Dappled Cities: ‘We’ve Always Been On The Up And Up’
They may now be veterans of Sydney’s indie-rock scene, but Dave Rennick from the evergreen Dappled Cities tells DARREN LEVIN why he believes their best years are ahead of them.
Three years on from the full-on “psychedelic concept record bender” that gave birth to Zounds, Sydney’s Dappled Cities have returned with a fourth album, Lake Air, that’s a little bit breezier, a little bit lighter and far less taxing on their collective souls. You can almost hear it in Dave Rennick’s voice when he answers the phone from his “humble office” in Sydney’s Newtown.
When he’s not fronting Dappled Cities alongside Tim Derricourt, Rennick – a former Cleo Bachelor of the Year nominee – works as a freelance web and graphic designer. It’s a trade he picked up after “building a billion band websites” as a teenager, but he’s keen these days to separate business from pleasure. “Nowadays I don’t really do all that much [design work] for Dappled,” he says. “I usually get other designers to work with us. It’s more fun that way.”
The band drafted in Melbourne visual artist Chris Hopkins, who’s worked on both Red Riders records, to design the cover art for Lake Air. They were after a simple design with a photograph. “He brought all that together for us,” says Rennick. “These days I really like to let people do whatever they feel works. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to this stuff. To an extent Chris had free reign.”
Following the release of Lake Air, Dappled Cities will spend the rest of the year touring Australia, before returning to the US for more of the same. “We’re going to try and find a groove here [in Australia],” Rennick says.
I wanted to discuss your move away from Speak N Spell to HUB [The Label]. You’re their first signing, right?
That’s our management company and they decided to form a record label. In this new age of music industry everyone’s trying to think of ways to make things work. Our management company turned into a label and joined forces with Inertia.
Has that given you more freedom than in the past?
Whenever you get some sort of structure behind you – be it a label, management, or whatever – it alleviates the pressure that’s put on you in terms of finances to get stuff done. In terms of artistic pressure, they’re great. They let us do what we want.
You guys are pretty ambitious in the way you approach albums, so I guess the financial pressures are always there?
Well, just being a five-piece band, the pressures are there. By standard definition we’re a classic set-up: two guitars, two singers, keyboards, bass and drums. That shit just costs money to record. You need big rooms and people with experience, it’s taxing – let along getting everyone in the same city.
Is that why you took three years to make the record?
After Zounds we wanted to take it easy for a while. A lot of that time was spent finding ourselves. We did a lot of touring for Zounds, ending up in England for a few months, and that’s when we started writing this record. Things just take a long time.
And you have a track record of taking a long time.
Yeah, we do, don’t we? We wanted to put the kibosh on that for the next one. We just want to punch out the next one. We’re no spring chickens. We’ve got no time to waste. [Laughs]
Is it hard getting everyone in the same room now?
We don’t really get together as much as we used to. We’re all getting a little bit older and have other commitments. We’re all travelling independently, trying to find our place in the world. I spent last year in Paris and Tim is going to New York to live for a little while later this year. On the other hand, it actually makes those moments when we get together quite focussed with intent. It’s a good thing.
It’s interesting because Tim described the making of the album as “difficult” in the press release. What was he alluding to there?
He said it was difficult?
Yeah, and it’s probably going to come up in every interview now.
It wasn’t really difficult at all. The process itself – once we got cracking – was very easy to make. I’m going to wipe out that bit from the press release. [Laughs] It was like a breeze. It took a long time to get everything together, but once we all got into the studio with [producer/engineer] Jarrad Kritzstein, it was a breeze to make. That was the intent of the whole thing going in. We wanted to make it quite easy on ourselves, not stress out so much. To put stuff down as we felt the urge.
How did that differ from Zounds? That record was a game-changer and it sounds like you really threw yourselves into it.
It differs like a billion percent from Zounds, and entirely intentionally. Zounds was emotionally and physically exhausting. [Laughs] It was such a big record to make! When we came out of it, we were just like, “Let’s not do that again for a little while, at least.” Maybe one day we’ll go on a full psychedelic concept record bender, but this next one, Lake Air, we wanted to make tight and satisfying.
And really upbeat, too.
Yeah, that’s right. And again, we just wanted something fresh and comfy and happy that made us feel good.
Did going through the experience that you had with Zounds change your idea on the band and its direction?
