Interview: Daughters

We’ve functioned at the bottom rung forever. If we end up there again, we’ve already lived that so it won’t kill us. I’d be happy if this got bigger. Those are the hopes but whatever’s going to happen is going to happen … for now, the middle rung feels nice. It’s a nice change. It’s a nice view.

Over the past year, Daughters’ fourth album, You Won’t Get What You Want, has generated widespread critical acclaim and opened the Providence noise rockers up to playing venues and festivals they wouldn’t have gotten the chance to play before. Backstage at a sold out, 890-capacity Islington Assembly Hall, the band’s biggest UK show to date, frontman Alexis ‘Lex’ SF Marshall is positive about this development. “People are interested. No one was interested for a very long time, so it’s a different experience. It’s welcomed. You know, this past year we’ve been places we’ve never been before and so it’s helpful. It can be a little weird. We never got good reviews and we never cared, and then we started getting good reviews. Then we got kind of tepid reviews. I would find myself getting a little irritated. I had to sort of check myself that this doesn’t really mean anything, we’re making records and sometimes people will like them, sometimes they won’t. Yeah, it’s good.”

He specifies that some of the locations the band have been playing for the first time are “places that are seemingly – I wouldn’t say afterthoughts or inconsequential – but places like Slovakia, we’ve never been to Slovakia and we had a great show there. There were places like South America, we went there and played São Paulo and Santiago. We went to Russia. We played Poland. So there were a lot of places that we’d never been, but we got to go there and that was really exciting … it was wild. I think our show in Moscow was one of the best shows we’ve ever played. It was amazing. I would love to go there, like, every six months and play. It’s a pain in the ass to get there but it was amazing.” This interview falls on the first anniversary of the night the band first started touring the album, Lex says. “I think it’s a year today … we played Richmond, Virginia on Halloween and that was the beginning of the tour … yeah, that was cool. That was a strange tour … it was strange because there was a lot of attention on the record and then The Needle Drop gave us a 10. You know, Anthony Fantano. Over the course of three days, everything was just sold out and on social media, we had 10,000 new followers in two days or something absurd, it was crazy to watch it happen … it was bizarre. It’s still strange. It’s still really strange.”

 

When asked about whether fans of Daughters’ faster, more grindcore-influenced earlier albums have responded to this album positively, Lex says: “I don’t know. We’ve kind of had an influx of young people finding us. There are a lot of people who just don’t know that we’ve been around for almost 20 years. A lot of it’s kind of overshadowed by the mass of attention that’s all new, but I think that anybody who heard this record and has enjoyed the last three records or has been with us for the whole time should probably like it. I’d like to think so. There’s no formula for Daughters’ sound. If anyone’s been sticking around, then they’re going to expect that we’re going to do something that would seem to be abnormal for another band to suddenly start doing. If somebody likes the first record and only the first record, they’re clearly not going to dig what we’re doing later but I think a lot of people got into the first record and came with us into Hell Songs and then came for the self-titled album. Anyone who’s gone through that with us is going to continue … and anyone who wouldn’t – we lost them 10, 15 years ago anyway, so it doesn’t matter.” I then ask if he likes playing older songs from the band live. He responds by saying: “Not at all. I don’t like it. They can be fun sometimes and I think that the crowd – if they even know the old songs, a lot of people don’t – they’re excited but it’s stuff that we’ve just played and played and played and heard so many times that it just doesn’t really interest me to kind of rehash that shit. Trying to, like, relive some moment, trying to perform – there aren’t steps. It’s not like doing the box step. If I’m not connected to it on a mental or emotional level, then it’s very hard to perform. A lot of the old stuff is just stuff I’ve been through and am done with.”

Lex then discusses how the band write their music, which he says is a process that has “changed over the years. Earlier, it was very much a group process. Same with Hell Songs. It started to become something that [guitarist] Nick [Sadler] really took over on the self-titled record. With this last one, Nick was really putting the whole thing together musically, at home. People had input here and there but Nick had what he felt was some sort of vision of where he was going with it. So you know, with that, it’s easy to kind of lose the plot, especially when we’re not all rehearsing together regularly.” He explains that the latter situation is something caused by the fact that “we all live in different places. [Drummer] Jon [Syverson] lives in Texas, I live in Pennsylvania, Nick and [bassist] Sam [Walker] still live in Rhode Island … it’s a pain in the ass. So it’s easy to kind of get sidetracked and forget what we’re doing with such separation. We don’t play, like, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday now, and then maybe play all day on Sunday or something like that. We don’t do that, so it can get kind of easy to get distracted and daily life interferes or just shows up and suddenly you have to deal with it and you find yourself a week into something and you haven’t even thought about playing music. We had a Dropbox and there were a lot of people [using it]. I don’t remember which song, there was a pretty good song and Jon just kept hammering like, ‘I keep listening to this and I think that there’s really something good there.’ We exchanged ideas and I think Nick was like ‘okay’ and focused on that and reworked it. Eventually it’s done and it comes to me and then I do my shit.”

