A few years ago, 2009 was coming to a close and the brand-new British rock band Kalazar was gearing up for their first public performance. They had been playing and jamming together for less than a month, and through a connection with a friend were allowed to use the practice space of established post-hardcore group Enter Shikari to rehearse and put in the hard work to prepare their world debut. Two members of the band were still 16 years old and nobody knew much about them yet, but during one early session prominent indie rock band The Joy Formidable dropped by the practice space to look around and say hi. Connections like these didn’t necessarily create the band, but they were just the kind of shots in the arm that a young group needs.
Kalazar has since changed their name to Dark Stares, and developed a focused, professional sound. Their debut EP Tell Your Friends is a powerful testament to the ongoing power of British rock music and their style is such a tightly woven mesh reminiscent of outstanding artists that it’s hard to ignore these guys. They’ve definitely reached a state of deserved recognition.
I recently spoke with Dark Stares’ frontman Miles Howell about “Invaders,” a particularly gripping track from Tell Your Friends that I named as “The Big Hit” in my review of the EP. I was instantly drawn to the varied, visceral sound of the song, but became even more interested as I dug a little further into its meaning and how it came to be in its present form.
Howell considers “Invaders” to be a weird song. He initially was able to write it in one songwriting flow, which he is thankful for as the song has a somewhat atypical structure. Its chorus only repeats a few times, the closest thing it has to verses don’t mirror each other, and it packs in many other one-off twists and turns down the road to its finale. The song certainly feels short, but when one considers that it is actually three minutes and forty-eight seconds long it becomes evident that Howell’s songwriting style has made possible a journey that keeps the listener interested.
Musically, the track seems to be the triumph of the EP, incorporating sounds that bring up memories of other bands such as Muse and the Killers, and occasionally The Mars Volta. The performance is very tight here, and Howell heavily credits his band as being the catalyst that makes everything work. He says the percussion provides a transformative sense of development to the music, and guitarist Harry Collins was essential in creating rich underlying layers to add to the atmosphere of the piece. Many parts work together to create a compelling sonic experience.
That complexity is a fitting complement to the lyrical material. The song explores deep subjects with open-ended ambiguity. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what “Invaders” is about, but the first lines of the chorus give a hint. Howell sings “they’re invaders of the mind and they’re changing all the time.” The song seems to be dealing with the exchange of information, often at the receiver’s expense, and in ever more cunning or subversive ways.
Howell speaks cryptically about the Invaders themselves, however. When asked who they are, he replied that they “largely exist on your television screen and in those large sign-less buildings with the ominous gates.” Judging from the lyrical content, the song seems to be about propaganda and the face it puts on nameless governments. Howell says that the outro has probably the most coherent theme of the song, and allows the listener to decide for themselves whether the Invaders are tangible entities in our own world or perhaps a hint at a distant, dystopian future.
Speaking of the future, Howell says that he often wrestles with the decision of whether to invade his own past tracks or leave them be. The urge to revisit material can sometimes seem overwhelming, and he finds himself swinging between extremes of wanting to change many details in the writing and production of his music, and alternately wanting to finalize recordings, ship the album, and consider it history. He muses that one must decide to eventually go with the latter because no matter how much work gets poured into a project, at some point it is more beneficial to just finish and say goodbye to such musical children than to hold on to them forever and prevent them from growing up.
In Howell’s view, the most important attribute of recorded music is its ability to exist for the ages as cataloged freeze frames of artistic works, and thus isolated fragments of the thoughts and philosophies of the artists who create them. He says “to try and change that would waste precious creative energy that could be better served on new things to say. But what the certainty and ambiguity might hold for others is the really rewarding part.”
Nearly three years after that eye-opening day in December, Dark Stares has emerged as a rising new name in the British rock scene. They’ve made a simply smashing debut EP and have made a couple of compelling videos to boot. They aim to keep building their fan base until they have a critical mass and can tour broadly, and plan to run with their successes as far as the music industry will allow. If their new single “Bad Machines” is any indication, it could be fairly far.
- Tyler Quiring
The Story Behind the Song is a column that uncovers the history behind select songs off albums from our past reviews, exploring them in detail and investigating their process from inception to reception.