Interview with Darlings of Chelsea’s Paul Thompson

Darlings of ChelseaBy: Sheena Lyonnais
November 1, 2011

Toronto’s Darlings of Chelsea are fresh off the tour and release of their heavily anticipated full-length, Panic is Worse Than The Emergency. This past year saw Darlings of Chelsea’s prolific vocalist Sean Robertson quit the band, with guitarist Paul Thompson quickly stepping in to take lead. Despite the shift, DOC maintained the rock’n’roll synonymous with their brand – and with help from producer Darryl Neudorf (Neko Case, New Pornographers, Blue Rodeo) created an album that does not disappoint. Gearing up for their show this Saturday (Nov 5) at the Hideout, we chat with frontman Paul about the new album, the new songs and what it’s like to suddenly be in the spotlight.

How are you and what are you doing right now?

I’m great, thanks!  I’m currently at my day job, pretending to be doing something related to my day job.

Your previous effort The Mimico Sessions was released with vocalist Sean Robertson, who has since left  the band.  With you stepping in to take lead, what did you have to do differently in your approach on the new album?

There was a lot more focus on the vocals in pre-production.  I was constantly listening to playbacks from rehearsals and shows, trying to figure out what worked best.  I also have a slightly different range than Sean did, so some of the older songs that were written with his voice in mind but were never finished had to be re-worked.  One thing that DIDN’T change was the collaborative approach that we’ve always taken.  I may be listed as the main vocalist, but the whole band has a really great sense for melody, especially Chris. So we really used that to our advantage.

What else was different about creating Panic Is Worse Than The Emergency vs the Mimico Sessions?

Ha… almost everything.  Different lineup, different studio, different producer, different songs… we even had different gear.  Well, except for Jay… he’s had the same rig for 17 years.  
Jokes aside, the main difference was time.  The songs on Mimico were written, arranged, and recorded in a hurry.  It resulted in a sound and feel that was really raw, which we still love, but there’s also something to be said about being able to take your time to craft something.  The songs on Panic were written over the period of time between albums, and we also had a lot of time to record them.  Rather than setting up a mic and hitting record, we took our time making sure that the sound going in was what we wanted to hear coming out.  THEN we mic’d everything up.  I think you can really hear the difference.    

Tell me about the experience of stepping in and becoming the frontman. Was it a natural transition for you?

I COULD give you a line full of rock n’ roll bravado… about how it was an easy and natural transition and we never looked back and we just forged ahead and blah blah blah.  But that would be bullshit.  It was hard.  It was hard for everyone involved with the band and it took a lot of adjustment.  We also didn’t have a lot of time… Sean quit in the middle of a studio session, a few weeks before we were set to play SXSW, and a month and a half before a European tour.  It took a lot of hard work to get up to speed.  Admittedly, I’m still adapting now.  But to our credit: we never slowed down, and this current lineup feels unstoppable.

What was it like working with producer Darryl Neudorf (Neko Case, New Pornographers, Blue Rodeo)?

The album was produced, engineered, and mastered by Darryl.  Working with him was awesome.  It was like having a fifth member of the band…it just felt natural.  He really knew how to get a great performance out of us.  The best part was that he wanted to make a big, loud rock’n’ roll record as much as we did.  

“We Are Gods” and “Witchcraft” are stand outs – can you tell us a little more about these tracks in particular?

It’s funny… everyone names a different track as their standout.  Which is great!  It means that something in this album appeals to everyone.  Both “Gods” and “Witchcraft” are relatively older tunes that were written in the wake of The Mimico Sessions.  They’ve definitely grown along with the band.  Each of them has had a few incarnations prior to the ones that exist on Panic.  Even after recording them, there were a few aspects of the mix and production that we weren’t sure of at first.  But after letting them sit for a few days and coming back with fresh ears, we were like, “Holy shit!  These songs rule!”

Lets talk about opener “Lucky Ones” – where did this new pop dynamic come from and is this something we can expect from now on?

That one was the result of a bunch of random riffs and lyrics we had hanging around that I cut and pasted together.  Playing it for the guys for the first time was a bit terrifying… we tend more towards songs that have a darker feel to them.  But everyone bought in pretty quickly.  Not sure if it’s something to expect as far as “musical direction” is concerned; we kind of just let the songs happen on their own.  

Do you have a favourite track?  Why?darlingscover

My obligation here is to say that I think ALL the songs are good, and I can’t pick a favourite.  But fuck it: “No Rescue.”  Everyone’s performance is stellar.  There’s a lot of good stuff packed into that one.

How has the reaction been to the new songs and feel thus far? Did you have any worries and have they been put to ease?

The reaction’s been great!  We weren’t really worried, but there were a few newer songs like “Gimme Hell” that hadn’t been road-tested before the album came out.  So that was in the back of our minds.  But so far, so good.

Who did the artwork of the ships and what is the story behind it? (It looks wicked!)

Louis Durand!  He’s amazing.  He’s done a lot of great work for bands like C’Mon and Broken Social Scene, not to mention a whole pile of show posters.  We mentioned to him that we wanted something iconic and menacing without being too obvious, and we thought the advancing warships worked really well.  And thanks… we like it, too!

How has the past year seen you grow as a band?

We’ve definitely come into our own as a four-piece, and we’ve grown a lot as songwriters.  The tour has also helped to make the live show even more fun.  

Speaking of touring; you’ve been doing a bunch of shows over the past month – what are your highs and lows thus far?

We’ve been fairly lucky… aside from the drive from Kamloops to Thunder Bay that we did without stopping, there haven’t really been any low points.  High notes were definitely the packed houses we played to in Thunder Bay, Calgary, and Vancouver, and how well we were treated at Bruno’s in Banff.  

Pretend I’ve never seen you live before. Entice me, why should I come watch you?

You’re going to leave covered in sweat and booze and with a smile on your face.  We’ve been known to jump onto bars, into the crowd, and drag people up on stage with us.  We’ve always figured that no one wants to come to a show and hear the CD note for note… they can stay home and do that.  It has to be something special.  They want to see you go for it.  And we certainly do.  

What’s next for you guys?

We’re going to do a video or two, write some new songs, then look at some dates in Eastern Canada.  And hopefully beyond… Europe’s calling, and we’re hoping to make it there in the New Year.

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