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Into the Badlands

By David Hennessy

After announcing themselves with their atmospheric debut single Badlands, new Belfast-based duo Dark Tropics’ pop noir debut is an album to watch out for when it lands later this year.

Dealing with themes as raw as betrayal,heartbreak and revenge, singer Rio tells The Irish World that Badlands was close to her heart: “I’m no stranger to heartbreak. Badlands was quite personal to me.

“It’s about letting someone into your life, knowing something isn’t totally good for you but letting it in anyway because you want to. Then realising towards the end that you never should have done it in the first place because it’s hurt you. It’s taken a little part of you and you just desperately want to get that part of you back.

“I feel like when there’s emotion behind the song and when you can especially connect with the music then singing it just bcomes natural.

“That ability to connect with the audience with your own music is a really lovely feeling.”

You may find it hard to believe if you have heard her singing Badlands but Rio had to overcome her own anxiety if she was going to sing onstage at all: “I’m generally sort of an anxious, nervous person so I never really sang in front of anyone. Then in 2018 I started singing just by myself.”

When Rio advertised for someone to back her up with instruments, pianist Gerard got in touch. They bonded over shared influences such as Radiohead, Aretha Franklin and The Velvet Underground. Gerard would just have to wait until Rio got back from Morocco where she was volunteering at the time working with disadvantaged children.

“I got the email from Gerard through and couldn’t find anything about him online so I was really nervous meeting him.

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“We met up for a coffee and it just seemed to work. I realised this was a person that would definitely help me with everything, would help me build confidence before shows and would push me to achieve my best. He definitely does. Gerard is a really driven person, he knows exactly what he wants and won’t settle for less. We’re similar in that way.”

Hang on, how did Rio know Gerard wasn’t a serial killer without checking him out online? “I agreed to meet up with him in a cafe near to my work so that if anything went wrong, I could bolt around the corner. I did let people know where I was going. Not being killed was nice,” she laughs.

Although Rio had been onstage in drama, it was a different matter being herself: “It’s an entirley vulnerable position that I never experienced before. I remember Gerard saying, ‘It doesn’t matter if you believe in yourself becuase I believe in you enough for the both of us’.

“Starting this project has completely transformed me as a person, gaining an immense amount of confidence from it. I think about the person I was when I recorded that first demo: Shaking, really nervous. Now it just feels right.”

The duo describe their first offering as their attempt to capture the emotional journey of an epic feature film in three minutes and Badlands’ moody feel makes it perfect for a film soundtrack: “For me it was just down to how the instruments made me feel, how the music made me feel. I wasn’t too worried about overcomplicating or keeping it too simple, it was just what we felt the song needed.”

What can we expect from the album when it arrives? “There’s a few that are a bit more upbeat. They all follow the general theme of heartbreak just because it’s something that everyone knows.

“At Output, we played a more upbeat song at the end of the set which got the crowd up and dancing, you can singalong at times, is more of a crowd pleaser. It’s different but people seem to really like it.”

Badlands by Dark Tropics is out now. Their debut album will be out later this year.

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