Off the back of their new EP Mortals, Alan and Pete from Down I Go curated a playlist for based on their own favourite tracks. It’s a great insight into the band, definitely our favourite playlist to date.
To be honest, this isn’t really one of my favourites, but I included it because it’s the first song we wrote as Down I Go and I remember thinking as we came up with it “Are we really doing this? This guy (Ben) is actually just going to let me do anything”.
I had to put it in. After Ben moved to Canada the first time I met him in Toronto and we spent a day hanging out. He took me to his and flat and he had his drums set up in his porch with a shitty amp and guitar and we wrote this song that afternoon to pass the time. Originally the bridge was some crap nonsense that I just chucked in, we took that out later when it came to making the Gods EP and Pete came up with the epic piano progression thats in there now and I just played the chords over the top. Then we made the video one winter, I think just after I had moved to Canada, and I was home for Christmas. They dressed me up as a glittery king and made me act the fool and now occasionally somebody I work with will find it on the internet and share it with the entire company.
Serpent of Lagarfljot
I think was the first song we wrote in Iceland for the YLGTICRY record. I was a bit worried about being able to write a whole album in nine daysand didn’t know whether the pressure would get to me and my ideas would dry up, after a bit of dicking around setting up amps and getting good enough sounds to be able to put down some demos this tune came straight out and I think it’s my favourite off the record. It was a relief to be able to still be able to put something together so quickly after not having written anything together for about 6 or 7 years.
Strike it while it’s still on my nose
Another one off You’re Lucky God… I had my doubts about whether or not I liked this song after we wrote it, the vocals hadn’t been written for the beginning half when we left Iceland and the bouncy middle bit kind of felt a little too at odds with it and maybe the beginning was too long or a bit too uneventful? I thought maybe we’d just drop it off the record if Pete couldn’t come up with anything for the beginning. After I got back to Toronto he emailed over his demo for the vocal and it made the whole song. He really stepped up his game with the singing on this record and this was a brave move that paid off, in my opinion.
I just love the end of this song. I was reluctant in writing the second half of the Gods EP because at the time I thought I was finished with Down I Go and wanted to get on with writing something for a new project. Icarus and Demeter were written in London and I kind of just went along with the writing as a favour to Ben because he wanted to make a final EP out of the two songs we’d written in Toronto together (Poseidon and Atlas). I think you can sort of notice that I’m just going along with things when you listen to it. I wasn’t trying to come up with any clever little runs or “difficult” riffs, I was just ham fistedly grabbing at the neck of the guitar and kind of writing anti-riffs. The part where the song drops down to just bass is where I couldn’t be bothered to think of anything to play on the guitar and just lashed out a stupid bass line that I knew would annoy Ben because it’s basically chords on a bass. He fucking hates that.
Somehow the end was sort of nice to listen to, it’s really only two chords. So to “fix” that I thought I’d play the whole thing while clutching the tremolo arm through the entire section to force it all out of tune and just mangle any sense of a melody. I insisted on playing it while standing directly in front of the amp to get as much feedback as possible in any gaps and when we recorded the bass, I wanted to detune the E string, mid-riff, down to a level that was utterly ridiculous. If you listen hard you can hear the string slackening and tightening back up as the riff is played. Somehow, in my attempt to sabotage us all, I created one of my favourite songs.
When we were writing Tyrant album, I was thinking a lot about Fugazi. I’d read somewhere that Ian MacKaye had a fixation on trying to write vocal hooks that audiences could sing along to intuitively. I was really tickled by the idea that a band who were always talked about in terms go the hard lines they took on ethical issues had a penchant for the same kind of creeping virality that pop writers do.
