Artist Spotlight: Drahla

    Drahla is a Leeds-based art-rock outfit formed in 2015 by vocalist and guitarist Luciel Brown, bassist Rob Riggs, and drummer Mike Ainsley. Following 2017’s Third Article EP and their 2019 debut full-length, Useless Coordinates, the band returned earlier this month with their first album in five years, angeltape, which emerged from a turbulent period in the group’s personal and professional lives. Feelings of grief, trauma, and uncertainty percolate throughout the record, but its sound showcases a band not only rediscovering its dynamic but expanding upon it in thrilling ways. Chris Duffin’s saxophone, present on all of the band’s previous output, signals their return with eerie, blaring confidence, while the addition of guitarist Ewan Barr both heightens the interplay between the musicians and encourages them to veer a little off course. It’s a driving record where the grooves feel both tight and distraught, chaotic yet immediate in its impact. “The core is off-kilter I’m sure,” Brown sings, but it’s also potent enough for you to meet them there.

    We caught up with Drahla’s Luciel Brown and Rob Riggs for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about the transitional period between their two albums, the making of angeltape, touring, and more.

    Upon announcing angeltape, you talked about the uncertainty you felt around regrouping for your second album. How much of that anxiety was centered around rediscovering your dynamic as a group, and how much was it more about overcoming personal challenges?

    Luciel Brown: It was really hard to regroup, I think we just didn’t really know how to do it and how to navigate it – and definitely on my part, if I even wanted to. At the start, we kind of had to power through it because we thought, “We should get this back together, this could be a good thing.” But there was a lot of uncertainty around that, and I don’t think we conversed about it all the time, but we all felt that way.

    Rob Riggs: We had the conversation with Mike, like, “Are we going to carry on, or is that it?” We were getting together and playing, but we just felt totally disconnected from it. We were writing new stuff, but it didn’t really feel that authentic to us.

    LB: I think it was forced, to be honest.

    RR: It was a struggle because we went into the studio with someone else and tried to do a couple of songs, but it just didn’t feel right. And then I guess things just started gelling again, didn’t they? Probably a year or so after.

    LB: We probably just needed to spend some time together in that environment to find this different but similar dynamic. When we were playing live, that’s when Ewan [Barr] got involved, because he was just going to play live with us at first, but it just worked so well and definitely gave us so much freedom in terms of writing new songs. Particularly for me, I then didn’t have the limitation of, like, “I’m gonna play this on the guitar, I need to be able to sing this at the same time.” I felt a lot of freedom in that, and a lot of excitement with the interplay of the two guitars. Ewan joining definitely really helped us establish this new dynamic.

    RR: And in a way, lighten the mood a little bit, because me, Lu, and Mike have known each other for probably almost like 20 years. He just freed us all up a little bit, just to be a little bit looser with the dynamic.

    LB: I think those solo energies are all there in the record, and then there are moments where we just really connect again. Even though we all felt quite separate and we overcame that, I think there’s still that separated element in the record, but then also us coming together.

    ‘Default Parody’ was the first song you wrote with Ewan and allowed you to stretch your roles within the band, but I’m curious if you could talk more about how that freedom extended throughout the rest of the album.

    RR: When it was the three of us, it definitely felt way more exposed. I think subconsciously, having Ewan there, sometimes you could slip into the background and experiment a little bit more in practice, because you had that freedom to go off in your own little path and try stuff out rather than it being overly structured in a way. I think ‘Second Rhythm’ is a really good example of us feeling like we can be more free with our instruments, and we didn’t really have any structure to the end of that song, we just recorded it.

    LB: I feel like with the guitars as well – I was just watching some footage from that recording, and me and Ewan were recording, and we’re not really saying anything to each other. It’s really weird, what we’re saying doesn’t make any sense, but we both know what we’re meaning to create. It just worked so seamlessly with Ewan, we got into what we should be playing without having to articulate it a lot of the time.

    Did that process of reconnection shed light on what you each bring to the table?

    LB: With Mike’s drumming, I heard his drums more than ever on this record. I feel like Mike’s drumming style is different to the first record and just so full of energy. Some of the parts, like on ‘Grief in Phantasia’, Mike did that section at the end and it was like, “How the hell has he just done this?” It was really incredible to watch.

    RR: Quite a lot of stuff on the record was improvised as well like that. But yeah, Mike’s drumming on this record is the best, and I really feel like it’s more considered.

    LB: I feel like there’s a real appreciation for each other and what we all do on this record, and it’s so insular, but there is an awareness of each other.

    Were you surprised at any point by the ways you expressed yourselves as a collective throughout the writing process? Do you feel like you discovered something new about your identity as a band?

    LB: I don’t really listen back to Useless Coordinates, but when I think back to that record, it feels so different.

    RB: I think the sound is just way more unique. I don’t feel like we’ve really been aware of what’s been going on in the music world whilst we’ve been making it, whereas maybe with Useless Coordinates, we were a little bit more switched on with our contemporaries.

