Legion of Two is the latest project from Decal producer Alan O’Boyle and drummer David Lacey, who have just cranked out Riffs, already a contender for the best Irish album of the year, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s a mass of twisted electronics, dense soundscapes and pounding drums that sounds like it was cast in a foundry. State caught up with the pair before their live album launch in Dublin’s Crawdaddy on August 7 (to win tickets email your name and number to – firstname.lastname@example.org before Friday at noon) to ask how they’ve managed to create such a colossal sound.
You’re both respected artists in underground dance music, installation and improvised performance, when did you meet and what convinced you to work together as a duo?
Alan: We’d been collaborating on and off for years but with far more traditionally ‘electronic’ sounding music. Even though it worked really well in a live context I don’t think it would have really transferred to a recording. Legion Of two started off as a Decal project but it needed its own identity and space to develop hence the name.
David: We’ve known each other since the early ’90s. We were both in bands that played Hope promotions/DIY gigs, so we often played at the same shows. We first played together around 2000 when Decal began using live drums and percussion at gigs, and we did a bunch of things that never got recorded. Legion of Two specifically evolved out of a Decal set from around 2005, where the music became slower, heavier with a -rockier’ feel. We had a bit of a layoff for a year or two and when we got back together, the music just continued further down that road. By that stage, it seemed so far removed from the type of sound associated with Decal that it warranted a separate identity.
Did you both work off a sonic blueprint or did the sound evolve with jamming or trading ideas?
Alan: All the ideas for the tracks came from simple guitar riffs which were then turned into electronic compositions. I brought the ideas into rehearsal, sometimes with a specific drum feel in mind but sometimes jamming led to the finished progression as on ‘Turning Point’ and ‘Handling Noise’. Some tracks like -Starbound’ and -It Really Does Take Time’ only developed after the drums were recorded, the orginal versions being totally different in structure. It was a pretty fluid evolution and the versions on the album aren’t necessarily the definitive or best ones.
David: The basic concept/feel of the music was pretty much already there, and about half of the songs were written with the arrangements fairly well in place prior to rehearsing. Others were looser ideas which we jammed out and then solidified into actual songs. We generally record most rehearsals so we can see which approaches work best and then decide on what direction to take the music in.
We all know the rock clichÃ© of songs and melodies appearing magically while bands tinker on the piano or jam on the tour bus. With such a dense layered production, how did you compose the tracks on Riffs?
Alan: I did a download album called Little Sketches and at the same time I recorded a load of much heavier guitar tracks that I never finished. A lot of the ideas from these became the tracks on Riffs. I kind of retro-engineered them, replacing all the guitars with electronics. I guess the hooks are in the basslines for the most part but for me the density of the recording was the most important thing.
How much of the album was performed live in the studio, and did you play together while recording?
Alan: We rehearsed for three months before recording. Each rehearsal was recorded on 2 track and then we’d go through them and pull out the best ideas and structures and tighten it up for the next rehearsal but still leave it open for jamming and a certain amount of improvisation. The drums were recorded in chunks and then stitched together afterward into definitive versions. I really wanted the drums to define the swing and feel so nothing was quantised or heavily edited.
Riffs has the heaviest pounding drum assault I’ve heard in a long time, how did you achieve the colossal sound? Will it be difficult to replicate live?
Alan: That’s what happens when your record drums in a kitchen! They were recorded in a little cottage in Westmeath. I wanted as many options as possible when mixing so everything was close-miked and then I had a stereo room pair and two other mono room mikes. It worked really well and meant I could go for a really open room sound like on ‘Legion Of Two’ or a tight rock sound like on ‘Palace Dub’. I don’t think the drum sound will be a problem live. It was more of a problem getting the live sound replicated in the studio.
I find the atmosphere on Riffs is reminiscent of classic industrial and noise artists. Not so much the likes of Throbbing Gristle or Einsturzende Neubauten, but more like the ’80s/’90s metal hybrids like Godflesh, Neurosis and Ministry. Were you inspired by any of these bands or are you fans?
Alan: I like all the bands you mentioned alright and they’d be an influence I guess. Maybe not an influence on the actual music but, definitely on the delivery or density of their productions. I was listening to a lot of Meshuggah, Oxbow and Amen Ra when recording and mixing the album but again I don’t know how much influence it had on the finished product. I’ve always wanted to make an album like this, It’s been simmering away for years. We both listen to music right across the whole spectrum but I think (or hope) we avoid having really obvious influences.
