Dave Donnelly talks recording, aesthetics and the move to a major label with Le Galaxie guitarist Anthony Hyland
As summer turned to autumn in 2014, Dublin electro-pop quartet Le Galaxie were busy preparing for what they expected to be a pre-Christmas release for their second full-length record – Le Club – which itself had been three years in the making. They’d self-financed the record and produced it themselves, including a week-long stint in LA to mix the album with famed DFA engineer Eric Brouchek, when they got the unexpected offer of a major label deal.
Whereas their debut – 2011’s Laserdisc Nights 2 – was a largely introverted album that was at least partly influenced by the band’s previous incarnation as navel-gazing post-rockers 66e, Le Club is almost the polar opposite. The album is full of short, sharp bursts of club-oriented electro-funk, with catchy basslines to the fore and a range of guest vocalists to complement frontman Michael Pope, with the likes of May-Kay from Fight Like Apes and Elaine Mai, who appears on the latest single, Love System.
Le Club has just been released in the UK, following its Irish release in April, and Dave Donnelly caught up with guitarist Anthony Hyland to discuss the change in fortunes and change in outlook that are driving the band forward.
Did the offer from Universal come out of the blue? It’s one of those things where you don’t really realise. We didn’t realise until we got in there and met the team that we’d been on their radar for a while, that they’d been coming to see our shows. It’s one of those things you don’t think of, it’s something we never considered. All of a sudden our manager started talking to the head of the label over here and it started happening. It was a surprise, but it was a welcome surprise I suppose!
You’d done all the groundwork yourself, funded the album and recorded it yourselves, so was it a difficult decision to jump in with a label? Not really. The thing was we had it recorded and mixed, and it was all done, and what was surprising to us was how much Universal were behind the album. They’d heard it and kind of wanted to sell it as is. They didn’t want to make any suggestions or nudge tracks off the album – they were really into it as a whole piece of work. That was a surprise, that they were so supportive of it. That really took us by surprise and it was a positive first step in terms of signing a deal. We knew we had the album that we wanted and the album that they wanted, and they have such a great team – they have so much experience and contacts – and the fact was they wanted to work with us in terms of what songs went out as singles and how we present ourselves as a band. It was very much a collaborative process. It was a decision that we made and we’re happy we made it.
You seem the sort of band major labels are looking for – you’re the complete package in terms of you’ve done your development, recorded albums, etc. We get that a lot actually, especially when we’re talking from a business point of view to people in the industry. That’s something we always remark on, and it definitely seems to be the case. From seeing the industry, that seems to very much be how they’re approaching signing and working with bands. It’s about the bands putting in the groundwork and the years of being on the road and polishing your set, to being a gig-ready, festival-ready, package, so when it comes to a label coming on board they can just slide in and provide their expertise and use it as a collaborative effort rather than investing and trying to tease the best out of a band and trying to develop a band like you used to get. It’s just the way labels are reacting to the way music is these days and how the industry is these days. They’re looking for the full package, which is great for us because we spent so many years refining what we do. It works to our benefit.
One of the first things that pops out to me is that the funk element has been ramped up – it’s more extroverted, and it’s quite a club-oriented record. I think the two albums were influenced quite differently. The first album was very influenced by synthesisers and had a John Carpenter, movie soundtrack kind of effect, something like ‘This is Reality, Diane,’ which I love as a song but it’s kind of stark when you hear how the new album is – it’s much moodier, whereas this album can be viewed in more of a ‘drive’ context. It was a comination of us finding our feet as writers, getting more experienced in the studio and becoming more confident. The influences on the album have shifted somewhat too. It’s a combination of what we’re listening to and getting more familiar with the studio.
I remember seeing yourself live a couple of times before the first album came out and it seemed at odds with the quite introverted record that came out. Our first album was written early in the band’s career and we had moved on. We were in a band prior to that which was heavier and atmospheric, not dreary but slower-paced, and I think that might have influenced the early tracks we were working on. We were trying to find our feet in terms of songwriting and that was the best of us at the time. Over the years, writing and recording, you throw away songs and you keep songs, and you refine yourself more because you’re in the studio more. We have a system as a band to get the best out of each other. The album is a culmination of that and it’s a better album for it. The first album has some great moments but I think we could have recorded it better.
