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Eyes Wide Open: The Magical Sounds of Submotile

Mick and Daniela from Submotile
5 January 2020

Submotile are Michael Farren and Daniela Angione, an Italian-Irish couple from Dublin. The band’s excellent debut album Ghosts Fade on Skylines instantly enchanted me with its mesmerizing sonic weave of dream gaze and soft drones. This interview originally appeared as a Short Take in Issue 85 of The Big Takeover. Thanks to Mick and Daniela for answering my questions.

EK: When did you both get started in music? What were some of your favorite childhood influences? Did any older siblings have great record collections?

M: My first record was the “Don’t you want me” by the Human League, a song that introduced me wonderfully to the cheesier side of life. In my early teens, thanks to having a clued-in older sister with a great record collection, I got into Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr – all these years later, still two of my favorite bands. She brought me to see Sonic Youth in 1991, with some band called Nirvana as the support band. I didn’t listen to the Human League much after that night.

D: My first record was the picture disc of “Notorious” by Duran Duran (which is still in our home record collection by the way), and my first concert was their gig when I was 12 years old. Only in my mid-twenties I completely changed my focus towards bands like Cocorosie, The National (their early work), and The Flaming Lips.

EK: What other bands have you played in? What were those experiences like for you? Were those other bands in the realm of shoegaze, or something different?

M: I played in some truly horrendous outfits in my teens, really terrible. All I can say is I’m grateful that social media and smart phones weren’t a thing back then. Later in life, I played in some pretty decent bands – none of these bands were out-and-out shoegaze, but all of them were heavily influenced by it.

D: Never played in a band before Submotile, but when I was in school, I used to write songs for my friends who were playing in rock-ish bands. I have always loved writing and composing rhymes, but always preferred to be away from the spotlight to the extent that when I was 12 my mum (without my consent) sent one of my scripts for an international competition and it won the second place.

EK: How did the idea for Submotile come together?

M: Completely by accident. I had given up music for a long time, nearly 10 years, but had started back making ambient/drone stuff. One day, Daniela started singing a melody over some chords I was playing – that song was “Signs of My Melody” from our first EP. Her voice works really well with the kind of way I play guitar, so it came together really quickly afterwards.

EK: You’ve recorded two singles, an EP, and now your first full length. How does that feel? Quite a lot of work in under two years.

M: It’s not bad going alright, but I genuinely think we’re only getting started. Hopefully there will be a lot more to come in the next few years. I’ve been learning to record and mix as we’ve been going along, so hopefully there’s a progression evident.

D: It’s been a lot of work, but mostly a lot of fun, and we are trying to get our sound closer to the idea we have in our head. Hopefully we will succeed.

EK: Describe the process of song creation and recording for Ghosts Fade on Skylines. Was it different from your earlier work in terms of production? Do you work from a home studio?

M: There’s no formula really, but often, I’ll come up with a chord progression on guitar and Daniela will work out the vocal melody on a piano. She’ll then take it away and write the lyrics. Something like for example, “Tramonto” came together really quickly, but that’s an exception. Usually, most songs took an awful lot of time to complete, for example, “Winter Storm Sequence” has 144 tracks and its vocals alone took me three days to mix. The whole album took about 10 months.

EK: How has the album been received? It truly is a magnificent piece of work of which you should be proud.

M: Well, thanks a million. It’s been really nice. I’m honestly just grateful that anyone listens to us at all, so to have people say to us that they like what we do means an awful lot.

EK: How did you hook up with Midsummer Madness?

M: Ah, when we were getting started, we used the Submithub website for promotion – after about 75 rejections, Rodrigo from MM contacted us and said he liked the stuff. They’re a great label and he’s a really nice guy who is passionate about what he does.

EK: What informs your songwriting? Does it come from within, or are you at all influenced by external factors?

M: Weirdly enough, I’m influenced by landscapes and environment – we live in Dublin where it rains a lot, it can be a bit bleak, and I always end up recording/mixing when the weather is at its worst, I think it leads to our stuff sounding a bit despondent at times.

D: In my case, I’m mostly inspired and influenced by day to day experiences, and they way I deal with them. I’d say I’m less contemplative and more cogitative, and in songwriting I’m trying to express how I process those experiences.

EK: How do you achieve your sound? Any favorite instruments or sonic techniques?

M: It’s pretty laborious – there’s an awful lot of layering and sampling, particularly with the guitars – the main amp we use is a Vox AC30. I couldn’t work without the Strymon BigSky and Empress Echosystem pedals, as well as the Soundtoys plugins, they’re used on absolutely everything. We use Jaguars, Rickenbackers and Jazzmasters. The Rickenbacker is the main guitar on Winter Storm Sequence, layered with an acoustic.

EK: What are your greatest influences, both musically and otherwise? Believe it or not, when I listen to “An October Ending” from your EP, the beginning reminds me of Oasis. Am I imagining this?

M: Bless your hearing, that’s a really good spot. The chords in that song are actually very similar to “Wonderwall”. Having said that, they’re not an influence at all, I can only listen to Oasis these days under heavy sedation, but we did sort of rip them off there.

My biggest influence, aside from the obvious ones like MBV and Sonic Youth, is actually Michael Gira and Swans. I fell in love with Swans in 1992 and got so much crap for it back then, I remember getting abuse at a show for wearing one of their T-shirts – they were not a popular band back then at all. I love the way Michael has such an incredible work ethic and they are one of two bands whose live shows I would call transcendent (Spiritualized being the other). Who would have predicted it would work out so well for him?

EK: What are you guys listening to right now that you could recommend to fans?

M: Some old, some new – Rev Rev Rev, Bardo Pond, The American Analog Set, Pausal, Lightfoils, The December Sound, Duster, Loomer and Bowery Electric.

D: Lightfoils, Blankenberge, Airiel, Another Sky, Slow Crush,and then the more popular Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, DIIV, Explosions in the Sky, Warpaint, The XX, Broken Social Scene.

EK: What are your vocations outside of music? It is hard to do music full time for most bands.

M: My job is so goddamn boring and stressful that I don’t want to get into it here, but I’ll say I work in IT and leave it at that. It’s very difficult to make money doing music, if we were relying on our music to live, we would have died of starvation months ago. We do it because we love it and thankfully don’t need to rely on it for income. We’d love to play live, but realistically it won’t be happening for a while.

*D: I’m actually a scientist, with a degree in Chemistry. I’m very lucky cause so far I have been working on stuff that I am very passionate about, and for as little as it will be. I am trying to give my contribution in improving the world we are living in. I am a dreamer.

EK: Are you working on new material yet?

M: We are indeed, we’ve a few written and we’re starting recording again soon. I’m releasing an EP under a side project too (Dead Sky Reveries), it’s ambient/drone.

EK: Any last words of wisdom to impart?

M: Smell the flowers while you can.

D: “ I apr l’ecch “ this is dedicated to people from my hometown (Bari). Translated means “always keep your eyes open”.

Catch up with the band over on Bandcamp and check out their Facebook.