Romance, Noise and Living In A Survival Horror - Introducing Downard

Photo: Simon Holliday

Those local to the Bristolian contemporary scene will likely acknowledge the name Downard with knowing, ever so slightly chipped-tooth grins. Composed of partners Andy Pickett (Drums, Vocals) and Kate Louise (Bass), the noise-rock duo have been honing their craft in the underbelly of the South West for almost a decade now, cracking venue foundations and grinding teeth aplenty in the process. With their long-awaited debut full length due to be self-released on April 26th, we got to chat with Andy to know more about Bristol's finest noise-rock power couple.

Can you give us a super simple background on Downard?

"We started the band in 2012. Beforehand we were playing in a 3 piece called Langur where I played guitar and sang and Kate played bass, with our best friend Ant playing drums. We started that band in 2005 so we have been playing music together for ages. Downard was a chance for us to make use of a load of musical gear we had accumulated. We considered starting a whole new band with more than just the two of us but around that time there were loads of really good two-pieces around that inspired us to give it a go as just the two of us."

What are your musical and cultural inspirations?

"Musically we're into a lot of different things. Mainly noise-rock and metal but we listen to lots of hip-hop and pop music (mainly 80s) and things too. I like a lot of quite intense bands like The Locust and Lightning Bolt. Kate likes more stoner rock things like Kyuss and Neurosis, so those hectic and sludgy elements are usually fighting it out within our sound. We try and 'borrow' at least a little something from everything we hear that we like. Sometimes people say to us that one of our songs reminded them of Killing Joke or Suicide something and we suddenly realise where we nicked something from."

"We're both from the Hartcliffe area of Bristol so culturally we're both from working class backgrounds. Generally I don't think people perceive these areas to be thriving hubs of emotional artistic expression, but it's definitely there, just not on the surface and as easy to see as in other places. We really like weird and vague films, TV shows and media that make you feel a certain way without overtly explaining exactly what's going on, I think that definitely influences the feel of the music and some of the lyrics. So for example, the title of one tracks on the album ('Hartcliffe Save Point') came about as the sound of it reminded us of the weird sort of 'safe' feeling you get when you find a save room in an otherwise distressing video game. Hartcliffe would be an ideal setting for a PlayStation survival-horror."

Despite having not released a full length album yet, you've already performed with a large amount of bands and have played at some fairly large events. Tell us about that.

​"We have been lucky enough to play some really good gigs with some of our favourite bands. We've played with our favourite two-piece ever (Gatechien from France - thanks to Dave Thomas of Artscare for sorting that out!) as well as many other bands we love like Raketkanon, That Fucking Tank, Zeus!, Idles, Frauds and loads of others. We've played some shows with the Die Das Der group in Birmingham and Buttonpusher in Sheffield who are really great and we have played at ArcTanGent Festival which was a real privilege. Artscare and Paddy Daly (of St Pierre Snake Invasion) have put us on some banging Bristol bills."

"Not previously having an album recorded has not hindered us in any way so far. These days it's hard to capture anyone's attention for more than a few moments, so our approach so far has been to record EPs that give a fast flavour of our sound."

As some may know, Downard are a couple. How does being in a relationship play into writing and performing? Is it a change from being any other musical projects either of you have been in previously?

​"It's very convenient! We have the same schedules, share a car we can get all our gear into and live together so band activity can be organised incredibly quickly. We've been together for over 16 years and played music together almost all of that time so that awkward 'getting to know you' element of being in a band isn't really there. Gigs are like a nice night out for us."

"I wouldn't say we are psychic or anything but we obviously have a very strong connection and we've been told this comes across on stage. We very rarely have to have a long discussion about how to go about writing a song, it all happens quite instinctively. The only disagreement we tend to have is on the length of songs - Kate always thinks they should be shorter!"

Let's talk about the new album. Permanent Damage is your debut record, what was the recording process like?

​"Historically we've always recorded and mixed our EPs as quickly as possible with a recording engineer. We're not fans of doing loads of different takes and fiddling about with things, we're both very impatient. Our first two EPs were recorded entirely live with no overdubs at all. Once we were set on doing an album this time, we decided to have more fun with it and indulge in the recording process a bit more, spend more time on it. We recorded and mixed everything ourselves and did quite a bit of it at home, which saved us a lot of money and took a lot of pressure off as there was no one to chase or wait on, so we could spend as much time as needed getting exactly what we wanted. The only outside help we got was on the artwork and the mastering, which was done by Ben Scott Turner. We got a decent drum sound using just two mics. Kate did some of her bass takes in her pyjamas."

Is there a running concept to the record?

"We didn't really write with one in mind, we tend to write everything on instinct and think about it afterwards. Now we have a lyric sheet and cover art (by our good friend and in-house artist Luke Edward Thomas), we can look at the whole thing as a finished piece and I can see there are threads tying it all together. So ​I think there is an odd kind of concept but it's really hard to explain. There's no real message or secret meaning or anything. The best music can convey really odd emotions and feelings without spelling things out in black and white, so hopefully people will hear the album and read the lyrics and end up feeling the same sort of things we were when writing."

The vocals on the record are reverb heavy. How did you approach the vocals on the record, what effects were used?

​"I use guitar effect pedals on my voice - distortion, delay, pitch-shift, reverb. I added loads of other effects while we were mixing. I like the disorienting qualities of vocal effects and try to use them to shift focus away from the words so people will listen more to the notes and textures we choose, so it's more like another instrument than a way to shoehorn meaning into a song. I find it really hard to remember lyrics so on a lot of our previous stuff I've just improvised the words, even when recording."

"As we wanted to do things a bit differently this time, I properly wrote lyrics for a change. With the songs on this album, the order we went on was write the music, write the song title, write the vocal melody, then write the lyrics. So the music and then the title then influenced the words. We recorded demos which I would listen to repeatedly whilst writing and drawing pages of things that popped into my head, then I would gradually eliminate the lines I didn't like and keep the ones that fit the song. Melodies for the vocals come to mind when I am either showering or washing dishes."

Finally, what do you want people to experience when listening to the record or catching you guys live?

​"It's up to them really. All open to interpretation. As I've probably covered above the songs are definitely about things but it's not our intention to spread any particular message. If people hear the songs and feel something a bit strange or unfamiliar, we'd be really happy. At one of our gigs once someone told us it took them to a weird and uncomfortable place when they closed their eyes, like an isolation tank or something, I was pleased with that. I hope people listen to it loud!"

Permanent Damage is self-released digitally 26th April.

Physical copies will be available at a later date due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The record will be available to purchase here.