On the phone from the band’s rehearsal space in Tennessee, Departure Lounge’s Tim Keegan is all English countryside gentlemanly: unpretentious, kind and almost plaintive sounding. He chooses words cautiously. His Nashville-based U.K. band is making a gentle racket in the background with what sounds like a mix of clavinet and theremin.
“Hold on,” he says. “We’re in the middle of rehearsal.” He turns and tells his mates that they hit on something good.
Keegan is a pop melancholic, and it’s no wonder that guys like Jon Brion and Robyn Hitchcock tap him to play on their records. Sadly, Departure Lounge is but a blip on the radar screen stateside, and its U.S. label, Nettwerk America, recently yanked all tour support. Hence, when the band plays Detroit, it will be without two of its four members.
“Yeah, about a month ago, [Nettwerk America] decided that they were going to tone down the budget, so we quite literally couldn’t afford to get all of us together to do this tour,” explains Keegan. “We sold a pissling amount of records in America, like a quarter of what we sold in Europe. I don’t know what to do about it. It’s a shame. I’m trying to put a positive spin on it.”
This is all so sad because Too Late to Die Young, the band’s sophomore release, is, literally, the record of the year.
“I think in some ways it’s not a businessman’s record, it’s a music-lover’s record, and I think that’s the problem, to be honest with you,” Keegan says. “It’s not something you necessarily put into a little box; it’s not something that you can necessarily program on the radio to fulfill a certain brief or whatever. So I mean, it’s not some record that’s going to make sense in terms of cold numbers. It makes sense in terms of heart and feeling and stuff.”
It is so rare to stumble upon a record that becomes a sound track for your life — that sublime recording that simply hums and breathes, can take your breath away at the slightest turn, one that sways in and out of you, in and out of your subconscious for days, weeks, months, and ultimately, hopefully, years. So few records can do that. The Kid Loco-produced Too Late to Die Young is one that can. The record is full of sonic adventure that relies on songcraft and imagination instead of volume and shtick. Think the ambient whir of good Belle & Sebastian, Eno and Lilac Time, all grace and persuasion, full of melody and ache.
What’s more, Too Late to Die Young is remarkable because everything outside its frame of reference is allowed to encroach. The lyrics revolve in a detritus world — half-remembered friends come into focus, lovers are lost, its voice rises above bitterness to arrive at a level of gratefulness. The record is (and, yes, the word is chosen cautiously) mature. It is a record brave enough to not hide behind irony.
“You’re putting yourself up there to get knocked down, really,” explains Keegan when the words “post-irony” come into the conversation.
“Because it’s not very cool. And quite often, we think of ourselves as not very cool … sort of beyond cool, in a way. We are sort of post-cool, and post-ironic, among other things,” he laughs. “We spent our 20s being sneery and snide. And if you want to be that way, you know, it’s easy. And I’ve still got plenty that I’m pissed off about. And my sort of, choice of life, you know, reflects that really, but … we love our music, and we’re grateful that we have a chance to do it. And that we’ve found a forum in which it really works, and the chemistry’s there.”
Too Late to Die Young features all four members of Departure Lounge playing a myriad of instruments and found objects. Guesting on the record are Simon Raymonde from Cocteau Twins, Robyn Hitchcock and Lisa O’Neill from Sing-Sing. More a community than a proper rock band, the band members (Jake Kyle, Lindsay Jamieson, Chris Anderson, Keegan) all share instrumentation and songwriting.
The songs are all beautifully arranged, from the opening wind organ and thumb piano of “Straight Line to the Kerb” to the ghostly “Silverline,” to the ostinato, near power-poppy “What You Have is Good.” (And when was the last time you heard a song that is three-chord rote all the way through — verse, chorus, everything — that wasn’t boring?) The vocals are lovingly recorded, allowed the space to breathe.
Lazy journalists have likened Departure Lounge to crap like Spiritualized, a band that trades on the ghettoization of a phony hipster paradise. Keegan all but scoffs at said comparison: “Well, you know, [Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce] takes a lot of drugs and he talks about it. It’s a big lifestyle thing. It’s also a spin-off for the weekly papers in England, which love all that stuff. That’s not really our thing. We’re not really part of any particular scene, you know. We’ve got our own lives, our own schedules. We come together. I mean … it’s not that we don’t pay attention to what’s going on. We’ve all got other music that we love.”
Why the move from Brighton, England, to Nashville?
“We’re in Nashville for family reasons, sort of. Lindsay the drummer moved here because he met a girl, got married, had a baby … inherited a family. We sort of flip back and forth a little bit. Which sounds very exotic. It’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. But, you know, now, two of the boys are married and have kids and mortgages, things like that. And if you’re making music for music’s sake, rather than sort of as a career move, it’s difficult.
“It’s much easier to be a boys’ club when you’re in your early 20s and your teens … or you’re the Strokes or the Vines and you all live in the same house, you know. Nothing beats having the same rancid fridge,” he laughs.
The band had a weekly stint at a Nashville club where they mixed Departure Lounge tunes with Kenny Rogers and Motörhead covers. The night — christened The Living Room — created an in-house community of sorts. Guest musicians included Josh Rouse, members of Lambchop and Ryan Adams’ band, and former members of Bob Dylan’s and John Cale’s bands. They also met a few of their heroes, Lee Hazelwood and his pal Duane Eddy among them.
“Yeah, he (Hazelwood) came, and it was fantastic. It was like a dream sequence … and we played one of his songs and he gave us the thumbs up.”
Keegan comes off like an English school kid in love with his record collection; he grew up digging his parents’ records — Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, the Beatles, Johnny Cash, etc. Yet, Too Late to Die Young really moves like a travelogue with a lovely sound track.
“It’s a spirit that that ties it all in,” he explains. “It just feels like a group of people that really have a communal, creative endeavor going. It sort of documents our lives, really.”
Departure Lounge will perform with the Glands and the Sunshine Fix Tuesday, Oct. 15, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward, Detroit. For information call, 313-833-9700.Brian Smith is music editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]