Daughters’ Alexis Marshall on You Won’t Get What You Want, Reviving the Band, and More

"Don’t show up with expectations ... it’s not a jukebox, it’s not a YouTube video"

Daughters, photo by Reid Hathcock

Rhode Island noise-rockers Daughters are back with their first album in eight years, the recently released You Won’t Get What You Want. Having just completed a fall run of dates, the band has announced tours of North America and Europe in 2019.

The new album is filled with eclectic tracks that combine elements of hardcore, industrial and noise, with singer Alexis Marshall delivering words that read more like short stories than song lyrics.

We recently caught up with Marshall, and he talked with us about the reason behind the band’s hiatus at the beginning of the decade, what it was like to regroup, and select songs on You Won’t Get What You Want.

He also opened up about his unconventional singing and writing styles, what to expect — or rather, not expect — at a Daughters live show, and more. Check out our interview with Alexis Marshall below:

On the band’s hiatus before getting back together a few years ago

We had been playing constantly and touring all the time, and it was really taking it’s toll on our lives. And it wasn’t like we were putting out a record every other year and touring — somebody would leave. We’d have to replace somebody, so even when it seemed like nothing was going on, we were working with somebody new, or having to deal with whatever setback just so we can get back out and play and continue to be a band. So, there was just a lot of battling, with each other, and with the elements to some extent. And then, obviously, the road is just a tough place to be all the time.

So, I got sober and all cleaned up, so for me, being on tour, the road just seemed like a scary place, suddenly. As soon as there was any kind of trouble … we all had an argument about some tour we were doing, I just said, “I can’t do this. I can’t deal with this right now. I’m all done.” And everyone got together and saw that we needed to take some time away. I felt like I was just not going to play music anymore. I had other shit I wanted to do. I needed to maintain some sort of semblance of myself, in my new form of sobriety and all that shit. I assumed I wouldn’t be able to mix music … ‘cause, you know, there’s so much fuckin’ alcohol, drugs, and crazy people throwing shit at you. And why not? ‘Cause you live in a van or shitty motel, and then you go to green room, so why not just get all fucked up while you’re waiting around to play for 45 minutes? I didn’t know how to do it, so I got kinda scared.

And everyone said, hey let’s give it a little while. But Andy Low from [the label] Robotic Empire got [guitarist] Nick [Sadler] and I to meet up. He got us together for dinner. And it took like five minutes for Nick and I to just start talking about what we’re gonna do. When are we gonna tour again? Let’s work on a new record. Let’s just do something. It just really took Nick and I some time to sit down and make the decision that we’re gonna start playing again.

On You Won’t Get What You Want being the band’s first album in eight years

It’s like a family reunion, when you play with people for a long time. You may see everybody like once a year, but you don’t have to become reacquainted with your cousins or grow accustomed to Uncle Louie’s insane habits. It’s not awkward or uncomfortable. It’s very natural. And we had recorded some demos maybe like two years before we got to the studio to record the album, so we were sort of dabbling in it already. We had a shitload of music, like 100 songs in a dropbox. So, it just seemed natural, being back together and then going right from the dropbox into the studio.

On his unconventional approach to writing lyrics

My writing style … I’m trying to keep myself interested, and I do quite a bit of reading, so writing lyrics for me isn’t just a way to get the song done. I’m not necessarily trying to convey my feelings, but rather to tell a story. I enjoy musicians or lyricists who have a narrative, and aren’t just telling me what they think about some sort of topic. For me, I don’t want to hear about everyone’s emotions and their feelings. I try to tell a story, in some sense, and hopefully people get something from it, and they’re not just words. I’d like to think people can sit down with what I’ve written and remove it from the music. Maybe they don’t? I’m sure a lot of people never look at the words, or couldn’t be bothered. But if 1 in 10 are opening up the LP, and reading the content, I’m pretty happy about that.

On the song “Satan in the Wait”

Originally, I had written a different version of the song, which really wasn’t working at all. Once I was able to move on past that and ignore it, and get some new phrasing down, I just built from that. It has kind of like a Southern gothic feel to it — a strange, murderous character. It was freeing to create a character, or create a scenario in my head, and then judge this person.

On the song “The Reason They Hate Me”

When Nick had sent that track out, that had stood out to me. I was excited. As soon as I heard it, I thought it was very interesting. It had a cool, industrial-ish vibe to it. In Daughters, I don’t often inject my own opinions into the song. I create a narrative and just try to tell a story. But that’s one of the few songs where I kind of wanted to address music journalism, and people’s opinions, and the values that people place on their opinions. I’ve read articles over the years and seen shit written about us.

