When The 405 last spoke to singer-songwriter, Douglas Dare, in the autumn of 2015, he had just finished tracking what was to become his second album. Our (not unreasonable) expectation was that the record would emerge soon(ish)-after and, at any rate, sometime last winter.

It is coming up to a year later and the 10-song set is finally upon us. The least you can say about it is that it was worth that wait; the most you can say about it is that it is possibly one of the best second records we've heard. You know how it goes, an artist releases a critically-acclaimed debut but, invariably, the pressures of following it up with something that is just as (if not even more) worthy are difficult to contain in a realistic way. Not in this instance, readers.

As Aforger, Dare's successor to 2014's widely-celebrated Whelm, is about to be welcomed into the world, The 405 sat down for a lengthy conversation with the artist about the creative process for the record and some of the inspirations behind it.

We start off by gently confronting him about the aforementioned timeline.

Douglas, when spoke last year the album was, essentially, going off to be mixed. It's almost 12 months later. Why has it taken that long for it to come out?

Well it was almost finished. Around October/November last year we felt very near the finishing line in terms of tracking it and all the parts being put down. All the songs were ready. We were about to mix it and Fabian [Prynn], who is my drummer and also produced and did the drums on Whelm, was set to mix it. That was always the plan. And when it came to it, we'd been so immersed in the record, so much more so than with Whelm, where things were much simpler - it was just mainly piano and a bit of percussion and my vocals and not much besides that - it was just me and him on that record. Whereas, this time I wanted to change that completely because there was a choir and a brass section and guitar... I think there are over 20 people who have worked on this record as opposed to two on the last. So by the time we finished tracking it and Fabian came to mixing it, we couldn't see the wood for the trees.

So what happened?

Fabian mixed one song and admitted to me that he thought someone else should mix it. We'd always been proud of doing everything ourselves but it was then exciting to be able to get someone else involved with fresh ears. And most records are mixed by someone else, anyway. So that was exciting but it then became about finding the right person. We sent the record out and had some recommendations for people who could do it. Some people do test mixes so we had to wait for that and also wait on people's availability.

Can you explain a bit about how the test mixing process works?

It depends, really. With one chap we sent it to, who is quite a big name, it was along the lines of him going: here's the test mix, this is what I would do. Whereas, with other people, it was more like: what do you want me to do? Sometimes you would go to a specific engineer because you like their style, you like how they've done something else. With others, they may be more interested in what you want, in what you like. Of course, it's not always as black and white as that. But, eventually, we had a test mixes done of the same song -

- which one did you send out?

'New York', because it felt like it had a lot going on in it: brass, drums, synths, piano, my voice, backing vocals... so we thought this would be a good one to grasp how different mixes might sound.

What happened once you got them all back?

Well, when we found what we liked it was then a case of when the engineer would be able to do it. Paul [Gregory], who mixed it, is in a band called Lanterns on the Lake, and he was on tour so he couldn't do it until March or April.

Douglas Dare

I realise I'm putting too fine a point on it but that's still, like, 6 months ago...

Yes but then I didn't want to release the album in the summer, so that's why it then blocked off that period. It felt more like a record that people would 'get' more when it was darker and the clocks change, you know. I didn't want to put it out in July.

And that's fair enough, but after working so hard on it for a long time, how can you then stay patient for about a year before you're able to put it out?

It was... a new experience for me because with the last record, we'd finished it and soon enough afterwards it was on the conveyor belt and ready to go out. But this has been a long time of sitting with the record and, at times, it was frustrating. But I've tried to be creative besides that, you know? I've been writing a lot more for other things, for - maybe - the next album, even. And just trying to keep being creative. I've worked on the visual side of things and that was fun, putting all that together and channelling my energy into that. I filmed a music video last year for one of the songs that will probably not come out until next year -

Which song is that?

'Greenhouse'. We filmed it in September last year because it was one of the first songs that came together but I didn't necessarily think that it would be a single. But it looks like it might come out next year. Probably. We're gonna put out a few songs before then. And I also made the video for 'Oh Father' so, yeah, I've concentrated on being creative in other ways. That was the only way to deal with the wait.

Did you leave the album to one side, as it were, while you were doing all this other stuff?

Yes, I stopped myself from listening to it for months. I just didn't hear it at all. I wanted to have fresh ears again when it came to mixing it. So I think that from Christmas until it getting mixed in March or thereabouts I didn't listen to it once.

And what was your first thought when you listened to it again?

'This is fucking good!' [laughs]. I thought, this is great. Because by the end of the process this was much longer than anything I had been working on before - I think we'd started recording in the previous March with some ideas so it was a long, staggered process rather than an intense one and, by the end of it, I was like, is this any good? I don't know. I'm overwhelmed by it all! So after leaving it for a few months, when we came back to it, it was like - this is really good. It matured like a good cheese or wine or something.

