If Kubrick had choreographed it, it wouldn’t surprise you. A top-floor studio with windows at opposite ends. Perched on each sill and enjoying the Luas dings, gull croaks and exhaust fumes of Dublin city centre are Conor Adams and Lar Kaye. They turn and greet me with uncanny symmetry.
All Tvvins haven’t done an excessive amount to make their creative lair particularly homely. Two desks sit against adjacent walls, each arranged with computer hardware and other modern tools of the tunesmith’s trade. All around them is a carpet of keyboards, flight cases and percussion items. The only sign that 2016’s most discussed Irish musical export have decorated the workspace are framed vinyl copies of The Suburbs and In Rainbows huddled close together on a wall.
It’s easy to imagine Kaye and Adams leaning back during an intensive song-writing session and sighing up at these masterworks, both released years into each band’s careers and both the best thing either has done to date. Although I already know the answer, I ask All Tvvins about their ambitions.
“World domination,” breezes Kaye, swivelling playfully in an office chair and cradling a coffee cup in his palm like the world’s worst Bond villain. Once the half man/half fretboard sledgehammer of Adebisi Shank, Kaye appears in the flesh to be a man unfazed by the everyday stresses prone to the rest of us fools.
Adams, of course, was the Sam Malone of The Cast of Cheers, the frontman with the Reznor-ish snarl that has now softened to a thing of soulful determination that only years can provide. He protests happily. “…But without being funny, we aim high because we believe in our music. And I love it. It’s the music I want to be making. It’s the music I would like to listen to. We’re definitely in it for the long haul. And, yeah… fuckin’ world domination.” (Tellingly, he’ll later cite how heroes The Police began a three-month US tour in New York and how the buzz and audiences grew the further west they got, and call the idea “romantic”).
The width of their horizon doesn’t seem unreasonable, you must admit. As 2013 gave way to 2014, two songs appeared online under the name “Tvvins”, ‘Two Worlds’ and ‘You Better’. These were early fruits of this collaboration between the two old friends who ran into each other one night and decided not to simply liquidise the scattergun shreddings of Adebisi Shank and The Cast of Cheers’ poppy post-hardcore. This had to be more than just another side-project, and very soon was.
And then, in mid-2014, a black-and-white video clip from Asylum Studios of ‘Thank You’ stuck its head above the YouTube parapet and the bullshit was over. Hits clocked up. Interviewers demanded an album release date. High profile support slots with visiting titans (Win Butler and Co, The Pixies, Foals) seemed like the most natural idea in the world. Beards were stroked down to the follicle worrying would the duo outsoar the sum of their parts.
More singles also followed, sizzling confections of hard grooves (‘Too Young To Live’) and precision-cut, Fifa-courting hooks (‘The Darkest Ocean’), each primary coloured and sumptuously produced but with a slight razor-edged bullishness that betrayed each man’s Richter Collective past.
“I guess this band’s done more than our previous bands, and a lot quicker,” shrugs Kaye. “And we take that as a good thing. It’s felt pretty gradual up ‘til now, putting our music out and doing small shows. It feels like a natural build to me, not this overnight thing. That’s way better than waking up one day and finding you’re massive – that’s probably going to go away.”
Adams picks up: “We have a huge body of work – songs that aren’t on the album. We always had some things but we were just waiting to get the right recordings and the right songs. There were songs that just didn’t fit, and even now there’s ones that were nearly on the album that we look at and go [rolls eyes], you know that kind of way?”
I don’t but I can imagine. Being signed to Warner has given the duo the luxury of allowing these things to be the biggest concerns of their day but they also see that with the big label and the big budgets comes big expectations, a complaint many bands would love to have even if it mightn’t be “cool” to admit it.
“I think people have chilled out about the whole ‘major label’ thing,” says Lar. “You don’t hear people in bars so much anymore saying ‘so and so got dropped’. It’s like, who gives a fuck?”
