Not only are these cheery guys pleasant to chat with, they’re consistently hard at work creating new music and collaborating with other artists and DJs within the dance pop realm. They had 13 single releases in 2021, and that doesn’t include all of the songs they’ve co-written with other artists. They’re following that up with 10 songs in March 2022 alone, plus another 4-5 songs in April.
Read on below the embed to see what they have to say about their history making music together, process for writing songs, collaborations with other artists, and ABBA.
So when did you guys start making music together?
JACK McNEILAGE: We started playing music together in about 2015 as a full band with two other people. We started playing indie and folk-style music and then we went a bit more rock and pretty much tried every genre we could, playing tons of gigs all over the UK. Then, about three years ago, I studied at The Songwriting Academy in London, where I met our manager. At that point, it was just the two of us and we thought about writing songs for other people. Through our manager, we started writing songs for DJs and absolutely loved it. From there, we went down the dance route, and now we’re fully immersed in that. This year, we’re starting to DJ as well as doing our own artist project and writing songs for other people.
Looking at your discography, you guys started releasing music in 2019 and it seems 2020 didn’t really slow you down at all. When you’re sitting down and getting into the headspace of songwriting, do you have a specific subject? Or do you draw from specific feelings to get going?
JACK: It really depends… If we’re writing for another artist, we’ll go off of what they want to write about. In that instance, we really focus more on the melodies and chords and helping to shape what they want to say. When it’s our own stuff, it’s usually what is happening that day or that week. A lot of the songs we wrote in 2020 and the start of 2021 were about a breakup that I was going through. It’s actually quite fun looking back on the songs because you can see the process of going through that. You’re not thinking about it at the time because you’re just sort of sitting down like, “Right now, I’m feeling like this…” Looking back is quite interesting because you can see the change over time.
Sometimes, to be honest, a lot of it was just fantasizing about stuff because we couldn’t go anywhere during lockdown. We wrote a lot of songs that sounded very much like we were at a beach bar with a thousand people jumping up and down. But, [in reality], nobody could leave the house. So yeah, it kind of changes depending on the day and whatever we’re naturally chatting about beforehand. Maybe we haven’t met the other writers before so we’re just chatting about our lives. Somebody says something that’s interesting and you just go, “Oh! There’s something in that.”
What’s your turnover like? After you finish writing a song, how quickly do you typically release it?
MARK McNEILAGE: It varies a lot. Sometimes songs that you finish will be hyped two days later, then it’s sent off to the label and released the next month. “3AM” was written over a year ago. There were months of back and forth. Everyone was busy and everything was opening up, so it took months to do stuff. The same thing happened with our upcoming EP. That’s been in the works for about a year and it’s coming out in the next couple months. Sometimes a lot of it depends on your schedule because you don’t have loads planned, but you finish a song and you go, “Okay the first date that everyone can work on the track is seven months from now…” So, sometimes it takes ages and sometimes it’s really quick.
I know sometimes if you’re sitting on songs for too long, especially sad songs, it’s something you don’t want to be moping over. it’s not necessarily how you’re feeling anymore, so you sort of toss it aside. For the songs about the breakup in 2020, how quickly were those worked?
JACK: What I’m really happy with is that we put a lot of thought into the narrative. We didn’t want it to just be, “Oh, poor me.” So the EP will be called Without You and the tagline of that [title] song is, “I can make it without you.” It’s an upbeat take on the breakup and the EP actually sounds very positive. We tried to not be too miserable. Some of the songs definitely are, but the songs that we ended up liking more are the ones that at least sound optimistic musically, even if the lyrics are quite negative. I think it’s a big thing not make it sound like, “I’m so sad, everything is shit.” If you make an effort to make the songs that are lyrically saying, “I’m sad because I’m all alone,” make it sound upbeat.
MARK: Yeah, then it’s not too depressing because it puts you in a better mood too. Just the music will give you a more positive headspace.
Who are some of your guys’ musical influences? When you’re writing for the Able Faces project, what are you drawING from?
JACK: Such a wide range of stuff… I know everyone probably says that. [Chuckles]. In terms of dance music, we love the commercial stuff like Sam Feldt, Sigala, Jonas Blue, Noted, and Zedd. We also really like country music and more quirky pop stuff, like Bleachers. We’re actually massive fans of Bruce Springsteen because his stuff is anthemic and feel-good. It’s totally different music, but it gives sort of the same feeling as what we’re aiming for. Listening to a lot of different stuff and drawing from everything you can is so important.
So where were you at and what were you drawing from while writing “3AM?”
JACK: The music industry is just so crazy with timing and everything. We basically did a session on Mark’s birthday on Zoom with two people who we’d never met before. Their publisher got in touch with us and asked us if we wanted to write with them. We wrote and produced the song with Aleksi from Blind Channel, who was in the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam last year. We had a lovely time with them but we didn’t really know what we were writing it for, so we just wrote a song that felt fun to us. After we wrote the song, Aleksi was obviously really busy with the contest so we just sat on it for 6 months.
We had kind of forgotten about the song but we remembered we liked it. We figured nothing was really going to happen with it. Then we got the track back months later and thought, “This is great, we love it.” We played it for a few friends and they said, “This is one of the best things you’ve done.” Our manager sent it out to a bunch of labels before Christmas and four tried to sign it. Out of nowhere, this song that we thought was going to disappear ended up getting a lot of attention from labels. We chose to go with One Seven Music for this release.
