“Can you please sit the fuck down?” was the first line of introduction we all got last summer from Rockaway Beach duo Lewis Del Mar. Seeing their subsequent rise – smashing Hype Machine charts, a major label signing, that whole malark – in retrospect it’s no surprise that their debut was so bold and unapologetic.
Despite the rapid ascent, meeting Danny Miller (guitar, vocals, luscious curls) and Max Harwood (drums, production, perpetual beanie hat) is something of a comforting – and comfortable – experience. Ahead of their first headline London show, they remain unfazed by the hype around them; there seems to be a tacit understanding between them, a peace, an accord, that makes it clear why their sonic chemistry is so electric. They’re here on their own terms, so we stopped by for a chinwag to find out more…
So, Lewis Del Mar – we hear you guys go way back. When did you first meet?
Danny: We met when we were 9 years old, so we’ve been best friends for a long time.
When did the music side come into it? Not being funny, but when we were 9 we did not give a flying shit about anything…
D: We didn’t give a shit about anything either but we also played some music! We still don’t give that many shits to be honest… But we both started when we were 12 or 13. Max and I tried to play trumpet in our elementary school band…
That’s not a euphemism, is it?
Max: No, no! (Laughs)
“I didn’t realise how much my day to day life would be different and how much pressure I was going to have to cope with”
Now, you think of high school bands and they’re usually more than just two people. How is it that you’ve narrowed it down to just two of you?
D: We had three but the other guy was a dickhead. That’s pretty easy. But I’m serious! We were in a band with our other best friend and it’s such a lifestyle. There are parts of it that are really amazing, but it’s not a job it’s a lifestyle. When you’re coming over from the US to London and sleeping two or three hours a night. The other person just wasn’t up to it. Max and I would kill for this. And we will.
That sounded vaguely threatening, but we’ll take it. That sounds like it must take it’s toll…
D: Yeah. I just ended a relationship for this exact reason.
We hope it’ll be worth it…
D: We’re learning to balance it, you know? When we started we were sleeping on floors and playing shows to ten people. When this band started to get attention – in June of last year – a lot of things shifted very quickly. I didn’t realise how much my day to day life would be different and how much pressure I was going to have to cope with. But hopefully it’ll be worth it.
Well it already seems to be – the first tracks got a huge response. Do you feel like everything has gone on double-time since then, or were you prepared for it?
M: Well, I don’t think we were expecting the exact reaction we got. We felt confident – we spent so much time on these recordings, but when it came to releasing it was just a huge relief more than anything.
D: With this project we were living in kind of a vacuum. When we released Loud(y), there were like four people who had heard it. For it to explode like that, we weren’t expecting that.
You say you played these songs to just a few people, and obviously it’s just the two of you in the creative process. What do you do when there’s a disagreement? There’s no third person – he’s fucked off – so how do you do it?
D: You know what’s funny, to get to where we were Max and I recorded a full album and threw it all away. To get Loud(y) was the tenth or twelfth song we wrote for the project, and we then worked on it more for another eight months. So when we think about the disagreements… the creative process is born out of conflict. To get that third thing that’s greater than two people, so it’s about finding that compromise that’s bigger than the two of us.
It’s almost like a marriage. We hope that the creative make-up sex is great. Anyway, you were saying earlier that you lived in a bit of a vacuum for this project. Surely you had some idea of what was going on around you in terms of your peers and influences?
M: When someone releases something, we do look at it and think about it. How does our music fit into this landscape?
D: It’s like, if you’re gonna be an author, you have to read a lot. But to answer the question, the stuff that inspired us was more personal than musical. My father’s Nicaraguan so I had this urge to put Latin influences on it. So Max put samples from Latin records in and took percussion samples and stuff.
M: I’m really interested in sampling and influences like J Dilla and Madlib, so when Danny brought in this Latin thing I thought, how do we add this to the project in a cool and different way? Then it dawned on me to use samples.
“We want to be at the nexus of experimentation and great songwriting”
And that’s what seems to have sold it. Your sound is very indie, but with a unique take on it.
D: Yeah, and I think the other main influence that keeps it indie is that we’re song people. We appreciate a good song. More specifically, folk songwriters like Jeff Buckley and Bob Dylan. A great song is greater than any sound, it’s what people put into their lives. We’re writing music that we hope will soundtrack people’s lives. We want to be at the nexus of experimentation and great songwriting.
You’ve had quite a low-key genesis, but there are going to be people who will now say that you’ve got major label, and with that will come some sanitised output. Is there still room to experiment on someone else’s dollar?
D: I think generally that’s a misconception. For us personally, we are in a generation where the Black Keys can get their music on a diamond commercial. It’s not that we’re against commoditisation, but the idea that a major label can take the edge out of music is just wrong. If you choose to sign to people who are going to make those decisions for you, then that’s your choice. For us, we were in a position where we’d finished the album, and the label haven’t said anything about changing it.
M: Yeah and we were clear that this is what we wanna do from the beginning. If you don’t wanna do that, then don’t work with us. The track record for our label is good – MGMT and stuff – so no one should be surprised here.
D: We chose people who have similar taste to us, and good taste. So I would trust them.
Do you have any covers in your live set?
D: Not tonight, but we do have a Lauryn Hill cover. Ex Factor!
We also have a question about the track names. You guys really like your parentheses, don’t you…
M: It makes you think about it!
D: Well we both have a background in English Literature. Part of why we chose this name – many reasons – but one was because it sounds like it could be an author. Parentheses is an interesting literary device which also represents the subjectivity of music. This song could mean something to you, but something else to another person.
M: We also talk about our music being the collision of the natural world and the industrial world, and I think the parentheses embody that. The natural spelling of the word, then this rigid symbol.
What have been the best and worst comments you’ve read about your music?
D: My mom reads all of them! But I try avoid it. We start post-production on the record on Monday, so for us it shouldn’t influence what’s going on. All our songs were created at a time no one was watching us. I think it’s important to still feel like that.
M: There was one tweet though that said “Oh my God, this song Loud(y), it sucks, make it stop!” – we retweeted it immediately. But also we’re like, good! People can love or hate it, so long as they care.
Final, most important and most revealing question: what’s your favourite Beyonce song?
M: Oh wow…
D: I was gonna say that song we covered one time.
M: Oh cool, I was gonna say the same!
D: The one with all the key changes at the end…
Love On Top.
D: Love On Top – ooh, you knew that one just from the reference! Oh, and Rocket comes a close second.
Well, we would know that as many London karaoke establishments have ejected us for trying to attempt said key changes. Lewis Del Mar – thank you, you rock. When are we gonna see the album?
M: Hopefully the end of this year!
Lewis Del Mar’s debut EP is out now and can be ordered here.