TAS Interview: Allo Darlin'
One of the standouts of last month's CMJ Music Marathon was the UK's Allo Darlin', a crafty group of indie popsters who have released one of the best debut albums of the year. Their self-titled opus, out now on Fortuna POP!, features the ukulele talents and sweet crooning of Aussie-bred songwriter Elizabeth Morris who artfully manages to pen sweet, smart and heartbreaking songs about Woody Allen, Henry Rollins and Polaroid photographs. Comparisons to Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch and Camera Obscura's Traceyanne Campbell abound, but Morris and her bandmates manage to strike their own path, soldering their whimsy with a darker edge.
They've recently released a new single from the record, "My Heart Is A Drummer," which you can download here, free with your email address
The Alternate Side caught up with Elizabeth and her bandmates Mikey Collins, Paul Rains and Bill Bottling over email to learn more about one of London's most promising young bands. If you happen to be in England this month, they play Shoreditch's Cargo on November 17.
TAS: CMJ was a very different animal than SXSW, which you played earlier this year. How did your New York experience turn out?
Mikey Collins: It was fantastic to be back in New York and we were really excited to be playing CMJ. It does feel different from SXSW because it's spread out over the whole city, and obviously New York is very different from Austin. We've really enjoyed the different types of venues, particularly the Brooklyn Vegan party at a cool loft space in Brooklyn.
Elizabeth Morris: We saw our friends Shrag at the Cake Shop, who were awesome, as were our label mates The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart who we saw at the Music Hall of Williamsburg
TAS: You all come from very different band experiences - ranging from The Darlings to Tender Trap to Hefner. Why did things really begin to coalesce as Allo Darlin' around that Christmas of 2008 when you formed?
Elizabeth: The first thing the band did together was a cover of the Springsteen song "Atlantic City." Off the back of that we recorded "Henry Rollins Don't Dance" and thought it sounded pretty good!
Mikey: The band came together quite quickly, but we were just having fun hanging out together and making songs. Sean [of Fortuna POP!] asked Elizabeth to make a record as soon as possible, so we started work in Soup Studios. It's certainly not easy fitting in all the other bands, but we still get to do bits and bobs here and there.
TAS: There seems to be a potent Glasgow scene for the kind of literate, sweet-but-sharp music you make; you've certainly gotten your share of Camera Obscura and Belle and Sebastian comparisons. But what is that scene like in London, aside from bands like Noah and the Whale and Let's Buy Happiness? When did Allo Darlin's sound really become defined for you?
Bill Botting: Our scene is different from the Noah and the Whale thing. We hang out in the indiepop crew, I guess. The bands we play with and love are ones like Standard Fare, The School, Darren Hayman, Wave Pictures, etc.
TAS: Elizabeth, what was it about the ukulele, which is so effective on tracks like "Heartbeat Chilli," that first appealed to you? How versatile is the instrument for what you do?
Elizabeth: I walked past the Duke Of Uke shop on Hanbury Street in London and saw a uke in the window with two love hearts on either side of the sound hole. It looked interesting, so I bought it and started playing. It's a really charming instrument and I find it insipiring to write on.
TAS: When you listen to your debut album, what makes you happiest about what you accomplished? What do you wish you could perhaps change?
Mikey: The record was made really quickly, so some songs were written in the studio and arranged and recorded in a day. As a result there are lots of imperfections (musically) on the record, but because of that we think it also has a real energy!
TAS: You're already working on songs for your second album. Where do you think you might drift sound-wise?
Paul Rains: Well, the next record isn't going to be an electro one! I think it should have loads more guitars! We're not really sure what the record is going to sound like. Obviously, we'd like it to be better than the last one, and we're keen to work with our producer from the first record, Simon Trought, again. We'll be heading to the studio in the spring or summer of 2011.
TAS: Elizabeth, your lyrics are detailed and richly personal, reflecting your life as a sun-splashed Australian transplanted to cloudier London. When you write, what's your process? When does the entire band step in?
Elizabeth: I write the chords, melody and lyrics of the songs. We craft the songs as a band, though, and everyone has input in the arranging.
TAS: What other songwriters - or vocalists - do you admire?
Elizabeth: The Go Betweens (Robert Forster), Joni Mitchell, Jens Lekman and Darren Hayman.
TAS: You said in an interview that you disliked fame, but given how the British music press works, how do you embrace the "buzz" you're experiencing?
Mikey: We're told there is a buzz and we're obviously really excited about that, but the truth is that we are focused on playing great shows and making our next record!
TAS: The band's name is so very East London. It reminds me of walking through the Petticoat Lane market, listening to the hawkers. Why did you settle on that?
Mikey: The name came from a phrase that Elizabeth heard London market traders say every morning when she was on her way to work. She liked it and used it for the band name!
TAS: If you could ask anyone to cover an Allo Darlin' song, who would it be and what song would you give them?
Elizabeth: We'd like Bruce Springsteen to return the favor and cover one of our songs!
TAS: You've toured the US this fall - is it really impossible to find a decent cup of tea in the States?
Elizabeth: Yes, you can find a decent cup of tea, though you sometimes get weird looks when you ask for milk.