Interview: INK.

Words by Maddy Howell / Daniel Rourke

It's rare that a musician hits their peak and then strips everything away to start afresh, but that's exactly what Dougie Poynter and Todd Dorigo have done with their new project, INK. With the former gracing arenas worldwide with McFly and the latter hitting Glastonbury and performing with a legendary member of The Libertines under his own name, the pair decided to take a step back from their respective projects and have teamed up with drummer Corey Alexander on this new endeavor. We caught up with the trio ahead of their sold-out show at Southampton's Joiners to talk ABBA, coffee and ticking things off the bucket list. 

Burn After Writing: So what are INK. all about?

Dougie Poynter: We have Todd Dorigo on guitar and lead vocals, Dougie Poynter on bass and backing vocals and Corey Alexander on the drums. Me and Todd started the band about 18 months ago with no real intentions of starting a band. We were just writing things for fun and that eventually led to us starting to demo some tracks.

Todd began staying over and one thing led to another - not in a sexual way. Both of us suck at programming drums and we kept thinking to ourselves, “damn we need a drummer, maybe we should just do a band". The songs sounded cool, so we thought we should do something with them - it all just happened quite naturally.

BAW: Obviously Dougie you’re also in McFly, whose first time on the road was in arenas with Busted. This first INK. tour is almost a direct opposite, with you hitting up a bunch of small DIY venues, how’s it been starting from the bottom like that?

DP: It’s been really cool. McFly did loads of corporate shows that people never saw, we didn’t necessarily play all the same venues but we played a lot of small places for companies and things like that. So size-wise it hasn't really affected me, but it’s been a lot of fun doing my own backline and all of that because you get lazy!

BAW: We were at that Busted show in Manchester and that’s where we saw you guys for the first time…

DP: I didn’t set any of that up! It was an incredibly big stage, I didn’t get to set any of that up myself.

BAW: Incredible. So, Todd, you’ve done a lot of work as a solo artist yourself, what was it like coming into an environment with a full band?

Todd Dorigo: Well I’ve toured with a band around me but it’s always been under my own name...

DP: Under his control.

TD: My own regime. I thought it would be a similar experience but it is actually quite different when you’re an actual band and you’re experiencing everything together. You’re a unit and you do share the pressure, but then on the downside, you also share the limelight. But it’s been great and I’ve really enjoyed it, maybe I should have started a band before.

BAW: Who would you say INK.’s influences are? Because we were listening to the EP earlier today and Dan pointed out that there seems to be a bit of a The National vibe...

TD: Yeah, Dougie and I both love The National, we really connected on them. That was kind of a new one for me, someone put me onto them around a year ago - the lead singer has a real baritone vocal like me. We went to see them live and it was incredible, but there are tonnes of bands that we talk about whilst writing and stuff.

DP: Yeah, we don’t really have anything like a tribe that we stick to that makes us think, “ok, we need to write like this”. When we’re writing songs we tend to be jumping all over the place, we’re just trying to produce the best work that we can.

We jump from everything, there are some guitar tones from stuff like Taking Back Sunday and then we go to Fleetwood Mac and the minimal kind of space they used which still sounded huge. When we were creating our demos it was really more about songwriting than anything else, we thought the sonic side of things would come when the good looking one joined [motions toward Corey].

BAW: You touched on songwriting there. What is your songwriting process? Do you have a particular established way of doing things or is it more all over the place?

DP: [Raises cup of coffee] A fuck tonne of that.

Corey Alexander: He makes the strongest coffee you’ll ever have, it’s actually crazy. If he ever says, “do you want a coffee?”, always say no. Is it banned in some places?

DP: Yeah the type of coffee I make is banned in some countries, it’s that strong. I draw the line at Starbucks though. There’s this thing you can do there where you can ask for an Americano with two extra espressos chucked in and that would just prang me out for a week and give me anxiety.

But anyway back to the question, we have a lot of coffee. We do everything in my living room and depending on where we are in the songwriting process me and Todd usually just sit there and talk. That often ends up with us coming up with a concept, whether it be dark or super happy or just some 30-second moment that happened during a breakup. Rather than taking the idea of a whole break up, we’ll just take those 30-seconds and think about how you felt in that specific moment. Todd is also super into writing and poetry, but I won’t speak for him…

TD: Yeah, I think that after smashing around on guitars and coming up with melodies, you’d know the feeling that the chords evoke. All these caffeine-fuelled talks help us to pinpoint moments and then it would just be a case of me throwing lines at Dougie to get a reaction out of him, if he doesn’t say anything I know I can do better.

DP: And vice-versa, what I do is chuck a topic at Todd and then he has to turn that into poetry. Most of Todd’s lines have some interesting triple meaning to them, especially a song like HEAVEN which no one has really decoded yet.

BAW: Yeah, to be fair, that’s a tricky one…

DP: Yeah, no one has decoded it. If you read the lyrics there are some telltale signs though.