Definitely, yes. We came out with the feeling of wanting to take a load off. To write a good song is one thing, but then to represent that song and let it breathe is a different thing altogether. Zounds has really great songs, but is probably overflowing with production ideas and instruments, so much so that the song gets buried. One of the things we’ve learned is “less is more” always. It means you can focus on songwriting, lyrics, structure, and let that come through.
I feel like “less is more” has never been part of the Dappled vocabulary.
It really hasn’t! It’s taken us 10 years to realise that to actually make the song sound big on record, all you need is a fucking drum kit. [Laughs] And we’ve had that since day one! There’s no trick to making a song sound big. The only trick is, if you put too much in, it starts sounding messy and smaller. It’s weird.
When did that lightbulb moment occur?
Probably after Zounds. We went back to the drawing board and were like, “Why was that so hard? Why did that kill us all just a little bit?” [Laughs] We weren’t doing the wrong thing, we were just doing exactly what we felt like doing at that time. We just didn’t want to go back into that territory again.
There are still elements of Zounds that have come across: the experimentation, the weird sounds.
It’s all the same stuff with the same band and the same fruity melodies. We still like the same instrumentation and vocal sounds.
And I guess there’s also a directness with the lyrics again, too?
I’m hoping it’s a little more obvious what we’re singing about, and that it connects a bit more. We’re getting better and better, let’s just say that. [Laughs] Step by step.
You recorded the album in three different cities?
We started writing in London, and recorded a bit there. Then I was living in Paris, and did a little there. Things really got cracking in San Francisco. Tim and I met up there and did a bit of pre-production. We then went down to LA to visit Jarrad Kritzstein, who ended up being the producer. That’s when we really got started.
Tell me about Jarrad, because all Google told me is that he’s an “unusual kid from California”.
[Laughs] That’s what he is! He’s this young dude who Tim and I met on this songwriting trip. He’s just this young, energetic engineer, producer and songwriter. We were a little bit disenchanted with what a producer is actually meant to bring to a record. We’ve had a wide range of experiences with producers big and small, expensive and cheap. We wanted to bring home this idea of light-heartedness and fun, and not giving too much of a shit. We wanted someone fun and energetic. When we thought back over all the people we knew who could bring that, there was a clear winner.
“We’re not really into the whole rock star thing when you rock up a bit wasted to the studio, arse around, have a barbecue for four hours and then go eat sushi. That’s not our thing.”
How much input did Jarrad have?
A lot. Quite a lot. It was all very collaborative, but he was there from beginning to end. A lot of the songs in the pre-production period changed quite a bit in terms of their tempos, rhythms, structures even. He even co-wrote some of ‘Work In The Mould’ with us. He was heavily involved and so much fun to work with. We found our team, I feel like, 10 years in. Jarrad is someone we’ll definitely be working with on the next record.
I imagine it was very different to working with Chris Coady on Zounds.
Totally different. It’s hard to say why, but there was just a connection. We’re really ambitious people and we work really hard when we’re in the studio, particularly when we’re paying the bills. We’re not really into the whole rock star thing when you rock up a bit wasted to the studio, arse around, have a barbecue for four hours and then go eat sushi. That’s not our thing.
I hate to bring it up, but in the last interview with M+N, you were pretty adamant about not wanting to work with a producer ever again.
[Laughs] It’s true. We really didn’t. Obviously you have to work with an engineer and then it’s like, “How much is this engineer going to be a producer?” And then it’s, “Well, what kind of producer do we want to get?” That’s how we came to Jarrad.
Dappled’s been together now for 11 years. Are you surprised you’ve made it this far?
Yes and no. We’ve always been on the up and up, which is a great thing. We haven’t made a wrong turn, and I guess that’s because we started so low. [Laughs] We’re the sort of band that gets on ridiculously well – we’re not the kind of band that fights. There’s no egomania involved. We’re just always itching to write music. I write incessantly all year. We’ll just keep doing that for a lot longer.
The best years are ahead of you?
Definitely. We keep learning stuff. I look back over our career and it’s like, “God, we were so stupid then, and then, and then.” The new bands that are making it big straight off the bat, like The Rubens or Royal Headache, they’re so good. They’re so talented and classy right from their first record. I look back on our career, and we definitely weren’t that. We’ve just been fumbling along and learning things as we go. But we’re getting better and better.
‘Lake Air’ is out today (August 3) through HUB The Label.
Listen to 'Lake Air':