Naivety is one of those qualities which is often bandied about but rarely justified. In reality, it’s almost impossible to be knowingly naive – it’s a complete contradiction, because innocence can never really be studied.
Yet on recent album ‘The Flower Lane’ Ducktails might just have hit upon something with a genuine, palpable naivety. Essentially a project for Real Estate’s Matt Mondanile, previous efforts had found the songwriter recording at home, using a reel to reel to sketch out his thoughts. Gathering momentum, the songwriter asked a group of friends to accompany him during live shows, a path which led directly to the studio.
“I just started playing with a group of people who were in another band called Big Trouble” he explains over the phone from a tour stop in Hamburg. “They were my friends and I ended up playing with them live and so I said “why not make a record with them?” because I’d been playing with them so long live. So that’s why I decided to do this.”
In keeping with its status as a Big Studio Record, ‘The Flower Lane’ has improved production. Yet that hasn’t stamped out the whimsical nature of the project, with Ducktails seeming to rejoice in playful experimentation. “It was good working together” Mondanile explains. “I had the final call on everything. I was the producer on the record, but I was working with a band. I had the keyboardist play a lot of different parts so it was interesting. Before I kind of had it in my head or laid it down at home on cassette or something. So it was pretty cool. The record is us having fun in the studio but there’s an idea behind it”.
Laid down on tape in one, long spell ‘The Flower Lane’ nonetheless owes its roots to the songwriter’s large bank of demo recordings. “Some of it we wrote as we recorded it. Some of it was written before, I had demoed some of it. So we took those demos into the studio and built on those” he says. “I had a reel to reel which broke when I was recording stuff onto that. I have a bunch of material on there. I got it on eBay from a guy in upstate New York. I drove up there and I got it from him. I guess I didn’t take the best care of it so I’ve got to get it fixed”.
Shifting from a solo endeavour to a full band project, the new found dynamics within Ducktails have pushed the group to greater heights. A close knit bunch of friends, the band were able to swap ideas freely – exploring new influences without stepping on anyone’s toes. “Everyone has pretty eclectic tastes in music, a deep knowledge of records. We do listen to a lot of music. That’s why covered the song ‘Planet Phrom’ by Peter Gutteridge – it’s because we’re a fan of his music and lot of that stuff” he reveals. “We’ll just play each other music and stuff. My friends and I hang out and listen to music a lot.”
Aside from the official line up, Ducktails were augmented by two acquaintances. Daniel Lopatin dropped by the studio, while Joel Ford adds the irresistibly funky bass line for ‘Letter Of Intent’. “He’s a great friend of all of ours” says Mondanile. “He was recording in the studio at the same time. We hung out a lot when we were making the record – we’d hang out and eat lunch with him”.
In a way, ‘Letter Of Intent’ is emblematic of how far Ducktails have progressed. At heart an indie pop song, those synths – all plastic chic and 80s nostalgia – seem to recall Aztec Camera, those fluke moments when the underground met the mainstream. An odd, beguiling little track it hinges on those wonderfully naive (yep, that word again) male / female vocals. Typically, Matt Mondanile downplays the creative process. “I guess I thought it would be a good song for lead vocals. We wrote lyrics to it, and the instrumental was done for a while. Joel Ford played bass on it and kind of made it into a funkier song with his bass playing. I thought that maybe having female vocals on it would be good, and it ended up being a duet. It worked out like that”.
Currently on the road with Ducktails, Matt Mondanile reveals in being able to flip between projects. Set to return to the Real Estate fold this summer, the songwriter is able to find a sense of balance somewhere in between the two bands. “I try to do it simultaneously with Real Estate, like at the same time. I try to do both as hard as I can” he says. “It’s fun. It’s better than having a real job”.
Why I Love... New York
“The best pizza place that I know of is called Jafar’s Pizza, which is in the middle of Brooklyn. And it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had – so I’d recommend anyone to go there. You can take away but you have to get there early because it’ll be a really long line. It’s just an ordinary pizza place which has the best pizza in the world. I think. My friend told me about it and brought me there – I’ve been there a bunch of times but it’s still really good. It’s just like a normal pizza place which isn’t even that flattering, they just make the best pizza. It’s really kind of a hole in the wall”.
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'The Flower Lane' is out now.