The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us was the second Daniel Land & The Modern Painters album. But it was an album of firsts, in many ways - it was the first album that we released on a proper label. It was the first album where I'd written songs specifically with the idea of a live band in mind. And it was the album where I first began the process of opening up the lyrics, singing more easily recognisable words, and trying to write things that people might relate to. As a result, I think this contains some of my best songs, for example "Echo & Narcissus", "Sleeping With The Past" and "Eyes Wide Shut".

These songs were written at a time of huge change, for me. I was coming out of a very long relationship - an engagement, actually - which had broken down,, and very quickly got involved in another relationship, which also ended. I was reading a lot of Milan Kundera, at the time,, and I liked the title The Space Between Us because it seemed to have a kind of Kundera-esque ring to it. This was the album where I was thinking a lot about the inevitable communication gap between any two people.. and was also the album where I reconciled myself to the fact that my last two relationships had broken down.

Daniel Land & The Modern Painters was a great live band - but a lot of times, the albums were de facto solo works by me. This time around, I had a lot more help - for example Oisin Scarlett helping me finish "The Silver Medal" when I got stuck at the bridge section, or Andrew Galpin's improvised bass line turning into part of the vocal melody for "Cherry Bark & Almonds". The arrangements for tracks liked "Starcrossed/Butterfly Lovers", "Lovelife" and "Eyes Wide Shut" were fine-tuned in rehearsals, so even if I ended up playing a lot of the instruments on the record, it was a very different record than it would have been if I'd have done it entirely on my own - and all the better for it.

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The Space Between Us

Daniel Land & The Modern Painters

Daniel Land & The Modern Painters return with their second studio album, ‘The Space Between Us’, via Club AC30 Recordings, on 28th May 2012. The album follows their debut album, ‘Love Songs For The Chemical Generation’, released in 2009.

Recorded and mixed by Daniel Land at his 500 year old cottage on the outskirts of Manchester, ‘The Space Between Us’ is, in Daniel’s words, ‘more collaborative than our debut; even the songs that I wrote on my own were written with one eye on how we play as a live band; the range of things we can do. The faster songs are faster and the slower songs slower; there’s a greater dynamic range’. Another change from ‘Love Songs For The Chemical Generation’ is a more adventurous approach to instrumentation, with harpsichords, accordions and mandolins punctuating the more familiar lush guitars and roving basslines that characterised their music to date.

In a sense, the album is a more precise distillation of Daniel’s approach to music and the sounds that drew him to form the band whilst a student at Manchester University. A frequent visitor to the clubs of his adopted home city, Daniel Land & The Modern Painters were born in the somewhat incongruous settings of Manto’s Breakfast Club where Daniel met Graeme on his 21st birthday and Graeme, in Daniel’s words, ‘gave me the encouragement and support to become the singer I had always wanted to be’.

Having spent his formative years listening to the likes of Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and Cocteau Twins, Daniel’s early musical compositions were more about experiments in sound and less about conventional songs. Mixing that with the trance that grabbed him on arrival at University and then filtering it further through the sounds that others handed to him during his student years from the likes of Red House Painters, The Verve and Slowdive, Daniel Land & The Modern Painters initial influences (and continuing interests) are less defined by artists and more informed by sonic experiment and the overall feel of the music. With ‘The Space Between Us’ adopting a band focus, that fascination with musical texture has filtered through a band dynamic to create modern pop songs that demonstrate an experimental edge but deliver moments of singalong bliss and visceral climaxes.

Whilst ‘The Space Between Us’ is musically a band album, lyrically it is very much Daniel’s creation. The title refers to relationship travails that occurred throughout the writing and recording process, the break-up of one long term relationship and the failure of a second. Daniel’s take on the lyrics for the album was refreshingly brave: ‘The lyrics are more decipherable than last time, this is deliberate. I wanted to communicate honestly and openly, even if what I was singing was uncomfortably revealing for me.’

The writing process was heavily influenced by the books of Milan Kundera, so much so that Daniel jokes ‘I would have called the album Milan Kundera if I thought I would have got away with it’ but the literary influence doesn’t end there as Daniel explains: ‘”The Space Between Us” is also the name of a novel by Thrity Umrigar about love and friendship across a class divide. This has a direct thematic bearing on the second of the two relationships I was writing lyrics about.’

