Despite what the name might suggest, Do Nothing have been scurrilously working throughout the past 12 months, turning out two outstanding EPs in April 2020’s Zero Dollar Bill and now Glueland. The latter, released in early March, is a fitting sophomore effort which demonstrates the diversity of the band’s sound.
I came to the interview having read extensively on Chris Bailey’s stage persona, an assured suited figure with nuances concocted of equal parts Old Gil from the Simpsons and Stop Making Sense-era David Byrne. To me, Bailey has always been an intriguing performer with a rambling and conversational delivery which reminds of a more mature and slightly more existential Jarvis Cocker. This is then perfectly accompanied by LCD Soundystem-esque drums and bass from Charles Howarth and Andrew Harrison as well as Kasper Sandstrom’s guitar lines that jolt and crack through the mix like perfectly timed bolts of lightning.
Glueland is slightly different. This is evident right from the get-go as the title track announces itself with a synth line that oscillates through the mix. As a whole, the edges of the EP are smoother, the production slicker and the song-writing perhaps more personal. ‘Uber Alles’ stands out particularly as a song which departs from the previous live and aggressive sound that the band had demonstrated an aptitude for. This isn’t an alternative band in the traditional sense, but a collection of individuals willing to wear their influences on their sleeve and acting outside of the pigeonhole of ‘indie’ that the music press may attempt to consign them to.
As I chat to Bailey, the setting is unassuming but his passion for the band is brimming. He sits in his family kitchen extolling the plus points of being back at home for a fleeting trip, such as a fridge stocked fully with premium lager rather than Aldi day-beers. He clearly knows the potential of the band and is eager to test the limits of his own songwriting. It appears evident that he has spent much of the last 12 months in the studio of his own lodgings ruminating on what inspires him. I had first come across Do Nothing whilst trawling through YouTube on one of the dog days of lockdown in a stripped-down version of their song ‘New Life’. Here, Bailey sits in that studio and sings backed only by an ominchord and occasional guitar fills. I would highly recommend going and finding the video, it is the perfect appetiser before diving into Glueland. Whilst the new EP is bigger and bolder and exciting at each turn, it still contains the same thoughtfulness and innocence of that stripped back reimagining.
Have you found it easy to be productive during lockdown?
Now that is another matter. I didn’t like it at first, creatively. Once we were in lockdown, you realise what you were writing about before. Once all those influences and stimulants are gone, you then realise that you were subconsciously writing about that the whole time. So when you’re sitting at home, you are not supplying your brain with food for thought.
Are you not forced to hone your craft then in an attempt to try and tap into what inspires you?
That’s what I’ve had to do I guess. I’ve realised that a lot of what I write is about interaction with people, so to then not have many people around you makes that more different. I watch a lot of documentaries; I really like them. In a film they are pushing certain ideas and themes but then in a documentary they are showing the way that things or people are. Those are the things I’m really interested in, the way that people are and the way that I am and the way that reflects to other people. So I’ve been doing a lot of that. They always give you a chance to step outside your rubbish little life for a second.
You’ve said that you want to keep evolving and changing as a band, what would you say is the starkest difference between previous releases and Glueland?
Previously, the way that we worked was that we would road-test songs quite heavily, and that is how I and we would justify a song to ourselves. The reaction would confirm whether we would like it, which is good because it’s fun and it is rewarding. You can feel people respond to a song and that feels like a natural end point; but that means you are less likely to release material that isn’t live-worthy. So if you were to write a song that was good for other reasons, and not good just to be played live and get people going then we would shy away from it.
One thing that makes music good and viable to play live I think is stability. If something feels stable and doesn’t have a lot of gaps in and it doesn’t move around in interesting ways then you feel safe. You can sit and sink into it. So to do stuff that is a bit more rickety and not just hammering the same loops is scary, or has been scary in the past to me because you don’t feel as safe doing it. We haven’t really gone in that direction. I feel like if we’d done another EP that was quite live and aggressive then I would be pushing myself into a place where I couldn’t do anything that wasn’t that. I’m doing this to make sure I don’t lock myself up, because that terrifies me. This thing in your head that tells you what is expected of you is a really dangerous thing.