BAW: We noticed quite a few fans queueing outside the venue for tonight already, which is pretty impressive for the first tour. With the sound of this project being so different to that of what many people will be familiar of you in McFly, have you noticed a crossover in audiences?

DP: What’s been cool is that we’ve kind of seen it change as the tour has gone along. We put out the EP and let that do its thing and as it’s progressed we’ve seen new people jump on board. We’ve had people coming up to Todd after the shows to tell him how amazing his voice is and I think there is a crossover but I’m not really sure where we sit.

I’m not really sure that there are tribes anymore. We have Kendrick Lamar headlining Reading and Leeds Festival and it seems to be a good time in the industry for a band like ourselves who aren’t particularly tribal.

BAW: If these tribes did exist, what would you call yourselves and your music?

DP: Flamboyant.

TD: Moody, we’ve got that one a few times.

CA: People say we’re moody? Our live shows aren’t moody! I’d say atmospheric.

BAW: Following from that theme a little bit, you’ve been covering ABBA on this tour…

DP: We came up with that idea before they decided to come back! We were in rehearsals and next door there was a Sainsbury’s and they had the newspaper stands. We were already a week into rehearsing that song and they decided to come back, so we thought we were doing something super original.

BAW: Maybe they heard it and it inspired the comeback…

DP: No, I think if they heard it they would have decided not to come back.

BAW: Speaking of the tour, you’ve been out on the road for most of the month now. How has the reception been so far?

DP: It’s been really cool. It’s been different in each city, especially the major cities, Glasgow was kicking off before we even walked onstage and that was sick. Then there are some crowds that you have to work, and I enjoy that challenge. It’s like playing a festival, there’s a whole bunch of people there just standing and watching and the challenge is to win them over.

BAW: Everything seems to have happened quite quickly with this project. You started recording the EP in January, it was released in March and now it’s May and you’re finishing up your first tour. So as far as anyone on the outside is aware it’s only been a few months, what’s the reality of that?

DP: It’s been way longer than that.

TD: Yeah it’s been about a year since we first picked up some guitars for this. It’s been quite cool because it’s like this full circle thing from when Dougie and I were just sat in a living room hashing out some songs and now people are singing those words back at us and getting them tattooed on themselves.

BAW: People have got the tattoos already?!

DP: Yeah! People have the lyrics tattooed and they don’t even know what the lyrics mean.

BAW: How is it seeing people with the songs tattooed?

DP: That’s fucking sick, it was actually a moment. Todd and I saw someone with the lyrics to HEAVEN… I think?

TD: Yeah I think so, in Manchester.

CA: There’s another one as well, there’s a girl with a SYMPHONY WOMAN tattoo.

DP: There you go, there's more than one. But it only feels like yesterday that Todd came up with the lyrics to the chorus of HEAVEN. He was sitting on my sofa and he just suddenly sat up and sang “ohhhh, it’s heaven”, and now that’s tattooed on someone's arm.

BAW: How does that affect you going forward, with people already holding those songs so close to their hearts. What does that leave you thinking going into the next release?

DP: It leaves me thinking that maybe we should write sillier lyrics so people will get them tattooed.

BAW: Does it not make you feel under any pressure at all?

DP: No, we’ve already got a bunch of songs sorted. The EP was just a decent selection of four tracks which complimented each other but at our shows we obviously don’t just play the same four songs on repeat and an ABBA cover. There’s a whole bunch more, I think we have an album but we’re continually writing.

BAW: So is it a case of wrapping up the last few dates of the tour then getting back to the living room and finishing things up?

DP: I think that’s exactly the plan.

BAW: Is there anything in the works for the rest of the year?

DP: We’re playing with Marilyn Manson in a few days. Someone sent us an article about him peeing on people’s riders, so that’s a bit strange. But he apparently actually chose us to play with him, our agents submit a load of different bands and he picked us. I think he just saw the picture and was like, “yeah, I’m gonna bully them”.

BAW: How did it feel when you were told that he’d literally handpicked you for that?

DP: Well it was George, our manager, who told us and I just assumed he was joking. But it was amazing, it’s something I won’t believe is actually happening until we’re there.

BAW: One of those proper bucket list things, right?

DP: Yeah, exactly. Corey still hasn’t got his passport though so it might not even happen.

CA: And if it doesn’t happen it’s now all my fault!

DP: Todd and I will just go without you, don’t worry.

BAW: If you make it, how are you going to go into that show? His fans seem to be a little more unforgiving than your usual, so will you have a different mindset?

DP: Actually, I don’t know. My friend Dan is mates with Manson and he said that his fan base is a lot more grown up now and it’s not all how it used to be. I also think he’s sobered up a little more now.

TD: Yeah, I don’t think it’s a good idea to try and re-shape what you do to try and fit within something…

DP: Yeah exactly, we’re not going to go out wearing strap-ons and stuff. Or maybe we should… lightbulb moment.