The number of albums a band has officially released is typically not a matter of debate. But that may not be necessarily true for Brooklyn’s The Double. Most reputable music sources would say that The Double have released three albums of reverb-soaked, experimental pop in their tenure, Loose Crochet in 2002, Palm Fronds in 2004 and last year’s Loose in the Air.
According to the band, though, The Double didn’t really begin until the recording of Palm Fronds. Loose Crochet just happened to be recorded by a different band of the same name, founded and manned by current Double members bassist/vocalist David Greenhill and drummer/programmer Jeff McLeod. With the addition of guitarist/vocalist Donald Beaman and keyboardist Jacob Morris, The Double became a whole new beast entirely.
“I didn’t necessarily feel like I was just joining an old band, or an existing band,” Beaman said before The Double’s recent show at the Khyber Pass in Philadelphia. “Because we wrote all new songs and we didn’t play anything [Greenhill and McLeod] had done as a two-piece. It was pretty much as much of a new band as it could be.”
Despite being an (almost) new band, The Double retained their name, not to pay homage to the former two-piece or to work off of already-formed contacts, but for a very simple and unrelated reason altogether.
“For awhile, we really struggled to come up with a new name and we just couldn’t, so we just continued being the Double,” Beaman said. “There wasn’t a much better reason than that that we kind of stuck with that name.”
As with the incongruities found in the band’s discography, the story of The Double’s beginning also has two versions. The first Double began at Vassar where Greenhill and McLeod met while both studying Studio Art. After graduation, they moved to Brooklyn and began cultivating The Double’s dark, lo-fi sound on their first release, Loose Crochet. Even now, the band has trouble describing what, exactly, was cultivated. When asked to describe the band musically, all of the members fumbled and looked to their manager, Christian, who told them they were on their own.
“We might have a unified sound but we don’t have a sound that identifies with some catch phrase that we made. If people ask [what we sound like], we’re usually just, `Yeah, we’re, like, a rock band,'” Morris said. “I think that most people, if they listen to us will figure it out for themselves. It’s not that we totally reinvented the wheel, it’s just that we have a hard time thinking about our music that way. We kind of just let it speak for itself because we’re always thinking about the music, not what it is, because I don’t know if we know.”
Indescribable sound or not, Greenhill and McLeod found a few years ago that having only two members limited them as a band, leading to the Double’s second beginning. After writing one or two songs for Palm Fronds, Morris and Beaman joined the original two. Greenhill and McLeod met Morris while playing during their Vassar days, and Beaman and Greenhill had been childhood friends, growing up together in Davis, California.
“I lived with David,” Beaman said. “He was working on this recording project and I just kind of…”
“Stumbled into the room,” Greenhill said laughing.
“It was really easy and we didn’t really think of it as a band. It was more recordings and then it became a band later,” Beaman said. “So it was all sort of a gradual process, one I didn’t really think about, it just kind of happened. For instance, there wasn’t a tryout or anything like that.”
With new blood and old limitations no longer an issue, all seemed right in the world of The Double — until misfortune came along. To pay the bills, McLeod was working in a woodshed making stretchers for artists, the frameworks that keep canvases taut. One day, he was working after hours to satisfy his own artistic urges when the stretcher became caught in a saw, pulling the pointer and middle fingers of his left hand along with it.
“Mechanical saws and fingers are bad, bad things to mix,” McLeod said.
Taking a cue from Def Leppard’s Rick Allen, one-armed drummer extraordinaire, McLeod improvised, using drum machines in lieu of live drums, and The Double went ahead with the recording of Palm Fronds.
“I go crazy if I’m not making something,” McLeod said. “I’d always on my own played around with drum machines and recorded stuff, none of which really came to real fruition because, honestly, I don’t like my singing voice a lot. So it was a good opportunity to have David’s songs and me knob twiddling and then [Morris and Beaman] joined in on that process… I love sitting at a console and moving fingers…it was a chance to do that which I’d never done except for in my bedroom, on my own.”
Although McLeod’s hand has since healed, he no longer paints. He still claims to be a great fan of art, but cites music as his first love.
“I’m a drama queen. I love crowds and you don’t get that painting,”
McLeod said. “The art world is even sleazier than the music world.”