Lex then talks about the way in which the synth-like sound of Nick’s guitars on You Won’t Get What You Want has necessitated the addition of a synth player to the band’s touring line-up, alongside existing rhythm guitarist Gary Potter. “Gary and Nick both have a lot of pedals and shit that they deal with. I’m happy to not have to deal with that but we have Mark who’s been our sixth member this past year. There’s been three different people doing it but right now Mark’s doing it and then Jon also has an SPDX pad attached to his drum set so there’s plenty of effects, loops, and other shit that we have going on. Having a sixth person was very required, very necessary for us to be able to play this record properly live. We were getting away with it a bit early on and once we saw the amount of touring we were going to have to do with this record, we knew that it wasn’t going to be something that we could put on Jon’s drum pad. He couldn’t trigger anything like a – he’s had some foot switches and we wanted him to just play drums, focus on drums. [We needed] to get another person here to worry about all that other stuff and help with it.” Daughters had previously tried to juggle multiple instruments in a live environment with difficulty, he adds. “The self-titled album had a song called ‘The Unattractive, Portable Head’ and when we played that as a five-piece, that required a keyboard part and I think it required Nick to loop something, put his guitar down, and then start playing keyboard. It was very much a pain in the ass to have to deal with that … right in the middle of the song. It was kind of a nuisance and that song I think was kind of the gateway to this last record. We all decided that having someone here to do that was going to make life easier and help everyone to just focus on what they were doing without having to over-plan or feel like they were spread thinly or unable to perform because they were having to worry about this other thing. So yeah, six people. It seems weird and it’s a large crew we have with us now, there’s a lot of people but the end product is what’s important.”

I then ask whether the band intend to take some time off after the lengthy tour on which they’re currently embarking or dive straight back into writing and recording new material. “I think there’ll be some time where we just kind of want to be at home and dealing with life for a little bit as we haven’t been able to do for the past year. I think that we had six or eight weeks off before this tour and that was the longest stretch we’ve been home all year. We have stuff that didn’t get used for You Won’t Get What You Want, Nick has been writing some new stuff that he’s been playing at soundchecks, and we’ve been talking about things. So yeah, we’ll get home and probably take a bit of time to ourselves in January and then address the writing and recording of this next record, hopefully. I was being optimistic in thinking that we’d have something for next year but I don’t know. I think that worst case it’ll be ready for early 2021 but I think we might be able to get something out.”

“You don’t want to [rush]. We learned that when we got back together, started playing, did a few shows, created a deadline, and said ‘we’re going to have a five or six-song EP. We’re going to write an EP. We’ll have it ready on this date’. We went and recorded it and all the money we had went into it. We then realised that it wasn’t going to work. You know, some of the songs ended up on the album. I think ‘Less Sex’ and ‘Long Road, No Turns’ were recorded in that session. Maybe ‘Satan in the Wait’ was in there and variations of other songs but we realised that they were just incomplete ideas … well, I mean ‘Long Road, No Turns’ is still pretty much for the most part as we wrote it, and we performed it a few years ago. That was the first thing we wrote and we had been playing it on tours we did on the East Coast and the West Coast with Loma Prieta and The Body. We were playing ‘Long Road, No Turns’ on those shows just to show everybody we weren’t just here to rehash some old shit, this wasn’t just some nostalgia trip, that we were forward-thinking, and we were gonna write. So a deadline probably won’t work, especially because of the distances between us. A lot of it is just trying to manage life … we’ll get it figured out, we’ve got the time, and we’re just trying to be sensible about it and not think ‘well, we better hurry up before everyone forgets about us’.” Lex concludes our interview by saying that he likes to maintain perspective on the success Daughters are now achieving. “We’ve functioned at the bottom rung forever. If we end up there again, we’ve already lived that so it won’t kill us. I’d be happy if this got bigger. Those are the hopes but whatever’s going to happen is going to happen … for now, the middle rung feels nice. It’s a nice change. It’s a nice view.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Velazquez.

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