Tender: The Modern Addiction

Dan and James, an electronic music duo from London, describe hungover nights out on tour, and the inspiration behind their upcoming album.

photo: Tom Oldham

Born lefty, Dan learned to play the guitar right-handed. “My Dad bought me a right -handed guitar because it was cheaper and less hassle,” says Dan. “Here I am, still playing the guitar righty.” Dan Cobb, one half of the electronic duo Tender, grew up on the south coast of the UK. The first time Dan lost himself in music, he played his Dad’s Oasis and Blur cassette tapes. “I used to just sit in the kitchen listening to those over and over, while my mum cooked and told me off for sitting on the counter,” he says. James Cullen, the other half of Tender, grew up in Hampshire with Dan. At 11 years old, James convinced his parents to bring him to see Blink 182 at the Reading Festival. Three years older than James, Dan went without chaperone for the same band.

Both Dan and James had active childhoods. Dan kicked around the soccer ball while James skateboarded. “My family didn’t have much money,” says Dan, “and that’s all I needed.” Dan and James met as teenagers at the same school before jumping into music. After high school, James studied art in college. He then left to work at a bank and sell suits. Dan focused on music in college, and later took comedy-centered media production courses. Throughout school, they played in several bands together before moving three years ago to North London. “We wanted to get away from the small towns where it feels like a bubble,” says Dan. “Our music isn’t particularly about escapism, but that was definitely the mentality that got us there.”

Dan (left) and James (right)

Last year with the band New Desert Blues, James and Dan finished an album produced by Ant West of Oh Wonder. Waiting for the release, they began to experiment with electronic elements for the first time. “It opened up a whole new palette for us to work with,” says James. The two branched out to form Tender soon after. Making music when motivation strikes, they don’t work on a strict schedule. “Being the best should be a by-product of making music when you want to make it,” says Dan. “We try not to force anything.”

In rehearsal, song ideas come on the fly. James makes a skeleton of a song before the pair fleshes out the track. “We’re always moving sections and instruments about,” says James, “adding things, taking things away, repeat.” Recently, Dan and James moved from a damp basement apartment in Finsbury Park, to second floor accommodations in Kentish Town, London. They practice in a recording space set up in James’ bedroom. “It’s far easier this way to sit down and make something on the fly, rather than traveling to a studio,” says Dan. To keep ideas fresh, they work only a few hours at a time. “Your ears can fatigue pretty quick.” Still experimenting, they describe their vibe as anywhere from dark pop to electronic soul. The duo wants to infuse electronic sounds into a pop-style chorus, while respecting the organic elements of drums and bass guitar.

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Introducing audiences to these elements on tour, Dan and James lay out a typical day on stage:

“You wake up with a hangover from the night before, in a cheap motel room with somebody else from the crew snoring. You head to the buffet breakfast and eat a couple of slices of mystery meat and cheese. You squeeze into a van and drive for around 4 or 5 hours. Then you wait around for a couple of hours not quite sure what to do with yourself other than ask for the Wifi code and load in the equipment. Then you rush for 30 minutes to do a sound check just before doors open. Hurried by the venue staff, your soundman freaks out and gets flustered because the setup isn’t patched in correctly. Then we’re like, ‘Shit, I haven’t eaten since the breakfast mystery meat, how long do we have to run out and get food before we’re on stage? 45 minutes? OK.’ Then you do that, get back on stage and play for half an hour while you still haven’t properly digested. Then you have to rush to load all your equipment back in the van and catch the 2nd half of the headliners’ set. Drink alcohol. Head to the hotel. Stick on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Fall asleep. Do the same again the next day in a different city.”

Busing around these different cities, Dan and James make connections with new people. Their most recent track, ‘Nadir,’ dives into the connection of long-term relationships. “They all have ups and downs,” says James, “Some you can recover from, and some fall beyond repair.” They released ‘Nadir’ as the first single off their upcoming album, Modern Addiction, scheduled to drop this September.

With Modern Addiction, Tender wanted to examine the human condition in its most stripped down form. “The album is about the most basic human instincts of lust, communication, dancing, and how we both consciously and unconsciously release endorphins,” says Dan. They recorded 25 demos and sent them to friend and producer Frank Colucci. Frank brings the songs to life, and enhances the electronic elements Dan and James are still learning. “We’ve only been working with electronic music the past 18 months,” says James.

Finalizing their debut album, Dan and James have had tough circumstances strike close to home. They both have family members who have been recently diagnosed with cancer. Dealing with the sickness of loved ones shines a new light of appreciation on Dan and James’ own lives. “We don’t take any experiences for granted, and it’s made us want to speak more directly in our lyrics,” says Dan. “Situations are best resolved by getting feelings out in the open.”

Through hard times and breaking into the industry, Dan and James never let self-doubt alter the road ahead. Their parents have always inspired confidence. James’ Dad drives up to every show in London, while his mom allowed raucous jam sessions in the house as a teenager. Introducing his son to the strings, Dan’s Dad showed him the basics on guitar. From their younger days until now, Dan and James still prioritize building an intimate fan base. “We would rather slowly rise up playing every size venue, than play arenas next year and only have room to go down,” says Dan. “We want our music to grow on people.”


Originally published at Auxoro.com