As avowed by their very name, Drab Majesty are a band that revels in contradictions.
Their musicality is an apt amalgam of darkness and light – cuts are bright and buoyant, yet at once mind-melting and melancholic – washing chimey, youthful synths over with a bleak haze that shows its architects have weathered souls. They often eclipse the five minute mark, but feel like they come and go in a breath or two. And as relatable as their retro-flavoured reveries are, it’s impossible to put yourself in their protagonist’s shoes – they’re too distant; the lines are too blurred for you to step over them without tripping.
Such is reflected in the band’s aesthetic: they hide behind garish garb and pseudonyms, extending a hand out in invitation to their world, yet never showing us what’s underneath the glove. Are they human? Are they merely mascots for a more anonymous musical collective?
At times it can feel more like Drab Majesty is an art project than a real band – something frontman Deb Demure (or, sans sunnies, Andrew Clinco) is aware – and takes full advantage – of.
“It definitely started as a more theatrical and playful concept,” Demure tells BLUNT. “I am by no means a technically sound or theoretically taught musician, and as the music flowed forth from my hands and I started to write the songs, it felt like a different experience to what I was used to [creatively]. It was important for me to not covet the material so much, and having a different persona to deliver it through helps with that. It helps me get away from myself as this kind of pseudo-technical musician and gives me another identity to present it. And playing live with another identity is truly liberating – it helps Mona [D, keyboards] and I lose ourselves in the performance. It’s a very hypnotising experience for us as well.”
It makes sense that Demure would put as much effort into the mystique surrounding Drab Majesty as he does into its music – before he and Mona D (or Alex Nicolaou, under the wig) joined forces in 2011, Demure was studying to be a painter at the world-renowned Otis College Of Art and Design. Though his ambitions lept quickly from canvases to keyboards, being formally educated in a creative field informed what would grow into his general artistic process.
“Art school really helped me hone my DIY chops,” Demure asserts, “and that’s always what Drab Majesty has been – it’s very much a handmade, home-brewed project. I go out and source all of our clothes; I find all of our weird props in my travels; we’re constantly looking for stage pieces and we make a lot of the visuals ourselves. I also collaborate with a lot of other people to produce visuals for us. There’s always a concept we’re working with and an end point we want to reach with that; art school helped me think of that end point, and then figure out the necessary steps to achieve it – whether that be through making maquettes or doing tests or whatever. It’s like a science, in a lot of ways.”
For their 2019 album, Modern Mirror, the duo infused their post-punk-meets-science-fiction aesthetic with elements of visuals borrowed from the landscapes of Athens and ancient Greek mythology. Met with a sonic backdrop of Tame Impala-esque shoegaze á la early ‘80s disco-pop, it’s a sort of brain-tickling clusterfuck that realistically shouldn’t work, but totally does. Demure says there’s no grand intention for what a project will look or sound like until the pieces of the puzzle show themselves to him – but, like everything else, those pieces are unearthed through careful calculation.
“As far as the presentation goes,” he explains, “there’s a process of understanding what is quality and what is shoddy, and how things can be better – improving on something and working towards consistency. In thinking about aesthetics, you have to ask yourself, ‘How does this look as one singular thing?’ And then, ‘How does it look put altogether? If the live show is one part of the painting, how do 15 of the paintings look together? How do all of the album covers look when they’re up against one another? What do all of the songs sound like when they’re in a group?’
“I’m very interested in this idea of creating a series – creating a group of different ideas – and thinking about the narrative and the lineage of that, and how that evolves.”
Right now, the focus is on an ever-flourishing world tour in support of Modern Mirror, which will hit Australian stages later in February. For those who missed the band on their small-venue run last year, take it from us: you’re in for one hell of a trip.
“You can definitely expect an immersive wall of sound,” Demure boasts. “The sound systems are so good in Australia – at least at the venues we’ve played so far – so I know it’ll sound great. We will be donning our iridescent suits, which have become rather synonymous with this tour; I don’t know if you’ve seen any photos, but we have a different uniform setup. I don’t know how long our sets will be, but we’ll probably be playing almost all the songs off Modern Mirror, some stuff from Demonstration and then one particularly older song from Careless.”
Demure can’t say whether he and Mona D have any tricks up their sleeves for this particular jaunt – not because they don’t have any, but because like us, he’ll be going into the experience blind. Because while they seem to be sketched out down to the last dot, there’s nothing forced in a Drab Majesty show. The costumes and production are all locked in, but the experience is written as it unfolds; Demure doesn’t worry about the minutiae of what each show will offer punters, because, as he admits, “I can’t really prep for a show until the day before.”
“Anticipation is something I don’t really trouble myself with, because there’s nothing to anticipate. I can’t bring myself to expect anything. I can do my best to do exactly what we do and hold up my end of the bargain. If there are people there, that’s amazing. If there aren’t? Oh well. It will be what it is. But I do love Australia. The people are so sweet and so cool, and I just had the best time last time. So I’m sure it’ll be just like that – hopefully even better now that we have the album out!”