Alexis Marshall of Daughters

“Not like a mask I have to put on“ | Interview with Alexis Marshall of Daughters

25 mins read

On a moody October afternoon, we sit down with Alexis Marshall of Daughters, before playing an excellent, sold out show @ Arena Wien (Read our review!). While crows are screaming in the air, we talk about procrastination, the hardship of touring and dishwasher music.

It’s been a while, you took quite some time to make a new record, how did that work out for you?

(laughs) We always take a long time to make a record. We are chronic procrastinators, we are always taking too long. We had a break, when we came back, we decided to play a bit, to remind people we still exist. That’s what we did. It took a while, but once everyone got going, it came together pretty quickly. We had a break, it was needed.

You tried to do an EP in 2015, what happened?

That was the idea, we were going to try to do that. I don’t know, I think we were trying to force things; the content wasn’t really good, it all needed a lot of work. So, we took the time to step back, reassess what we were doing, and realising that it’s important that we feel good about what we’re putting out. Obviously, there was going to be a lot of pressure on us, if what we put out was good after such a long time away. We also needed to address that, think about that, and not let that impact our writing process. It was good to get us moving, get us writing and in the studio. Unfortunately, it was a waste of money, but I think it showed us that we needed to take our time and be smart, and not just be impulsive.

But the new record turned out to be exceptional, you got excellent responses across the globe.

The ends justify the means sometimes. It worked out. In some places, reviews were a little behind. They were not to my liking (laughs).

It’s weird, because for many years we didn’t get good reviews, so we just never expected that. Once good reviews started coming in, there would be the occasional bad review, and I’d feel like ,,What the fuck?“ But then you have to take a moment and think to yourself ,,you can’t please everybody“. Just like the Twilight Zone episode, where the gambler is in limbo, and just keeps winning and winning and winning; his hell is just a slot machine, everything wins. It takes the enjoyment out of winning. It’s good to fail every once in a while to remind you, alright, I’m a human being. It’s good to make mistakes, that’s how you learn from them, that’s how you learn from life, make mistakes.

You can’t please everyone – your latest records is even called ,,You Won’t Get What You Want“. What about the name and the cover?

The name was sort of a disclaimer, for people who were expecting something, and were thinking ,,Daughters are doing a record, it’s gonna be like this, it’s gonna be crazy! It’s gonna be like the first record“. We wanted people to come in and just listen and decide what and how they feel when the record is over, and not have this presumptive attitude that it’s going to be this or going to be something else. It’s also for us, to remind us we’re not interested in pleasing everybody, make sure that we’re happy, and other people are going to have expectations that we’re just not going to meet. That’s the way it goes.

Regarding the cover artwork, Jessie Draxter did our cover art. Jessie had done a Zola Jesus cover, and something for Vows. We were put in touch and Jessie sent out like six or seven of those faces. And we just wanted to use them all, but we could only afford one. He also did the back cover. It just fit, we didn’t play him the record, he didn’t know what we were looking for aesthetically, that is his work. A lot of things came together very smoothly, we didn’t have to force anything, from the cover art to the ,,Less Sex’’ video, everything was just falling into place, like it was already set up. You know, at the restaurant, when you go to the bathroom and then you come back, and your food’s there. Oh, everybody knows what everybody’s doing, well alright. Let’s go ahead and do this thing, let’s eat.

The record gathered a lot of attention. You were touring a lot, to back up this record. How are you dealing with that?

I’m just really tired. We’re finishing the cycle now. Finishing those last two weeks here, and then three weeks back home in December. And then we’re done, that will be the end of this record’s burning. We’re going to put that fire out and go to the next one. We had to remind everybody that we exist, when we got back touring, we hadn’t been there in ten years, a reintroduction was sort of necessary. We’ve just been playing so much the whole year. And I’m more than happy to do it, I love it, but I’d really like for us to condense the touring.

Are you looking forward to be done with it?

