Could the Double's epic new 'Dawn of the Double' spawn a dance craze?

Below is the YouTube video of “Dawn of the Double,” the 40-plus-minute dance song and epic jam by the two-piece band the Double. Recently issued by the Los Angeles “atonal garage rock” label In the Red Records, which is currently on Day 2 of its three-day 25th anniversary party at the Echo and the Echoplex, it’s a singular recording, to say the least. 

Is it art or is it trash? Is it a parody of a rock song or the greatest jam ever put to tape? The group’s first song sure is long, and it sure is singular in its intention: to explore using only a guitar and a drum kit.

“You can meditate to this record,” says Larry Hardy of In the Red. “The first few seconds, it's like, ‘OK, this sounds like the Gories. Then it's, 'No, this is like the Velvet Underground. Oh ... it's Glenn Branca. It's just goes and goes.”

Each night of the party, which continues Friday with sets by the Hunches, Boss Hog, the Oblivians, Red Aunts, GOGGS, Meatbodies and others, the Double will perform the song on the back patio of the Echo. It will also perform “Dawn of the Double” on Monday night at the Griffin in Atwater Village.

“Dawn of the Double” was built by Kelly, best known for his work with the Cairo Gang, and drummer Jim White, who has pounded for Dirty Three, Cat Power and Nick Cave. Both are expert musicians able to craft work that’s rich with both nuance and range.

Neither trait is apparent on first listen to “Dawn of the Double.” In the following interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, the band’s guitarist, Emmett Kelly, talks about he and White’s singular achievement.

To fully understand the Q&A with Kelly, it’s best to listen to “Dawn of the Double” as you read. That is, if you’ve got the guts.

How was “Dawn of the Double” conceived? 

Jim and me used to play a lot of music together with Will Oldham’s project Bonnie “Prince”  Billy, and we discovered that we are both equally interested in and wanted to create a bar band. 

We had all of these ideas, and then we invented the Double, which is a new beat. We started to make all of these different songs out of this with the intention that there would be a singer who would come in at some point and complete the idea.

But logistically it was kind of sketchy so we decided to just figure out how to make it something that we could just do, just the two of us. We decided to play the most distilled version of the Double — just for 40 minutes solid without stopping.

When did you start the process and how much rehearsing was involved?

I think we invented the Double in the year 2010 or 2011. The first time we ever recorded anything was in Chicago 2012 or something. Later, Jim was in California, and we practiced for a week or so and then started playing gigs. In a time span of two weeks in L.A., we played probably 10 times and then we went to New York and we did the same thing.

One time we played after a Cat Power show in St. Louis. She was doing this weird benefit show, so she wanted us to play. We told her that we would play as if it would turn into a dance party after the show.

Playing the song doesn’t seem easy.

It's physically challenging to do. You have to play at least a half an hour every day just to keep the muscle up. We would practice, record our practices and then play.

Eventually we came up with the one that turned into “Dawn of the Double.” We liked it because it just seemed like it was the most distilled version of it. There's no embellishments at all. Forty minutes is definitely the minimum that we feel is required to experience the Double in its intensity. We did an hour-long show one time, and that was insane. (laughs).

Do people dance?

That's part of it. This friend of ours who is a dancer developed a dance called the Double, but it didn't really catch on because the dance is kind of strange. We're still figuring out the dance, but [the concept] is totally all about a thing, a dance craze. That's part of our fantasy: Do the double. It's going to take over.

But people do dance. The show in St. Louis turned into a full-blown dance party. We thought for sure that we would clear the room. After you see Cat Power, you're just all too dejected. But, actually, people went nuts. These girls in the front just started dancing. One of them even jumped up on stage and started leading the room in dancing.

What chords are you playing?

I'm just playing in E chord, pretty much. It's really inconsequential as to what — it's really just the beat, you know what I mean? You can play anything, really, as long as you got the beat right.

We do have songs that have chord progressions that are in the Double beat, and those are trippy, We have two of them that we want to put out on a 7-inch that are mellow. One of them is sort of like if you were coasting on a jungle boat or something, but it's the Double. And there's one that sort of sounds Egyptian.

We're just excited that it's out now, because for the longest time we would play the shows and everyone would flip out at the show, ourselves included.

But it's not like we play it. What's happening is happening on its own. We are only a conduit for it, and it's super surreal.

People come up to us after and say what the ... was that? I felt like I was hearing voices. Were you just playing a chord? And I'm like, “Yeah, things happen. When your mind hears the same things over and over again you start to lose track of what's happening.” There's the music itself, and then there's what's happening beneath the music. That's where it gets exciting.

And that's another cool thing — it's easy for me to talk really enthusiastically about it, because I feel like I'm only partially involved.

What do you experience when you play it? 

I'm not really experiencing anything except for like trying to endure this brutal strumming pattern for 40 straight minutes without stopping. If you watch clips of Bo Diddley, he's just kind of rocking a strumming rhythm. I'm just strumming super hard without any deviation for a really long time.

I’d imagine there’s a limited audience.

Yeah, everyone has a great time at the shows, but then we recorded this record and nobody understood it. We gave it to all of the labels that we know, and everyone's just kind of like, “Yeah, I have no idea what to think about that at all.”

You said it's physically taxing. How have you been preparing?

Well, it will be five straight days of Doubling. It's difficult, but it feels really good. It has weird, exercising qualities to it. It has a yogic thing to it. And I think it's crazy to see. It's just totally bizarre. I don't know how we actually came up with what it ended up being, but it's pretty interesting.

I remember we played this one show in New York. We made a film that we’re in the process of finishing. We filmed the show on top of a roof in New York with the director, Jem Cohen. We play with a timer so we know when 40 minutes is up, and we stop. But our timer broke, so we just kept going. We had no idea how long we had played. 

This woman came up to me afterwards, this lovely sort of middle-aged hippie lady, and she was like, “I'm a physical therapist and I don't know if you should do this. Is your arm OK?’ She checked out my arm and did this weird adjustment. She was like, “You should definitely get that checked out.”

The title, “Dawn of the Double,” suggests like some sort of birth. Is this a one-off, or will there be an “Afternoon of the Double” and/or a “Dusk of the Double”?

It's not a one-off. It's just the beginning. Welcome to the dawn of the Double: today's beat tomorrow.

There’s a lot of terrible music out there. For tips on the stuff that’s not, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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