Douglas Dare

Aforger feels very much like a piece of work you would sit and listen to as a whole rather than pick a track here or a track there to playlist. Is this what you intended to do - create a thematic, coherent collection of songs that sit together?

Very much so. First of all, I love albums and I make a point of listening to them in the order that the songs come in. I don't want to shuffle. If I can, I listen to them from beginning to end and that is what I wanted to create here. It's a great format that I want to continue enjoying. So, yes, there was definitely an element of that. At the same time, I also knew that I wanted to make songs that could stand up for themselves and would be different from one another sonically but I wanted them to be coherent. As it went along, the album became more and more coherent. As you go through the processes of mixing it and mastering it, it suddenly really starts feeling like a real body of work.

For our One Song I Wish I'd Written feature last year you chose Radiohead's 'Videotape' and said: "This song heavily influenced the way I started to play and write on the piano and so strong is the urge to have written [it] that I think every new writing session kind of starts with the hope that a song as good as that might pore out of me". The songs on Aforger don't sound like Radiohead but, reading that interview back, the album does have some essence of Radiohead about it...

I think it's just a case of - if I grew up in Liverpool with Liverpudlian parents, I'd have a scouse accent. I've grown up listening to Radiohead and I've immersed myself in Thom Yorke's solo work, so there's no way you can help yourself but be influenced by that.

One thing that I am conscious of when I'm writing: I don't listen to anything. I try not to be listening to anything at the time and also when we came to do the record - and I know that Fabian was the same - we didn't use references. I didn't do that with the mixing process, either. I stay away from mentioning any names or referencing any songs because I want it to sound like me. Perhaps because I know that I am heavily influenced by certain artists, anyway. When we are in the studio it happens that when you do a song - and when I'm writing as well - I'll be doing something and then we'll go "No! Too Radiohead!" [laughs]. It happens quite often.

The artist I am influenced by the most is PJ Harvey but I don't think I sound anything like PJ Harvey, so that's interesting. That doesn't seem to permeate that much or people don't pick on that influence as much. But I listen to her a lot. As I do with many other artists. But my fingers, whenever they are on the piano, they seem to want to emulate that direction that Thom Yorke has shown me. I guess that's just what happens when you are immersed in something, you can't help but speak that language.

You mentioned 'Greenhouse' earlier and it's certainly one of the tracks I would identify as a potential single from the record. What can you tell me about that song?

As I've been listening to the album more now, I think that all the songs are...well, I write about at least two subjects. It's never just about one thing or one idea. I think it is me protecting myself. With my first record I stayed clear of personal accounts, really, I didn't venture that way. It was more story-telling. But most of these songs [on Aforger] are about things that actually happened to me but married with another idea. That seemed to happen with all the songs. I won't say specifically what 'Greenhouse' is about because I want to leave it for people's interpretation, but 'Greenhouse' - even though in my head there is a particular place that I am singing about as well as a specific event - the song is a metaphor for escapism, the greenhouse being our planet, maybe, or wherever you want to escape to. There is an element to the song of being trapped or being forced upon and being scared of something and wanting to get away from that. It's a childhood memory and that's what is interesting about the song and also the rest of the album - how I like to talk about reality.

What do you mean by that in this context?

What's real and what's not. With this childhood memory, I am still not sure whether it did happen or not. We all have those memories where you think, oh yeah that definitely happened. And you've been retelling it all your life that now you are not sure whether you remember the actual event or the recall of it. 'Greenhouse' is that memory of a time where I felt really quite scared of someone. But it's also married with a much bigger idea which broadens it, I think.

There's a portion of that song which, together with track 6, 'Binary', amounts to the closest I can imagine a Douglas Dare dance record getting to...

Oh, yay. That's good.

Douglas Dare

What I like about those two songs is that the production is quite surprising, it's unpredictable. With 'Binary' it changes altogether in the final section -

Oh, I like surprises in songs! With 'Binary' that was a real conscious decision. When I was writing the song I knew that the end section had to happen. It had to have crazy chaos that had to climax. That was the storm and then the clouds had to part and everything had to open up. I like keeping interest and I also want to do different things. I don't like to repeat what I'd done before. And I like the fact that you think there is a dance element to it because I've been telling my family, 'oh you know with the new record you can kind of tap the foot to it a little bit, it's not just a funeral dirge!' and they'll go, yeah right we'll believe it when we hear it. But I do think there is an element of that in it. When we were in the studio we tried 'Binary' out in many different ways.

Oh, right -

Yeah, we tried like an almost minimal piece at a different, slower tempo. We tried it on different instruments - we tried it all on guitar, we tried it with electronic drums... we kept experimenting with it because I thought that it was too much like what I'd done before so I wanted to try and change it. But I have come to learn that there is sometimes no perfect way of doing a song. Sometimes you might find that there is only one way of doing it. But with 'Binary' there were different ways and, actually, I have a different version of the song at home that I came across on my laptop and I was, like, oh my god this is really good! This is another version that could really work.

