This May, for the sixth year running, New York will once more be treated to the NYC Popfest, a lovingly curated sugar-rush of indie fizz that brings bands from all corners of the globe—and not just Sweden!—to celebrate a musical lineage that traces itself back to names like Sarah, Factory and Labrador. These are the songs to hold hands to, though they’re not always as innocent as all that.
Case in point: the output of Allo Darlin’, a charming, sly quartet from the UK whose second album, Europe (Slumberland), maintains the dreamy mix of clean guitars and verbal incisiveness that mark their many 7-inches. Before they set out across the continent, however, we were able to ask Elizabeth Morris—the band’s uke player and winsome lead vocalist (she sings like it’s just you and her, out in a sunny meadow) about their idiosyncratic style.
You like to appropriate from other musicians—the last album quoted Weezer and Johnny Cash, for example. What do you get out of borrowing a lyric or chord progression?
I guess when I was writing those songs for the first album, I really wasn’t thinking of anybody hearing them. And I guess my mind just wandered in the process of writing them, alone in my room. That’s how those songs ended up in my songs. For so many of us songs soundtrack so much of our life, and a particular song can really make people happy. Like, when we do “Kiss Your Lips,” people love singing along in the Weezer bit, because so many people, like me, love that song. And it just fitted I guess—well, that and it really happened of course, my love singing Weezer to me. I think I was inspired a lot by Jens Lekman at the time and his appropriating of chord progressions and samples, and I liked the style. But I haven’t written a song like that for a long time.
The new album is called Europe, but two of you are Australian and the other pair is from Kent: what do you know of Europe? (And does the UK count?)
Haha, well that’s an interesting question. Of course the UK is a part of Europe, but there is quite a distinction between the UK and what we call “the continent.” The UK really has an island mentality, like Australia does. I was in Budapest recently and was a bit overwhelmed with how much horror that city had seen in the last century, and it occurred to me that perhaps why the UK doesn’t want to gang together in the whole EU thing so much is because it was never invaded by another European nation in the last century. It never needed its neighbors in quite the same way. Obviously the Blitz happened, but that’s different from being occupied. Sorry, that is quite a long and historical answer to your question.
I got my wife hooked with the song “Woody Allen.” Any arguments on tour about which of his films is the best?
Perhaps on this tour there will be, because I know Dave Tattersall from the Wave Pictures likes Woody Allen too. I actually really liked his new film, Midnight in Paris. I thought it was funny and warm and it was a nice film to see in the cinema. But it’s always going to be Annie Hall for me. I don’t know if the other guys in Allo Darlin’ watch that many Woody Allen films—we’ve actually never discussed it!
Actually, there are many songs that directly address real people, from Henry Rollins to Stephen Hawking, and now Neil Armstrong. What would they make of your odes to them?
I imagine none of them will ever hear them. “Dear Stephen Hawking” we only play in Cambridge now, it’s kind of a little tradition. I like to think someone who knows him will play it to him. We’re playing Cambridge next week so maybe I’ll get lucky. I imagine Henry Rollins would hate his song, but I hope Neil Armstrong would like his.
You’ve got a bright, shimmery sound that, to my mind, is perfect for a long afternoon spent reading. Which book(s) would you like to be paired with and why?
That’s nice. I have been reading a lot of Murakami lately, but generally I’m a non-fiction girl. I like facts. I’m a bit of a nerd that way. Well, in every way really.
Allo Darlin’ is nothing if not catchy. How do you know when you’ve written a killer hook?
If I can remember it, then it’s pretty good. Of course there are those times when you’re walking or dreaming and don’t have access to a dictaphone, and you forget it. But generally those ones come back after a while, but it sure is frustrating while you’re waiting.
Along with the sweet melodies, there’s an arch humor to your work. Is that subtle sting essential to being “twee”—or do you reject that term altogether?
I pretty much reject that term. I don’t really know what it means, but in the UK it’s a pejorative, so I like to avoid it if I can.
I’d better watch my mouth, then. Europe is being put out by Slumberland Records, which boasts a twee poppy roster indeed. Are there other bands there, or elsewhere, that seem to be on your artistic wavelength?
Well the indie world is in pretty awesome shape here in the UK. We have the amazing Indietracks festival that happens in a steam rail center in the summer, and just looking at the lineup for that this year is really exciting. Bands I’d associate us with are The Wave Pictures, Standard Fare, Tigercats, Darren Hayman of course. These are all bands we connect with and love playing with.
Your U.S. tour, ending with Popfest in New York on May 20, is about to kick off. Is there anything non-musical you’re hoping to do or see stateside?
Does record shopping count as non-musical? I know Paul wants to go to a Puppetry Museum in Atlanta, and last time we all geeked out at the Smithsonian in D.C., which was pretty unreal. We have so much driving to do, but I’m really looking forward to seeing our friends that we’ve made the last few times we’ve come to the States. Some really fun people. Also I want to go swimming in the ocean on the West Coast. And meet Mike from Slumberland for the first time! And probably play lots of pool and lose to the Wave Pictures every time.
The NYC Popfest starts tonight at Cake Shop and runs through Monday at various venues around town; Allo Darlin play with the Ladybug Transistor, the Wave Pictures, White Town, the Holiday Crowd, Dot Dash, Sleuth, and Swearin’ on Sunday at Littlefield.