Interview – Alexis Marshall (Daughters)

Alexis Marshall - Daughters - Steven Beijer

Everything he has is within him
His shoes come up from off his feet
The shadow haunts him for several yards
The ghosts of what he was, desperate to keep up until gone  (…) 
To know, to see for himself
If there is an ocean beyond the waves, beyond the waves

Daughters. Ocean Song. You Won’t Get What You Want (2018)

To see Daughters‘ frontman, Alexis Marshall, live is an intense journey with a volatile character. It’s impossible not to think of him as this wild, boundless performer. However, the intensity of his art can be poured into his undeniable honesty and vulnerability. I witnessed the growth of this so-called “grotesque animal”, —hours before their show at AmFest in Barcelona. The one who reads Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy,  who can’t stand indifference and uses fiction to escape the underwhelming reality.

What’s your state of mind right now and how is the relationship within the band. You guys are in the same place again: touring and spending a lot of time together.

Yeah, I think it’s even more. The pressure is different now. It’s more like a job. In the sense that there are more responsibilities on what we are doing. We are thinking about the future and not just playing to play. Back then, it really didn’t matter. The responsibility is different but not in a boring growing up way.

There’s still a lot of difficulties in the group. Personally, I think that helps us in some way. But it’s like any relationship. It’s really hard sometimes and sometimes, it’s good. We’ve constantly been playing this year. So we’re definitely getting tired of each other. We’re exhausted. But, you know, we’re all understanding. We’re happy to do it.

Making the new album (You Won’t Get What You Want) was somehow different. Does this mean that the relationship as a band is evolving? Is it really your best work so far? At least, you said that about Ocean Song.

Did I say that? (Laughs.) I think it is. At least, for me, it’s my best writing. It has the voice that I always wanted. So, yes. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done so far.

The biggest issue was just being so far with each other. It was challenging to try writing the album and for everyone to contribute consistently. It’s not like to sit down together and work on something and see what happens with it. It was strange not doing it for a long time and then come back and try it. Luckily, we were able to work together really well and try to get the best from a kind of a tough situation. The ends justify the means of support, and we’re all happy with how it came out.

Why’s that?

I don’t wanna use “maturity” because it sounds really stupid. I would be angry at myself for saying it if I was reading this in my 20s. But there’s just maturity in the way we are putting things together, playing music, performing. We’re concerned about how it comes across. And there’s a consideration for the listener. It’s wonderful.

You have said that the intensity of your performance is due to boredom and the need to become this “grotesque animal” Are you experiencing the audience and the live show differently? 

(Laughs) Everything changes. We should change as people. I think we’re different than some bands that just play music and have a good time doing it. We have more of ourselves invested in what we’re doing. That doesn’t mean that it has any more value. It’s just a different approach. Who we are personally is reflected in what we’re doing artistically.

I don’t feel that I’ve slowed down or anything. It’s not about a 30-second song and screaming. There’s more intensity about what’s happening. It’s all-encompassing. Before it was a freak show. Now, people are seeing us performing and responding to music personally. That’s great. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

Alexis Marshall-AMFest-Cherry Adam
Daughters at AMFest, Barcelona. October 2019.

Let’s talk about your songwriting for this album.

When I write for the band, I don’t put too much of myself, because I see it as a representation of the group. Certainly, I don’t want to put words on somebody else’s mouth. This is why I refrain from discussing politics. What I’m writing is reflecting on what I am fascinated with: old Americana, search for the self, loneliness, discontent, and so on.

You are trying to create a specific narrative to tell a story. Who are your favourite writers?

There’s a bunch of stuff. I have a lot of books, especially poetry. It is easy to sort of jump on because we’re on the bus talking to each other. I read a lot of books. I like Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, some Robert Pinsky poetry.

Are you into fiction again, or you never left?

A couple years ago I got really into politics. I was way too into it. I remember my wife asking me to stop ordering all these crazy ass books. We recently moved, and I’ve pulled out a box of all the books that I haven’t read. Jesus Christ! (Laughs.) I have sort of gone back to fiction. Now that I have children, I am more interested in the news than ever before. It’s nice to get back to fiction and to be able to write. It’s nice just to have a break from all the craziness. It’s just overwhelming.

The band has been framed into so many genres. Now, the consensus is “noise.” Referring to John Cage and his theories. Is silence the opposite of noise?

I don’t know if everything is like yin and yang. I don’t think there has to be an opposite for everything. I think there’s something rhythmic everywhere, every time, and the basis of sound is silence. It’s like a blank canvas that was supposed to be the opposite of the finished painting. It’s a sense of everything which is how we fill the spaces.

Daughters 3-AMFest-Cherry Adam
Daughters at AMFest, Barcelona. October 2019.

Are you more comfortable playing in front of your all-time fans or you don’t have a preference in that sense?

We get great reactions from people in metal festivals, for example. And if that’s a place you have to go to find people, that’s great. I mean, we’re not a metal band. We thrive in those places, but some people are open to going to see a band like us. We’ve managed to do that. We now find ourselves in a place where we can just play anywhere for anyone, and there’s something that resonates with people.

And how’s the reaction among your all-timers?

We were recently called posers in Paris, which I think it’s really funny. I’ve always said that I just don’t want indifference. If people are taking the time to really love us or really hate us, we’ve got a chance. We’ve always done a good job of either really offending people or really entertaining them. If we’re not having an impact on anybody present, we should find something else to do.

That’s why you chose that title You Won’t Get What You Want?

It was like a reminder to ourselves. We don’t need to put any pressure on our shoulders and carry any weight because we’ve never been interested in pleasing people. It was also a disclaimer to people that were expecting something from us.

What’s your greatest fear?

If something would happen to my children.

What’s your idea of happiness right now?

I would wish to have my children with me.

It means that your priorities and goals have changed?

Mmm, yeah. Sorry. I haven’t seen my children in a while. I don’t want to talk about it. (Alexis moves back, looks away, and his eyes get cloudy.)

I ask him if he wants to stop, but he decides to carry on.

When are you coming back home?

We will be done on the second of November. Some of us will fly home. Some people are staying for a few days. We’ve got two or three weeks off, and then we have a U.S. tour with HEALTH, Protomartyr, and some others.

Is there any plan for a new album soon?

Yeah, hopefully. We’d have something ready by the middle of next year, but the schedule has been so heavy. We’ve got a good deal of material on which we need to kind of sit down to put it all together. Hopefully, that’s what we’ll do.

Daughters-AmFest-Cherry Adam

It’s the right time to finish, so I press “stop” on the recorder and thank Alexis for his time. The organizers show us the way. He goes first. Steven (the photographer) and I follow him. A few steps away, the rest of the band is having dinner. Alexis stands in front of them and says: “This woman has made me cry,” pointing at me. I look at them, smile and say goodbye. While I’m leaving, I feel their eyes fixed on my neck. This Alexis has nothing to do with the one I’ll see, hours later, bitting the wire and hitting his head with the microphone. In the end, this “grotesque animal” is just a human being like the rest of us.

*Featured image by Steven Beijer. The rest of the pictures were taken by me.

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