From ‘OK Computer’ to ‘Screamadelica’, history has shown that a band’s third album is when shit starts to get real. When, after an introductory debut and a second that tests new waters, the particular alchemy of a group stamps its personality in ways that no other configuration of individuals can do; when the outside voices have been tempered and all that’s left is a perfect cocktail of confidence, skill and momentum. It’s a theory that’s been proven time and time again, and one that Newcastle trio Demob Happy are underlining with ‘Divine Machines’: a third album that harnesses their delicate tightrope of heaviness and melody, sweetness and riffs, and rides it up to the stratosphere.
“You need almost insane levels of resilience and belief to be an artist, but we’ve gone out and put in the work over the years,” begins drummer Tom Armstrong as frontman and bassist Matthew Marcantonio affirms: “This isn’t music for pubs or bars anymore, they’re grand songs for grand venues. It’s backwards engineering.”
Indeed, since forming more than a decade ago back in hometown Newcastle, Demob Happy have earned every increasingly exciting career milestone through a combination of hard graft and gritty determination that would KO most bands. They’ve gigged incessantly, building on the slowly-escalating interest from 2015 debut ‘Dream Soda’ and 2018’s ‘Holy Doom’, and transforming it into a second album campaign that saw them tour the USA four times alongside a UK support tour with Jack White and an EU stint with Royal Blood. In between all that, they’ve continued to meticulously hone the inner workings of their practice, with Matthew fine-tuning his production chops to the point where they can take everything in-house.
Having played Reading and Leeds Festival’s main stage and joined White on stage for an impromptu collaboration, it had all steered Demob Happy to the start of 2020, when work for LP3 would begin in Wales following the busiest, most objectively successful period of their careers to date. “The plan was to go and write, get some really quality demos, spruce them up in the studio in May and release the album in August 2020,” explains guitarist Adam Godfrey. The world, of course, had other ideas in mind. However, rather than merely postponing the record, the vast expanse of time afforded to the band would become the making of ‘Divine Machines’ – an album whose intricacies and experiments come as the result of hours upon hours of a lockdown labour of love.
“To keep myself busy and sane I started reworking what we demo’d in wales. The world was in chaos and I didn’t know where it would take me or what I was even making at first, but from having so much time and going a bit fucking nuts, they became incredible and way more advanced than demos we’d ever made before,” Matthew explains. “There are always these flashes and moments of magic that are sacrificed between the demos and the album, but the extra time I had meant nothing was lost, and they became the foundation of the album. This is why The Beatles were The Beatles, because they were four lads having a laugh, but they were inside Abbey Road – the most sophisticated studio in the world. That cocktail of having fun and taking the piss and having it captured expertly: that’s where there’s absolute magic.”
Really, however, ‘Divine Machines’ as a whole is a record that Demob Happy had to build towards. It’s the product not just of a strange extended period of work – both on the album and on themselves – but of an entire career spent putting in the hours, believing tirelessly in what they’re doing and, slowly but surely, watching the world start to believe in it too. As Matthew affirms: “We’ve never chased the dragon of success, even though we’ve been encouraged to, but we’re not interested in doing it like that. We’ve always done what we wanted, but now it seems like it might align with what other people want as well.”