The new Dappled Cities album, Lake Air, is the musical distillation of pure joy – the equivalent of feeling the sun on your face, or the waves lapping your ankles at the beach. Singer and guitarist Dave Rennick tells me that, in a large part, this sense of joy came about because making the album was an act of wilful escapism for the band. “This record kind of represents where we ended up after making and touring our last one, Zounds,” he says. “It ended up being a gigantic record that we focussed every last inch of our souls upon, and really tried to make it Dappled Cities’ masterpiece. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and off the back of that, and some pretty intense touring, we were just in the mood to take a load off, but we wanted to make another record. So we thought,” he pauses for a second, “Why don’t we make a record and simultaneously take a load off?”
The ultimate aim of Lake Air, Rennick tells me, was simply to create a light and bright album that might make people happy. “We wanted to make the arrangements as airy and spacious as we could,” he tells me. “That was a big part of it. I think that comes from being more experienced – we’ve learned that to make a song big and engaging and exciting, you don’t pile everything on, you let it speak for itself, and breathe.” In the past, Rennick explains, Dappled Cities have been prone to writing a melody, then stacking it with as many different sounds as possible in order to create something original and layered. That method, however, proved to be exhausting after a while, essentially a process of throwing everything at the wall in the hopes something might stick. “This time,” Rennick tells me, “we just decided we’d write some clear, beautiful, lyrically-delicate songs, and record them with space, and this is what happened. Space is good.”
For Dappled Cities, this new approach to song writing and arranging also meant a different approach to gear in the studio. “We’re huge fans of vintage keyboards, as most bands these days are,” Rennick says, “so we tried to collect as many of them as possible and stack them around the studio, all plugged in.” With the guitars, however, they tried to keep it as simple as possible. “You see studio shots of bands in the studio with a dozen guitars and a dozen amps all stacked up around the place,” he says with a laugh. “This time we just took two really tiny amps and that was it. The other thing we did was we made minimal use of effects with the guitars. We unplugged all the pedals, and all the outboard stuff, reverbs and what have you, and recorded everything clean. That’s why it’s got that sheen to it, which we were going for.”
Lake Air came together in Paris, Los Angeles and Sydney, with each city adding its own particular influence to the songs. “When you’re travelling, your environment definitely acts as a muse for what you’re doing at that particular time,” Rennick says. “I was living in Paris last year, and as a result, was writing all these euro pop songs and sending them back to everyone. They were sort of taken aback, and suggested I start a side project. Tim and I worked on pre-production for the record in San Francisco and LA – we love those places, and they really set the vibe for the record. Everyone’s so chilled-out in LA, and it’s so airy – I don’t know, it’s just relaxed. You really can’t be stressed out in Los Angeles, unless you’re in traffic.”
Given the beautiful simplicity of the arrangements, integrating the new songs into the live show has been a breeze. “The cool thing about this record is that we don’t have to stack it with stuff,” Rennick tells me. “We don’t have to replicate anything crazy, it’s just the band having a good time. We can just get out there with guitars and a keyboard and play the damn songs.” It sounds pretty straightforward, but in fact, this newfound simplicity took the band by surprise, as in the beginning they didn’t quite know how to deal with it. “We were baffled by the idea that we didn’t have to work a bunch of samples into the songs to make them work,” he says. “A song like Lake Air is an excellent example, it’s just a delicate song with guitar playing and singing. It took us a bit of time to nail that simplicity, because we’d been doing things so big for so long, but once we got there it was an easy thing to do.”
Just for the record, that euro pop side project of Rennick’s may yet see the light of day. “It’s well on its way!” he says with a laugh. “I’ve been working with Berkfinger, otherwise known as Simon Berckelman of Philadelphia Grand Jury. It’s going to be interesting – around the same time we were doing that, Tim was working on his side project, which is equally poppy.” Rennick has written the songs, but may or may not be contributing vocals. “I don’t consider myself to be the ideal pop star,” he says. “I mean, for one thing, I’m too old, and I’m also an Australian dude. You’ll probably hear the songs at some point, but I might well end up bringing in a vocalist for them.”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
Lake Air is out this week on Hub The Label / Inertia.