    LB: I think there’s a purity with this album, because we were just figuring it out – we had a few songs together and we could then think about putting them together as an album, but it was almost like we were starting from scratch again. We weren’t ever thinking about it as an album, as a whole, it was just, “This is what we’re doing. This is what we’re choosing to create.” It feels like more of an organic expression.

    RR: I think there’s more aggression in the record as well, you can just feel it coming out of us a bit more in that space. And I think it’s more emotive.

    LB: Yeah, I think we’ve all put a lot more into it personally. It’s quite raw in that sense. This sounds a bit stupid, but I think it’s got way more soul than the other record. I feel quite disconnected to Useless Coordinates. I wouldn’t want to listen to it, whereas with angeltype, I feel like I could just keep listening to it, I really enjoy it. That feels like a big difference for me. But then, equally, I do really enjoy playing those songs live from the first record.

    When did it feel like a record to you?

    LB: It might have been when we were doing the tracklisting, because we recorded all these songs but we’d not thought about a tracklist, how they all went together. When we put the tracklisting together and listened to it as a whole, that was definitely a moment of like, “This is a record now.”

    RR: When we started recording with Matt [Benn], who engineered it all, I remember just listening back and thinking, sonically, it just sounded so much better than the first record to me. And it was the same sort of thing, there wasn’t too much discussion between us about what it should sound like. It was like an unspoken collaboration.

    LB: This record feels like an unspoken collaboration, now that you’ve said that. It all came together with the right people at the right time.

    RR: And Chris [Duffin], who played on the record, he was more absent in the writing process, so he came in at the end of the recording sessions. Quite a lot of the stuff that we’d written he’d not heard before, so a lot of the stuff on record is him hearing it for the first time and playing over it. Once all his parts were put on there as well, we were like, “Oh yeah, it feels complete.”

    I’m interested in how the contrasting musical ideas throughout angeltape tie into the title of the album, which I understand has more to do with the people close to you. When you were trying to make these songs work as a whole, was there any tangible sense that the feelings and people that inspired it were the glue holding it together?

    RR: It’s a tough one, isn’t it? I think we kind of had our heads buried in the sand with it all. I don’t think we’d really come up for air to think, “We’re doing this because of this.”

    LB: I think lyrically, it’s definitely more considered, because I’ve taken the things from writings and I’ve had to think which elements I want to take and use or build and expand on. Also, when I’ve done the lyrics, we’ve had the songs finished and I had a moment to be like, I can keep listening to this song over and over again without being in the moment of playing it. I can listen to it as a complete thing be quite considerate about how I’m going to do the lyrics over the top and what elements I want to tie together.

    RR: There’s definitely moments in some of the song, with what Lou’s saying, it makes me feel really proud – not just of the band, [turning to Luciel] but of you. It makes you feel stronger as well, that we’ve got through it.

    LB: It’s a real moment, having this record out.

    Luciel, when the record came out, you talked about how you wrote the lyrics during a period in your life where you lost your dad, and how that makes a lot of the lyrics hard to talk about. You said that sharing that was like lifting “the veil of metaphor,” and I wonder to what extent, when you were writing these songs, you felt the need to abstract your personal experience in some way.

    LB: I think the use of metaphor is my style, and I do write in that style, but I definitely used it as an element of protection. It all came from writings that I’d done, but I had to go through that and think, “What am I comfortable putting in?” It definitely felt really exposed with some of the lyrics, and writing that and putting that out on Friday was a massive thing because I am so private. I’ve had a bit of apprehension about sharing some songs at points, because I do feel that they are exposing and it’s uncomfortable in parts, the vulnerability of it. But it needs to be out there as well, and those lyrics needed to be on this record. It’s true to the place that I’ve been.

    What excites you about bringing these new songs to the stage?

    RR: I just hope it’s a unique experience and it’s different to anything else you’re gonna hear. We’ve got a sound engineer now, Jamie [Lockhart], who recorded all of Lu’s vocals, and he’s incredible. One of the big problems we had when we were touring the first record was with Lu’s vocals – Mike smashes the drums a lot of the time, and it was always a struggle to get Lu’s vocals heard above the drums. But we got Jamie, who’s super into working with us. As a live band, I think we just sound way better now. Everything’s got more balance.

    LB: And clarity, for sure. There’s a comfort and reassurance in that, being on stage and playing when you know you’ve got someone out front that you really trust. I’m excited about playing songs that we enjoy as well, that we’re proud of and can feel confident in. The tour feels a little bit daunting, it’s massive and there’s been a lot to organize. I’m really looking forward to it, but I feel like I’ll be excited about it when everything’s in the van and the doors are closed and we set off. That’s the moment of, like, “This is happening now.”

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Drahla’s angeltape is out now via Captured Tracks.

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