The Doubleclicks are a band. They’re also more than a band. The Doubleclicks are a subscription to an ideology. There are beliefs, tenets, lore, and a message. There are events, multimedia, interaction, and big ideas. It’s a cult of personality in which the personalities invite you to focus on yourself and your approach to the world around you, in hopes of making us all better.
The Doubleclicks are also very funny. And there’s a lot of science and cats. It’s a lot to unpack.
Their new album The Book Was Better is a return to form for the group. The combination of self-described “actual comedy” songs and a sort of extended universe of tie-in materials is everything that fans probably expect and new-comers will be delighted by. The new songs are the result of an extended year-long hiatus in which siblings Laser Malena-Webber and Aubrey Turner made huge life changes, including relocation, marriage, pronoun change, and re-examination of whether they even wanted to be nerd rockstars as a profession. The end result is a product spectacular and imbued with an energy of pure joy; the kind that might only come from finding yourself.
Here is the world premiere of the music video for “Panic.”
And here’s our interview with Laser Malena-Webber and Aubrey Turner of The Doubleclicks.
Paste: How long did you spend on this new album? What kind of work went into it, and where did the ideas come from? Where do all of your ideas come from? This is a very focused question. Please help.
Laser Malena-Webber: I am so proud of this album. This album actually came out of our first year taking time off from the band ever since we started in 2009. So it was kind of a good year of not writing songs, and forgetting what joy was because of the president and everything. Then we came back, and we remembered—we basically did a one-off show and I remember how incredible it was. Just women, and kids, and queer people, and nerds came to a show and it was like, “Yeah, it is great.” Then this album sort of brought us back into the world. As far as where the ideas came from, a lot of the songs are things—well…so we started a podcast recently, called You Should Write A Song About That, where we talk to each other and then write a song based upon our conversation. That’s generally how the songs are invented anyway, but this was a very fun, focused way to make that happen. So for example, the song “We’re All Gonna Die” came from us talking about—I went roller skating and broke my arm, but didn’t regret it—but it led to a conversation about how sometimes it’s fun to get out there and do things even if they’re hard or risky, or even if you’re bad at them. That’s where that song came from.
Aubrey Turner: That was a good example of one of the unique songs on our album, because we recently moved to different cities, and after Laser broke their arm, they couldn’t play their instrument that few weeks. So they actually sent me the song just singing all of the parts to me, and I got to program everything, which was a delight. It became a very different way for us to write songs together, and I love the result. It’s very weird. That’s the last track on the album.
Laser: That’s my favorite song on the album, probably. One of the reasons is, apparently, I sang it like, “I need my new medication, [scats],” just like that. Aubrey turned those into drum fills and I was like, “Cool drum fills, I wasn’t expecting it to be exactly the same!” [Laughter]
Paste: What is it like being in different cities? Did the two of you fall into a Postal Service situation, or…?
Laser: I think it’s—I love the relationship, still. Aubrey and I talk on the phone for an hour a day, sometimes. If we’re just at home or wherever, we’re talking a lot. That’s actually been really nice as a way to communicate without having to be in a physical space and being like, “Well, I guess we should do something.” We can actually do things, and that’s really nice. In terms of recording, we did get together to record the drums on this album because I can’t do it. But writing separately (because we’re able to talk on the phone all of the time), I don’t think it’s been harder. It’s just been different, and I like it.
Paste: What is the secret to writing a great Doubleclicks song?
Aubrey: The secret is you give Laser an idea and they say, “No, that’s terrible, it’ll never work.” Then they come back a week later and say, “Look, I wrote a terrific song, it’s really amazing,” and I go, “I don’t know how you did that, but I knew you could.”
Laser: Yeah, that’s a lot of it.
Paste: Do you ever sit down and start a question with having a personal/political idea in mind? Because you have so many songs that are based in—you could sing a song about a scientist in history, but you choose to do a woman and you feature that, or you can choose to talk about certain emotional needs that non-cis white straight people have. Do songs come out of you and then you realize, “Oh, this would speak to that?”
Laser: I just think that the song comes from the strong feeling. I’ve found that we get real mad about something, like being misgendered, or sexism in the nerd community, and then we’ll try to turn it into a song that makes us feel better. So instead of the song just being like, “It’s not that gosh-darn hard to learn how to use they/them pronouns, you jerk.” The song becomes like, “I’m so happy when people do it right!” For example, “Nothing To Prove,” the song could be like, “You suck and I hate you.” Instead, it’s like, “I have nothing to prove, I am great.” I think having those choruses like mantras is a good way to turn the anger into something less destructive. So that’s one part of it. In terms of where they come from, they usually start with an idea. The simpler and the stupider it can be to begin with, the easier it is to write the song. I wanted to write a song about—”Super Beatrice” is a song about—Aubrey told me about going to a birthday party, was it? She brought earplugs with her already when she walked into the arcade, which just sounded like the best self-care superpower you could have, where you’re like, “I know this could be unpleasant.” I like the idea that someone’s superpower is not doing something amazing, but just having basic concern for themselves so that they can better take care of other people. So that’s a concept that—and I really wanted a female superhero, so that’s where Super Beatrice came from.