I’ve heard you talk about the ‘Idles effect’, taking post-punk and stripping it back to more minimalist roots. Have you embraced that idea of trying to smooth out those rough edges?
I wouldn’t say it was a concerted effort, but that is what came naturally. Take away us playing live in a room; for me to make really live and aggressive music on my own, I’d be trying to emulate something that I should really emulate. I should wait, and we can do that live stuff again. I was trying to take the situation we had and work the best out of it that we could. But that wasn’t something I really thought about, I’m just thinking about that now.
I’m only figuring this out recently, but I actually find it really difficult to write stuff that doesn’t represent what I’m feeling. That sounds super-lame but what I mean is that sometimes you feel like it might be beneficial to write something fast, because it would be useful to have a ‘fast’ song on the album. I previously thought that I could just do that because I’ve been writing for long enough, but if that’s not what I actually feel like doing I lose interest or physically hit a wall.
I really don’t want to just pump stuff out. I think that’s valuable; and what you should be doing, fucking staggering about trying to find the thing that really represents what you want to be putting out.
People often say of you that you have figured out how to be yourself as a frontman. What do you think the function of a frontman is? Is it simply to be yourself or is there more of an artistic exercise in trying to suspend belief?
I don’t think the purpose of it is to be yourself. To be a songwriter like Leonard Cohen – he is pretty much himself or it seems like he is being himself and what he is is cool. He just emits Leonard Cohen and people eat that up. As a frontman there is another weird entertainment side; a character and a thing to look at that isn’t just a person singing. People very easily get a sense when they are watching something live of a character I think. In the past we have spoken about the idea of a character and playing the part of something that isn’t ourselves, but not very much. I haven’t got a weird shtick really; I just wear a suit and am slightly more confident than I would be if I was talking to someone.
There’s nothing worse than when you go to gig and the band are in the same area as the audience before they go on stage. That sucks. It’s the same as if you went to the theatre and you saw the actor walking around beforehand, and then you see them go on stage and pretend to be the character. There is an illusion there which is worth holding onto. It’s cooler, it’s nicer and it’s more fun where there is this weird idea that people used to look at Bowie and think he was an alien or a god.
I guess that the cynical argument with Bowie is that he would pick a different persona which was the most effective vehicle to sell a particular album. It’s the idea that as a performer you are a salesperson and you are trying to sell the material that you have. Where do you stand on that?
That is totally true and I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. I like watching those late-night talk shows even though I know that every person that goes on is advertising and I’m literally watching adverts. I think the audience know that and bought a ticket and bought the record and they know what the deal is. If I was Bowie, I would think in the back of my head I should keep making characters because I think that’s a way to get people to follow along with you. Each new character bookmarks the start of a new project. Visually I think that is really important and works even on a smaller level. I’m not in any way comparing myself to Bowie but between this EP and the previous one, I am wearing a different suit. That is as far as my character goes. But when people see visually what we are doing they will recognise it as a new thing.
There are frequently comparisons made between your band and the likes of LCD Soundsystem, The Fall and Talking Heads. Do you ever worry about wearing your influences too prominently on your sleeve?
Big time. I think that’s the thing that I’m going through at the moment. I’m really fucking trying to find something that I’m excited about, myself. It’s impossible not to be influenced by things that you like but it takes some effort to make something really original. I don’t want to truck along and be a ‘post-punk band’ which is a wave that will inevitably crash. I think it’s really important to connect with people beyond a trend because it’s easy to let that wave carry you. You do have to mean something and it has to be genuine and you have to excited about it yourself. At the moment, I’m not allowing myself to be comfortable.
Words: Oscar Edmondson // Photos: Adrian Vitelleschi Cook
Do Nothing’s ‘Glueland EP’ is out now via Exact Truth. You can purchase and stream the record via their page on Bandcamp.