DANNY PRATT AND LIAM FOX O’BRIEN WHILE FILMING “1234.” PHOTO: BRIAN HIGBEE.
Two years ago, Interview met Danny Pratt and released his video for “Antidote,” but now the Australian musician, who has collaborated with Zero 7 and previously gone by Danny Boy, is back as half of the duo DL. Composed of Pratt and Liam Fox O’Brien, the band’s name is self explanatory, but their bicoastal existence is not. O’Brien calls New York home, while Pratt lives in Los Angeles. Ideally, the two see each other at least once a month for a few days, when they finish songs in studio spaces, however, the majority of songs are written via email correspondence. Here we’re pleased to premiere their first-ever single, “1234,” and its accompanying video, which was shot by Interview photographer Brian Higbee.
Although DL might not have a running set list, the duo will now release one song every month for the next six months. Traces of each musician’s background (O’Brien scoring films and Pratt with Zero 7) can be heard in the music through classic rock guitar that intertwines with deep, cinematic vocals and underlying hooks. The video for “1234” stays true to both of their relaxed personalities, depicting Pratt, O’Brien, and friend Alexandra Spencer as they drive around L.A. and play music in the garage, simply looking for something to do.
We spoke with O’Brien and Pratt to learn more about how they met and their practice.
EMILY MCDERMOTT: Liam, you’re based in New York, and Danny, you’re in Los Angeles. How did you first meet and start working together?
LIAM FOX O’BRIEN: We met 10 years ago in Sydney. I was in a band that was signed to EMI and I had been touring the U.K. for about a year. I decided to move back to Sydney because the lifestyle was more appealing to me at that age. I was crashing on the floor at a friend’s house and Danny was also crashing on the floor at the same time, but we didn’t know each other yet. We started hanging out, I got a computer and showed him how I was making music with my laptop, and he showed me a few tricks. But at the time, the kind of music he was into was different from what I was trying to do. So we were friends, but we never really made music together until about two years ago, when we both were living in Los Angeles.
MCDERMOTT: So how did you realize you could make music together?
O’BRIEN: Through the time that has passed, we evolved separately and went through all the things that a typical struggling musician goes through. So when we met up again we had a common ground and also opened ourselves up to different kinds of music. Having realized that, we started trying to work together and there was a lot more of a spark than the first time.
DANNY PRATT: I was really excited by what Liam was doing; his instincts are unique but well grounded. I would send him things that I was playing around with and I would always love what came back to me. Eventually a song didn’t feel finished—and a lot of the time wouldn’t be—unless he was a part of it. It just grew from there. It’s also a lot more fun mixing a record until six in the morning with an old friend than it is by yourself.
MCDERMOTT: Who were some of the people you were both listening to?
O’BRIEN: We had a few fun nights out together in L.A. and there was a lot of the Talking Heads, rock music, stuff from the ’80s, but also, we were pretty enamored by what was going on with Sam Smith and the big guys at the moment.
PRATT: Always Talking Heads, Suicide, Roxy Music, Roy Orbison, rock ‘n’ roll, New York no-wave bands. More recently, Tame Impala is great, Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, The Faint, et cetera. There is always the pressing question and search as to what good pop music sounds like now.
MCDERMOTT: What is like working together from opposite coasts?
O’BRIEN: It’s really good because we work amazingly well together in the studio, but then when each of us is able to go away and focus solitarily for a period of time, we’re able to get our ideas to fruition before presenting them. Things don’t get crushed as quickly. When you’re in a studio it’s easy to be like, “That’s no good. Let’s move on.” But if you’re alone, you can articulate what you’re trying to say musically before you present the other person with it. It’s working to our advantage, being separated. I’ll work on something all day and then send it to him and vice versa.
PRATT: When we are in the same room together we jam out ideas, and we are probably showing off a bit. [laughs] We are always onto the next phrase, the next change. But when we are in different cities, we’re sending ideas back and forth over email. We are working alone so its more methodical. The ideas always have a bit more space in them and the distinction between our personalities is more obvious. It keeps thing interesting, I guess.
MCDERMOTT: So you’ll just email songs back and forth?
O’BRIEN: Yeah, pretty much. We speak on the phone everyday and we’re always telling each other about things that are blowing our minds, like movies that we saw or songs that we heard—constantly trying to inspire each other by sharing what we’ve experienced. But yeah, mostly he’ll send me an idea for a song, I’ll flush it out and add ideas, and send it back. Or I’ll come up with an idea and he’ll start singing a cool line. It goes back and forth until it feels like there’s not much more we can do via email. Then I’ll be in L.A. or he’ll be in New York and we’ll finish it in the studio.
MCDERMOTT: What are some of the recent movies or songs that you’ve come across and shared?
O’BRIEN: I saw this horror movie that a friend of mine who is a composer told me to check out called It Follows. It’s this really cool, low-budget horror film that did surprisingly well at the box office. It’s kind of become a cult hit. It’s all unknown actors and cool styling, but the music is really unique. It’s by this guy called Disaster Piece. He just used one synthesizer for the whole score. It sounds kind of cheesy and ’80s, but done in a modern way that’s exciting. Danny got really into the idea of using one synth or a really small pallet of sound in a song for a while. He’s obsessed with the film Sexy Beast, so I hear about that a lot. [laughs]
MCDERMOTT: Liam, how did you come to settle in New York?
O’BRIEN: The timeline is kind of weird—I moved to L.A. with a band from Australia in 2012 and we made a record with Steve Urbini and then split up. After we split up, I stayed there for a while to work on various advertising and film jobs. Then I moved to New York, because my wife is in New York, but we weren’t married yet; she was just living here and I was living there. So I spent a year there, then moved here at the end of 2013 and have been here since.
MCDERMOTT: And Danny how did you end up in L.A.?
PRATT: I bounced around Europe for a while following the various fashion weeks before I settled in London for a few years. The music scene there is so strong. Then my friend and mentor Dylan Burns moved to L.A. with his family and I just followed them…they left after a while but I stayed.
MCDERMOTT: Then how did you both meet Brian? And what was the creation process like for the video?
PRATT: I met Brian on a shoot for an L.A. label not long after I had moved here. He was super chilled and playing a lot of music I liked on set. I had just finished a song called “Antidote,” so I asked him if he wanted to make a video. From that day we had it finished in a week or so. Brian and I have been working together on mutual projects ever since; there really wasn’t any thought as to who would shoot this new video.
We had “1234” finished for a while but made the decision to not release it until we shot a video. So we hit up Brian and told him the idea we had, which was really simple: we just wanted to make a video that looked nice, editorially, a bit of style, but no money behind it—just us jamming and driving around Los Angeles aimlessly looking for something to do. We wanted it to feel like the beginning of something, which it is.
MCDERMOTT: What about “1234” itself? What was that process like?
O’BRIEN: Danny wrote the first verse of it and a little bit of an instrumental piece over a year ago and sent it to me like, “I really like this, but I just don’t know where to go from here.” Maybe six months later I opened it up when I had some spare time and spent 12 hours constructing a full song out of it, made chorus lines out of some of the syllables he said in the verse, like putting them together in different melodic sequences. I sent it back to him and he was like, “Wow this is crazy.” It wasn’t the type of thing he would’ve thought to write. That was the moment we realized we should actually start writing songs together. It’s been ready for about six months.