Well, I don’t do drugs or drink alcohol or anything anymore, so this is like getting high; being on a stage, interacting with people, getting to play, so I need to do it. But I’m in a lot of pain, everything hurts, my emotional and mental state suffers, due to some mental illness issues, so it can be hard. It’s gonna be nice to just be home and sit quietly, hang out with my kids.
I mean, this is my job. So, I have to do this, and I’m happy that this is my job, I’ve had far worse jobs. I keep my real life together. It’s a tough thing when the only way to make money is to be away, to take care of home, I have to be gone to do it, and that’s a strange dichotomy, we spent years getting there, and it’s like, the snake finally caught its tail, and now it doesn’t know what to do. Now I’m what, like, shit, is that who we are now? I don’t know. I’m gonna sit at the bottom of the ocean until fucking the end of the world.

How important is the live performance for Daughters?

It’s very important to me, as I said, it’s hard to do this, but I can just do this. I can just keep going. I got to the hotel, I got undressed, I stood in front of the mirror naked for the first time in weeks, and I’m just bloody, and bruised, and everything hurts. I’m happy to do that, I couldn’t take it easy if I wanted to. I had a couple bad days, but it’s usually important to me that I play as hard as I can every night. I think people will appreciate that. It’s much more of a controlled chaos now. Before I was kind of a freak show, and people want to come see us do stupid shit, and look foolish, and act like idiots…the music became secondary. I think we found a good midway. We’ve taken on a lot of this craziness, and taken the music, and found a nice in-between, and been able to put on an excellent show, have a lot of fun, but also sound good, and it’s all coming together for the most part.

How is your stage persona different from the real you?

It’s who I am, it’s not like a mask I have to put on. It’s just who I am as a person. I’m not like punching my fist off in the face at dinner, or anything like that. I can act out parts of me that I can’t get away with on the street. It’s not rehearsed, it’s nothing like that. It’s who I am.

You said you departed from screaming live to becoming a real singer, in what way?

(laughs) I use the term very loosely. I don’t know if screaming is a valid form of singing, it helps conveying something in the moment, it creates the depth, but I didn’t feel fulfilled in any way when I was only screaming, and that was all I did. It was really boring to me, I felt like a bit of a pout, I sort of just screamed at here (points at high point to show his screaming frequency) all the time, no matter what the rest of the song did, I was here. And that just wasn’t working for me. All my favourite singers were not ,,legitimate“ or ,,real“ singers, but they had their own voice, and I just think a lot of screaming sounds like a lot of same shit. I wanted to use my voice as an instrument and not just like ,,I’m the singer in the band and what I say and what I’m screaming, it doesn’t matter, I’m just sort of here’’. I wanted my own character, my own identity. I had to work on that, to find that. I’m still trying to find it. I’m still not a good singer, I’m trying to figure out how to do it

It works very well.

It’s working right now but you know, ideally, we just get better with everything we do as we do it.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about DAUGHTERS at the moment?

(laughs) Conflict. There’s a lot of conflict to it; people’s personal lives and the space we occupy, it’s very tight. And it’s been a really long year, we are just trying to survive the last couple of months. I think that says that we did everything we could. I would hate to finish this round and feel like ,,maybe we should’ve gone here, maybe we should’ve tried a little harder’’. I don’t want to feel like that because you can’t get that time back. So, to come out of this completely exhausted and just obliterated, physically and emotionally and mentally and artistically because I think that would say that we did everything we could do. And now we can start that process again.

Talking about your song writing, what’s the driving force? Is it fear?

No (laughs). There’s a lot of people I admire, songwriters and then there’re people who I admire, literary writers. What I find interesting about people is the notion of failure and anxiety and instances like fear of the known and the unknown. So, I tend to write characters in this songs that are based on that, and look at those places in my mind for I have suffered all those things. So, to personalise it without being overtly personal; to personalise it for me but not so personal that the listener feels like they can’t connect with it and it feels, like, „well, he’s singing about his experience and I can’t understand that experience“. I want to be simultaneously very specific but also vague so that it applies to everyone and it can be interpreted in any way without people feeling they’re being told how they’re supposed to receive something.

Your lyrics are more like stories than words to a song.

Yeah, at times. I mean, there are things a little bit messy and more abstract that may seem like they don’t have a story but that’s part of the fun. Sometimes it’s just wordplay. Sometimes I write something that I don’t know what the hell it means, I just like the way it sounds.

Do you have any lyrical inspiration, any writer?

