Inconoclastic clubland duo Idjut Boys release a new LP, Cellar Door.
After almost 20 years in business, the dub-loving Dan Tyler and Conrad McDonnell finally get around to producing their own album.
Thu Jul 19 2012
Photograph: Joanna Hill
London’s Dan Tyler and Conrad McDonnell, better known as Idjut Boys, have been exploring the dub-heavy end of the clubland realm for nearly two decades. In that time, the pair has release scores of singles, a 1998 compilation called Noid Long Player, and two collaborative LPs, 1999’s Life: The Shoeing You Deserve (produced with Quakerman) and 2009’s Desire Lines, produced under the Meanderthals moniker with Norway’s Rune Lindbaek. But Tyler and McDonnell’s latest release, Cellar Door, is the first proper Idjut Boys album—and rather than the expected set of dub-house excursions, its a gorgeously produced collection of charming, laid-back songs that fuses the Boy’s echo-heavy inclinations to music with pop appeal.
I’ve always loved your music, but what really sealed the deal for me was when you guys deejayed at Warm Up around seven years ago, and you played John Paul Young’s “Love Is in the Air” right at the end of your set.
Conrad McDonnell: That was a moment for me, too. That was killer.
Dan Tyler: There’s always room for pop music. Pop music is popular for a reason, right? I remember that day well. It was a monumental weekend for us. We’ve never spent enough time in New York City, but when we do, we tend to have a good time. And that one was particularly good.
Playing in front of 4,000 people on a bright and sunny day probably helps ensure that it is.
Tyler: For sure, man!
Does the album’s title, Cellar Door, have any significance?
McDonnell: [Laughs] Well, it supposed to have something to do with intrigue, is the thing.
It did intrigue me enough to ask you about it!
McDonnell: In Donnie Darko, there’s this scene where Drew Barrymore writes the words cellar door on the blackboard, and says something like, “That’s the most intriguing phrase in the English language.” I was like, Huh—okay, there we go!
It was a bit of a shock when I realized that Cellar Door was your first proper album as Idjut Boys.
McDonnell: Yeah, it only took us around 19 years to do it, right? I think we always wanted to do it, but just never got around to it. We kind of got caught up in the routine where we would make a single, and people were into it and then it would sell a bit, and then we’d go out and DJ. And then we would make another single and do it again. And we just kept doing that!
Tyler: We’re 12-inch creatures! That’s sort of our default position. But there are a few hard drives of Idjut Boys music that has never been completed because life got in the way. Some of the new things are versions of things that are on those hard drives, but in very different form.
McDonnell: There’s never been much of a plan, obviously. And everything’s just always been cycling around—things going in and out and out of fashion—but musically, things seem pretty rich at the moment. This seemed like a good time to do it.
I was telling someone that I was going to be talking to you guys, and they said, “Oh, those are the guys who make those long, super dubby grooves, right?” I answered, “Yeah, but…”
McDonnell: I’m sure that there’s a lot of people who think that’s all we do.
But Cellar Door is a very song-based album, though it certainly has dub influences. Do you think that it will surprise a lot of people?
McDonnell: I think it probably will, especially if you are into our music from dance clubs. Hopefully no one will be disappointed, and they’ll be able to see the ethos that’s buried in the record. But we wanted to make an album like the way we remember them: One piece of vinyl, with maybe four songs on a 20-minute side. From there, we can do nightclub versions.
Tyler: Hopefully people will realize that this is the flip side of our coin, or at least one of them.
Can you have more than one flip side?
Tyler: We can, I think! Anyway, if someone just does the same thing over and over, like they’re on a loop, it tends to lose a bit of its potency. But we also probably have about another album’s worth of music that’s probably a little more random, and probably a lot more psychedelic. Probably, in fact, a lot more what people might expect.
McDonnell: But what we set out to do was to make something where you would put one side on your record player after being out, let it play, get up and put on the other side. Of course, I suppose most people are just gonna download the specific tracks that they like. [Laughs] But we wanted to make what we perceive an artist album to be.
Tyler: I’m not sure what you’d be doing while you listen to it.…possibly lying on your back, or perhaps quickly falling asleep. But basically, we were trying to keep the tracks down to a reasonable length, as opposed to 12 or 15 minutes. And we wanted to make it so somebody who has zero interest in the musical world we inhabit could listen to and find something that might resonate. We did have to hold back the desire to turn many knobs and send things into outer space, which is our natural inclination.
I was so happy to see that Sally Rodgers and Steve Jones from A Man Called Adam areon the album. I love those guys.
McDonnell: Yeah, they’re great, and we really enjoy spending time with them.
Tyler: We’ve known them pretty much since we first started avoiding the job center by doing this thing that we do. They’ve been really good friends for years. We used to be neighbors; we were looking for a studio, and they were like, “Oh, there’s a spare unit in our building. Why don’t you rent it?” There was literally just a wall between us. A lot of chatting, drinking tea and other things went on. And some music, too.
You also went to Oslo to record with [jazz musician and composer] Bugge Wesseltoft, right?
McDonnell: Yes, that was great, too. Just being able to work in these different places was quite helpful, I think. The stuff we did with Sally and Steve was in their lovely house in the middle of Cornwall, and all we had to do was have a good time and mess around with music. That’s brilliant.
You had mentioned earlier that you might be releasing club versions of some of these tracks.
McDonnell: That’s right. “Going Down” is going to be the next single, and I think that’s going to have a Prins Thomas mix. We’re going to do a dub version of the entire record at some point. And I would assume that’ll have some more club stuff…and probably some more stuff for couch action as well. We agonized for so long over all the arrangements and sounds and everything to get it to how it is, and now we get to turn it all on its end.
Tyler: Hopefully we’ll get that done quite soon. That’ll be the fun part. We’ll go at it with four hands, muting things and using effects or whatever. It has its chaotic side, but it’s what we do. We’re in the music. But the album was the disciplined part. You might even say it was the tedious part!
I think the tedium and agonizing paid off, because the album’s certainly got a warm and inviting tone to it.
Tyler: Thank you for saying that. You have made us happy men.
McDonnell: We worked really hard at that. It was an obsession. Whenever I would get home from the studio each night, I would get right on the Internet and try to glean information about whatever issues we were having, soundwise. I have no training for this at all, you know. Once we had gotten most of the production work done—getting the sounds and arrangements how we wanted them—we got this amazing guy in, Jake Jackson, who had learned his craft at [George Martin’s] AIR Studios, to help balance things out. He was a real great help.
Tyler: He had an amazing set of ears. And he was very professional! The funniest thing was that the ways of doing things that we always thought were very normal, he’d tell us, “No, you can’t do it that way.” But we’d been doing it that way for 20 years! We also did a lot of stuff with our mate Andy Hopkins, who plays guitars and drums. All of that together was a totally new way of doing things for us. We actually had to plan things for once. And try not to ruin all the good work these people did. [Laughs]
Do you have any plans to play in New York again?
McDonnell: Well, we’re working on getting visas, so we’re heading down that route. But it takes so long, so it might not be until…well, we’re certainly not coming to New York in the winter, so let’s say we’re aiming for spring!
Cellar Door (Smalltown Supersound) is out now.