Even though the album has no lyrics or narrative as such, it definitely has its own unique atmosphere. Is it a concept album (ignoring negative connotations!)?
Alan: Not really. The only real concept was to try to focus on intros and outros and make them the focus of the songs. I love huge bombastic intros especially on metal songs. The intro to Slayer’s ‘South Of Heaven’ is so much better than the actual song. I could listen to it on loop for hours.
How did you come up with the album title? There aren’t many riffs in the rock sense…
Alan: It depends on how you define riffs really. There are plenty of simple repetitive melodic figures that I’d call riffs. I think the word kind of sums up the album perfectly.
Your album launch is on August 7 and by then a lot of people will be familiar with Riffs. What’s the live set-up? Will there be much improvisation or will you stick faithfully to the sound of the album?
David: A good portion of the set is fairly (though not entirely) close to the recorded versions. Some of the more open-ended songs allow a bit of room for manoeuvre, so those ones are sometimes a good deal longer than they are on the album. Live, we generally play the set as one long block of music with improvised segues between the songs.
Alan: The track structures change a good bit but the material will be the same. I’ve never worked with pre-sequenced songs live. Everything is in loops so it can be reassembled live. I feed mics on the kit into the mix too so I’ve got control over pretty much everything. It’s probably way noisier live.
Regarding electronics, how much of the set will be hands-on live?
Alan: Well I won’t be playing keyboards but we build everything up from the basic unprocessed loops. It’s kind of like remixing the album live. It leaves plenty of room for extending parts or strpping tracks back. Plenty of room for disaster too.
How does a physical presence of a drummer affect the live show?
Alan: I guess it makes it more interesting to watch. There’s also the volume angle too. David’s a really loud drummer so the electronics have to be at a serious volume to match him. This music is completely dependent on volume.
Have you any plans to release promo videos, or incorporate film into your live sets?
Alan: Yeah, it’s on my mind but I haven’t had time to organise it yet. I did a lot of stuff with Tim Redfern before and would love to see what he’s do with this. A visual element is important with this kind of music but it’s got to be done right and be open to interpretation. I don’t want anything with an obvious theme.
I caught the Decal live score for Koyaanisqatsi at the Sugar Club last year, supporting Dopplereffekt. It was a more abrasive industrial overhaul as opposed to Philip Glass’s minimalism. Did some of the sonic themes from that live performance end up on Riffs?
Alan: That’s funny. I think someone just put on the DVD when I was playing. It was never meant to be a soundtrack. That gig was right in the middle of rehearsals for the album so I used a lot of elements from the Legion of Two recordings for that set to see how they sounded live. I’d been going that way with Decal stuff for a while anyway.
Has your labeI Planet Mu had any feedback about Riffs from the UK and beyond?
Alan: Mike Paradinas just puts out anything he likes and thinks will sell. I think it fits in really well on the label roster. Internationally the reviews have been mixed. Some people love and some hate it with very few people in the middle which is great as far as I’m concerned.
There are literally hundreds of indie rock bands doing the rounds in Dublin, and almost as many DJ collectives. Is it an advantage or disadvantage to be in a position where you don’t fall into a -scene’ with this latest project?
Alan: I hate scenes as such. They’re a really good way of ploughing yourself into a musical dead end. Hopefully what we’re doing appeals across scenes to a certain extent but it wasn’t an intention at the outset. We’re boths friends with people right across most scenes in Dublin and I reckon what we’re doing could fit it most places (with a bit of imagination).
There are only a few hints of vocals on Riffs, namely -Palace (Dub)’, -(Interlude) ABC’ and -It Really Does Take Time’). How did you choose the samples? Did you ever consider working with singers/vocalists? Are there any vocalists you would like to work with, or any other collaborations?
Alan: Those vocals come from me, my son and an old hip-hop record and are really just there for texture. I’ve been thinking about vocals but I don’t know if we’ll work with a vocalist. The project name is to make room for collaborations, so there could be a legion of three or one or whatever. No real plans in this regard just yet. We’ve enough ideas for a couple more albums yet without pulling in anyone else but you never know.