Other literary references that occur throughout the album are too numerous to mention but Daniel identifies the likes of Virginia Woolf, Edmund White, Pier Vittorio Tondelli, Joseph Olshan, Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and, ‘erm, Stephen King’ as influences on the lyrical content of ‘The Space Between Us’. Yet, for a record dealing with serious matters and imbued with high culture references, at heart ‘The Space Between Us’ is a classic pop album of love songs, both requited and unrequited.
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Track by track

  • Echo & Narcissus. This track was written, recorded and mixed in a single day - March 19th 2011 - for the BFW recordings Album In A Day project. Album In a Day works like this: you have 24 hours to write, record, mix, and send a song to BFW Recordings; the following Monday it is released as free download along with everyone's else's submissions. This track was our first attempt at Album In A Day, and it was one of the most ridiculous days I've ever had. Graeme and I wrote the chords by midday, then spent most of the afternoon layering instruments, doing the drums, and a rough mix. There was no time to backtrack or second-guess; doing so would have meant missing the deadline. I started the vocals at about 9pm, and by 11pm I knew where it was going, lyrically and melodically. It was finished by about 4am. By the time I did some last minute tweaks in the morning, I knew we had done something very special. It was released officially on The Space Between Us with only minor tweaks, and is still, five years later, one of my favourite songs.
  • The Silver Medal. This started as a rough demo on a knackered old Yamaha keyboard. I had the verses and choruses, but I couldn't work out where else to take it. Oisin helped me write the bridge chords, and the rest of the song came together very quickly after that. This song features the beautiful backing vocals of Jayn Hanna, whose band The Steals I played in at the time. She recorded them at her studio in Hebden Bridge, layering harmony upon harmony. At points there's eight or nine Jayns in there, which is - of course - no bad thing.
  • Starcrossed/Butterfly Lovers. I came up with the melody for this in 2003, but couldn't get the feeling right. Years later I brought it into a rehearsal, and everyone was very enthusiastic. It was an early contender for the record - we played it live for two or three years before it was released, and the album version was recorded to try to capture some of the energy of the live band.
  • Lovelife. Another very old idea, these chords were written on the morning that the Iraq war started in 2003. I got home from a particularly glamorous one night stand and, apparently, decided the way to commemorate it was to invent a new guitar tuning. The song hung around in an unfinished state for years; we performed it live a couple of times in 2008, but it wasn't recorded for the first album as it didn't fit. This version came together with Oisin's lovely pedal-steel esque guitar work, which still gives me chills now.
  • Cherry Bark & Almonds. Graeme and I decided, spontaneously, to call in sick and make music one day. We were on the gin by about 11am I seem to remember. Loads of music came out of that day, but this was the best and most complete. It seemed to come out of nowhere - a riff, a few chords, and within thirty minutes the whole thing was there. The title comes from a pivotal scene in the series Frasier which is easily You Tube-able, if you wanted to see where our heads were at the time.
  • Sleeping With The Past. This song is a tribute to someone who was slightly more than a friend but slightly less than a boyfriend. The chorus chords came from an abandoned piece, something that never worked out. Most of the chords were good, so Graeme and I incorporated the best bits into this. We wanted something that was upbeat - throwing a bone to our live drummer Jason, who could handle much faster tempos than we usually wrote - but also slightly off-balance. And although it sounds perfectly natural now, there's some seriously weird things going on structurally in this song, like the bridge chords which go in cycles of six (rather than four), and the chorus, which has eighteen measures instead of sixteen. The lyrics and melody came later. I had no idea what to do melodically, but I'd just opened a bottle of wine, and had the backing track playing, and when I got to the chorus, the whole melody and lyrics just came tumbling out of me with no forethought. It was a miracle - thank fuck I had pressed record.
  • Eyes Wide Shut. One of my better songs without a doubt, and one of the few times I've actually sat down and written a song on acoustic guitar. Perhaps because of this it has a kind of simplicity to it that I haven't always achieved in other songs. 
  • The Hawk & The Nightingale. I think melodically this is a kind of a high point for me, I was surprised by the kinds of things I was coming out with on this song. I put a lot of work into the backing music too - putting on loads of parts, and then cutting out everything but the loveliest moments, before repeating again and again - an approach that I carried forward as the modus operandi for the next album, In Love With A Ghost. This track was the first song from the record to be mixed, and I vividly remember those lovely September days, I had the windows open and the sun shining in, looking over my laptop to the church, and being so happy with where I was living, and happy to be close to finishing the record.
  • Starfish Fucking. The longest song I've written at 13 minutes, and the most complicated structurally. This was one of the last things I wrote at the tail end of the "chemical" era that also gave rise to "Codeine", "Glitterball" and "Good Speed, Good Fun". It could have gone on the first album, the only problem being that it was practically unperformable live, and was prohibitively complex from a recording point of view - I wouldn't have been able to do justice to it at the time, although if I'd have had my druthers, it would have been the closing song on Love Songs For The Chemical Generation. By the time of The Space Between Us I felt a bit more in control of what I was doing, that I knew my equipment a bit better, and I think I came pretty close to pulling off what I was aiming for. It's never quite as perfect as you want it to be - I was aiming for something the size of "Good Vibrations", but when is that not the case? - but it'll do. 

