Interview: Two Door Cinema Club’s Sam Halliday

Last year Northern Ireland’s Two Door Cinema Club played two shows in Seattle. The first show was in May at Nectar Lounge as part of a sold out KNDD 107.7 the End event, and the second show was another headlining show at Neumos in November. Enthusiasm for the band was high at their Seattle debut, but by the time of their second capacity crowd show, a hysteria had built up. Fans honestly went wild and though at times it was a bit terrifying, it was a deserved hysteria for the trio of Alex Trimble, Kevin Baird and Sam Halliday. I am virtually never one to make predictions in music, but I knew that 2011 would be this band’s year. I declared it and was right. Two Door Cinema Club returns to Seattle tomorrow, Tuesday April 12th at the Showbox Market, and last week I got to talk to the band’s terrific guitarist Sam Halliday. Along with Trimble (vocals/guitars/keys) and Baird (bass/keys), Halliday is part of a glorious project, one whose musical style grabs you by the ankles and throat, and their debut, Tourist History floors you on record and live.

Have you been surprised by how excited audiences have become at Two Door Cinema shows?

Sam Halliday: Yeah definitely. It’s always very overwhelming. Especially over here because we’re playing smaller shows than we’ve been playing in Europe. There’s more times that we’re kind of hanging around outside the venue and things and we meet a lot more people that way. We’ve spoken to a lot of fans over here and people seem to be excited to meet us. It’s still a little bit strange.

I saw your two Seattle shows and the second show’s audience freaked me out.

SH: It’s great though that it’s starting to spread over here as well. Our fans always seem to bring people with them, which is nice.

I was reading that one of Two Door Cinema Club likes Kylie Minogue and one likes John Denver? Is this the same band member?

SH: We’re all fans of Kylie. It’s just me who’s into John Denver though. I listen to a lot of different things.

You’ve mentioned that you write your songs with the intention of them being live songs.

SH: Yeah definitely – that’s kind of why we formed a band, to play our songs live. We’ll never really feel comfortable with a song until we’ve tried it out live. It’ll never be finished until we’ve played it a few times live. There have been a few times where a song hasn’t worked out live so we scrapped it. A song has to work in a live context. I think it’s where people are going to say whether or not you’re a good band is if they see you live. If you can’t play your songs within that context there’s no point in having them.

In “Undercover Martyn” you sing about basement people. What would basement people be like?

SH: They’d be fun people. They’d be pretty nervous people but once they had a few beers they’d be fun people.

Sam Halliday of Two Door Cinema Club – Neumos, November 2010 – photo by Dagmar

You’re now in Glasgow – recording the new CD?

SH: We live in Glasgow now. We’ve got a house together, we all live under the same roof with a little room we practice in.

What’s a regular day for you?

SH: We haven’t really settled in yet. We’ve kind of been there one week and then on tour for three weeks. At the minute it’s wake up, it’s too cold to get out of bed, lie in a bit longer, get up and have some breakfast – finish sorting out something with the house or sorting out the council tax. Hopefully it will be more of a wake up early, go down to the basement, write some songs, start recording some songs . . .

How is the new material going? Will you be doing it on tour?

SH: We’ve got lots of ideas. The way we do it is write bits and pieces on our own. But it doesn’t really become a song until we bring it all together and work on it. We’re playing a few new songs on the road, which is nice for us.

Great! Which songs?

SH: We’ve got on called “Handshake” and another one called “This is Moon“.

Awesome. Your first album is one of my favorites ever, and it’s gotten such a positive reaction – do you see any negative reactions? Is it weird not to have criticism?

SH: There’s been a few things. We tend not to read a lot of the stuff because it might change your thoughts in terms of what’s good. It could influence what you do.

I wouldn’t want to read it. When you first started getting into music did you get to see shows?

