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Obscured by Crowds

New York’s The Double Turned its Recording Experiment Into a Mammoth Live Band on Matador Records

ON THE RECORD: The Double takes its newfound live sound into the studio.

By Mikael Wood | Posted 2/23/2005

The Double, Ratatat, Big in Japan and Sylvan Screen

At the Supreme Imperial Feb. 27

David Greenhill is on the phone from Connecticut, and he’s got competition. Every once in a while a strange noise swells up from behind him and threatens to drown out his voice: a buzzing guitar, or a squelch of synthesizer, or the crisp snap of someone hitting a snare drum. Greenhill’s with his New York-based band the Double at Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport for a couple of weeks; it’s the same place where Interpol recorded its two albums, which is appropriate since, like those fellow New Yorkers, the Double has just signed to Matador Records. The band is in the midst of recording a new album that Matador plans to release this fall as a follow-up to Palm Fronds, the beguiling disc that singer-bassist Greenhill and his band mates—drummer Jeff McLeod, guitarist Donald Beaman, and keyboard player Jacob Morris—put out last year.

It’s appropriate, too, that Greenhill’s fighting to be heard over the din in the background, because that’s sort of how the music on Palm Fronds works. At heart the Double is a creative rock band with an interest in song structure and melody and groove, but on Palm Fronds it does everything it can to sabotage whatever tendencies toward normalcy it harbors. Sounds buzz in and out of the mix, sometimes taking precedence over the songs themselves. Melodies get stretched right to the breaking point, then resume form. Crackly electronic noises vie for space with human voices and live instruments. The approach gives the album—which details trips to the beach and the skill needed to create a really impressive shampoo mohawk—an edge of menace that complicates its sometimes sunny disposition.

“The record was really exploratory,” Greenhill explains. “We were writing as we were recording, and it was just a really exciting time because we were trying things that we had never done before. We wanted to make songs that had a lot of information in them.”

At the time it was recording—from the summer of 2001 till the summer of 2002—the Double wasn’t playing live shows. In fact, it wasn’t really a live band at all. The group formed when Greenhill began playing with McLeod at Vassar College when they were both undergrads there; upon graduation, the pair moved to New York, along with Morris and Beaman, an old junior-high friend of Greenhill’s who relocated from California. They started working on the project that became Palm Fronds, recording hours of music, then spending weeks or months tweaking it on computers in various apartments during the evening after work.

“We really didn’t know where it was going,” Greenhill says. “That was the thing: We didn’t know what the future of the band was, and that’s why it was so exciting. We didn’t even know if it was gonna come out, but we were like, ‘We’re gonna spend a year working on something because it’s so interesting to get into it.’ And then when it was finished we thought, ‘Well, we’ll start playing shows and see what happens to the songs.’ We thought there could be a real future for these recordings.”

So the band rented a rehearsal space and began learning how to play the tunes from Palm Fronds live. “When we came out of recording, it was like, ‘Oh, we have this whole repertoire, this whole palette of sounds to draw on,’” Greenhill says. The band didn’t stress over the disparity between the live show and the recorded material, but instead embraced it, figuring out how to best serve each medium on its own terms. “I’d never played bass in a band before, and now, because we needed the low end, I learned how to be a bass player,” Greenhill laughs. Soon the band was regularly gigging around New York, opening for bigger acts such as the Fiery Furnaces and Ted Leo, developing an audience of listeners attracted to its off-kilter avant-pop. Among them: Matador cofounder Chris Lombardi.

“The first time [I saw them] I was on the prowl with Paul [Banks] from Interpol,” Lombardi says from Matador’s New York headquarters. “I think we might have been on a tear that night—or the beginning of one—and we checked ’em out at Mercury Lounge. The next time I saw them was in London opening up for Paul’s band in a really big venue. They were amazing. In fact, many people were asking, ‘Who the hell are these guys? Where are they from?’ They really sold the crowd. That show did it for me.” Lombardi invited his business partner Gerard Cosloy up to New York to check out the band.

“We saw them play in this minute recording studio with a giant picture window facing the Brooklyn Bridge,” Lombardi remembers. “The bridge seemed so close you thought maybe you could touch it—the tugboats chugging by. They played really loud. The whole scene was surreal.”

As is the one Greenhill finds himself in now. He calls the experience of recording with Matador’s resources behind him “totally exciting.” He talks about getting to do the Double full-time, getting to travel and making a “really involved” record on someone else’s dime.

“I guess I feel like we’ve honed things more,” he says of the band’s latest work. “I feel like some of the stuff on Palm Fronds is a more naive exploration than now. I guess we’ve become a little bit more quote-unquote professional or something.” He laughs. “We just know each other better, that’s all.”

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