“We were in the studio, tracking those songs, and every time we came out into the break room, we were confronted with those images, seeing the buildings falling.” Denver Dalley is reflecting on the recording process for Desaparecidos’ only full-length record to date, Read Music/Speak Spanish. “They seemed to be playing those pictures all week, and then they just disappeared after that.”
Picture the scene: a band formed, partially at least, out of a shared sense of societal discontent, suddenly finding themselves in an intense moral quandary; they couldn’t have known that the week they’d booked in the studio to lay down an album of songs that were bound to be perceived as anti-American would see unimaginable terrorist atrocities committed on their own soil. “It was such a sensitive time, and we obviously started to think about how we were going to come across. I do think people were kind of relieved to hear people expressing those views at that time though; it’s important to voice your viewpoint, no matter what’s going on.”
Desaparecidos released their debut record in 2002 and disbanded not too long afterwards; back then, frontman Conor Oberst’s primary project, Bright Eyes, was commanding too much of his time to allow his noisier outfit the necessary attention it needed to develop. With Bright Eyes wrapping up an extensive world tour in late 2011, Oberst finally found himself in a position to commit to other projects, although Dalley divulges that there were other reasons why now is the appropriate time to bring the old band back together.
“In our home state of Nebraska, we’ve got these poorly-worded, very anti-immigrant bills that are trying to force their way into law. The same thing’s going on in Arizona, too,” he says of the proposed laws that led, back in 2010, to Oberst organising the Concert for Equality that saw the band make their initial reformation. “We just felt that, rather than tiptoe around the argument, it was best to try to point a finger at those we felt responsible, and use the band as a vehicle to be able to yell at the racists involved.” Dalley is referring to last summer’s ‘MariKKKopa’, a new track aimed directly at a racist sheriff from Maricopa County, Arizona.
After an extended spell away from the group saw the individual members mature both musically and personally, you’d probably expect there to have been some difficulty getting back into the old songs when the first rehearsals began. “You know, that’s one of the things that impressed us a lot when we started back. It was really easy, and the excitement we felt realising that that energy was still there really drove us to carry on playing together. It truly felt like we were picking up where we left off.”
Fans of the considerably mellower Bright Eyes will always have struggled to come to terms with the idea of Conor Oberst playing in a post-hardcore outfit, but Dalley insists that the band have always been on the same page as far as their influences were concerned. “In the early days, we were all sort of united by listening to a lot of Slowdown Virginia, Cursive, Weezer, Fugazi, Pixies, and so on, and come to think of it we’re all still listening to those bands today, collectively and individually. I can’t imagine a time when we won’t be inspired by that music.”
Thematically, Read Music/Speak Spanish attacked corporate greed and materialist culture in modern America, concepts that have only been brought into even sharper focus in the years the band have spent away. “It’s obvious that a lot of those issues are even more relevant today than they were when we made the record,” says Dalley. “It’s not too surprising to me that those ideas are still resonating with listeners now.” It made sense, then, to ask how the band felt about Barack Obama’s recent re-election. “Well, we certainly weren’t pulling for Romney. We were glad to see Obama win, but he’s still got a lot of promises to deliver on – gay marriage, immigration reform, fair taxation. It’s tiring to see him constantly ground down on those pledges, because he’s trying his best to work with an opposition that refuses to entertain anything that comes from the White House.”
The political climate has barely improved since Desaparecidos were last on the scene – and there’s certainly a strong argument to suggest that it has, in fact, deteriorated – and it’s only served to fuel the dissatisfactions that drove them in the first place. “I really feel like the live shows are a lot more intense now. It’s controlled chaos these days, but we are all better players, and we all seem to lock in tighter than we did previously. The new songs we’ve written really seem angrier than ever before.”
The release of ‘Anonymous/The Left Is Right’, to mark this overseas tour – which sees Desaparecidos’ first-ever dates in the UK – has got Dalley thinking about what the future might hold for the band. “That’s the second seven-inch we’ve released since things started up again, so I guess we’re halfway to a full-length now,” he laughs. “I don’t think any of us want to force new songs for the sake of it, but we all want to carry on. I suppose we’re as curious as everyone else as far as the future’s concerned. We’ve all got other things going on that need our attention too, but for now it’s nice to just focus on one project that we’re all enjoying, where we’re all having fun playing together. That, for me, is the most important thing.”