Is there a chance it might come out in some way or another -

Well, I like the idea of, you know, in ten or twenty years putting something out like that.

Oh no, I meant more along the lines of a Tidal exclusive kind of thing...

Haha, well, no. That's not coming out anytime soon. But I like the idea of... in a long time from now these little things coming out.

I've found 'Binary' to be quite elusive in terms of pinning it down and deciphering what you were trying to say in it.

I like the idea that you are not quite sure what it is about. Again, there's this double idea that comes into it. I often start with one thing that drives it but it is a very personal story about my relationship. Hmmm, I'm trying to think of a way of discussing it without ruining it for the listeners.

But if you tell people what the song is about for you, does that necessarily ruin it for them?

No, I guess not. I think it's because... I can tell you because you've already heard the album but I like the idea of people listening to a song and then they can find out about it if they want to. But I don't like telling people what a song is about before they've heard it. It kind of steers someone's reaction to it. It's like telling you the end of the story before you've read it.

Douglas Dare

Yeah, I see what you mean.

But, yes, the song is - again - about not knowing what's real. Not knowing what to believe. And I can see that theme running through all of the songs on the album. 'Binary' has also got this big digital element to it and I think that the lyrics do speak for that. That was a big part of my break-up. After you break up with someone nowadays you are not just finding letters or pictures, you are going through files on a computer and coming across things that are reminding you of that person. I was then hugely inspired by recent ideas how humans can live on after their death. There was an article about this Twitter site that will post tweets for you after you die, looking at what you've tweeted in the past.

Crikey!

Yeah, you can sign up to it now, I think. There was also a documentary I saw called something like Rest In Pixels and it was dealing with the idea of how much we feed into our digital world now - most of us - and Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror was also in my head. So when everything was happening with my relationship falling apart, I was digitally reminded of my ex's existence. It's not like he was dead, he was just no longer in my life. Yet, I was being haunted by digital aspects of him, not anything tangible. That's one element of the song. And there's another element to it. I like the word 'Binary' - the song is in two parts, there are two ideas to it and also it's about binary so it works on many levels for me.

Is the relationship you were referring to a moment ago the thing that started this record off for you?

I actually said, before I wrote the record, that I didn't want to write a breakup record. That was an objective of mine - my brief. I didn't want to repeat myself and I didn't want to write a breakup record. I wanted to do something new. But I also knew that it would feed into it. And initially, before I started writing the record, I wanted to write about the men in my life: my father, my boyfriends, my brother... men in history and fictional characters. I realised that everything I was thinking about seemed to be focused around men.

Just before I wrote the record I had come out to my father, he didn't take it well at all and it was a really difficult time. I had problems with my relationship happening and I thought there's no way I am going to be able to write a record where those things didn't filter in. I still wrote about those subjects but it became more about reality. After coming out to my father and being told you're never going to be accepted for who you are, you start to question who you are and, like, what is my sexuality? What does it say about me? Is that me? Is that who I am? All these questions started going round my head and I went more in that direction and became more fascinated about reality. I felt more comfortable in that slightly broader subject, which gave me more freedom and less pressure than writing a breakup record, which I didn't want to go down the route of anyway.

You mentioned your father and the song 'Oh Father'. It was - on first listen -and still is my favourite song on the album. There can be no doubt what this song is about and I don't think it's just gay people who can identify with the experience of coming out to parents - it resonates with the theme of not wanting to disappoint a parent and seeking parental approval...

Yes, Poppy and I were talking about that earlier, actually. And with that song, I was walking to the rehearsal studio and almost all the words just came out. I had started with poems and words first with this record but with 'Oh Father' it just came out as a stream of consciousness and I just knew that I didn't want to edit it at all and that I didn't want it to be ambiguous in any way. I got it down. The melody was very simple for me, there are only two chords in the whole song, pretty much. It was very simple and very direct. And it felt good to write it. But I must admit that it was only after we put it on the record and mastered it, I was, like, oh shit this is insanely personal and I was putting it out there. And I'm still a bit... it's really honest and vulnerable. The only reason why I am putting it on the record is that I hadn't really considered how personal and honest it was at the time and that people would actually hear it. I just thought of it as a song I really liked and a song that was important for me to write. But, yeah, I totally agree that people can really relate to the song from wherever they are. Yes, it is clearly about my experience but I hope people can connect with it themselves.

Has your dad heard the song?

