Photo DANIEL ARNOLD
Many factors are at play on Regal Degal’s new record—lovestruck laments, DMT-addled distortions, decades of art-damaged music, neatly distilled with the help of co-producer Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear)—so we went straight to the source and asked frontman Josh Da Costa to help us crack the codes of every last carefully sculpted cut. In the following exclusive, he shares the personal stories behind Not Now alongside a complete stream of the Terrible album…
This was the last song we wrote before we went in to the studio to start tracking the album. I think we wrote it a few days or a week before that. This was the breath of fresh air and refreshing gust of wind that we needed to lift ourselves up before going in and spending hours and hours in a recording environment where it can become tedious and sort of monotonous; having to hammer away at your own music like that can be sort of fucked-up sometimes. So this was a little way for us to add something fresh to the mix. The vocal melodies remind me of my favorite things about Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sparks and Martin Dupont, and lyrically it’s about walking around the city, talking about life, eating well, and feeling good.
“RUINING MY LIFE”
We started jamming on “Ruining My Life” in LA a couple years ago, trying to make the most WTF punk-funk-industrial hoedown. When it came time for vocals, I think I took cues from my own frustrations at the time. As fun as the song is, there is a weird sense of urgency and feeling overwhelmed in the music. The girl I was seeing at the time was being preyed upon from all sides and it was fucking with me. It’s like watching a beautiful lost kitten or puppy crossing a busy street; you’re just biting your nails covering your eyes hoping it won’t get destroyed and it’s really stressful.
This one came together nicely in our practice space over the span of a couple weeks two summers ago. This one is about being up at night having deep thoughts and being unable to express them. Simply put, it’s about writing songs in bed and waking up not remembering any of them, and about the self-doubt that comes with that sense of failure and disappointment. I was vibing on The Chills, Roxy Music/Eno, and Sensations Fix when working on this one.
I almost don’t know what to say about “Pyramid Bricks” except for the fact that the song title came first. It was something I wrote down in a journal years ago, looking out my bedroom window in Brussels. I can vaguely remember the song idea that accompanied it and it sounds nothing like what this song sounds like. All of the imagery and narrative in the lyrics is crypto-gypto mumbo jumbo.
Interestingly enough, the day this song occurred to me was the day we all did DMT for the first time and upon coming out of my stupor, I saw a bunch of triangular shapes faintly etched in the fabric of reality all around me. Also, to really discuss this track would be like dissecting it into three different songs because it is made up of a bunch of different ideas that were all sort of strays and found a home in this track. Overall though, it’s probably the most romantic song we’ve ever recorded, and it was written at a time when I was yearning for someone and instead of mourning a relationship that’s over, it’s more about celebrating a love that I’m happy even happened at all.
With “Defense” we were chasing after a particular feeling that we captured during a late night bedroom jam at our house in LA (where “Pyramid Bricks,” “Ruining My Life” and “Oppressive Living were first written/recorded). Arguably the most difficult track on the record production-wise; it took us a good long day to figure out how to make this one work. But the payoff was very big and felt like a small victory, so much so to the point where we considered starting the album off with it! I have fond memories of laying down Korg PolySix synth lines on the breakdown. Lyrically it’s more about a feeling than a meaning, of being sort of paranoid and on the run, and on one’s tiptoes. Vocal inspiration came from Arthur Russell and our friend Stephen Anderson of a great Nashville band called Actuel.
“GIRL WITH THE TEETH”
So weird how this became what it is. Started out way faster in my mind and more like a Monochrome Set song than the funky stomper it turned out to be. I will say that the title is purposefully vague, and I think it’s funny because most girls have teeth, so it applies to many girls I know. However it’s worth noting that some of my favorite girls have very distinct teeth. Song wise, maybe the least representative of our band as a live act since it was a precious practice space demo before we re-did it with Chris Taylor, but musically, it’s pretty fulfilling.
I didn’t sleep at all one night in December and went into the practice space the next day with a mission. Hammered this one out almost completely solo with a little assistance from Jackson Pollis, cold chillin’ in the corner. Jamen came in later and helped me sprinkle some fairy dust on it. Chris helped take it to another level, although the demo has an eeriness and a distance to it that I appreciate. This one reminds me of Amon Duul II’s album Vive La Trance, a Regal staple.
“DEAL OF A LIFETIME”
I wrote this on a bashed-up acoustic when cat-sitting for Terrible head honcho Ethan Silverman. The bassline in the breakdown came from a jam I had with Jackson and Sleepy Doug Shaw on a stony summer night. We really put this one together on the road. The inspiration comes from Barrett-era Pink Floyd and once again from the Chills, specifically “I Love My Leather Jacket.”
“SIT LIKE A CHAIR”
I think this one is cool because it’s probably the best instance of me taking frustrated confused energy and turning it into something positive and expressive. It’s about the meaningless of life, how there’s no point to anything and people are just things that take up space like any other object, and how occasional attempts to execute plans, realize dreams, and reach out to people are thwarted by others’ own doubts, fears, or conflicting priorities, leaving us perpetually at square one. And then it’s about combusting into a ball of flame and being brilliant and incendiary and—voilà—you’re hot shit and you are life. Choose your own adventure. Stylistically this is a tip of the hat to Scottish post-punk bands like Fire Engines, Josef K and Scars, but also Tuxedomoon.
The last song we wrote in our house in LA as a band. An excuse for me to wail on 12-string guitar and sing at the top of my lungs, helped by a sense of sentimentality while reflecting on our bittersweet time spent in that house, and also informed by having been visited by our friends in Real Estate and Mac DeMarco, whose chiming guitar sounds definitely hit my jangle g-spot. We got to record the vocals for this version of the song in the Grizzly Bear church in Brooklyn, which was very fun and fitting to me.
Another track we finished recording in the church. My favorite part of that experience was overdubbing dubbed-out melodica and this weird rotary guitar on the intro. We were messing with these sounds and this guy who practices the pipe organ there was encouraging us to do a set during a service one day and we were like “wtf?”. JK. Jackson plays a fine bass on this one. I like this song because the chorus reminds me of Dutch garage rock bands like Q65, The Outsiders, and The Baroques. I’m happy this is the last song on the album because of the way it fades out, and it’s sort of like, “Okay… if you rode it out this long, you might as well go down the rabbit hole with us.”