For nearly two straight years following the release of their critically acclaimed debut, Chasing Lights, Ida Mae lived on the road, crisscrossing the US from coast to coast as they performed hundreds of dates with everyone from Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss to Marcus King and Greta Van Fleet. And while those shows were certainly formative for the electrifying British duo, it was what happened in between—the countless hours spent driving through small towns and big cities, past sprawling suburbs and forgotten ghost towns, across rolling plains and snow-capped mountains—that truly laid the groundwork for the band’s transportive new album, Click Click Domino.
“Coming from England, the US feels like this incredibly vast landscape full of freedom and isolation and beauty and tragedy and lostness all mixed together,” says Chris Turpin, who co-founded the duo with his longtime musical partner, Stephanie Jean. “Driving over a hundred thousand miles for months on end, we couldn’t help but be inspired by it.”
Written primarily in the backseat of a moving car, Click Click Domino embodies all the momentum and possibility of the great American unknown, offering up a series of cinematic vignettes full of hope and disappointment, promise and regret, connection and loneliness. The songs here are raw and direct, fueled by an innovative mix of vintage instruments and modern electronics, and the performances are loose and exhilarating to match, drawing on early rock and roll, classic country, British folk, and 50’s soul to forge a sound that’s equal parts Alan Lomax field recording and 21st century garage band. Turpin and Jean produced the album themselves, recording primarily on their own in their adopted hometown of Nashville during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the collection is certainly bolstered by appearances from high profile guests like Marcus King, Greta Van Fleet’s Jake Kiszka, and Ethan Johns, the heart and soul of the record remains Ida Mae’s enthralling chemistry, which has never felt more vibrant, ambitious, or self-assured.
“Working just the two of us, there’s always been a bit of a Bonnie and Clyde aspect to what we do,” says Turpin. “Spending all that time driving around America, though, things took on more of a Steinbeck or Kerouac feeling. We were on an journey of discovery together, and every day brought us closer together.”
Now married, Turpin and Jean first met a little over a decade ago while attending university in Bath. The pair bonded immediately over their love for the sounds of bygone eras—Turpin, the old-time guitar work of Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, and Mississippi Fred McDowell; Jean, the timeless vocals of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Bessie Smith—and quickly earned rave reviews everywhere from the BBC to the NME with their raucous first band, Kill It Kid. Starting over fresh with a new group named for Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s “Ida Mae,” the first song they’d ever harmonized on, Turpin and Jean relocated to Nashville in 2019 and released Chasing Lights to similarly widespread critical acclaim. Rolling Stone hailed the album’s “stomping swirl of blues and guitar-heavy Americana,” while The Independent lauded its “retro lustre” and “impressive experimentation,” and NPR’s Heavy Rotation called it “tightly drawn, harmonic and hypnotic.” The music helped earn the duo a slew of support dates with the likes of Greta Van Fleet, The Marcus King Band, Blackberry Smoke, Josh Ritter, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and The Lone Bellow, as well as performances at Bonnaroo, the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, Germany’s Reeperbahn Festival, and Switzerland’s Zermatt Unplugged.
“We just said yes to everything and played every single chance we got,” says Turpin. “We started off at barbecues and dinner parties and it snowballed until we were onstage in theaters and stadiums playing to thousands of people every night.”
To call the band’s tour schedule relentless would be an understatement. On one particularly grueling occasion, the duo played a headline album release show at Omeara in London’s South Bank, then hopped a flight to straight to Kentucky, where they landed just in time for their second performance of the day, a tour kickoff show with Blackberry Smoke at the Louisville opera house. Rewarding as it was to play for audiences all over the world, the rigors of the road left little time for traditional writing sessions, and when a friend came onboard to help with the driving, Turpin jumped at the opportunity to retreat to the backseat with an iPhone full of voice memo melodies and a notebook packed with potential lyrics.
