Berlin-based musical duo Ducks! have just released their second album, entitled Nak Nak (the German equivalent of “quack quack”). Lani Bagley and Craig Schüftan have put together an electronica album that explores the theme of water, everything from small ponds to vast oceans. It’s a concept that ties the album together really well, whether it’s through the bubbly sounds in Into the Sea or the lyrics of I See You Sea Creature.
The vocals throughout Nak Nak are beautifully arranged among all the other elements, but in Giant World, Lani’s impressive vocals really shine, with warm lyrics that speak of vast oceans laid over a glitchy drumbeat. Time Taken is the standout track for me, though; a song that sounds like something Little Dragon could produce if she was to take a Bowie-like hiatus in Berlin, topped off with a Tame Impala-style bassline at the end that’s super catchy.
As with any good electronica music, the album is eclectic, some tracks having a dreampop vibe and others exhibiting house-like beats that remind you of Berlin clubs. Overall, it’s a solid album; a hydrosonic journey through layered samples, synths and dreamy lyrics.
We had a chat with Lani and Craig to find out more about Ducks! and their new album..
How did you guys first get together?
Craig: We met at a photography exhibition here in Berlin, there was a band playing some kind of weird psychedelic ambient music, which in retrospect, probably set the scene for our first meeting quite well.
Lani: We decided to start making music together a few nights later in Berghain – also appropriate.
I’ve heard that you use a lot of field recordings in your music, could you tell us a bit about that?
Lani: Whenever we walk past a sound with an intriguing rhythm or texture we record it, and those often end up in songs. Yesterday we recorded a water pump in a construction site that was playing a kind of glam rock beat with a weird accent, which already suggested a whole new track.
Craig: I guess we like field recordings because they suggest ideas we would never have thought of ourselves, so it’s like having an extra collaborator in the studio, jamming with the natural or built environment. The song ‘Giant World’ is a good example, where we recorded a frog orgy at the canal, (which we’ve since named ‘Froghain’), and then just let that play freely over the last part of the track. The sexy frog noises kind of play with the rhythm of the song, and tie in nicely with the lyrics too.
Songs like “Distance and Difficulties” from your debut album and your new single “Giant World” mention bodies of water throughout the lyrics, is there a connection here which would explain the name Ducks!?
Lani: My lyrics often end up in the water, and I always head to a body of water to write or think. When we were first making music together we lived on opposite sides of the canal, so would often meet on a bridge or on the bank somewhere.
Craig: We’ve probably spent as much time just looking at the canal as we have making music, and there’s always ducks on the canal, so those two things have accompanied us all along the way.
Lani: And I’m just super into ducks. One day I will be a crazy duck lady.
Could you tell us a bit about your new album, Nak Nak? Is there a concept behind it?
Craig: Yes, although it’s an accidental one. We wrote and recorded an awful lot of music in the time since Ding Ding Ding came out, and at a certain point we just had to get organised, you know, draw up a list of all the tracks we liked and work out how to group them together. It was only then that we noticed just how many were about the water: there were songs about evolution in reverse (‘Into the Sea’), weird poisonous octopi (‘Blue Rings’), oceanic love stories (‘Sea Creature’) and seaside holiday postcards (‘Dear You’).
Lani: So we thought of the songs as found objects and grouped them by theme into sea and land. There’ll be another album sometime in the near future featuring more land based samples and concepts. It’s all nice and amphibious.
What kind of instruments do you use? And what roles do you both take within the band?
Lani: Our collection of instruments is very tiny – tiny synths, tiny Casio keyboard, glockenspiel to make tiny twinkly noises. And occasional guitar. We make a lot of the beats out of household objects and field recordings, and sample and repitch vocals and instrumental recordings to create bass and melodic lines. When we first got together we thought Ducks! would be Craig producing and me singing, but it’s ended up being much more collaborative than that – we both play everything and sing. It’s a free-for-all when we’re creating, then the final product is polished by Craig and I tend to do more of the lead vocals.
Who would you list as some of your biggest musical influences?
Craig: A few nights ago we watched this great video of the composer John Cage appearing on a TV show called ‘I’ve Got a Secret’ in 1960. The show is basically daytime TV entertainment, and Cage is performing a piece called ‘Water Walk’ that features tapes, radio, a jug full of water and a bathtub. It’s the kind of stuff that would usually only be heard by ‘new music’ audiences at places like Darmstadt, but Cage does it like he’s an act in a variety show, and the audience is kind of confused and amused in equal measure. I love stuff like that, where it’s experimental and adventurous, but not afraid to go out into the world and get mixed up in the crap of everyday life. And I think Ducks! is kind of in that tradition, the techniques we use are experimental, and watching us at work is probably a bit like watching Cage with his radios and bathtub. But the result is pop: weird pop, but definitely for people. And a lot of the other things we listen to fit that description: St Vincent, Stereolab, Tuneyards, Tom Tom Club, Arthur Russell, Cornelius.
Berlin has long been a place that attracts creatives from around the world. What is it that makes it such a great place for artists and musicians, and how has the city influenced your own music?
Craig: I can’t speak for creatives, but it’s definitely changed Ducks!
Lani: Berlin’s neverending weekends and the night’s feeling of timelessness have helped us embrace repetition, which is even more apparent in ‘Nak Nak’ than it was in ‘Ding Ding Ding’. I’m now much happier to sit on a phrase for a long time to either emphasise it or let the words slip into nonsense, rather than being restless for a change to happen. I think we have techno and house to thank for that.
And finally, what are your favourite places in Berlin?
Craig: The aforementioned canal, where the ducks are!
Lani: Yep, all the watery spots… Tiergarten, Insel der Jugend, Schlachtensee…
Interview by James Fancourt. All photos by Harriet Clare.