SH: Not as many as I would have liked to. In Bangor the closest city to us was Belfast, and not that many touring bands come there. Not as much as they would to other parts of the UK. Also there weren’t many underage shows. Before I was eighteen the shows I could go to were local bands from Belfast doing shows in church halls and things. A lot of our favorite bands we were fans of while growing up were bands from Belfast. When we were 13 or 14 we were into bands like the Strokes, Idlewild and Modest Mouse. We liked rock music. There were a lot of bands like that from Belfast we were seeing week in week out.

You’ve got a song called “Costume Party”. What do you like to dress as?

SH: The last time we were in Denver on Halloween. We’d just come back from Japan, and in Japan they’ve got these really cool onesie dressing up costumes. I dressed up as Buzz Lightyear. We were in Mexico last week and we bought ponchos and sombreros – so that could be a potential costume.

Ponchos are comfortable. What are your favorite foods and drinks?

SH: I do like a good burger. I like home-cooked lasagna. Alcoholic drinks, I reckon, a mojito.

When you were a kid you used to go to an afterschool guitar club?

SH: It was a group of young kids playing “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles.

What’s your family thought about what you do? They probably weren’t surprised you wanted to go into music.

SH: I don’t think they were surprised. I have an older sister and a lot of her friends were in bands and they tried to make a career of it. They didn’t really like the fact that I wasn’t going to university. We had to sell it as a year out. After that first year we’d made our album so they saw that it was cool.

You were going to study Maths and Geography? What got you into Geography?

SH: I like every aspect of it. The awesomeness of the world – like last month the tsunami in Japan. Whenever we fly over cities I always look out.

I love your guitar playing, it’s very unusual. When you learned did you learn to play high up on the guitar?

SH: Not really. I think it’s just because I was never really great at putting together chords. I was better at making up melodies.

Like on “Eat That Up, It’s Good for You,” it’s almost like a mandolin. It’s cool.

SH: I think it just came from not being very good.

Who came up with the vocals on “I Can Talk”?

There are a lot of songs with that kind of chopped up vocals. It was our first time kind of experimenting with that. We wanted to try it out again. Alex was recording on his laptop, and making noises, and then we put one together.

You met Prince Charles. Where did you meet him?

At Glastonbury.

Do they tell you what you can talk about when you meet royalty?

SH: No, were just told to call him Your Royal Highness. Call him Your Royal Highness until he tells you to call him something else. I can’t remember what that was though. He thought we were from Wales, and when we told him we were from Northern Ireland he looked a bit shocked. He’s good at small talk.

In the video for “Something Good Can Work” the band is in bumper cars. When you go to fairs what rides do you like?

SH: Rollercoasters and Ferris wheels. We went to Universal Studios on our last American tour. That was unreal.

What about reading and TV shows, what are you into?

SH: Not so much reading sadly. I love Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Community, Modern Family . . .

What’s the approach in structuring your songs – some are quite short.

SH: It happens. We play quite fast. We don’t want to overuse ideas. I think if someone likes a certain part of a song they can listen to the song again. In terms of structure, a lot of the songs were very similar. Something we want to do is try make them a bit different.

You did a great cover of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”. Are you fans?

SH: Oh yeah, big time. I don’t like the new video for “Born This Way”. I don’t think it works – it just isn’t relevant at all. The song doesn’t seem like it fits the video.

About that cat on the cover of Tourist History. I read you don’t like cats?

SH: Kittens are cute but cats just rub their hair all over you. I’m allergic to them.

How do you keep your energy level up on tour?

SH: We tend to not have days off. We say we try to get as much as sleep as possible, but that’s not really true. Try to eat well. We’re into our superfruits, blueberries and strawberries.

Do you think critics are harder or easier on you because you’re all around 21.

SH: I definitely think harder. When we were a young band, like when we were 17, we’d be lower down on the bill because the bands were older, even if they weren’t as good as us.

How’d they do that to you all in the video for “Undercover Martyn“. Are there ropes? Puppeteers?

SH: There’s people holding us up. It was really quite awkward and uncomfortable.

What about films, what are your favorites?

SH: One of the movies I can watch over and over again is Zoolander. For serious movies – Life is Beautiful. Tarantino & Rodriguez as well.

interview by Dagmar