In the last week of term, Exeter’s mighty Lemon Grove played host to Bedford rockers Don Broco as part of their tour promoting their new (and brilliant) album, Automatic. Though aesthetically a move from their last record Priorities, the album manages to encompass new sounds, more instrumentation and more refined song writing while still sounding like the Don Broco record I hoped it would be. It climbed all the way to number 6 on the OCC UK Albums Chart and will take them all the way from the Radio 1 Tent at Reading & Leeds through to their biggest show to date, at London’s Brixton Academy on 13 December.
I caught up with singer Rob Damiani and bassist Tom Doyle on the afternoon of their show to discuss their new record, their live shows and what’s changed since we last caught up with Rob in August. As a disclaimer; I am a huge fan of this band. So much so that, as calm and professional as I tried to remain throughout our chat, I occasionally slipped into fanboy mode. So apologies for that. But regardless, these are two of the nicest lads you could hope to meet and our interview ranged from their new album and musical influences, to their studio habits and the poor selection of choices for dinner in Exeter before their big show.
“you don’t want to be stale as a band, and you want to keep moving forward”
So 2012, on the Festival Republic Stage at Reading Festival, was when I last saw you live. It’s been a phenomenal change since then; is it nice to finally have some new songs to play live?
Rob: Absolutely yeah – it was kind of weird when we were doing headline shows touring that record (their 2012 record Priorities) and, to fill a headline set, you literally had to play pretty much all the songs we’ve ever written, from the album and a few from other E.Ps. So as soon as we started writing Automatic we were getting pretty excited about putting new songs into the set, and we played some first ones at the last Reading & Leeds, and that was the first time we got to inject some new life into it.
I think for fans it doesn’t really matter too much – as long as they come along and hear the songs they know! But for us, it felt really important to write some new music and to play it, and keep it exciting for us. I think you don’t want to be stale as a band, and you want to keep moving forward. On stage you want to communicate that you’re having a good time, and if you are just doing the same songs and going through the motions it doesn’t come off as well. I reckon the crowd will get that and you can’t trick them into thinking you’re having a great time when you’re not! If we’re having a good time and it looks like we are, then the crowd does and so to get some new songs in was good for us.
“I think we set out to make a different sounding record but, at the same time, when you bring it back to us playing it, it doesn’t sound that different at all”
Yeah agreed, and I was thinking, when it came out, I read some reviews and people online saying “Oh it [the new album] sounds so different” etc. But I don’t think it sounds that different.
Tom: Yeah, I don’t think we do either
And at least half of the tracks on the album could be on Priorities and it wouldn’t sound out of place. But do you think instrumentally with the new setup, and Adam playing on the live keyboards, is it hard to play the new songs alongside the others and was that a consideration when you preparing the album and this subsequent tour?
Rob: When we started approaching playing it live and practicing it, we wrote the songs using a lot more keys, a lot more electronics, a lot more synths and there’s more variety in the guitar and bass. Typically when we’ve played live we just have guitar, bass and drums, but we didn’t want to limit ourselves in the studio. We’re not going crazy and bringing an orchestra for every track, or anything too mental.
Tom: I think we wrote the best things for the songs, with maximum scope for the instrumentation of the songs, and then worked out how to play it live.
So Tom, is this the first album you’ve played all the bass on? Because that seems the biggest jump to me, and it sounds great and it seems sets that sort of undertone for something a bit different to that distinctly rock sound from Priorities.
Rob: I think we set out to make a different sounding record but, at the same time, when you bring it back to us playing it, it doesn’t sound that different at all – it is different, but sort of not! It’s baby steps and we haven’t come around as a completely different band. We read some reviews about that and didn’t really agree with them! [Laughs] It’s probably easy to, when you’re writing a review or an article, to jump on it and get some sort of angle. The art and the live show is definitely different.
Tom: We wanted to mark a change as a band.
Rob: Exactly and to mark a new chapter as Don Broco. So it seemed quite easy for reviewers to jump on that look change and see that as a complete change.
Tom: Also I think some people compare it back to previous early EPs and that’s what they’re comparing it to. And to be fair, there is a fair difference but it still fits because it’s the same guys playing it.
Rob I think though if you take a look at our early EPs, to the next EP, to Big Fat Smile (their 2011 breakthrough EP), to Priorities and then to this, you can see a gradual and quite natural shift. So it doesn’t feel weird to us and when we were writing the set-list for this tour, it was really nice to have the different songs blend into each other and have a lot of variety, but it still all feels like one band’s set, which is really nice.
“sometimes in pop music there’s a danger that it all happens too quickly, and you don’t think about every single element that goes into it”
So I was watching your studio diaries on YouTube with your producer Jason Perry, who has recorded so many different brilliant albums, and he was picking up little references from 80s music, and Britpop, and other markers from that era in your early demos for this album? Did you know that was how they were sounding to begin with, or did it come out as you started to record the album?