I actually have to play the song to him. I haven't yet. I really want to because he's definitely warmed up to the idea of who I am and has come full circle on that, since writing it. So, in a sense, it's good that the album has taken this long to come out. I think it maybe would have been too fresh if I hadn't resolved some of the issues in it but I told him a couple of weeks ago that I had this song on the record called 'Oh Father' and that he needed to hear it. I don't want to just email it to him. I'm not sure what I want to do. I feel like I want to play it to him before it comes out. I think he'll like it. I don't think I'm saying anything negative about him, actually. Some of the things I say in there like "colour your hair blue, cut your nose through, get a strange tattoo"... I remember the day he said that to me, when I was very, very young. He was telling me, you know, I will love you no matter what you do. I remember him saying: you can get a Mohawk! Although I didn't put that in the song [laughs]. I will still love you, it's fine. I think I was about 6.

Do you remember the context?

I don't. But I've brought it up since with him. I said, dad, do you remember we were in the Land Rover, we were pulling out of the farm and you paused the car, I remember the gear stick vibrating and he stopped me and said it to me but I don't know why he said it. But it stuck with me that he did, so much. I mentioned it to him and he said, oh it sounds like something I'd say. So that's why it really hurt when it came to telling him.

How did you do it?

I told him over the phone because I was bringing back my boyfriend at the time to my hometown to meet my family. It never felt necessary for me to tell my father: I'm a homosexual. I wanted to tell him that I was in love with someone. I am in love with this person. Who happens to be a male. He told me that he could never accept that. Of course, that was an initial reaction that he had and it took a while to subside and to see the bigger picture. But there was no way I couldn't be affected by that. I think at the time this happened I had just finished Whelm and I tried to write a song about it then but it was just not good enough. I kept trying to write things about it afterwards that I thought kind of worked but there was real pressure to make sure it was a really good piece of work. I couldn't put something out about that subject that wasn't good. So with 'Oh Father' when the words came to me as I was walking down the street they just felt right - it didn't feel forced. There is a subtlety to it, I think.

You've recently released the video for the song and you've mentioned a video for 'Greenhouse'. What about other visual representations for some of the other tracks on the record?

There's definitely going to be a video for 'New York' - we've done some animated visuals for that and I think there's going to be something for 'Binary' as well.

Douglas Dare

Audio-visual projects have become more and more prevalent over the past few years. Is this something which you'd like to try, yourself, in terms of an entire audiovisual album?

Yes, definitely. At some point I had this idea for great visuals for the whole record that I would like to do but I don't know whether that would happen or not. Obviously, the financial element does get in the way but I think the best thing I can do is make some visuals. For Whelm we really didn't make many visuals for some reason or another and I was really conscious that, with this record, I'd like to do it differently. Because my music has always been quite cinematic, I always see pictures when I write and I have these stories - for every song there is a back-story and a visual idea. So it feels like it should be accompanied by visuals.

The imagery for the album and the sleeve design are very striking. How did you approach that artistic aspect of the record?

On my first record my boyfriend at the time did all the visuals, he did the music video and the album artwork. It was all very close and personal. This time, I worked with an artist called Özge and she is fantastic. I sent her the record and we sat down, almost did what you and I are doing right now, just talking about the record and I wanted to give her a lot of freedom with what she wanted to do. I told her where I was coming from with it and I knew that I wanted to be in the artwork, I wanted to be prominent in the artwork because I felt that it is a personal record and the other brief was that I didn't want my grandmother to like it [laughs]. I didn't want something nice. I wanted it to be something that some people would hate. And that's already happened. 'Lovely picture but shame you've got that coming out of your mouth' [laughs]. Great. Perfect.

What vision have you got for the live counterpart of the album?

Well, I have a third band member now, alongside me and Fabian. As before, we want to play everything live. No backing track or anything like that. And that's a big task now because we have a big sounding record in some parts, where we want to emulate that. But I am really keen on recreating things not just playing them so that they sound exactly like the record. I will be playing piano and synths and singing, Fabian will be doing all percussion and drum elements, and then there is also Jethro Fox, who will be playing guitar and doing vocals. We met at LIPA and I've played with him in bands before. He's a fantastic musician.

What are your hopes and wishes for this record?

Getting it out there and having people hearing it. I do really want it to be out there now, having spent so much time on it...

Is critical acclaim important to you?

Whelm did so well critically so there is a bit of pressure in the sense of hoping it does as well as that. It's not the be-all-and-end-all at all but, fuck it, I'd love an award [laughs]. I'm kidding. The thing I loved about touring Whelm was when we went to America - seeing people singing back the songs at me and the idea that you go somewhere and people will be singing back at me something that I wrote in my bedroom - that's amazing. I'd love that to happen again.


All photos by the excellent Poppy Cockburn. Douglas Dare's new album, Aforger, is out on Erased Tapes on 14 October - but you can stream it right now. Press play below, and join us at his forthcoming Electrowerkz show on November 8th.