I think a lot of musical journalism is based around a lot of cowardice right now — maybe they’re not particularly creative people, and then they judge creativity. And there’s a nuance and a place for artistic criticism, but a lot of people think because they have an opinion, that their opinion carries a lot of weight. But then again, that’s my opinion, and who gives a fuck about my opinion. It’s all just opinions. It doesn’t mean shit. At the end of the day, I like to think that we’re creating something, and that’s worth more than what somebody thinks about what we’re creating.

On the ambient song “Less Sex”

Yeah, it is a weird song, and people may not know how to feel about it. And I think that’s a good thing, to be challenged by what you’re hearing. I’d like to look at our records like a Faith No More record, where there’s some crazy song and then there’s a lounge track. I feel like we’re now in a place where we can sort of do whatever we want, and it doesn’t sound awkward. So, no one said, “Maybe this isn’t a Daughters song.” We wrote the song, we liked the song, so we used it. It’s just that simple.

On the 7-plus-minute track “Ocean Song”

There was a point where the consensus was it just might not work. We were just having trouble figuring out what to do with it, or how to finish it. And I’m glad we saw it through. I think it’s one of the best songs we’ve written. That didn’t sound the slightest bit humble, but I really am happy with it. I think it’s a really great song. It was long enough and there was just enough space for me to fill it with a story, and we were able to extend parts to where it revolved more around my writing, as opposed to me having to make things fit within certain parameters. So, that was really great to just be able to write the full story. I actually had a longer version, but I kind of condensed it. I would be happy if we made a whole record of just 7-minute-long stories. I think that would be great.

I always feel like I can improve some line, or develop some aspect of the story … I was just talking with Jeremy from Touché Amoré about this, actually. I will take a song to the microphone, still scribbling things out and changing lines. But you have to make the decision that you have to move on when you’re making art, in any sense. If you’re sitting on something on the back burner, you’re gonna change it, and you have to decide at some point that you’re not going to change it. And, we recorded that song, like we did with all the songs. And if we had not recorded it, I’d still be sitting here changing everything, writing about [the song’s character] Paul.

On his singing style

People make a lot of comparisons, and I think that aggressive rock music is sort of lacking in a lot of interesting singers. There could be interesting personalities, but vocally, I don’t think there are a lot of interesting singers. I think that’s why I often draw comparisons to [Jesus Lizard’s] David Yow or Birthday Party-era Nick Cave, because people don’t know that there are other really unconventional singers who are brilliant. For me, it’s not just about, “I’m a singer, this band needs a singer, I fill that position. Here’s a song, this song needs vocals, I fill that gap.”

That’s what took me out of screaming. I get so bored. It’s just so boring to me to just scream. I wasn’t having any fun. There was no change in the tone or the pitch. I was just screaming this nonsense, and there was nowhere to go with it from there. And that’s why I decided to “become a real singer.” And what’s interesting to me is not just completing the song or to complement the song, but to interpret the song. My position isn’t just to sing the words. My position is to put some kind of humanity to it. Especially, a lot of what we’re doing — there’s effects, there’s layers, there’s guitars, just a lot shit of going on, and I like to think that my position is to make it relatable that people can internalize. If you hear me breathing or missing the beat, I think that makes it interesting — not just a band playing songs.

On what to expect at a Daughters live show

People want me to get naked a lot, and when people don’t see that, they get a little upset. “Take your clothes off” — I get that a lot. Someone may want me to throw up on them. I like to think that we’re gonna do what we’re gonna do. Sometimes you have a bad night, and people might go home disappointed, but we named the record You Won’t Get What You Want for a reason, and it wasn’t just because we thought it was clever. So people have come in with expectations, and expect us to be something, but anyone who listens to us know we’re doing this for us. It’s important that we’re happy with what we’re doing and how we’re playing and what we’re writing. We appreciate people who are enjoying it and want to be a part of it with us, but don’t show up with expectations. It’s not a jukebox, it’s not a YouTube video.

Our thanks to Alexis Marshall for taking the time to speak with us. Daughters’ new album, You Won’t Get What You Want, is now available at this location through Ipecac Recordings, plus you can check out the band’s full list of 2019 tour dates here.