Off the back of their newly released album Popular Manipulations, The Districts have a hectic touring schedule around North America and Europe. The album has big shoes to fill following previous record A Flourish and a Spoil, produced by living genius John Congleton (St Vincent, Swans). CALLUM SYNNOTT spoke with frontman Rob Grote about the popular Pennsylvania band’s new album, supporting the Rolling Stones and the butt-naked toilet selfies taken while in Australia.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing your album and I gave it a glowing review. For those who are yet to, can you tell us a little about the new album and what to expect?
The new album, Popular Manipulations, we did four of the songs with John Congleton, who produced our last record and then self-produced the other seven songs. John mixed all of it for us, and we spent more time and wrote more songs than we ever have for an album. We just wanted to push ourselves, explore our creativity more, try and change some stuff, try and expand on stuff and what not. We just worked really hard to kind of, take a step in a new direction, we consider it a step forward. We always want to be evolving continuously and yeah; I think we’ve done that here.
There are a lot of interesting themes in this album. Some of the lyrics are very poetic as you explore possessiveness, heartbreak, anxiety and manipulation. These are some darker themes than your past music, how much do you feel you have grown not just as people, but as a band, since your previous album A Flourish and a Spoil?
We toured for nearly 9 months on that last album, that was pretty much straight. It gave us a ton of time to grow as a live band and to think about the music we had made up until then. I mean, we’ve been listening to so many different types of music just from meeting other bands on tour and driving in the van and stuff… I think we’ve grown a lot in different ways, like as musicians, songwriters, our thoughts on music and what not, in general.
You worked with John Congleton again on this album, this is the second time you have worked with him…
We did our whole last album with him, this time four of the tracks he produced and he mixed the whole thing, but we didn’t do the whole record with him this time.
He’s considered by some to be something of a genius. Can you tell us what it was like to work with him?
Yeah it was great, we get along really well, he’s a smart dude, and he has a lot of smart ideas. He’s a good friend, great producer, great at mixing, all of it.
I picked up on a range of influences in your music, I was getting shades of all sorts of bands such as Franz Ferdinand, The Arctic Monkeys, but I, personally, felt your music sounded very much like The Wombats with American accents. Can you tell us a little about your influences?
We all listen to a pretty eclectic range of music. We definitely talked about going in to make this album like in the valleys of disorienting ourselves musically. We’re always seeking out new music and trying to listen to a bunch of stuff, like say this album, I really love a lot of off-kilter 60s and 70s stuff like Lee Hazlewood, he’s a good songwriter, stuff like Scott Walker, Joe Meek the producer from the 60s, we all really like his stuff. I also like everything from old country to like, post-funk stuff. Kendrick Lamar’s new album is great. So yeah we listen to all sorts.
I have seen you’ve announced a new North American tour to coincide with your new album. You’ll be touring Europe soon and all over the US, you must be excited, tell us a little about the upcoming tour?
Yeah we’re on tour right now, we’re in New York just now, and we’ve been touring on and off in general. We have to go back to Europe, we did like, a week, in Europe a couple of months ago. We haven’t done a full month in a while so it’ll be like a month and a half, which will be cool. Just getting out there and playing the new songs live. We’ve played some of the new songs live without people knowing them, so it’s great to go out there once the new stuff is out so people are actually familiar with the stuff you’re playing.
I read that you wrote Fat Kiddo whilst in between shows during your busy touring schedule. Can you tell us a little about the songwriting dynamic within the band? You know, do you all contribute and write separately, or is it mainly one of you who brings the songs to the group?
There’s not like a huge songwriting process. Some of it was written between touring but we also took a lot of time off last year where a lot of it was written as well. There’s not one way of doing it, we all sort of contribute. Sometimes me and Pat (Cassidy, guitar) will work on a song from scratch, sometimes Braden (Lawrence, drums) will bring an idea that we use and then sometimes we smoosh ideas from each other. I’d say for the most part, I come up with a basic version and make a solo demo of it in my room with guitar, vocals, keyboard, things like that and then from there we get together, try and arrange it, try and write a few more parts for it, everyone kind of adds their piece to the puzzle.
In 2015 at a summer music festival in Quebec you were lucky enough to open for the Rolling Stones. That must have been incredible, did you get to mix with Jagger, Richards and the rest backstage?
Yeah it was incredible but nooo, we didn’t get to meet them at all, they were in a separate dressing room area, basically. They basically drove up right before soundcheck, stayed in their little backstage area and they have like, their own little bridge to the stage. They didn’t have to walk amongst anyone and like, the second they finished playing they got in their Mercedes and drove off but Mick Jagger did say through the microphone let’s hear it for The Districts so that was pretty fucking cool.
Yeah you got a mention from Mick Jagger! You’ve played some pretty impressive venues and festivals such as Lollapalooza and you have Reading and Leeds festivals coming up in the UK. What do you feel is the greatest venue or festival you have played personally?
We just played Osheaga Festival in Montreal. That was by far the best artist catering we’ve ever eaten (laughs). I really loved Oyafestivalen in Norway a couple of years back, we did Haldern Pop Fest in Germany, it’s on a farm, it’s small, that’s cool. We played Lowlands in The Netherlands, that was cool. Sometimes we’re only there while we play, we just roll out after a festival so sometimes it’s harder to judge a festival but I think most of them are pretty cool. We played Splendour in the Grass in Australia, which was awesome. Yeah… Fuji Rock in Japan was one of my favourites, mostly because it was in Japan and that was fucking amazing.
So with this album out, are you back writing more music or are you going to ride on the fruits of your labour for a little while now with this album? Is there any new music we can expect in the near future?
We’re going to be touring a lot but I think we all definitely intend to keep working on music, I don’t think we really want to wait as long as we waited between albums this time, so hopefully before long we’ll be recording stuff again. Try to keep it moving at a faster pace, you know?
We’d love to see you again here in Australia; we know it’s a long way. Do you have any plans to put Australia back in your sights soon?
Yeah, I mean we don’t have anything booked right now, but I’m hoping some time in 2018 to get out there again, that’d be awesome, we loved it over there last time
One last question, with all the touring you’ve been doing, you must have had some pretty interesting moments. Any wild little stories you’d be happy to share?
There was a pretty fucking weird thing that happened in Australia (laughs). These two guys, they were really nice guys, came and we were talking to them after the show, we were hanging out in this little apartment thing, they came and hung out, we were just drinking and I was about to go to bed so I went to take a shower, and I’m taking a shit before I take a shower, and I’m undressed, and one of the guys barges in and tries to take a selfie with me while I’m on the toilet, so I was like, butt-naked trying to push him out of the bathroom and like… really drunk. It was really fucking weird and I do not understand it (laughs).
Yeah that was pretty weird…