Two Door Cinema Club: 'We're aware that bands have shelf lives'
In theory, the members of Two Door Cinema Club shouldn't be hard to recognise. They have two top 10 albums, they're a mainstay of summer festivals, and frontman Alex Trimble sang as part of Danny Boyle's 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony, watched by an estimated 900 million people worldwide.
Yet it's something of a surprise to see the trio appearing on the front cover of new, fourth album False Alarm because, until now, they'd shied away from putting themselves front and centre.
"I think we can be a bit of a faceless band," admits bassist Kevin Baird.
False Alarm's artwork isn't your standard artist portrait, however. It sees the three members - Trimble, Baird and guitarist Sam Halliday - in matching turtleneck jumpers, their haircuts waxed to one side. And they appear to be emerging from the floor, like characters in a game of Whac-A-Mole.
The first time they floated the idea of appearing on their own album cover, Baird remembers the band's management saying: "Guys, this is amazing! We've been trying to get you to do this for so long!"
"But in the end, we're dressed like dolls and we've got wigs on. So it's a perfect disguise," he laughs.
London-based photographer Aleksandra Kingo designed the sleeve, placing the trio in a scene of panic - surrounded by red alert alarms, megaphones, telephones and hazard signs.
It all ties in with the theme of False Alarm, which Trimble says is about a sense of collective, mild anxiety that many people experience today; where most of us live in a world of endless phone notifications, doom-ridden news headlines and general despair.
"A lot of information reaching us instantly is unwanted, or unneeded," he stresses. "Every time our phone buzzes, or something goes 'ding!', there's an element of anticipation. It can be a little bit anxiety-inducing. And that's where the name False Alarm came from, because most of it is needless."
That's not to say there aren't pressing global issues to get worked up about, insists Baird. "We can very confidently say that the human race are doing some pretty serious damage to our legacy, really, in terms of our existence. [But] we're getting all bogged down in notifications, rather than dealing with the giant chaos happening in the background of the painting."
Sleeve designer Kingo was on the same page as the band when put to task on an album cover. "Both me and the guys are part of generation who were born with no internet or social media. We were introduced to it in our early teens. So it can still be very overwhelming to us."
Angry or absurd?
The last Two Door Cinema Club album, 2016's Gameshow, came off the back of inter-band tensions and a two year hiatus in which the Northern Irish group nearly split.
Lyrically, Trimble addressed his dissatisfaction with the information age from a distance. "I was in a different place and I was feeling a bit more bitter and angry about the world," he admits.
This time, Trimble and his bandmates are realising they're just as vulnerable to technology's perceived dark side as the rest of us. "You realise, 'I'm part of it as well!'" he laughs. "Every human in the Western world is contributing to it in some way; playing their own part."
False Alarm, then, explores how humans are what Trimble calls a "very strange species." He adds: "We're just odd creatures. We're quite foolish and we're quite self-destructive. But it's all happening in quite a funny way."
Rather than pointing the finger at specific trends, or getting doom-and-gloom about the world we live in, the new record explores the "bizarre side of it and the absurdity," he says. And the album's off-kilter social commentary is channelled through shiny, funk-nodding pop; already found on singles Talk and Satellite.
False Alarm sees Two Door Cinema Club writing more astutely about the human condition than in their heady, jangle-indie early days.
It's partly because they've become more comfortable with themselves as they approach their 30s - and partly because the spectre of self-implosion that preceded their previous album allowed them to hit the reset button.
Halliday says that while recording and touring Gameshow, they learned to "speak our minds and be assertive."
Communication hadn't been their strong suit before then, but "it felt like the three of us finally had some sort of security," says Baird.
"We'd put to bed a lot of old elephants that were in the room, and found common ground."
And the brinkmanship of those previous years gave them a new lease of life. "We could see things with fresh eyes," adds Baird.
"You're sticking your head in the sand a little bit if you don't appreciate that bands have shelf lives. We've been very lucky to have done this for 12 years. We've seen a lot of bands at the pinnacle, selling out the O2 Arena, and we've seen those kinds of bands disappear. That's something we're aware of, and it allows us to keep challenging ourselves and becoming better and better, without getting too comfortable with the way things are."
Baird puts their longevity down to never quite being the coolest, most talked-about band - particularly in the days when guitar music was far from in vogue. "We had a lot less pressure on us than other bands, a lot fewer eyes judging us. And that allowed us to slowly build up our fanbase and get to a level where we're pretty consistent now."
"We got used to being on the sidelines of everything," agrees Trimble. "We weren't part of a scene of bands, as a lot of others were. So from the outside, there weren't a lot of people expecting much from us."
There remains a side to Two Door Cinema Club, however, that wouldn't mind being directly in the spotlight. Their portrait-mode new album cover suggests as much. They still don't have a Brit Award to their name, 2012 album Beacon was one place shy of the Number 1 spot, and they've yet to top the bill at a major UK festival.
"I would love to headline one, be it Glastonbury or Reading + Leeds," Baird admits.
This summer they play one of the biggest sets of their career so far; a post-sunset slot at Glastonbury on Friday. "This year is huge," Trimble says excitedly. "We've never played at night at Glastonbury before. Playing on a big stage when it's dark, it changes everything."
Trimble claims he doesn't get nervous before shows, except when he's backstage at Worthy Farm. Is that because of the millions tuning in on TV?
"Not just that! It means so much to so many other people. It has that power and gravity that really makes people pay attention."
If the band weren't familiar faces before 2019, they should be before summer's out.