Paste: I used the word without defining what I was thinking, but when I talk about your music being political, I was listening to the new album and I was thinking about how I came up on Against Me!, and songs about throwing bricks through a Starbucks window and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s punk, that’s political!” Now I’m listening to your album, and I’m like, “This is punk, this is political,” but it’s about, “Did you know that everyone is capable of empathy?” These are revolutionary concepts; you brought up the president in a post-2016 world and how everything personal is political, but we are in a culture war and these are the tiny things we can do for each other. Do you feel like punk rockstars?
Laser: Yeah, I feel like we are. The stuff that I listened to on my own was the Against Me! or the AJJ. Punk is so honest and raw, and I think we do that, but we enjoy the quiet a little bit more. We don’t want to lift or throw anything heavy. [Laughter]
Aubrey: Yes. I don’t want to pack up a drumset, I’m over it.
Laser: I definitely feel like the idea of DIY and speaking to power—I think we’re trying less to yell to power and trying more to give people a moment to take care of themselves so that they have the energy to know that they are justified and valuable, so that they can go march or break through a Starbucks window.
Paste: You’ve self-described this as your first “full-comedy” album in a while. Explain?
Laser: So the last album we put out is called Love Problems, and I love it very much. But we don’t play songs live from it very much, because they are sad. I don’t like playing sad and serious songs live. I don’t think people need to go somewhere to feel sad these days, to get the therapeutic anger or sadness happening. I think we have plenty of that now. So this album, we wanted to put more jokes and more uplifting things in it. We don’t put pressure on ourselves to fit into a specific genre of comedy or folk pop or anything, but since I’ve moved to L.A., I’ve been doing a lot more shows in the comedy realm, and that’s where a couple of these songs came from. That has brought me a lot of joy, as well.
Aubrey: Yeah, I think that we look back at the things we’ve been writing lately, they all just ended up being more fun and it’s because we’ve been taking care of ourselves and trying to do things that bring us joy. I’m very excited to play these new songs on tour. It’s really fun to have a roomful of people singing along and laughing at your jokes in the song. It creates a really nice atmosphere, and we all get really good energy from that kind of show.
Paste: So this year off, did the two of you sit down and go, “We’re actually gonna do this,” or did it keep expanding?
Aubrey: I think we needed a year off to sort of think about exactly—I needed to think about who I wanted to be in the world. We’ve been doing Doubleclicks for years now, and I learned a lot, going back and getting a couple of day jobs, interacting from a different place, and remembering the core of who I want to be. It’s just amazing how people show up every day for their day job and do the best they can. It was exciting. Wow, I have a lot of thoughts about this, apparently.
Paste: It sounds like you came to a very bleak realization here.
Aubrey: Yes. It was really nice.
Laser: I think we definitely knew we needed a break after an album a year for six years, and depending on your only sibling and your only business partner for everything including income—so basically, my whole adult life. It was very stressful. I think we got a lot of great songs out of doing this, like “Ode To A Summer Retail Job” is from when I finally went back and got a job. I think we’re very thankful that we went through this break and that it’s over. [Laughter]
Aubrey: I have a different appreciation for my sibling, and for myself. Just valuing how much work we do and how much—it’s really, really amazing that we get to do this band.
Paste: I’m fascinated now, as you said, for a decade, this band was your identity and then you take a year off. What did both of you learn about your identities during this break? What was one thing? You needn’t unpack the entire year, but was one thing for you?
Laser: Well that’s easy for me, having a year off from being a public person all the time gave me an opportunity to come to terms with and come out as nonbinary, which is a thing that had been happening behind the scenes, and it was great to be able to do it with just friends and family before it became a whole thing. I think that, for me, gender had a lot to do with my presentation and putting on my face; that it pretty much very difficult to untangle from also being a public person and doing a show, so being able to go anonymously—not that we’re crazy-famous—but to go anonymously without people knowing who they think I am—gave me an opportunity to think about stuff and go to therapy, and be myself, and that was awesome.
Aubrey: It was so awesome. It was amazing to watch that, and I also realized that I’m better at making friends than I thought I was, because—
Laser: Oh my gosh, yes.
