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Dark Topics

18th May 2023

Interview: Harry Smith

Ahead of their headline Belfast date and support for Belle & Sebastian on their Irish tour later this year, Belfast duo Dark Tropics are back with new single – I Bet You Can.

We chat to the iconic duo about their back stories in music, their latest single and supporting Belle & Sebastian.

Hi guys, thanks for talking to Revamp, can you tell us a bit about all of your back stories from how you got into music?

Gerard: Before I met Rio I’d played in some indie bands and wrote and produced my own electronic songs. I’ve always loved music and growing up, the Beatles and Radiohead were the 2 bands I drew most inspiration from. I still continuously return back to their records. Still love them.

Rio: Honestly I was one of those kids who was always singing, I was in choirs from talking age and I loved performing. My grandfather was a classical pianist and both of my grandparents really loved classic jazz, two of my uncles were in a blues band and another played fiddle I believe. Another uncle worked in music production and another creates his own music. My entire life was filled with heavy rock music, jazz, classical, blues and lots of Irish trad. My fondest memories are the massive family get-togethers where they would let little 9 year old me play drums while they sang and played, and would give me some lessons. My entire life has been music and art and poetry, I honestly can’t imagine it any other way.

How did Dark Tropics come about and what made you realise that you wanted to make music together?

Gerard: I’d been on the look out for a singer for a while when I saw an ad online from a singer based in Belfast looking to perform live in a jazz band. Although I didn’t want to start a jazz band or play jazz really I thought it was intriguing so I messaged Rio and she emailed me back from Morocco where she was volunteering, seeming interested. She sent me this really jazzy voice note of her singing ‘crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley acapella. It sounded beautifully strange so we organised to meet on her return. At our first meeting we discovered a mutual appreciation of Radiohead and The Rolling Stones song ‘Sympathy for the devil’ and decided to try recording something. 

Rio: I remember I was on a rooftop bar in Marrakech when I got the email, I was so surprised as most of the messages usually came through the page. Gerard has 0 online presence which is terrifying, but, being safe I took a chance and met him in a café near my work. I remember the voice note I sent Gerard, he had asked for a demo, but I had no recording equipment, and although I did some basic training in that field, I had no idea how to record myself. When I sent him the voice note he said “Erm, this is great, but do you have a demo?”. Understandable, as I had recorded the note at a bus stop outside a Tesco on my way to work… When I met Gerard I discovered he is the most capable, ambitious person I had ever spoken to at this point, and after hearing his music, I decided I had to take a chance.

You are back now with the release of ‘I Bet You Can’, tell us a little more about this track and how it came together?

Gerard It started as an incredibly rough falsetto voicenote which I eventually decided to try and demo. The original idea was like a kind of prince thing but it quickly evolved into a bigger sounding song once we added production and wrote the bass line. I love Rio’s vocal on the end recording. It’s a completely different type of performance than anything she’s done before and has so much punch and brashness.

What was your recording/writing process like for the track? How do you know once it is ready to be released? We love how you described that it was “written in a storm and a haze”.

Gerard Writing and Recording the song was an absolute joy but getting it ready for the mixing process was really tricky. It was mixed by the amazing Michael Heffernan who understood exactly what we wanted… he had engineered the drum and bass session so knew the song well. He worked really hard to get it to sound as energetic as possible. I just kept sending him tracks/stems to drop into the session and he was really great about it. Once we added the brass which was played by the incredible Cork musician Dylan Howe it was done. 

The release comes ahead of your support slot for Belle & Sebastian later in the year, how are you gearing up for this tour across Ireland?

Gerard We’ve played two headline Belfast shows already this year and we’ve added so many new songs to the set that it’s transformed our live show. It’s an absolute joy to play live now and I feel like we finally have our sea legs now after being unable to perform for so long when we launched the band during covid.

Rio: I sing ALL THE TIME. My next door neighbour, thankfully, has told me he enjoys the free entertainment, the copious amounts of scales I’m practising however, I’m not so sure. We record ourselves in rehearsal to perfect our stage presence, and I have started working out to at least attempt to get through a performance without needing a lie down after. Having more gigs has been really helpful, as it’s helped us perfecting our setlist, and my mum always comes down and records us so we can review it after.

What are you most excited about finally releasing new music?

Gerard It takes us so long to finish producing a song that by the time it comes out we’re always certain it sounds exactly how we want and gives us the confidence to push forward. Writing songs  and playing live are the most fun parts of being in a band and we’re only getting started.

 Rio: It’s talking to fans, hearing their thoughts. I try to talk to as many as possible and I love finding out what they like and what they want. Releasing new music and finding out they love it or even don’t love it and why is always a brilliant experience. We would be nowhere without them, I’m so grateful for their support. It’s especially exciting when you know you have a new song coming out and you can message people and tell them when you think they might enjoy it! But truly, so much though and care goes into every release, and it’s all so specifically tailored for them.

Any exciting plans in store for the rest of 2023?

Gerard We have lots of new singles coming this year and we’re playing some festivals over the summer. Wild Roots in Sligo and Output in Belfast are the first couple in June and we’re really excited to play for a new audience.

Rio: Lots of new music releases hopefully! We’re also working on covers for our socials and there are a few possible projects in the pipeline. Performing this year will be the highlight, as G said we have a good handful of gigs lined up, and I’m so excited to be out and performing again! In my personal plans, I may start up my fish tanks again or possibly buy a reptile. I haven’t decided yet.

Check out the music video for 'Bet I Can' by Dark Topics.

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