Rediscovering Europe: the ‘Allo Darlin Interview
Half British, Half Australian, ‘Allo Darlin is totally fun, and that comes through on their recent release, Europe. The record has a blissful pop easiness about it, and that’s refreshing. Neither twee nor pretentious, Europe is full of catchy pop hooks and pithy songwriting. Here I talk with bassist-vocalist Bill Botting.
To start with a question you’re surely sick of, how did the four of you meet, considering half of you are from a different continent?
We do get this one a lot! I met Elizabeth when I crashed on her floor for a few weeks when I moved to London. She was living with my sister at the time. Elizabeth met Paul and Mike through a mutual friend Virginia who was actually a member of The Darlings, which was Elizabeth’s band before Allo Darlin.
What did you do differently for Europe than for your eponymous record?
A lot. We recorded the album in two different studios, a couple of months apart. the first chunk was in Analogue Catalogue near Manchester, where we actually all stayed in a little cottage down the road and lived and breathed it for about two weeks. The second chunk was in London in a studio called Bark in Walthamstow. Both great places and also, completely different. Analogue Cat is a great big place, a home really, with lots of different rooms and exciting things to play with and Bark is much smaller – a small room and another small room and a comic store across the street that’s closed on Sundays. We tried to experiment as much as we could. One night involved Elizabeth and I running around in a room full of guitars plugged into amps at full volume, trying to make music out of the feedback – a bit like those guys who play the Bacharach songs on wine glasses. That didn’t make it on the record, but I think it’s popped up somewhere else.
I’m interested in the video for Capricornia. What can you tell me about the concept behind that?
The video was actually put together in a real hurry, because the original video we had planned was suddenly, kind of impossible. It was made by Nik Vestberg who has done a couple of our other videos and Grant Wilkinson who has done them for Darren Hayman. The concept… well, I guess it’s a song that has a lot of nostalgic sentiments in it, and so we have the old family videos on Super 8. We were initially going to have the videos projected onto ourselves… but it didn’t quite look right, so instead we’re watching the projections. It was a lot of fun to make.
Can you tell me more about “Neil Armstrong,” and especially what Mr. Armstrong has to do with the song, if anything?
Well, the last time we were in America we went to the space museum in Washington. I think the song may have been written at that stage already, but we were all especially interested. Paul in particular who was working on an art Exhibition themed around space exploration called Vostok 5. The song has little to do with Neil himself, as usual it was kind of a name hijack.
What music or cultural influences did the four of you initially bond over?
We all love Jonathan Richman. We also have strong feelings for Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon. When we got together as a band and started recording our album, we used to finish our recording sessions quite drunk and playing records to each other on the studio computer. So, we kind of bonded over party mixes. Hit song from those nights? Hey Bulldog by the Beatles.
From reading your website and looking at YouTube, it seems that a lot of the songs on Europe have been in circulation for quite some time. Is the album comprised largely of songs that you’ve been playing live already?
Well, when we began recording last April, we had about 4 songs that we had already been playing and only three made it onto the record, but over the last year we started putting them into the set. I don’t think there are any that we haven’t played live yet but there are a couple that still feel quite new when we play them. The Letter still feels brand new to me.
What is your songwriting process as a band?
Elizabeth writes the songs and the lyrics and then brings them to us and we arrange them together. It has happened mostly in the studio, because we would still be learning things when we go to record them and then they change again once we take it out of the studio and on the road.
Do any of you do other kinds of art (visual art, creative writing, photography, etc.)?
Well, Paul is a visual artist – I mentioned before about the Vostok 5 exhibition. He’s really good. I’m writing a children’s story for my daughter and he’s going to illustrate it. He also has done the artwork for our new record and lots of our posters and t-shirts etc. Mike and Elizabeth and I all enjoy photography, but it’s just hobby stuff really. Mike also has a degree in theatre.
How did you come to be on Slumberland?
It sort of just happened. Our label in the UK (Fortuna Pop) does a lot of work with Slumberland because there’s a number of other bands who are on both labels. We were really excited to join the party.
You posted on your webpage about a fan’s tragic death and what you’d been hearing from her friends who were getting tattoos of your lyrics and such. What else has come of those communications?
We did not know Esme, but she was a friend of a friend of ours and we were just really sad for our friend. When we found out later that she was a fan because some of her friends got in touch with us and told us about their tattoos they got in memory of her which had a lyric from one of our songs. From everything we’ve been told by her friends she was a pretty amazing woman and it’s really humbling that her friends associate our music with her. In terms of what else has come from those communications? I don’t know. But we’re hoping we get to meet her friends when we get to Austin this year.
Who produced Europe, and how did the production help form the record?
Europe was produced by Simon Trought who also produced the last record. He is a good friend and has great ears and ideas. I’m sure our records would sound totally different without him.
What was the hardest song on Europe to get down right?
Well, we recorded “Still Young” twice. Something wasn’t right about it the first time around, and rather than try and fix it, we started from scratch. And believe it or not, “Tallulah.” I think when a song is just a vocal and a uke, it’s really important that you get the right performance. It took a long time before there was one we were all happy with. Elizabeth did a version in Madrid for a Radio station there called RNE3 and we all thought she’s nailed it, and we were going to use that version on the record, but when we got the recording of it, there was a funny little glitch in it that you couldn’t get rid of. I think the final version is really special. It’s one of my favourites.