The first album was named to make it sound like a sci-fi soundtrack whereas this one seems to want to be a big dance record. Yeah, absolutely. When the first album came along we were relatively early in our career and we were trying to find an identity and apply an aesthetic. We were trying to put an aesthetic and a cohesion on it, something that marked the act and the band out as something in particular. And we sed the sci-fi aspect, and that aesthetic, as a way to make the band stand out as something distinctive. That’s fallen by the wayside over the years as Mick has taken over the role as the frontman and the singer and we’re writing more structured songs. We were very aware that we wanted this record to be a very upbeat, joyous, summer album and again that was down to us getting better as writers and being able to choose certain songs we wanted to be on the album.
It does actually sound like a summer album, so it’s kind of lucky in a way you had to put it off for the guts of a year… Well it was supposed to come out in October so I don’t know how that would have fit with the weather at that stage. We wanted the album to reflect our live shows and our live shows are all about getting the crowd into it and everybody just loving it and dancing around. We really wanted to catch that joyousness on the album, and that’s why the album has that very positive, summery vibe – that’s something we wanted to distill on record. We didn’t want it to be too much of a club-heavy record – we wanted it to be an album that was representative of us live, but also you could sit at home on a summer’s afternoon and listen to it all the way through. We were very aware of that and very cautious that we want that to be the case when we were writing and recording.
You were very careful about the way you recorded it too. You recorded it in Sun Studios and then went out to LA to mix it. That’s right. We took our time and recorded it in Sun in town, and then we mixed it over in LA with a guy who works with DFA [Eric Brouchek]. Dave and Mick went to LA for a week or 10 days and sat with him and the album [was mixed]. That was very much conscientious decision because we really wanted our live performances to be captured and put on record. And DFA have a great track record of making really good live-sounding albums. We didn’t want the album to sound like a live album, but we wanted to capture the enegry of the live show. Eric did a great job – he has that experience. That’s the name of his game. He really nailed it in that sense.
There’s a real bite and clarity to the production and mixing too – it really pops out at you. We wanted something that would really nail it, where people would come and see us live and have a really good time, then listen to the album and the album being representative of that experience they had. It took us a long time to get right because it can become a difficult thing to do. Eric, the guy that mixed the album, is a master. I was talking to the guys when they came back [from LA] and the guys were explaining to him with references from a track or an idea and within a couple of seconds he was over the mixing desk and nailing what the guys wanted. We’d be lost without his talent and his expertise.
Were there any specific themes or concepts you were writing around? Not particular, but there were a couple of themes we had in mind. Something like ‘Freeway Flyer,’ when we started jamming that out, we became aware of how that song was sounding and it became a bit of an inspiration that we wanted it to sound like an LA freeway kind of song. There was that summery, kind of blue sky atmosphere to that song and once we started putting that idea out it gave us a stock of imagery to build a song around, how we wanted that song to sound and the feelings we wanted to portray for people to experience when they hear that song. The idea was of that freeway LA kind of vibe, the summery kind of vibe, but really we were just writing songs we’d like to hear. Whereas the first album was very much thematic in its approach and very much rooted in science fiction and rooted in soundtracks. This was a little more free.
Lyrically, and even in terms of the song melody, do you all chip into that or is it all Mick? For the lyrics and the vocal melodies it would be mainly Mick. It’s great because we’d always jam out ideas and then as part of the production later on, he’d always be writing lyrics and melodies, and all of a sudden he’d come into us with this great idea for a melody and we can re-structure it and fit it around. He’s constantly doing that, he’s constantly writing and thinking from a vocalist’s point of view. He has this bank of vocal melodies we don’t even know about until we sit down to work on the song.
Is there anything in particular you feel influenced the record? It’s hard to say really. There’s always the usual, what you grew up with. There’s a couple of tracks, even stuff like ‘Love System’ that we’d done previously, we wanted it to sound like that whole John Hughes movie, where it’s really soft, shimmering synths. We were aware of that – we don’t really want to get caught in that retro synth thing. We need to be more progressive and we were very aware of that when recording the album. We didn’t want to go down that route. It’s great as a genre of music and why wouldn’t you be influenced, but we often find there’s nowhere you can really go when you’re making that kind of music. It can be very limiting. We wanted to break out of that and use some influences, but effectively write something a little more modern and a little more urgent.