I’ve always been a great ‘first idea’ fan; trying to get the initial idea that pops into my head down on tape in the most immediate way possible, before the conscious side of my mind creeps in and begins monkeying with it too much. With the ending of this song, I think I sang the idea down in one take, as it is now. I was trying to envision a whole audience singing it in unison, and I wanted it to be as direct, simple and intuitive as it could possibly be. Eventually, we did get a crowd of people together, on the rooftop of our rehearsal studio in Deptford. We bought along a load of home-baked snacks, some beer, and just had a party while we recorded it. It was a blast, and a happy memory.
Back in the days when we were doing gigs, when we were able to, this was my favourite song to play. We always played it last, and sang the final line kind of indeterminately with the audience, leaving the guitars feeding back on the floor, and walking away from the microphones. It always felt like quite a joyful moment, reinforcing the idea that, in those little venues, the idea that there need be any special separation between band and audience was a bit of a nonsense.
A Fight By the Volcano
When we recorded This Is Dinocore, we didn’t particularly know what we were doing; we didn’t yet consider ourselves a band (not that we ever have since, really) and it was just a kind of project between friends designed to break us away from the dull things we were doing at the time. It was a strange process, but quite exciting.
We wrote loads of very short songs, then stitched them together into little suites to make three longer ones, one of which was A Fight By the Volcano. It always felt to me like our first proper ‘song’. I haven’t listened to it in years, but I remember looking forward to the exciting moments in it, and was always glad to play it live. It felt like a kind of beginning for us.
Tyrant was the first time we really approached the idea of adding extra orchestration to our music in earnest. We had a session to record the strings booked in a huge church in Greenwich, and we’d called in favours from a really incredible group of musicians to form a little chamber orchestra. I’m the designated arranger, ’m bad at planning ahead and I thrive on a kind of desperate, cloying pressure, so I ended up cobbling together almost all of it the evening before the session.
I didn’t really know what I was doing (do you sense a theme here?) and was kind of learning to arrange on the job. Some of it didn’t come out as I’d planned, but this track was the one where it felt like things came together in a way that really worked, probably cause it was one of the simplest and most direct.
I also have happy memories of this tune cause our dear friend Jim Robertson, of the band White Boys for Gay Jesus, came and recorded some singing on it for us. He was politically very active on the Leeds student scene, and I think the theme of this tune may even have been his idea. Like everything on this record, we tried to keep it pretty baldly factual, but I think Jim added some authentic anger to the proceedings.
Billion Dollar Burning Coffin
In my mind, the writing of the songs for This Is Disastercore kind of blends in with the writing for Tyrant. I’m not sure why. This song, in retrospect, feels like it was the beginning of a way for me to approach vocals in the band that didn’t feel like I was aping another singer or doing something that just wasn’t me (there was a lot of talk of Mike Patton in the reception of our first release, which is fair, but I was acutely aware I didn’t want to go the whole way down that road, as so many others have). I was listening to a lot of Mastodon and Queens of the Stone Age at the time we recorded it, and I was really enjoying the kind of epic, biblical size of their music. With the ‘ahh’s behind the chorus, that’s what I was really aiming for, I think.
From our new EP, I think this is the song I like the most. It’s been an interesting process, to try and tease exciting, vital honest ideas out of the music that Ben and Alan have made together and sent me. Initially, I’d wanted to throw together another chamber orchestra type of arrangement for this, but it just wasn’t practical for a little zero budget EP, so I just worked out what might make sense, on its own terms, that I could do alone. For this song, I dug my clarinet out from under the bed, and built together some 5/8 motifs that would lock together over an empty break in the middle of the song; over the years I’ve listened to a great deal of Steve Reich and John Adams, and the joyful simplicity of hearing two different, simple little ideas rub up against one another and create a greater whole is something I find almost endlessly satisfying. The original instrumental I received had a dead stop at the end, so I thought it’d work well to revisit that break at the end, and turn it into a kind of choral coda for the song. Those small, serendipitous decisions are one of the things I’ve enjoyed about making this music remotely, away from one another, and in our own time; it certainly isn’t the perfect way to collaborate, but it does have positive by products, that throw up interesting results.
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