So what can people expect to hear and feel and experience when they listen to “3AM?”
JACK: I think the reason it worked so well and was popular with labels—and hopefully the reason other people like it—is that the chorus feels so good. It’s got this drop and it’s very groovy. But it’s also quite atmospheric because it’s about missing someone in the middle of the night. There’s quite a dark edge to it, but it’s also feel-good at the same time. It’s got that in-between thing that we thought was really cool. You listen to it and you’re like, “This feels quite good.” Then you look at the lyrics and you’re like, “Oh, they’re quite sad.”
MARK: It was really good timing because, at the time we wrote the song, we were only working with other DJs. We weren’t releasing Able Faces music. By the time we got the final version, we were just starting to release our own music. If it had been written quicker, we probably wouldn’t have released it as an Able Faces song.
When you go to write your own music, do you usually start with an idea for a song? Or do you sit and write a song then see what comes to you? And a natural follow-up question then is which comes first for you, the music or the lyrics?
JACK: We almost always start with melody ideas. If we know we’re going into a session, we’ll usually take a day every few weeks to get some melody ideas together. We’ll just be humming melodies or singing one-liners—whatever that we can spark off in a session. Then we’ll usually start the session by chatting with people. We’ll talk about a theme which is usually very broad at that point, then we see if we have any melody ideas that match up with that. Sometimes we’ll have basically written a whole song without the lyrics, then we’ll backtrack and piece it together to find lyrics that fit.
MARK: I sing the lead vocals for most of the [songs]. Sometimes we’ll be writing melodies and I’ll just sing dummy words over them for a few minutes. Jack will say, “That sounds like you said this, which sounds cool,” even though no one meant for it to sound like that. If you’re singing a melody and you go, “That word would fit in there,” then we work back from there because the melody is so important.
JACK: In the case of “3AM,” [our co-writer] Tina already had the hook, “Why do I miss you when it’s 3 AM?” We just ran with that and it was enough to spark the rest of the song.
It sounds like you’ve got your process down to a science. At what point did you guys realize that things were clicking and that you have something special here?
JACK: Like everyone who starts doing music, we spent years making terrible decisions with writing and recording. It’s that really fun trial and error thing where you’re like, “What does this button do?” and trying to layer harmonies. A couple things changed it. I did the Songwriting Academy course and that was the first time I had been in sessions that were more structured. It used to take us six months to finish three songs because you’re always throwing your ideas about. This was the first time I had ever experienced deciding to write a song and just sitting down to do it.
I told Mark that we should try it for ourselves. The more we did it, the better and quicker we got. Also, working with other people… Collaboration is just everything. We still sometimes write just the two of us, but we’ll almost always have at least one other writer. That just keeps it fresh. That was the big turning point, when we realized how beneficial it is to work with other people rather than just the two of us sitting in a room and banging our heads against the wall trying to get something written.
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MARK: I think [the key to] getting more efficient and better at writing was just doing it loads. When we started working with our manager, he had loads of instrumentals from DJs and labels that he sent us every day. And we would write stuff on every single one. Loads of it was absolute shit, but eventually you get one signed and you realize what’s different about it compared to all the rest. The main thing at that stage was just doing it every day for the first time. Before that, we never got any momentum.
Also, being able to open yourself to criticism and admit to yourself that you’ve written 25 songs and only one of them has been taken. It’s important to look at the other 24 and ask why they weren’t signed. When you listen to them months after you’ve written them, you can quite clearly see that some of them weren’t good. On the day you write the song, it’s hard to tell if it’s good or not because you’ve just spent that day on it. Sometimes you think it’s great, then a week later you come back and you can see the things that aren’t very good about it.
So now for the question I know everybody wants to know the answer to… What’s your favorite guilty pleasure music to listen to?
JACK: I don’t believe you should feel guilty about something that gives you pleasure as long as it’s legal. But if we had to choose…
JACK: I was just about to say that! Fuckin’ love ABBA. I was literally saying today that we need to put an ABBA remix in our set. Maybe “Take a Chance on Me.”
So that’s where it all started for you guys, listening to ABBA music?
JACK: Our mum would be very proud if she heard us, yeah.
MARK: It’s the sort of thing in a DJ set that everybody thinks is so cringe. But if you’re in a club and ABBA comes on, you’re lying if you say you’re not gonna be happy.
when will the Without You EP be released?
JACK: The first single will be out in two weeks and then the EP will be released on the 13th of May.
What else can fans expect from you guys in the near future?
JACK: The EP is going to take up our time for the next couple of months. We’ll be doing lots of cool social media content around that. We’re also working with some DJs on really cool remixes of some of the songs as well, which we’re really excited about. We’re starting to DJ this summer too. We don’t really know all the details, so news on that will come soon.
In terms of other projects, we’ve also been working with some DJs on an album that’s coming out next week. So, we’re excited about that too.
As a project junkie, Skippy is seldom sitting idle. Between writing poetry, books, calligraphy, and songs for his solo music (as Skippy) and his band Fire by Night, he’s always got a pen to the page. Oh, I guess he can add music reviews and interviews to his repertoire, too.