A few weeks ago I sat down with Ex Cops (Brian Harding + Amalie Bruun) in Manhattan to talk about their fantastic record Daggers, which was released back in November 2014 but STILL remains to be on heavy rotation in my headphones on a daily basis. (If there is such a thing as having listened to a song an embarrassing amount of times, then I am guilty of it for “Black Soap” in particular…seriously, if you haven’t downloaded the album yet, YOU NEED TO DO IT IMMEDIATELY.)
When we met, the pair had just gotten back from SXSW; there they’d garnered substantial attention not just for their outstanding music, but also for the amazing stand they’d taken against McDonald’s (whose attempts at infiltrating the SXSW scene were viewed by most as highly exploitative) via an open letter that addressed corporate greed. We didn’t get into that too much in our conversation; instead, we covered what it was like for the band to work with Billy Corgan and Justin Raisen on making Daggers, as well as the duo’s creative dynamic (both together and separately) and what’s coming up next for them. Internet-eavesdrop on the full transcript below, grab the record, and be sure to follow the band on Facebook and Twitter to stay tuned to where they’re headed for all future gigs. HERE WE GO:
So what’s been going on? Still recovering from SXSW?
B: We’re recovering from everything. We just did a fourteen hour video shoot yesterday.
Yeah, I saw that! I don’t know if you can say which track it’s for, but who were you working with on that, and was it your own concept?
B: It was “Weird with You” for Viacom’s new series FWD; they’re doing video shoots for bands and fashion, and we pretty much had total control over the concept, which was awesome. We’re really excited about it.
And is it wrapped?
B: Yeah, but it won’t be released for another few months.
Okay cool, we’ll be on the lookout for that one, then. Now, Daggers as a whole is fantastic; when you were first starting out on making it, had you established any sort of “verbal” mission statement in terms of what you wanted to achieve either sonically or lyrically? Or did it shape itself as you went along?
B: Kind of both; we wanted to focus on pop songs, which you can probably tell from the album.
A: Working with Billy certainly shaped it. In Chicago, there were just so many hours and conversations with him about music and philosophical things, and about the angle of the album…that shaped it a lot.
B: Yeah, I think it was a mixture of both people that we worked with; we worked with Billy initially, and then Justin Raisen recording the record, who’s very future, very new music. We liked that combination of nineties love and 2015 sound. It worked out organically, I think.
Right. And was there much that had to be cut away from the final lineup of songs when all was said and done?
B: We actually wrote exactly what we have.
A: There were some in the demo stage that we didn’t bring.
B: Well, once we got to Chicago we didn’t have any extra fat.
A: Before that we had like, thirty-five.
B: Yeah, about a year of material.
So which song that made it onto the album was the most challenging to nail down, and/or which song that DIDN’T make it onto the final cut was the hardest to let go?
A: “Pretty Shitty”. “Pretty Shitty” has like five different versions, they’re all totally different…
B: “Modern World”
A: “Modern World” was something I wrote in about ten minutes, and then the whole time, everyone was making it something it wasn’t; it had so many different productions, and I hated all of them. I don’t know. Those two songs were really difficult. I think “Modern World” will be really good live.
Well speaking of the live performance, is that something that you typically factor into the writing process? You know, how it will end up translating in a live setting? Or do you just worry about all of that later?
A: We started thinking about it with Billy. We hadn’t really thought about it before. We really wanted to make an album that sounds good on piano and guitar, as well as with layered and textured sound. We perform as a duo sometimes acoustically, and we want our songs to be good that way. And they are.
B: A classic song should sound good on a ukulele. That was our thought process. Like, we shouldn’t have to color it with so many things to make it good.
Right. And how do you generally work together to create songs? Is it fairly free-flowing and collaborative across the board, or have you got set roles that you try to stick to?
B: This is the first album that we collaborated on, and you get a strong sense of Amalie’s pop background. We did co-writes on this album, too, which was different for us. We usually like to wait until it’s work time to really put things together, but in the meantime we work on our own bits and pieces and ideas.
A: A lot of it is that he brings something, I bring something, and then we make a third part together.
Sure. And when you are working separately, do you find that you work better at certain times of the day, under certain circumstances…do you have any semblance of a standardized routine?
B: I never did that thing where people do assigned writing. If I have an idea I’ll just jot it down in an iPhone note and then come home and try to scrap it all together later.
A: I mean, I just do it…if you’re a songwriter, you’re writing songs, you know?
B: I’ve read interviews where guys will get up at ten o’clock in the morning and write and work, but that never really worked for me. I do definitely like to have the TV on for some reason when I’m writing, though.
A: Not me.
Good for background noise, definitely. I miss having a TV for that reason sometimes. I don’t have one up here.
B: I don’t have one either, so I have to find a crappy Netflix show to put on.
And so what are you working on right now? Any new material at the moment, or are you just kind of letting Daggers breathe a bit?
B: No, we’re just focused on getting a tour right now. We’d like to maybe record some covers just to get some studio exercise, but right now we’re not even thinking about new songs; we’re just seeing what we can do with this record.