Feature by Alex Lynham

“It's totally fucked.” Dan shrugs, and laughs warmly. No, fear not shoegaze fans, he's not talking about his band, The Modern Painters, or their second album The Space Between Us, due out early next year on Club AC30, but of his favourite pedal, an 80s Rocktek chorus. “It's really noisy, really analogue, and when it fails- as it does frequently- it fails in ways that are quite interesting musically, or easily exploitable. On a low setting, it's a nice warm texture, on high it's like Ulrich Schnauss in a box.” 

On the face of it, this is about par for the course. We've already discussed his taste in literature, Hohfeld's analysis of rights, and the pros and cons of having a home studio that faces a slightly eerie graveyard. Even in the sun, the tarnished and lopsided stones provide a sinister backdrop to our conversation, clashing with the major-key melody lines he plays me on a synth-harpsichord to demonstrate his new favourite sound. Having already road-tested most of the material for The Space Between Us, the band laid down drums earlier this year at SSR, and now the painstaking process of “creating” the songs must begin. Unusually for a guitar band the Modern Painters mainly opt for recording straight into their computer recording set-up, and save for a clutch of pedals leave their live equipment in the basement downstairs. With a perfectionist's eye for detail Dan is now overseeing the finishing touches to the record. 

“There's a difficulty in speaking from my own point of view when obviously there's four other people in the band” explains Dan, when asked about the new album, “but I think with this record in particular I'm trying to use the lyrics to 'say' something for the first time. I guess my key early influences was the Cocteau Twins, where everything's quite vague. On the first record, the lyrics were written by kind of a reductive process, where you start out by singing gibberish, and allow yourself to be led into subconsciously creating words, singing whatever comes naturally and then refining it.” 

Their first album, Love Songs for the Chemical Generation, was a more hedonistic affair, with the sprawling 'Off Your Face Again' at its core. He reflects that it “was about a time in my life about ten years ago when I was going out clubbing and doing a lot of drugs. It was quite a nostalgic album in some ways...” This wistfulness is gone now, however. When he says that “I'm just trying to write about things that actually mean something to me”, he means it, and candidly will explain that the lyrical impetus is the breakup of both a long-term, and a subsequent relationship. When I make the obvious joke, he laughs and agrees that in a way, this is his Siamese Dream.  

Instrumentally, the album is coming from a very different place; notably, all members of the band have contributed to the songwriting process, with basslines turned on their head into vocal melodies marking the inclusion of every Painter. Dan's time with Engineers has affected their vocal arrangements (as apparently has the most recent Coldplay record), and Oisin's involvement as bassist in the psychedelic Air Cav has brought with it new inflections into their band dynamics. Dan elaborates, “with this album for a while we thought we should try and do something really different with the sound, but the point is to continue working the way you always have, and then allow whatever natural influences you've been subjected to to sort of shape that. It means you start out creating an album pretty much the same way you did the last one, but at some point in the process you realise the sounds you're making are completely different.”

