With the international touring action only now starting to play out on local stages, Tāmaki Makaurau rock act Daffodils were among the first to enjoy the benefits of playing an enviable support slot, as the opening band for fresh-voiced British indie rock duo Wet Leg. Ahead of that gig Daffodils’ frontman Theo Salmon chatted with NZ Musician’s Colette Morrison about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of making their newly released ‘Stay The Night’ EP. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.
It’s coming up to five years since ‘some teenagers from Auckland’ announced themselves as Daffodils, the teenage indie rock act reminding their own millennial generation of the fun musical times that were 1980s’ new wave. Drummer Isaac Keating, bassist Louis Graham and synth player Jadee Bryham ably support guitarist/songwriter Theo Salmon, whose lead vocals can’t help but evoke thoughts of The Cure’s Robert Smith.
Even before the release of the band’s first single Twin Angels there was plenty of talk about their international potential, and with the release of debut EP ‘Boys’ in October 2019 Daffodils’ future was indeed looking bright. But frustrated fans have had to wait almost three full years for the band’s sophomore EP, ‘Stay The Night’.
The story of this new release is not unlike the story of many NZ artists in the last year; of studio time and creative processes completely kneecapped by the dreaded ‘L’ word. As Salmon explains the process already differed from the band’s previous experiences as they hadn’t already worked these songs up by playing them for ages.
“Because I’ve covered all the songs that we had laying around, we’d never played any of them properly. So going to the studio we just had a bunch of demos that we hadn’t spent a lot of time with, which was kind of cool so that we could work them up properly in the studio. We went into The Lab, in maybe February last year, to start sort of doing a couple of days where we just played through them all, working up all the parts before we’d start actually recording.
“We got one day in there and we ended up back in another lockdown! We got this one day, and then three months of just sitting around doing nothing, which was kind of frustrating. And when we finally got in the studio – yeah, it was kind of grim!”
That start-stop put an abrupt halt to any creative momentum the band was developing, and this emotional experience can be found in traces on the EP. ‘Stay The Night’ soundtracks the disjointed experience of young adulthood, reflecting and representing the zeitgeist of its time in more ways than just pure aesthetics.
The band’s frontman, Salmon is also the chief songwriter, though the EP’s five tracks are undoubtedly a group effort.
“I’m not great at producing stuff myself, so I get to like demo quality, and then I’ll take it to the rest of the band and we’ll spend a lot of time working up all of the additional bits.”
This usual collaborative process, impossible for three months, saw ‘Stay The Night’ relegated to the back burners. Salmon points out a key upside to this untimely interruption, however.
“We had recorded a couple of things, so I guess it gave us time to like, sit with the songs a little bit more and figure out what we were going to do. It was quite interesting having so much time to like, hear back the recordings of that one day we’d done, where we were laying them out and working with some proper [recording] gear. We changed a few sections in terms of like, chord progression, and just to make some of the songs flow a little bit better, and feel a little bit more interesting.”
While those 2021 lockdown restrictions provided extra time to mull over the proposed tracks, once restrictions were lifted the band were busting to get back into the studio. Working again with long-time engineer and co-producer Jol Mulholland, Daffodils had the guts of their new EP recorded within a week.
“Because we’d been sitting with them for so long it kind of went by quite quickly, like we got all of them laid out after four or five days. Then I spent another couple of days with Jol, just like cutting a lot of texture stuff, working on vocals.
“We had a little bit more time than normal because we had NZ On Air funding for it, so that gave us an opportunity to like, play around with some things that normally we wouldn’t have time to do, like crazy textures – a lot of stuff that normally we wouldn’t have thought about adding. So it was really cool being able to like, splurge a little bit!”
Perhaps inevitably given that it marks their shift from teenagers to twenty-somethings, the EP indicates a new direction for Daffodils’ sound. Demonstrating a shifting musicality that encapsulates both the songs as they were originally written and their 2022 iterations as heard on the EP, the quartet incorporated the changeability of their times into their musical output.
“The most interesting example of how it changed in-studio is in the fourth song, Never Happier,” Salmon explains. “That song started off as my least favourite of the bunch, and then after we added that part with that high melody and stuff, it became one of my favourite ones. So that one was quite cool to be able to, like, spend the time making those changes, and I think that if we’d been rushing we wouldn’t have gotten to that.”
As well as the songs themselves being transformed by the Covid periods of social isolation, so too was Salmon’s connection with them.
“I think [lockdown] changed the meaning of a lot of them for me, like having that time to think about them and think about what the lyrics in particular really meant to me as a growing human was interesting. I think having that time and then looking back critically at what I’d written was quite good.
“Obviously a lot changes in a year, so taking that time to re-evaluate whether they’re still relevant to how I feel, or, I guess if they still mean something to me, was quite a big part. I think the oldest one dated back to like 2018 maybe, so some of them have been sitting with me for a while.
“They all still kind of ring true, I think, maybe not necessarily with the same intention that I originally wrote them, but with new meaning behind them for me.”
With an EP release tour coming up over August, their Wet Leg support slot was a great way to warm up, and Daffodils are looking forward to finally putting those long stretches of lockdown behind them, the live performance angle also having new meaning for Salmon.
“I feel a lot rustier having this gap between them but, you know, I think it’s given us time to grow as performers as well as musicians, which is kind of nice. I guess it also means that people are keen to see us again, ‘cos we’re not just playing every weekend and it’s dumb.
“But I think, you know, it’s really giving me time to think about how I want to come across as a performer too. And I feel way less pressure to be anything other than the person that I want to be when I’m performing, which is quite a nice feeling – like I feel a lot more comfortable with the way that we all perform now, yeah.”