The indie legends on rejuvenation, Glastonbury, and their forthcoming album False Alarm.
There was a point in time in which Two Door Cinema Club seemed almost unstoppable. With a debut album that refused to wane in velocity and a nosebleed-inducing climb towards the summit of festival rosters, the everyman trio from Bangor, NI, had somehow became the most unlikely superstars of a generation.
With their 2010 LP, Tourist History, TDCC offered a palate-cleansing alternative to the other indie groups of the time. The record could match each of its contemporaries in a riff-heavy musical landscape, whilst accenting these guitar structures with automated drums and an electro-pop ethos that allowed the release to penetrate beyond the realms of traditional indie circles.
The initial release of the album was relatively subdued, but a prolific touring schedule meant that Alex, Kevin and Sam demanded respect from festival bookers, whilst cultivating a diehard fanbase who had already christened themselves “The Basement People”, in homage to a lyric from the track “Undercover Martyn”.
It was the serendipitous coming together of these backers at Glastonbury Festival that gave the debut album the jump-start that it required.
“I remember our show on the Other Stage in 2010.” Bassist Kevin Baird recalls, “it was like 11am or something. The first album had come out and a couple of months later it wasn’t going very well. We were even talking about going back to the studio to get another one done quickly.”
“We had a beer before the set, first thing in the morning.” Guitarist Sam Halliday adds, “it didn’t matter – there was going to be nobody there.”
Awaiting the group, however, were a sea of Basement People, with the mid-morning Other Stage crowd near capacity. Kevin reminisces, “That was the first moment where we couldn’t believe what was happening around us. In my memory there were millions of people there and it was the biggest crowd we’d ever played to. The album kicked off after Glastonbury.”
“Kicked off” may be underselling the stratospheric boost that the quirk-pop outfit experienced following their appearance in Somerset, in an era where nods from a few specific gatekeepers could make all the difference in the trajectory of an artist’s career.
“It’s important to remember that in 2010, Spotify wasn’t really a thing, it was all Bit Torrent and maybe iTunes; people weren’t even buying CDs anymore.” Says Kevin, “to get heard you had to be championed by media outlets and we just weren’t getting that at first. So we kept playing gigs until NME and Radio 1 both gave us attention in the same week, just after we two sold-out nights at Shepherd’s Bush Empire.”
This late renaissance of interest in the first record – over six months after its initial release – meant that the album campaign had to effectively restart all over again, with Two Door performing in bigger venues to hordes of newly recruited fans.
Just one year after their mid-morning slot on The Other Stage; the group found themselves back in Somerset, this time as Pyramid Stage artists, performing before tens of thousands of spectators.
“Our Tour Manager gave us each a printout of that 2011 Pyramid Stage crowd.” Sam recalls – still audibly entertained by the very notion of their popularity, “so we each have ‘the glory picture’ photograph at home. My mum and dad have mine, almost all of my band stuff is at their house.”
Memories of this landmark performance, however, were to be clouded by the sheer workload that the band were undertaking at the time. Kevin explains, “All of these were big turning points for us. That moment was poised right before our second album came out. It nearly fucking killed us, but we wanted to keep the momentum running from album one to album two.”
This aggressive tactic of riding a wave of interest appeared to work for TDCC, with their sophomore release, Beacon, reaching number two in the UK chart and perpetuating their rise in the public eye.
The campaign that followed the release of Beacon – an LP that fused the band’s knack for hi-hat heavy choruses and sharp, minimalist riffs with introspective tales of homesickness – led the group to their first festival headline booking, at Suffolk’s Latitude Festival.
However, following around five years of prolific touring, this was to be the straw that broke the camel’s back – with frontman Alex Trimble collapsing in a Seattle airport days before their crowning moment was due to take place at Latitude.
Following this setback, the group decided to take time away from the limelight, falling into relative obscurity almost overnight and returning to the simple life that had eluded them over their tenure on stage.
“We were just enjoying some time off, being househusbands, getting domesticated.” Sam explains, “We also started a football team, London Amateurs FC. It started out with just friends… basically Northern Irish people in London”
Kevin chimes in, “It’s grown a bit now.”
“Yeah, now we have a couple Scottish people too.” Sam laughs.