Aubrey: —yeah. It was amazing to see that there are these awesome people out there, and they want to be friends, not just because I’m in a band. It was really great.
Laser: Yes. I think for the first time in a few years, I’m meeting people who don’t already know about the Doubleclicks, because we spent so much time on the road and we work nights and weekends when we’re at home. So the only people we meet are through work. Being able to actually make friends and play D&D, and hang with folks where it’s not Doubleclicks-related has kind of been the best. And I’m still excited to go on tour!
Paste: Laser, in your email to me about this, you said that you two are trying “a big thing” on your next album. What is the big thing?
Laser: We’re going to put out some rad videos with some friends in L.A. That’s going to be great. The Kickstarter was awesome. What I’m most excited about, to be honest, is the concept of the album, The Book Was Better. It’s about reality, which is also what our whole lives have been about recently. We put together this book of activities to do without your cell-phone. Some of our Kickstarter backers are getting activities to do. Like, the first thing you have to do is put your phone in a velvet pouch and not look at it. Make a craft, we have a paper doll of my cat Marzipan, there’s an RPG with dice, there’s a disposable camera to take photos without using your phone…I’m just jazzed about escaping the internet. That’s kind of part of the big promotion for this album: what can we do without the internet, while still having people buy our album on iTunes? [Laughter]
Paste: What is it like getting to work with Mr. Jonathan Coulton so often?
Laser: What a sweet boy. Jonathan Coulton has been a hero of mine for over ten years. I remember the first time I saw him, he was opening for John Hodgman in Portland in 2006. I interviewed him for my college newspaper in one of the most awkward conversations anyone has ever had on the phone. I’m not entirely sure he remembers that, but we have been lucky enough to meet him and open for him and play with him for a lot, especially for the last five years. I just helped him open his Kickstarter and was a big part, behind-the-scenes, of helping him get on Billboard charts. That was just so cool because I believe so strongly in him, and I really think he’s charming and brilliant. It’s incredible to get to work with him, both as a fan and as a person who wants him to succeed so much.
Paste: Did the two of you ever feel odd over being trapped on a ship (JoCo Cruise) with your fans? Does that ever get uncomfortable?
Laser: To be completely honest with you, that’s why I’m on anxiety medication.
Aubrey: Me too! [Laughter]
Laser: Yeah, the first time that the cruise was all JoCo, we were on a ship in the middle of the ocean where you could not escape notice. It’s stressful. I love it and I want to go back, but also it’s really smart to take care of your mental health before going.
Aubrey: In my experience, everyone was really lovely, but I had in the back of my head at all times that I didn’t want to disappoint anybody. So I was definitely feeling like I was on the entire time I was on the ship. I’m really happy that we found anxiety medication, because it’s like, “Oh, yay! We can do it without feeling like somebody’s watching me.”
Laser: Yeah, this album and the Doubleclicks are sponsored by anxiety meds and therapy. [Laughter]
Paste: What are the big tour plans? What are you excited about, being back on the road? Other than not working a day job again.
Laser: We’re going to Europe! I’m so excited! We’re going to be touring in Dublin and London for the very first time. I don’t know, I guess technically that isn’t Europe anymore, but we’re trying and I’m very excited about that. We’re also doing the biggest tour we’ve ever done. We’re going to be on the road more than fifty percent of the time, until basically the beginning of November. So we’re trying to go everywhere that our fans told us to go. We’re doing our very best, and I’m so excited. It’s a lot of shows in cafes and comic shops, and in cities we’ve never been. We’re going to two shows in Oklahoma!
Laser: I’m just so excited about it.
Paste: I always have a hard time doing stand-up in game stores because it’ll inevitably be me looking around at games like, “Check this lunatic game out. Who wants to play a game about a power grid?”
Laser: We have a pretty unique rider in terms of bands: we have to specify that no one is allowed to be playing board games in the same room as us when we perform a show. We are probably one of the only bands who—the hardest night we have to find a gig is on Friday, because that’s when Magic is, and—
Aubrey: You can’t cancel Magic. [Laughter]
Laser: You can’t cancel Magic. So we work around a lot of RPG events when planning our tour. It’s wild.
Paste: Will the two of you be releasing your own Doubleclicks-based RPG at some point?
Laser: Yes. It’s called Lasers and Aubreys. So our friend Jon Harper made an RPG based on our band, called Lasers and Feelings. It’s incredible. This year we’re putting out a Doubleclicks-themed version of the Doubleclicks tribute RPG, called Lasers and Aubreys, and that’s going to be online pretty soon. You get to be on tour with the band and save us from aliens.
The album The Book Was Better is out today. Tour dates for the upcoming US tour are here.
Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.