Brighton-via-Newcastle trio Demob Happy took the time to chat to us about their subversive and introspective new single
There is something to be said for wearing your heart on your sleeve, for exposing your soul, your scars, your deepest insecurities to the world. Demob Happy are a band that seem to thrive off of this, the difficulty and honesty of it, the art of forcing yourself through uncertainty and vulnerability. They create music to not only challenge and provoke their audience but in equal measure themselves.
‘Autoportrait’ is a track that embodies this ethos. Within the calm and assured exterior of a performer there is a niggling doubt beneath. There is a very real anxiety and uncertainty hidden within, tucked away from sight. Behind the facade of storming riffs and swaggering melodies there is something irrevocably human beneath. The track looks to explore this, and force the songwriter to confront the inconsistency between art and artist.
In the midst of their mammoth worldwide tour (see below for dates, tickets available here), we caught up with frontman Matt Marcantonio to further explore some of the themes of this exceptional and candid track.
We love your new track ‘Autoportrait’ could you talk us through the ideas behind it?
Thank you! It started its life fairly unspectacularly, just a good riff that I knew I could write around. There was an earlier version of the song that meandered and lost its way through unnecessary complexity, so I rewrote it with the intention of making something more focused and aware of its own qualities. The riff is king in this song, all else it’s faithful subjects.
The first really striking detail is the title, what made you call the track ‘Autoportrait’?
I actually had the title earlier than I had the lyrics. I have a collection of song titles that I keep tucked away, so that when I need a title for a new idea I pick one. The nice thing is I often find it ends up influencing the lyrics, as a good title is a great jumping off point. It often ends up being serendipitous, as the title aligns with a theme I wanted to express anyway. It was a perfect chance union.
What was the process like of bringing the track to life?
A little like a small person trying to hold onto a very big dog. I had the demo, and we knew we wanted to record it, but because of all the touring we’d never actually played it together until we got to the studio. It’s a little backwards to how we normally do things, but I think we knew on the strength of the song that we could pull it off. It’s not a particularly hard song to play, really all of its complexity is in its arrangement, and Adam and Tom are great players, so they were able to just play it straight off from the demo.
Citing your self-imposed rule that “if no part of a song is daring or strange enough to make us laugh real out loud laughs, then there isn’t enough joy in it to share.” What is it about the track that you felt made it worthy of release?
I think the riff itself, and the way the song opens up, is so satisfying to me because you can’t not pay attention to it, there’s no looking away, and that makes me smile every time I hear it. Then the song itself makes a lot of twists and turns which i think it pulls off while remaining linear enough. We were laughing in the studio wondering if people would get lost and confused and switch off. We play that game with ourselves all the time. There’s a subtlety to making something as prog as you want it to satisfy your writers urge, while not alienating people. But I think it’s always better to be in a position where you have to reign yourself in, and say ‘can we get away with this?’ then it is to be sat thinking ‘this song needs something extra, but I don’t know what it is’.
You have described the track as “coercing a confession out of myself over insecurities I’d rather deny.” Did you find the process cathartic?
Yes very much so. It wasn’t an easy song to write, but I kind of challenged myself to be as honest as I could be. I knew I wanted to express it, and I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I did, so I went through a process of writing something quite honest, but still hidden behind interoperability, and then scrapping it and going further. I don’t find it easy to bare my emotion publicly like that, and don’t really like to, but I guess I felt it was important enough to share, with the hope that someone somewhere will relate, and it’ll help them like it helped me.
Your music has often been characterised through its swagger and confidence and musically this track is no exception, yet lyrics such as “baby it’s strange you can be up on stage and not feel that you’re worth a dime” juxtapose this attitude, do you feel that there are preconceptions on you as people based off the way you present yourselves and your music?
It’s that very juxtaposition that I enjoy the most. I do it on purpose, I like the contradiction. I love music that is interesting and moody, sexy and thrilling, so that’s what I try and write, and it’s nice people pick up on that, but if you were to personify those feelings into words and a mouthpiece, then the lyrical equivalent I find boorish and arrogant, like listening to some trumped up tosser in a suit, or a teenage kid who overvalues their sexual prowess. A lot of “rock bands” fall into that trope because they think its an indelible part of the fabric of rock’n’roll, but I think not.
However I find it very distressing to think that people might have those preconceptions. I hope they listen to what I actually say, as I’ve lost a lot of sleep trying to say something meaningful. I like to write about the world and its problems, how the people in it experience its truths and buy its lies, and the hidden puppet masters who orchestrated the mess it’s in. More these days I write about my place in it, and my emotional recognition of that.
So for the record, I’ve never written a single song about getting fucked up, taking drugs, going to parties, having sex or any of the other rock’n’roll themes people might presume or attribute to us. I hope this helps clear that up!
How do you feel your sound has evolved post-Holy Doom?
To be honest I’m not sure. It’s difficult to comment on something you’re still in the middle of. Once we do another album and another body of work, then I’d be able to retrospectively say how its changed, but I feel like until then I need to live in the first person, and experience and express whatever changes the music makes authentically. I think otherwise you risk becoming too self-aware and spoiling it.
If there was one over-arching message or feeling that people took from the track, what would you want it to be?
That everyone has something wrong, no matter who they are or where they came from or what they’ve achieved. No matter how wrapped up tight and idyllic their lives on the other piece of greener grass can seem, everyone is working through something, and that unites all of us. We could do with a little more empathy and a little less competition.
Are you pleased with the reception that it has received thus far?
Yes! The reaction has been very nice, I’m glad people are enjoying it as much as me, and it’s very vindicating to my efforts and the countless hours I put into it.
What do you guys have coming up in the near future?
Touring until having your own bed in your own room becomes but a concept, then perhaps a little recording at the end of the year!
17 – Porão Fstvl – Brasília – Brazil
22 – Aldeia Bar – Jundiái – Brazil
23 – Z Carniceria – São Paulo – Brazil
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