The rest of the band has had a less tumultuous and, more importantly, a less painful relationship with visual art than McLeod. From fliers to album art to their official website, The Double maintains a distinct style for all visual aspects of the band. The art, done by predominantly by Beaman and Greenhill, is mainly black and white, with cameos of color in some pieces. Printing that spells out the band’s name or announces the whens and wheres of a gig are done in a flowy script or block letters in an almost childlike scrawl.
“We’re not the kind of band that’s comfortable putting our pictures all over fliers or on the album covers,” Morris said. “That’s not how we market the band. If we have to market it, we want to market it an way that’s more esoteric and more serious than something really obvious like, `we’re four dudes, we’re in a band, you want to check it out.'”
“The great thing is it doesn’t ever have to seem like marketing because Donald does these drawings anyway,” McLeod said.
The Double’s independent label status has allowed artistic freedom, both in sight and sound. Palm Fronds was released on New York-based indie Catsup Plate, home at one point to Black Dice and Animal Collective. The Double graduated to the big leagues and released Loose in the Air on independent behemoth Matador Records.
“[Interpol’s] Paul Banks brought [Matador president] Chris Lombardi down to a show. `I saw this band, they’re really amazing, you should really check `em out,’ and Chris Lombardi left after a song or something and he was like, `Whatever,'” Morris said. “Then a year later they saw us again and he’s like, `Oh, this band is really good.’ It took awhile.”
“I think that as far as being in a band goes, there’s very little change,” Beaman said. “But Matador does provide sort of a structure for touring a lot more consistently and things like that… We tour X amount of days a year and…”
“We get, like, two months a year at the Matador Mansion, where we get the use of the helicopter and the jet, yeah, the Matador bunnies, and we just do blow off Chris Lombardi’s chest. It’s awesome,” McLeod said, laughing.
Though their label head may not have immediately taken notice to The Double, not everyone in the music world took so long. Legendary BBC DJ John Peel asked the band to make a stop at Maida Vale Studios while opening for Blonde Redhead and Interpol in Europe to record a Peel Session just months before his death in 2004.
“It was really fortunate,” Greenhill said. “We sent him a demo or some songs that we recorded as a live band and six months later, John Peel called our manager and was like, `Who the fuck are you guys? I like this song, Where are you?'”
“But it was in a British accent so it made everything funnier,” Beaman added.
The Double recorded their Peel Session on September 16, 2004, committing to tape “Black Diamond” from Palm Fronds and “What Sound It Makes the Thunder,” “Idiocy” and “In the Fog” from the then unreleased Loose in the Air.
“I still have dreams about that Hammond and grand piano that are in that studio. We recorded one of the songs on Loose in the Air there and I remember at the end of the take knowing that it was really good, better than anything I had ever done before in my life and kissing the Hammond at the end of it,” Morris said, eliciting laughter from the rest of the band. “It’s true! It’s true! I kissed it because I knew that wasn’t necessarily me it was—it was sort of me–but it was also sort of the history of this instrument coming out and I was really thankful that I was there and that it had given something to me and had allowed me to wield it. So I gave it a kiss.”
After the Peel Session, The Double returned to the states to begin recording Loose in the Air. Months of touring in support of Palm Fronds changed how the band wanted to approach the recording process. They decided not to record Loose in the Air in Brooklyn, settling on a house in Connecticut instead. Before the release of Palm Fronds, all four members of The Double had never played in a room together. Because they considered Palm Fronds more of a recording project than an album, all parts were recorded separately. Their decision to become a live band shaped the way Loose in the Air was recorded and, in effect, changed how the band sounded. The songs on Loose in the Air are more traditionally structured pop songs when compared to the experimental Palm Fronds.
“Why [Loose in the Air] was more poppy, so to speak, I don’t know,”
McLeod said. “I think I was enamored with the fact that I could pound my drums live in a really straightforward manner and people responded. So, great, let’s keep pounding and put mics in front of it and then see what happens to it.”
The band does not see the evolution between Palm Fronds and Loose in the Air as that great of a transition. Beaman said that, while they may be in different contexts, the songs on Palm Fronds contain the same pop sensibilities that appear on Loose in the Air.
“I’d like to think in my mind that picture will widen and make more sense as more records come out,” Beaman said. “We’ll kind of rethink what we do every time we make a record and so maybe it’ll feel more cohesive or something. Right now, there’s just the black and white of those two records. Who knows what will be next? It’ll probably be…”
“…grindcore, I’m thinking,” McLeod interjected.
“Yeah!” Beaman said. “That whole thing is coming back and we really wanna milk it.”