Interview: Two Door Cinema Club on time off, playing the ‘Gameshow’

It’s been a testing few years for Two Door Cinema Club. The band originally from Northern Ireland was forced to curtail their 2014 tour (including, memorably, Splendour in the Grass) due to illness, which only compounded the feelings of frustration and discontent that had beset them. Being stuck in an exhausting cycle of recording, touring and promoting for four years had taken its toll, both physically and mentally, and the trio’s relationship was strained.

Fast forward to today, and it’s an entirely different story. Revitalised after a much-needed break from the rigours of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, frontman Alex Trimble, bassist Kevin Baird and guitarist Sam Halliday have reunited to release their third album, Gameshow. We spoke to Sam about the album and why a break was vital to the ongoing success of Two Door Cinema Club.

Gameshow is out tomorrow (Friday 14th October) in Australia. Can you tell me a bit about the album’s themes and what sort of things the album addresses?

I can give it a go! I think, from Alex’s point of view, a lot of it was having the time off the road to reflect a bit on where the world was at. I think something that hit him a lot was how people nowadays just seem to live their life a bit too much online and on social media. A few of the songs reflect on those sort of observations. He doesn’t like speaking too much about the lyrics; it’s nice for people to take what they want from a song.

I understand you guys have been on a self-imposed hiatus for the last few years. Why was that decision made?

It wasn’t so much a decision; that would be putting it too nicely [laughs]. We ended the campaign last time around with a few cancelled shows and that was brought about by illness, which I think was induced mostly by unhealthy living, being on the road, drinking too much and eating badly. Parallel that with the stress and anxiety of being in a broken family relationship, which I think is what our band kind of got to become at the end. When you’re spending 24/7 with people who you’re working with and who you’re friends with, I think everything is magnified. We got pretty bad at communicating the little things. It’s not as if there was ever a big argument or a big bust-up between us – that probably would’ve been better because you could pinpoint that problem pretty easily. I think we all just became a bit unhappy because we were doing it all a bit too much and there was no balance between home life and work life, or any other side of life. We just needed a bit of time to experience something outside of the band.

What did you do during your time off?

I got married just before the last campaign and I’d not really lived anywhere properly before. It was cool! I had some DIY to do, put up some pictures, look up YouTube videos, learn some new skills… Just being a good house husband. I got into cooking and just normal stuff, you know? Playing football once a week with friends, going to the pub, going to gigs, making music for fun.

Did living so far apart from one another during your time off help with gathering a variety of ideas and inspiration for this album? Did everyone bring something different to the table?

Yeah, I think we did. We’ve always been kind of been like that, though. We’re just so different. Obviously we all like music, but I think we all have different favourite types of music, which is great. I think the distance was good because it meant that we didn’t have to straight away get in a room together and try and make songs, because that can be kind of awkward if you’re not getting on so well. I guess it’s hard to be vulnerable and brave around people you’re not so close with.

We just started off hanging out and not doing music at all, and then whenever we felt comfortable with sharing ideas it was all done initially over email, which was cool because it wasn’t awkward. It gave us time to work on ideas alone and bring different elements to it and share them without any pressure. And then once you realise that, yeah, this is easy, we can do this, it’s like back to normal. It was fun then, getting into the studio and expanding on those ideas we’d worked on online. Working again with Jacknife Lee was great; we worked with him on Beacon and built up a relationship with him. He knew the dynamic and just made a fun environment for us all.

That fun really shines through in the three songs I’ve heard so far from Gameshow. I’ve never heard music from you guys that sounds quite so carefree. It sounds like you guys are reinvigorated and full of energy and ideas. Is that how you felt in the studio when you returned?

Yeah, definitely. We’ve always taken the band seriously, but I think we’ve taken the whole thing less seriously – not in a professional way, I mean we’re just trying to have fun, and having that distance from the project and realising that it doesn’t matter as much as we thought it did when we were in it 24/7. That’s allowed us to have a bit more fun with it, be a bit more brave and take different directions.

I know your first two albums were recorded and produced relatively quickly as part of that record-tour-promote cycle. With Gameshow, Did you enjoy being able to focus more and take your time with this album?

I don’t even know if we did take our time with this one! As soon as we knew we wanted to do it, it was full steam ahead – not because we had to, but because it was exciting again. I think once we started writing songs it just clicked. We weren’t really working on it in that break at all; we were just sort of writing music for fun and not for the band particularly. Once we started writing for Two Door, that was probably the end of last summer, and then we went in to record in January/February time. So we didn’t really spend that much time working on the music compared to before; it was sort of a similar process.

Your music videos are consistently some of the most interesting, and that’s especially true of your new singles, Are We Ready (Wreck) and Bad Decisions. They’re both visually and conceptually fascinating, but do you think they accurately portray the themes you wanted them to?

I think the Are We Ready video is bang on. We’ve always tried to do stuff that has a bit more of a meaning behind it, but I think in terms of the humorous aspect of it we were a bit less concerned about coming across silly. It was good fun to do. We got to go and get prosthetics made, which is, personally, just a cool experience. It was guys who had worked on Guardians of the Galaxy and stuff, so it was cool just to be in that world for a second.

The Bad Decisions video I think came from a place of us getting sucked into a computerised world, which seemed to sync up with the idea of some of the songs, but then it just went a bit crazy [laughs].

So is that what Gameshow is about as a concept, that computerised world?

Gameshow became the album title because all of us responded to it. The general feeling of what we didn’t necessarily like about being in the band was feeling like you constantly have to play this ‘gameshow’. Do this and you might get this. Sometimes you might get thrown into this pop world where it’s not about the music; it’s just about doing these other stupid things that help you get to where you want to go, I guess.

Can we expect a return to Australia with Gameshow?

Definitely! I wish I knew when. We love coming to Australia and we’ve always had a great time there, so we’re definitely not going to miss the chance. The tough thing now is that we’ve got all these fun places to go, but we’re trying not to kill ourselves this time around again.

Gameshow is out now via Parlophone.