For a bunch of Bedford friends who used to pick up litter at Reading Festival as part of the Oxfam clean-up team, Don Broco have come a long way. This December, they’ll embark on their biggest UK tour to date, including a date at London’s Brixton Academy.
Don Broco’s formation can be simplified to four school friends taking a punt on musical success.
“We’d been going to Reading every year since our GCSEs,” says frontman Rob Damiani. “We’d always wanted to be in a band. But until you’re actually doing it, you don’t know if it’s going to happen, and you know you’re not going to get jobs. It’s a big commitment. When we were doing the clean-up during our final year of university, we got to go backstage. When you see it from the other side, you can gauge how huge it is – that was one of the turning points. We said, ‘Let’s do this and give this band a shot.”
Given the fan base they’ve built up since the release of their first album Priorities in 2012, they can revel in the knowledge that the punt paid off. It’s clear from their upbeat and jokey demeanour that the novelty of being full-time musicians is far from wearing off. We meet in their manager’s offices, sip lemonade and make jokes about the ostentatious stage show antics of metal giants like Judas Priest and Rammstein.
“Can you imagine if we did that on stage? It would be the end of our career!” laughs Matt, referring to Rammstein’s trademark prosthetic penis. Interviewing them is more like catching up with mates in the pub, and so down to earth are Matt, Rob, and guitarist Simon Delaney (bassist Tom Doyle wasn’t around for our chat) that such a meeting would probably take place in their local Wetherspoons; Rob and Matt still live in their hometown of Bedford.
Touring still excites them, too.
“It’s the first time we’re doing proper venues, so we can actually plan to have proper production,” says Rob. “On the last tour we actually got to bring some lights, and it was the first time we had actual lights! This time, we can do that and a little bit more. We want to [bring] the album aesthetics to the touring experience. I hope when people leave they’ll have an actual memory, rather than just the feeling of ‘Yeah, we saw a band’.”
Speaking of those aesthetics – the kitsch, neon-lit tropical scene on the front of the latest album, Automatic – it turns out that ‘80s pool party’ wasn’t actually an image pinned on their record label’s idea board.
“We were talking about artwork ideas, and Matt found this photo that we fell in love with,” explains Rob. “[It was a] beautiful, blue-lit pool with the neon reflection and it just felt right straight away. We looked at a few different options of how to make it ‘us’. Luckily, the option we chose was to go to Malibu and do it for real!”
“We did a lot of work,” says Simon, insisting there was too much promo to do for it to be a lads’ holiday. It was also the boys’ first time in America, and as eager to go back as they are, they’re under no illusions that cracking the States will be easy.
“We’d love to get out there touring, but it’s a big country and a tough place to crack,” muses Rob. “We know bands who’ve gone out there and it’s sort of broken them, but we definitely want to try, at least for the experience.”
“It’s one of those places that, if you do connect [with fans] there, it could be the difference between your band having a career or not,” adds Simon. “You’re not going to have a career if you only tour the UK once a year, so if you conquer somewhere like America or Asia then it provides a means of longevity. It’s definitely something we’d welcome.”
One aspect of Don Broco that could feasibly help them amass an overseas fan base is their ability to connect with a huge, and influential slice of modern culture – internet fandom. Their chiselled good looks, accessible lyrics and radio-friendly sound, not to mention support from One Direction-heavy websites like Sugarscape, have ensured Don Broco are visible outside of the rock press, and appeal to young fans of both rock and pop. It’s also led to them having the dubious accolade of starring in their very own fan-fiction.
“The one we read was about my sister – I don’t even have a sister!” says Rob. “It was all from her perspective, and she was sneaking around behind my back with Matt. It was weird, we haven’t looked for any more since then.”
Undeterred by over-zealous fans, the band insist they’ll ‘try anything’, and their openness to ideas has led them not only to appear in a varied cross-section of youth press, but also to experiment with their own sound. While music writers immediately picked up on the strong pop overtones of Automatic – The Guardian called it ‘a machine-polished blend of Duran Duran and Level 42’ – the shift in sound seemed almost universally accepted by fans, which is no mean feat, given that teen fandoms are a notoriously tough crowd.
“There were a lot of songs that didn’t make it to the album that felt more like straight-up rock,” says Rob. “They felt more like songs we would have written on our first album. Rather than a conscious decision to go in any direction, we just didn’t want to write the same album as we did last time. But the weird thing is that there’s been no negative reaction from fans, they just accepted it as another Don Broco album. But it has been a talking point for everybody else.”
Which leads to the question – what’s in store for album three?
“We’re at a point now where we’re excited to think about writing stuff,” says Rob. But – sorry, fans – he’s got no tidbits of what it might sound like. “We haven’t actually got anything together yet. The festival season was manic for us, so it’s only in the last couple of weeks that we’ve been able to take a breather. But we would like to make some headway while we’re still promoting this album.”
‘Determination – have I got what it takes?’ asked Rob on Automatic’s opening track Superlove. An hour with him and his bandmates – who are possibly some of the nicest men in British music – answers the question: absolutely.
Don Broco kick off their nine-date UK tour on December 3. For full details, see their official site.