Rob: I think it was something that we had never really been conscious of; we never set out to sound like any other band-
Tom: It was also maybe inherent in ourselves because we were all sort of growing up around the end of that period.
Rob: Yeah we were influenced more subconsciously rather than listening to a record loads, or these types of bands loads, and that’s the sort of sound that’s going to come out. We’d never spoken about it, but we all cottoned on that those were elements that he did like. So when Jason picked up on those things, and we hadn’t told him anything and we liked these references he was pulling, it was great.
I listen to all sorts of music and, without wishing to sound like I’m arse-kissing, all of you guys are very musically-talented [queue hysterical laughter from their management team and the Don Broco]. And when I listen to your music and hear how each instrument fits together, it’s clear you guys know what you’re doing. Do you think that’s gone, and there’s a need for genuine talent or skill that some say has left modern music?
Tom: I don’t know whether talent has gone from modern music, but we’re definitely put a lot of care into every element that goes in. We obsess over things constantly, and we all criticise each other’s roles as we’re being creative. And I think sometimes in pop music there’s a danger that it all happens too quickly, and you don’t think about every single element that goes into it. But I reckon that everyone in music does have some level of talent they can latch onto.
“it maybe lends itself to ending up more ‘musical’ in that sense, rather than say a punk band chucking everything in and ending up with a wall of sound”
It seems very collaborative with you guys in the studio, what with your little den Tom?
Tom: [Laughs] Yeah I set up a little area with a computer and stuff set up to work on the programming and stuff for the sound.
Because going from Priorities to this (with Tom recording his first full Don Broco album), it seems much more of a joint effort and not just Simon recording his guitar and then sitting back, or Matt with his drums.
Rob: I think we did have it to a degree with Priorities but this time, for better or worse, we really took our time doing this album and wanted to wait and make sure it was perfect in our eyes. And because of that, and the way we work as a group and how we write songs, we do criticise each other and make sure everything locks in with everything else. Matt (drums and backing vocals) is always conscious that the drums and the bass have to lock in together, as that is the priority for the driving force behind the music. Not only that but we’re also thinking about the vocals locking in with each other, and the guitar parts and then the synths. Because of that consideration it maybe lends itself to ending up more ‘musical’ in that sense, rather than say a punk band chucking everything in and ending up with a wall of sound, and you’re not really sure what’s going on. Which you can do, and sometimes it sounds great- you know, sometimes you can overthink stuff and think: “oh that doesn’t quite go with that or this”, and actually it doesn’t matter.
But with our sound, which we wanted (for this record) to be cleaner, more refined and polished sound while still sounding real and live and that works well for what we wanted to do.
Exactly, and I think that’s for the best definitely. So, to end our chat, I’ve come up with some quick-fire questions that I started answering and I now want to see if my answers match up with yours – so don’t think, just go.
Firstly – last one of at the bar on a band night out?
[Both the boys mull it over, but a subtle look from Tom reveals all]
Rob: Yeah, probably me.
“Bobby’s last out of everywhere. It could be the bar, the shower, anywhere.”
Argh I had Simon, but after hearing you guys I’m not so sure.
Rob: Si goes quite hard-
Tom: and Bobby’s last out of everywhere [whole room seems to laugh in agreement]. It could be the bar, the shower, anywhere.
Ah that’s fair enough then he takes it easy. Next one: most obsessed with studio perfection?
Tom: Probably me actually.
No! I had Matt. [Here I had hoped for some sort of support from Matt standing on the other side of the room but he is on vocal rest and so can’t actually say anything]. I clearly don’t know you guys like I had imagined! Your favourite venue?
Rob: I think, for me, it’s Roundhouse. From our experience of playing it, yeah I love that venue.
Tom: Agreed, Roundhouse I reckon.
[Pained] I had Rock City and the Ally Pally.
Tom: Rock City is good to be fair actually, and we’re playing it tomorrow night so we’ll see.
Okay, what’s your favourite song from the album?
Rob: [pauses] Mine’s ‘Keep on Pushing’ I think, but it changes between a few.
Tom: [as I look over desperately] ‘What You Do To Me’.
Yes! That’s what I had; one out of three. Finally then, an old house, a new car or free Michelin Stars? (A lyric from their Priorities song ‘You Got It Girl’)
Rob: Ooh, erm-
Tom: Free Michelin Stars.
Rob: I think I’d like a car. I’ve never had a good car!
Tom: Or maybe an old car, like a classic? That would go down well.
I reckon free Michelin Stars would be amazing. Saying that, you’re on the road a lot and, as we’ve discussed, your food options are distinctly limited past the Diner next door. But there we go. Anyway, thanks so much for this lads – enjoy tonight and the rest of tour, and we’ll see you guys soon. Thanks for chatting to me for Exeposé Music!
Rob & Tom: Cheers!