“I’d curl up in a ball with my headphones on and start trying to match bits of music I’d recorded at soundchecks or in hotel rooms with words I’d jotted down whenever something inspired me,” he explains. “It was a process of sifting through this scrap yard of ideas until something synced up, and then running with it from there.”
When it came time to record, the band had planned on working once again with legendary producer Ethan Johns (Ray LaMontagne, Laura Marling, Kings of Leon), who’d helmed Chasing Lights back in England. With COVID-19 taking international travel off the table, though, Turpin and Jean decided to forge ahead and make the record themselves, leaning on everything they’d learned collaborating with Johns and other top shelf producers and artists over the years like T Bone Burnett (Elvis Costello, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss), M. Ward, Ryan Hadlock (The Lumineers, Brandi Carlile), Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes), and Mike Crossey (The 1975, Arctic Monkeys). Working out of their house in Nashville, they set up a series of bare bones recording stations and began cutting tracks together in one or two take performances, embracing the spontaneity of the moment and relying on the intuition of the live show they’d spent the past few years perfecting.
“We’d come straight home from tour when COVID canceled everything,” says Turpin. “We had the gear and we were road ready, so we didn’t want to overthink it.”
Where Chasing Lights was the sound of a band just beginning to discover their true potential, the performances Turpin and Jean captured for Click Click Domino showcased a duo confident in their powers and hungry for fresh challenges. The pair pushed themselves to break new ground on the record, both as artists and producers, experimenting with a bold palette of colors and textures and following their insatiable creative curiosity wherever it led them. The resulting leap forward is palpable on every track, a distinct elevation in ambition and execution that reaches back into the past in order to reimagine the future.
“Our goal was to take our sound further than it’d ever gone before,” explains Turpin. “We wanted to get heavier and open things up and weave together all these different strands of what we do in one place.”
After capturing the foundations of the album live America, Turpin and Jean sent the music back to England, where Johns and Nick Pini added drums and bass. Meanwhile in Nashville, the duo continued fleshing out the rest of the arrangements with a broad array of instruments they’d acquired during their travels: a century old parlor guitar, a gut string banjo ukulele, a vintage Japanese drum machine, a 1920s mandolinetto, analog synthesizers from the ’60s and ’70s, a Beatles-esque mellotron, even a Native American buffalo hide drum.
“Clashing all these different instruments from different time periods together was a chance for us to reframe their context,” says Turpin, “as well as a way to pay homage to the land that inspired us. We get thrown in with labels like ‘Americana’ or ‘rock and roll’ a lot, but truth be told, what we do is a weird cacophony of all these different eras and influences coming together.”
That much is clear from album opener “Road To Avalon,” which mixes Appalachian folk and Celtic mythology into an otherworldly, transatlantic dreamscape. Like much of the music on Click Click Domino, the track embodies a sense of motion and longing, a search for deliverance somewhere beyond the horizon. The hazy “Line On The Page” recalls Sticky Fingers-era Stones as it meditates on the magnetism of the road, while the searing “Long Gone & Heartworn” mixes pub rock charm with punk rock snarl as it tears on down the highway, and the rowdy “Deep River” follows two lovers with big dreams who leave home only to find themselves lost in a system beyond their control.
“I don’t really think of this as a political record,” says Turpin, “but there’s no way to write about what we saw traveling around America over the past few years without some of that darkness seeping in.”
Indeed, that darkness looms over the collection like a storm cloud threatening to break at any moment. The eerie “Little Liars” teeters on the brink as it grapples with truth and consequence; the ominous “Has My Midnight Begun” questions how to carry on in the face of so much turmoil; and the blistering “Click Click Domino” lands somewhere between Pops Staples and Jack White as it reckons with a culture driven by clickbait and instant gratification.
“That title track was written to push back against a modern world where everyone wants to look and sound and dress alike,” says Turpin. “When everyone’s trying to do the same thing, you just wind up with a bunch of dominos in a pack.”
Ida Mae, on the other hand, have always managed to follow their own compass. And as Click Click Domino proves, the best stories are often found off the beaten path.