There’s more than a touch of the silver screen about Dark Tropics‘ debut album. The two-piece of Rio and Gerard released Ink last month, almost two years since they first emerged. Rio’s vocals take the spotlight across the album’s eleven tracks, soundtracked by rich instrumentation that incorporates strings and piano, perhaps encapsulated best by lead single ‘Badlands’. Of course, there is room for growth with mournful ballads, breezy pop and slowly simmering cinematic tracks. Altogether Ink is a debut with clear ambition.
We asked Dark Tropics to delve into the sounds and the writing process behind the album below.
Gerard: ‘Badlands’ is our attempt to capture the feel of an epic western in a 3 minute pop song. It started life as a kind of strummy acoustic Johnny Cash country song but when we got to the studio it completely changed and became a far more delicate piano thing.
Rio: The lyrics were very much inspired by classic American Westerns, with the music being drawn more from film noir and dark speakeasy piano ballads. We thought we could marry those and we think it’s worked.
Gerard: ‘Escape’ was the first song Rio and I ever demoed together. We had just met for the first time the previous week in Belfast and decided to record something. The vocal we demoed that day is the one we ended up using on the album.
Gerard: The song started as a very empty demo with Radiohead groove but ended up being a lot heavier with 60s harmonies. It’s about Rio’s time volunteering in Morocco.
Rio: ‘Moroccan Sun’ was a turning point for me. One where I realised that no matter what happens in life, I have myself, and I can find a home. It was a relishing in letting go, how sometimes you need distance to understand what home actually is, and that you alone choose who that consists of.
It’s Later Than You Think
Gerard: The production and instrumentation was inspired by old Patsy Cline recordings. We wanted it to be as vintage sounding as possible while maintaining a modern gloss. It’s definitely one of my favourites.
Rio: Singing this song always gets me emotional, I actually cried in the studio while recording it. The music and the lyrics just took hold of me and didn’t let go.
Gerard: The most exciting thing about recording ‘Keep Searching’ was hearing the string section being added to the end. Dylan Howe did an incredible job arranging it and it sounds really filmic.
Gerard: It has lots of moody brass in it but it’s quite low in the mix. We were really pleased with the atmosphere it created and Rio’s vocal is another we kept from the demo cause it was such a beautiful delivery.
Roses In The Nile
Gerard: It was the last song we wrote for the album. We needed one more tune and Rio and I finished writing it in the studio about 10 minutes before we started to record it. We didn’t really have a proper chorus so we wrote a melody for a brass section which we just roughly sang to the brass player Dylan who played beautifully on it and gave it a New Orleans flavour.
Rio: We were tired, very tired, those studio days were long. But we sat down, to keep ourselves upbeat and worked on the song we had loved so much but didn’t quite know what it was missing. It turned out with my favourite production of any of the songs on the album, I’m very, very happy with this one!
Gerard: It was difficult to record and mix because anything we added took away from the vocal melody so in the end we decided to keep it very sparse with just strings, piano and a ridiculously simple drum pattern.
Gerard: It was probably the most fun to record. We just all had to lock into the groove but try and make it sound as effortless and loose as possible. It’s the closest to R&B we get.
Don’t Let The Others Know
Gerard: We wrote this almost from scratch in an afternoon in the Oh Yeah Music Centre. The ‘baby, don’t let the others know’ hook is probably the poppiest thing on the album.
Rio: Don’t let the others know was a really therapeutic song to write, it was just good to get the emotions off my chest, and song is the best way to do that! With the way we write songs (save for ‘Helen’s Bay’) they’re always very intimate and emotional. It’s generally with whatever has been playing on our minds and how we can convey that!
Gerard: It started as a poem that Rio wrote in school. She sent these amazing words that were so easy to put music over. We finished it on her grandfather’s beautiful piano which was a real thrill to play.
Rio: I used this to play with form, my poetry tends to lean more toward natural flow, this was the first I hadn’t written with the intention of that natural iambic pentameter. I drew on an experience, one which has stayed with me though ultimately the person didn’t. It’s like a cry for salvation, for a safety net, and realising there is no security in the future. The last two lines which we cut from the song read “because the speaker has not yet spoken, the poem not yet written”. I like that, although it came from a very specific place, it has become one of our more universal songs.