly-anticipated new album, The Age of Fracture. One assumes you feel relieved to get it out there?

It’s actually a strange feeling because the process of making and putting out an album takes so long from start to finish. It’s cool that people can finally hear the songs, I’ve felt a bit like we’ve had this amazing secret that we couldn’t share for ages, so a bit of relief, yeah. We’ve been confident though.

A couple of early reviews have commenting upon its structure. To what extent do you consider The Age of Fracture to be a concept album?

There are certainly themes, and a lot of consideration went into how we wanted the record to flow, but we didn’t ever sit down and say oh why don’t we write an album about how overwhelmed everyone is with the amount of information out there… it kinda just happened. But Jack was reading The Age of Fracture at some point along the line, and we all dipped into that book a bit so it probably bled into what we were writing about. It would be wrong to say that it was the only influence though, the four of us, and other members of the Cymbals family such as our manager Stephen are constantly in discussion about big picture stuff.

How important was it for you to expand and try new things on this release?

This was the first album Cymbals has done with four pairs of hands available at the writing stage so of course it was going to sound different. We’re always trying out different things, in fact there are probably 3 or 4 very different versions of our songs in existence somewhere. They rarely end up sounding like we had initially imagined, that’s because for us the most fun part of being in a band is getting together and trying out different stuff. Making a racket over a few beers, that’s the good stuff.

What new musical influences do you think played a part in the songwriting for the album, conscious or other?

That’s hard to say, but when the four of us get together we’ll listen to maybe some Tensnake, Jeff Lewis, Baby Dayliner or Red House Painters to get us warmed up, so it’s a pretty broad range of stuff.

Was there any specific things, ideas or paradigms that inspired you to write this material?

Personally I’ve felt like we had to reinforce some parts of the Cymbals ‘manifesto’ that we may have lost sight of at some point. You know when you play a gig and for whatever reason it’s just really hard work, like nothing seems to get people going, we wanted to make sure that doesn’t happen very often, so we kept the emphasis on fun. Jack summed it up perfectly when he said Neil’s kick drum is the most important thing we have to say.

There is a tangible feeling of focus about the album. Every song like it’s in its right place, written with a confidence that has assumingly come with maturing as a unit. Was the recording process a tranquil experience?

No, it was a challenge at times. There were quite a few songs that we sadly had to leave behind for now. There were some that at the time of writing we thought were surefire future singles, but they actually didn’t even make it onto the record. But it was a pleasure to make, especially working with Dreamtrak. The evenings we spent in his little studio in Hackney messing around with synths were great.

The Age of Fracture refines the wonderfully tangential nature of 2011 debut, Unlearn, to forge distinctly danceable material, on one hand, and more chilled out and cosmically-inclined songs on the other. Did you aim to strike that balance?

Sort of. I think we gained confidence when we realised people were cool with us releasing 9-minute long singles, so we can kinda do whatever we want now. But it’s not like we had a spreadsheet saying we need to write two more 3 minute songs at 120bpm or anything, the album came together pretty organically.

You’re set to play Belfast in a few days. How are you all feeling about touring and this show, in particular?

I can’t wait to play Belfast. I haven’t played a gig there since Panama Kings final show a few years back, and it’s been years since Neil played there. Jack and Dan have never played Belfast, but we’ve done a couple of incredible Irish tours before. Last summer at Castlepalooza was probably our favourite show so I’ve got high expectations. Buzzed to see Documenta as well, when we found out we had a Belfast date they were top of the list to join us. Well, I wanted Clone Quartet to reform, but whatever.

Finally, what can we expect from Cymbals over the next, say, six months in terms of singles, videos and further touring?

There’s a mind-blowing video for ‘Erosion’ (above) coming soon, so keep your eyes peeled for that. We’re heading to SXSW in March, we’ll be announcing some more live dates soon, and we certainly want to get back to play some Irish festivals in the summer.

Supported by Belfast’s Documenta, Cymbals play Belfast’s Limelight 2 on Thursday, February 6. Go here for ticket information. See below for the band’s four forthcoming shows, including three Irish dates.

February 4: Electrowerkz, London
February 6: Limelight, Belfast
February 7: Workman’s Club, Dublin
February 8: Cyprus Avenue, Cork

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.