“Even with smaller labels,” Adams reasons, “you’re signing a contract to go, ‘right, they’re going to give us some money to record what we’re doing and they’re going to try and make that money back. It’s not like, ‘here’s free money’. We got to work with some really cool people [producers such as Jim Abbiss, Mark Rankin and Matt Schwartz] who we probably wouldn’t have had we not been on a major.”
And here we are, a few days away from the unveiling of that long-mooted long player, IIVV. I’m told I’m the first person to pick up on the Talking Heads influence (“10 out of 10,” Lar applauds) but tracks like ‘End Of The Day’ and ‘These 4 Words’ have inherited the oblique, jilted funk of David Byrne’s troop. Elsewhere, numbers like ‘Too Much Silence’ revive the more muscular, cocksure spirits from the 80s heyday of The Police and XTC.
Kaye may smirk about there being loads of “cheap shitty keyboards” on their debut, but this desire to follow the path of “weird bands” who understood pop structure is further proof of All Tvvins’ refusal to go without leaving their joint mark on the world. They turn to each other often and will step in to finish a sentence by the other. (Kaye: “I was so used to insanely fast tempos with old bands, for me personally it took a long time to just…” Adams: “…Just slow down”). A language emerges, a shared shoptalk that involves “de-gridding” and “swing”.
The pair have known each other since they were teenagers. They both played in critically lauded acts that released cult classics. None of this matters a damn, though. For every Marr and Morrissey, Omar and Cedric, or Fela and Tony, there are countless other musical partnerships that look great on paper but don’t work when the gear is plugged in. Why is this one producing the goods?
Looking at his foil, Adams acknowledges their luck. “They trust each other, you can see that. It is the same with us…”
“We said to each other when we first got together, whatever about whether we can write songs together, we’re willing to live in a van and piss each other off and do what it actually takes to be in a band,” Kaye smiles. “That was one of the first things we talked about,” continues Adams, “being a touring band. Are we up for that?”
Yes, there’s not many people in this world that you can spend an Autumn touring Europe with (as they’re about to), performing by night and slurping service-station pot noodles by day. And with all respect to dazzling touring drummer Lewis Hedigan, it is the duality of All Tvvins that appears to be making this machine tick and indeed tock so beautifully.
From those very first couple of jams in Kaye’s bedroom, they looked at each other and realised this was “going to be a thing”. That said, they both chuckle about it being “a little bit awkward” when you start writing with someone, a phenomenon the pair liken to a kind of “First Dates for bands”.
But two shortens the road, as the old Gaelic saying goes – decision making is quicker and easier. The democratic process of keeping or binning riffs is largely a clean and gentle two-way street inside the Adams & Kaye storefront. This is a bubble, Adams agrees, a place where objective ears are hard to locate and it’s perfectly human, as Kaye puts it, to want to be in a different band some days. That trust holds a great deal of currency when it’s just the pair of you on board.
To my sadness, my theory that Adams’ lyric in ‘The End of The Day’ (“I will be your shield/you will be my sword/I will need no other … you always make me better”) being about Kaye is “categorically” denied by the singer (much to Kaye’s relief) but he does concede that “it could be”.
Whatever you’d call this – bromance, musical soulmates, yin and yang – it’s working. “I’ll be very honest about this,” Kaye says to the two of us. “I can’t write songs. I’m pretty good with sounds and stuff but Conor is the Songwriter…” He’s cut off by the Songwriter. “Well this is the thing – I can write songs but they usually sound like a bag of crap until he puts his stamp on them. There couldn’t be an All Tvvins song with only one of us.”
By way of explanation, Adams gestures to his desk in the corner of the studio, this room where two men tinker at greatness while two lofty records eavesdrop.
“I have this computer. And he has that one [points]. He’s got crazy noodly stuff that aren’t songs, while I’ve got loads of songs that don’t sound very good at all. So it’s when we swap USBs and it’s when we plug in and jam that we get the best stuff. We need each other for this.”
IIVV is out this Friday on digital, CD and limited edition vinyl formats.
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