This week, we caught up with Belfast’s pop-noir duo, ‘Dark Tropics’ in which we discuss how the band formed, getting radio air-play in California and of course their debut single, ‘Badlands’ which was released on Valentines Day. Have a read below now…
1. How did you guys form?
Gerard: I’d been on the look out for a singer for a while. Just over a year ago I saw an ad online from a singer based in Belfast looking to perform live in a jazz band. Although I didn’t want to start a jazz band or play jazz I thought it was intriguing so I messaged Rio and she emailed me back from Morocco where she was volunteering, seeming interested. She sent me this really jazzy voice note of her singing ‘crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley acapella. It sounded beautifully strange so we organised to meet on her return. At our first meeting we discovered a mutual appreciation of Radiohead and The Rolling Stones song ‘Sympathy for the devil’ and decided to try recording something.
Rio: The first time we actually met I was just out of work, my manager had made me re-set half the restaurant because the salt and pepper were on the wrong sides so I was not only horrendously nervous but also late (very typical of me). I was surprised at how well we got on and how much we had to talk about! As soon as we met I abandoned the jazz band I was planning on busking with.
2. How would you describe your music to first time listeners?
3. You were recently played on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic in California – what an achievement! How does it feel knowing your music has been played worldwide?
Gerard: Getting played on that show was an especially big deal for me because I’ve listened to it for a long time. I’ve discovered lots of new music there so I was absolutely delighted. ‘Badlands’ isn’t the chirpiest song in the world so the response from radio generally has been fantastic. It’s incredibly hard to get to radio and we’re so grateful for the support.
4. You released your debut single, ‘Badlands’ on Valentine’s Day this year – what was the influence behind the song?
Gerard: ‘Badlands’ is our attempt to capture a classic American western film in a 3 minute pop song. It started life as a strummy acoustic Johnny Cash thing but when we got to the studio it completely changed and became a far more delicate piano led tune.
Rio: Our aim with lyrics is to touch the universal. Which is perhaps why it can be hard to explain them sometimes. The emotion behind the lyrics regardless of the original sound of the track came from the heart, that feeling of heartbreak.
5. You are based in Belfast, how would you describe it’s music scene?
Gerard: It’s an incredibly exciting time for Belfast Music. It’s buzzing. There’s genuine camaraderie among musicians and with the ‘Oh Yeah’ Music Centre there’s an important avenue for musicians who want to gig, record and release but need help getting started. The music is so diverse and it feels like there are great songs being released all the time. You can go to a show with a pop act following a heavy rock band and it somehow works cause the crowds are so open.
6. What local Belfast bands would you recommend us checking out?
Gerard: Yes there’s loads…. Joshua Burnside, Alice LA, Leo Miyagee, Ferals, Dena Anuk$a, Gemma Bradley. Actually, today I discovered a band called Careerists from Belfast and they are very special. Spent the day listening to their album. Great band.
Rio: I’d agree with those, I’ll just add Jordan Walker and Thomas Munro to that list!
7. You recently released the video for Badlands, where did the idea of the storyline originate from?
Gerard: We shot the video in various locations around Belfast. I really enjoyed the process of shooting it. You learn very quickly what works and doesn’t work.
Rio: I had been working on various concepts for months before we shot the video, had an entire story-line laid out. To expand on what Gerard said, under a time constraint you learn very quickly what can and cannot be done! But that caused us to get creative and after re-jigging a few ideas, I became unbelievably happy with the end result!!
8. How would you describe your songwriting technique … do you a have particular process or is something that just comes naturally?
Gerard: The most important thing for me is always melody. When you write with someone you need to be able to throw out a million ideas and quickly decide which ones are good. When Rio and I write together we always come away with a song or an melody idea we can develop. That’s quite rare I think.
Rio: Songwriting is something I still struggle with, I think if you use your emotions to write, it’ll be conveyed in the music. Most of my contributions come from my old poetry and prose, but recently I’ve been writing using experiences, trying to retell moments.
9. What advice would you give to bands / artists that are just starting out in the industry?
Gerard: I don’t know if we’re in any position to give out advice yet but I would maybe say don’t ever be afraid to bug people.
10. What plans do you have for the band when we get back to normality?
Gerard: We’re currently putting the finishing touches on our debut album which will come out at the end of the year. We’ll also aim to work on making our shows a unique experience with our own original stage designs and lighting. We’re very keen to get back playing live as soon as we can.
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