As the sun beams down over south London following the wettest summer on record, Clash is spotted shifting awkwardly outside a cash point on Clapham Common. We’re here to stake out acoustic duo Turin Brakes who are on their way to tell us about their new album ‘Dark On Fire’. Five minutes pass before a short, stocky figure dressed in a red t-shirt with greased back hair and prickly stubble saunters up to the cash point where we’re stood. He quietly withdraws some money, parks himself on a pub bench and makes a quick call on his mobile, blissfully unaware that his every move is being watched. He eventually ambles inside the (Alexandra) pub while we prepare to move in for the kill.
Inside old rickety benches and stools line the dimly lit Victorian bar while the man in question sips from a glass of coke on one side and the pub landlord potters about on the other. We walk past unnoticed, grab a drink and finally creep up while no one’s looking. “Are you the geezer from Turin Brakes?” asks Clash. “Yeah,” smiles lead singer Olly Knights with an outstretched arm. “The rest of the band will be here in a minute.” By the rest of the band he means childhood friend and partner in crime Gale Paridjanian. Looking more like an eastern European gangster than a guitarist with his shaven head, goatee beard and slight pigtail, Gale bowls over a few minutes later with a pint of coke and a cup of coffee. He greets us before he turns to Olly and smiles: “Hi I’m Gale. Pleased to meet you.” They both crack up.
You can tell by their relaxed demeanor that the pair have known each other since they were kids. Having first crossed paths at nearby Macauley primary school from the age of nine, the duo were later thrown together at a local cathedral choir. “We had to go three times a week and we hated it,” sighs Olly. “It was like being in God’s army. Still me and Gale were by far the naughtiest of the lot. We used to bunk off all the time while the other kids attended religiously. We’d always get into trouble for it as well.” “Yeah,” interjects Gale. “We would go back home and our parents would be like, ‘Why weren’t you at choir practice?’ We were just like, ‘Oh we got out of school really late and just thought if we went there now we’d be too late.’ They’d never fall for it though and we’d always be driven back.”
But the pair’s hatred of the choir resulted in them secretly rallying against the church in other ways. “We were making music of our own from the age of 10,” explains Olly. “We would make tapes, Gale would draw covers and we had different names for bands etc. So even when we were little kids we used to dream about being in band. It was the antidote to our choir sessions.” It wasn't until years later, through the help of a mutual friend, that the duo finally made their breakthrough with ‘The Door’ EP in 1999. Two critically and commercially successful albums (‘The Optimist’, ‘Ether Song’) followed before their third LP ‘JackInABox’ saw the band hit rock bottom when it failed to live up to their previous chart-topping heights. “When you’ve hit the lowest point you can hit and when you’ve felt really disappointed and frustrated with how an album has been received commercially, you’ve kind of been there,” Olly says dejectedly. “We’ve metaphorically stared death in the face. Once you’ve done that, you’re not scared of it anymore. It’s like starting again.”
Which brings us to ‘Dark On Fire’, the duo’s fourth LP. Backed by their full live band for the first time and Kings Of Leon knob twiddler Ethan Johns, the new record sees the duo returning with a more polished, beefed-up acoustic sound. “We called this record ‘Dark On Fire’ because it was the idea of making something out of nothing, forcing a change when all around you is just darkness and nothingness. It is the act of being positive in the most negative situations,” Olly argues. Songs like epic opener ‘Last Chance’, the Doors-esque ‘Ghost’ and the U2 flecked ‘For The Fire’ sees the folksters treading new waters while there’s hints of Turin Brakes of old in ‘Other Side’ and of course new single ‘Stalker’. “I liked the idea of a song from the perspective of a stalker,” smiles Olly. “I think that’s what makes that story really interesting because it is an issue which is current. We are all being filmed every step we take. That was partly the idea behind it anyway. The other reason for recording that track was we always felt that The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’ was one of the cleverest pop songs ever written. I love the way that track is in the guise of a love song but you realise the guy in it is a demented stalker. The way we saw it was if we could do our own version for the 21st Century, then that would be cool.”
We’ve metaphorically stared death in the face. Once you’ve done that, you’re not scared of it anymore. It’s like starting again.
Recorded in a small London studio at the turn of the 2007 before the album was eventually wrapped up at Olympic Studios in March, the band were forced to take a break at the end of January when Gale’s wife gave birth to their first baby daughter Leia - almost two years after Olly’s own partner gave birth to their first baby girl. “Musicians have been having babies forever and they’ve always found ways of coping,” shrugs Gale. “Yeah and all the kids will have great stories to tell when they’re older,” laughs Olly. “They'll all be the coolest kids in the class cos they’ll be rock ‘n’ roll children. They’ll all be arrogant nine-year-olds going, ‘Yeah my dad was smuggling coke in my nappy when I was six months old.’”
Whether ‘Dark On Fire’ sets the world alight remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure though, there’s still plenty of fire left in these two.