Throughout this time out, Alex spent time in the USA, whilst Sam & Kevin lived near to each other in London, socialising and playing music again together recreationally.
Having seemingly found peace away from the eyes of festival crowds, was there a chance that Two Door Cinema Club would never return?
“Yes.” Kevin states, in a matter-of-fact tone. “Around the time that we cancelled the Latitude show in 2014. That was all very much left with us not knowing if it was ever going to happen again, if we were ever going to be ready to speak about the band again. It stayed like that for about a year.”
Sam looks reflective, “It’s difficult because the band is such a big part of our lives, but I hated to talk about it, because we didn’t know what was happening with it.”
After a short period of riffs and ideas being exchanged online through a Dropbox folder, however, the group reformed to release 2016’s Game Show.
Game Show saw the group return to the top 5, albeit with a more understated reception from the media – which may not necessarily have been a bad thing considering the breakneck pace at which the band grew previously.
“The first album was about the band, it was about us being young.” Sam says of the group’s resurrection. “The second album covered the first lot of touring, missing home and a few relationships. I think the third and fourth have been much more of a step back and looking at the world.”
Two Door’s forthcoming album, False Alarm, is certainly the outcome of a more experienced group; intertwining their upbeat musical sensibilities with more jaded themes – namely the disconnect that we all have with the modern world around us.
False Alarm sees the trio retaining their youthful sound, whilst channelling it into a more mature Talking Heads-style pop commentary.
“Lyrically, Alex is very different.” Kevin says of the band’s journey. “We were writing that first album when we were seventeen years old. People connect that album to a time in their own life – which is great – but as we’ve got older… we have definitely changed and evolved from our 17-year-old selves, now that we are 29-year-old men, it would be weird if we hadn’t grown!”
On the new record, TDCC have undertaken new artistic challenges; with “Nice To See You” taking on a rap feature from Open Mike Eagle and “Think” taking inspiration from the sludgy groove of Childish Gambino’s huge hit “Redbone”.
False Alarm’s most poignant moment – and the group’s most honest to date – however, comes from the two-minute long “Break”, with the lyrics ‘so what should I do? is it too late to save me?’
On “Break”, Alex looks at where the group are and where they have come from – in a track that works beautifully as a sentimental island in a sea of four-minute-long art-pop tunes.
Upon spending just a short amount of time with Two Door Cinema Club, the overriding mood in the camp appears to be one of rejuvenation, with the energy of a fresh campaign that once seemed lost. As we speak, the group are preparing to enter Annie Mac’s Radio 1 studio to perform a live session, with new and old singles being delivered with a kind of robust pride.
The band are due to return to Glastonbury this year – the scene for so many of their turning points in the past – and it feels as if the trio will finally be arriving at Worthy Farm with a sense of settled comfort and peace with where they are as a group, and a setlist that will span each other their albums.
“I don’t think we’ve ever walked into a room and felt like we had any kind of entitlement, we still appreciate where we’re at.” Kevin says of their new status as festival veterans. “We definitely aren’t puffing our chests out and pushing other bands out of the way, but we don’t get giddy and fill our bags with the freebies either, we’ve done Glastonbury four or five times now.” He checks my notes, “Six times? Really!?”
So what is the secret to the band’s longevity, when so many other indie-pop groups have fallen in their wake?
“I think we’ve always managed this steady line on the graph upwards. We’ve never had a huge spike up or huge trough downwards. We’re lucky to have not fallen into a scene as well, we aren’t from England, we aren’t from Scotland, we sort of stayed as outsiders.”
It is fair to say that Two Door’s outsider status has been pivotal, not only to their enduring careers, but to their likability. The Northern Irish lads have never obtained an untouchable coolness, rather an accidental feel-good pop persona, allowing them to become accessible icons for a whole class of teenagers.
As these teenagers have graduated into adulthood and the Basement People have matured, Two Door Cinema Club have adapted their sound to grow with the listeners. It may have been a bumpy journey, but, as Alex, Kevin and Sam enter the BBC studio again in preparation for their sixth Glastonbury appearance, it would appear that their old backers have waited patiently and loyally for their return to form.
“We begrudged that a little bit.” Kevin says of their quirky status, “other artists all seemed to be part of a moment, but as these ‘moments’ have come and gone over time, we have learnt to be grateful to be outsiders.”