Having had a degree of success with their self-released début, the band opted to sign with Club AC30 for their second, a situation that Dan is clearly delighted by. Describing some of the promotional and manufacturing hiccups associated with their first record (“the discs arrived on the first night of the tour, a Thursday, and we had to be in London to give them to Rough Trade and do the 'launch' on the Monday”), he's adamant that “when it comes to AC30, I think the main reason is that they seem to me one of two or three labels that I know of that are genuinely about the music and don't really care about much else.” I ask him how he feels about trading away his control over these areas, about leaving its reception up to the work of others, and he quickly retorts that promotion and sales in the digital age are completely different beasts to the past:

“I don't think there's any direct correlation, you know; the week we had the Neil Halstead gig where Nat [Cramp, owner of Sonic Cathedral] announced the Sonic Cathedral single... that week we had a feature in the MEN, and the Guardian, and were in the 'What's on the NME Stereo'. We had the Neil Halstead show and another good support slot and yet that was the only week in the whole of 2008 that we didn't have a single friend request on Myspace, and we didn't sell anything. Any other week, we might sell two CDs or get fifty friend requests, we got fuck all. I became convinced at that point that it doesn't translate to sales in the way people normally think... anything AC30 can do will be a vast improvement on the situation we had during the time we were self-releasing, and I'll always be incredibly grateful for that opportunity.”

All this talk of AC30 and the newer shoegaze bands prompted another question- since the original scene was before his time, just how did Dan get into this style of music anyway? “It was a bit of a convoluted process, really. I was into ambient as a teenager, and through the Harold Budd collaboration with the Cocteau Twins I finally made the connection to that type of music. Tracing things back, I always responded to sounds that were really ethereal; I remember one time when I was in Exeter aged about eleven or twelve, there was a guy busking on the street with an electric mandolin, and what I now realise was lots of delay or chorus, and I just remember being absolutely entranced. When I heard the Cocteau Twins, it was pretty close to that sound I'd wanted to hear again, for so long. But I was so out of touch with indie music that I thought the Cocteau Twins was 'normal', and I'd do things like put it on at parties. People absolutely hated it! From that, I was recommended the early Verve, and that led to Slowdive... but I came to shoegaze ridiculously late, all things considered; during my second year at uni, so that was 2001!”

Not naming any names, we then moved onto the objective merits of various types of post-rock and shoegaze, and in particular the often-heard criticism that 'it all sounds the same'. Dan pauses, and then surprisingly agrees, qualifying; “one of the reasons why there's so many terrible shoegaze and post-rock bands I think is because people are mimicking the sounds from the past without realising that ultimately there has to be a song there as well. The reason My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive made such an impact at the time was because people hadn't heard sounds like that before. Well, now people have heard those sounds for twenty or twenty-five years, so to make it interesting and bring it up-to-date, you've got to pull those sounds and textures into a more conventional song context.”

Even though he spends a good deal of his compositional efforts on things like “the flow of chords”, as discussed earlier, the general theme of “creating” a song in the studio still pervades talk of the new record, which from what I've heard today is if anything more dense than their first. Dan explains, saying that whilst his approach is one of a songwriter, “the tradition I came out of was ambient music, reading books about the way Brian Eno worked. Building tracks from scratch in the studio was his invention, I suppose, and he advocated it as a strong philosophical-artistic position. Growing up, my school was fifteen miles away from where I lived, so I didn't really socialise with people at weekends. What I actually spent my time doing was teaching myself how to use a four-track and working with effects pedals, making strange ambient pieces. In a basic way, I learned how the studio worked, and that you could get good results from that. I like working in a rich acoustic environment; one of the things I like about this room is that it has its own reverb, a window, birdsong outside... we can record when we're inspired, rather than when we have to. Even if the quality of the recording isn't as good, the quality of the performance makes up for that, and I see it as part of that Daniel Lanois tradition of record production.” 

After that, more of a manifesto than an explicit discussion of the new album, it was time to close on what had been a thoroughly enjoyable if exhausting conversation. What then, I asked, did Dan love enough about music to continue?

“Long pause. [laughs] I could do a whole lecture about that, y'know? On a basic level, when it's done well it provides an opportunity to articulate emotions that we maybe not just recognize but didn't realise we had within ourselves, in the same way that sometimes you read a book and the author expresses a sentiment that you've always felt on some level, but have never been able to put into words. I think music does that in a much more effective and poignant way. As somebody who's been, at different points in my life, quite a troubled person, I don't think I could have ended up quite as chilled and relaxed without all this wonderful music to calm me down.”