Literary, I like Raymond Carver and Cormack McCarthy, artists who write about people who are maybe destitute or trying to get through something terrible and -with Carver especially-, the characters in his books are often battling more with something personal and internal than anything external or their external conflict is someone else who is battling something internally and I find that more interesting, because there is a world inside every person that is dealing with a whole mountain of shit and there’s something there regardless of how dull and uninteresting people can seem on the surface. I like that. If I write in that way, I’m not always sure. But there are a lot of songwriters that I admire, that I think they’re just great lyricists. Nick Cave is brilliant. There are a lot of good lyricists. There are a lot of bad ones, too. There are more bad than good ones. But that’s how it goes.

With all those interests and influences, different genres and artistic inspirations, what went into the new record?

Nick [Sadler, guitarist of Daughters] was doing quite a lot of film scoring in his time off. I think he scored various projects and I think there’s a real cinematic feel that he brought to the record that worked really well with what I was writing and set up a mood that we didn’t have to search for; it was apparent from his writing and my writing, they just complimented each other very well. It’s hard to write and feel gratified on a regular basis because we’re so far away from each other and it can be hard to work on something and then feel like „ah, this is going somewhere“ because there’s this huge distance and we don’t get to talk in person about what we’re doing and see each other. So, when you have a setback, it seems to be the worst thing possible because you can’t just say „we’ll just get back to it tomorrow. Let’s take a break, we’ll come back later tonight, and we’ll work on something else“ because it’s just so wide open and there’s a lot of distance, we lose the plot and get caught up in personal life. But it worked out for the best and I think if we changed something to make it easier, we wouldn’t have had the same outcome. We take what we have. Thankfully it was good.

Since you said that you can always do better, you can always expand, is there still something new to discover in Rock music, in your own sounds? After all, Rock music has been at the top of the charts since the 60s.

(laughs) Well, variations of. I think rock music is such a broad term. Our interest is being excited about what we’re creating and if that strikes a note with an audience then that’s really great and that enables us to put more time into making music and into being able to go out and perform it and if people don’t care, you know, that’s how it goes and it’s gonna be harder to find time to do it, but we’re gonna do it regardless. Audiences are fickle, whether they are Rock audiences or any other audiences. They tend to forget and move on quickly. That’s the way it is and there are so many options. Luckily there is interest in what we’re doing, and I think it’s because we’re being interesting and we put on a good show.
We wrote a record that people have connected with on an emotional level and not just a record that they can put on and do something else. There are very few records that I’ve listened to recently that I can’t do anything, I just have to listen to that record. Because there’s just something very important going on and I can’t do the dishes while listening to them. I really have to connect with it. It’s nice to have fluff and bullshit, you know. I’m a huge Elvis Presley fan, but I’ll just throw some Elvis on for, like, do some vacuuming or step outside to do anything and come back in and it’s on and that’s fine. But I couldn’t do that with the Lingua Ignota record, put it on and do some other shit. I’m just captivated by what’s going on. I’m having experiences, it’s not just peripheral. It’s very important to me and that’s an experience I like having and connecting with it in a profound way. It doesn’t happen often.
I’ve talked to a lot of people because people have been very forthcoming with their feelings about the record and contacting me directly and telling me how important it is and that’s huge to me, that’s everything. That means what we’re doing is not just wood for the fire. It’s something that is important.
Maybe I’m overstating it. I likely am, but shit, and I live here. I live in this world and I gotta feel good about it.

I take it you really wouldn’t be comfortable making „dishwasher music“?

I’ve made it, you know? I’ve been in bands that are just fun. A few years ago I played in a punk band and it was a fun thing to do, play basement shows and I had a good time. And I really wasn’t considering about what I was writing, but I was just screaming and having a good time and that’s all I cared about doing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It’s not something that I’m above. But for me artistically, I need to do something that is more than that. It’s not that I feel the need to be praised for what I’ve done but I need to do something that speaks to me on multiple levels and not just in a passive way, that I’m just like ,,oh I did this and now I’m gonna do the next thing“. I don’t want to be dismissive of the work that I’m doing, and I’ve done work that I’m dismissive of. You know, it served its purpose at the time, but I want to feel good…or bad, just feel something. You know, it’s all we got in this world, what we’re feeling. We gotta deal with it.

Thank you. You get the last words.

Alright. Thank you. That’s the last word. I appreciate everybody.

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