- Sun, 2007-05-20 17:25
Groove Armada return with their new single Get Down, featuring Stush and new album, Soundboy Rock. I Like Music caught up with Tom Findlay to talk about the album, Lovebox and how it feels to be part of the soundtrack to so many people’s lives.
ILM: Your new single, Get Down is out on April 30th. Can you describe the track, how it came together and it’s whole vibe?
Tom: Yeah, it’s a grower. A lot of people have said the first time they heard it they didn’t like it, but now they do, so that’s good. It’s a bassy, booty-shaking theme with a kind of theme tune thrown in with some strange but good lyrics, and quirky delivery from a girl called Stush, who was sort of in with the So Solid Crew and was coming out the same sort of time as Ms Dynamite, but it didn’t quite happen for her. But she’s now on her second coming, and she’s still young and can still do it. She’s got a really unique style of delivery and she’s performed with us live. I’ve got a good feeling about this record. It’s a very unusual record and doesn’t sound like anything that’s out there, which is a really good thing.
ILM: Please tell us about Soundboy Rock – how the experience of recording it was, which track was the most fun to make?
Tom: Well it was very different, because we weren’t really working on it together until the last stages of making the record, so quite odd. I’m in London and Andy’s in Barcelona and we’d make grooves and mp3’s and sendi them to each other and do our edits, but to be honest, I think we much preferred this process of making a record. Because we’ve been together for 10 years and have got a lot of respect for each other, but it’s that thing where we both do the same thing now and we both want to be in the hot seat really, so it’s quite weird when one of can’t be, because that’s what we do now. So it seems to get the best out of us. I think sometimes, when you’re in a working relationship, two of you, you can get the best out of each other and sometimes you end up with a compromise, which isn’t always the best. I think, this time round, there’s a few tracks that we wrote together at the end for the last few months in Barcelona, but the vast majority of it was done quite separately, but it works well, and we’re both happy with the arrangements.
ILM: Tell us about the tracks with Mutya Buena (Song 4 Mutya) and Angie Stone. They must have been fun to make? How did they come about?
Tom: Well Angie Stone has a great voice and is someone we’ve always wanted to work with since that track years ago, ‘I Wish I Didn’t Miss You Anymore’ - a seminal piece of music, that new style US diva, so she was right up there. It’s nice to work with a voice like that because it’s just so easy, but it didn’t make the album, I think it ended up on the first 10,000 copies of the album only.
With Mutya, she shares our management and she’s got an album out a week after us and they were looking for a new direction. So, yeah it was cool. That song was always going to be a pop song. The backing track always pointed at that anyway. There was a general vibe on this album like a slightly ‘why not?’ approach in a sense of no compromise. So, if you’re going to do a pop record you might as well get one of the biggest pop voices in the biz and she’s definitely got that iconic sound. I’m pleased with the way it’s worked out. It’s not a natural Groove Armada record, but I think it works.
ILM: Regarding LoveBox festival, it must be fifth one this year, what do you think makes LoveBox stand out as a festival? I hear the vibe is lovely.
Tom: I think it’s a lot to do with the group of people who run it; they’re well-schooled in the whole festival experience. There’s this guy called Tim Harvey who you’ve got to give a lot of credit to, he’s been involved with things like the Glade at Glastonbury, and he’s just got a real feel and a real love for it, for getting those little details right. So, when you put it all together you’re up for a beautiful day, and he does that really well. There’s a lot of love and passion in it from the guys who run the event now and it really feels like it’s getting there. There are always bands you wish you could book, but you just can’t really, unless you’re like O2 Wireless and you’ve got bottomless pockets. I mean there are basically three promoters who run all the major festivals in the UK, and if you’re not in with them, it’s hard, (which we’re not, which is annoying). So, you need to think about things and try and be clever and pull out the odd little coup, like having the B52s for the first time in 14 years, that’s a coup, or having a band like the Presets on a label like Modular who are an uber cool band. You’ve got to try to pull of a few little coups like that. I mean you’re not going to be able to get the White Stripes, but that’s life.
ILM: Digging for samples must be fun. What part of music making do you enjoy the most?
Tom: Yeah, I do a fair amount of digging. I mean, if you’re an audiophile and you like music then you’re surrounded by it. I’m very into my iPod shuffle, I’m constantly surprised by the music that’s on there. So I’ve always got a pen and paper to hand. It’s not like I sit down specifically and say today’s sample day, you’ve just always got to have an ear out for it that gets you excited and, even on this album, even though there’s very few samples on the actual album, there’s definitely a lot of it started with a sample at some point, even if it’s not in the record anymore, it’s cunningly disguised.
There’s certain places that I go…I’ve got an amazing record dealer out in Ibiza, he’s got an amazing record collection, so whenever I’m out there I always pick up a few tunes. LA is an amazing place to buy records as is San Franciso and New York. So, whenever I’m DJing in the States I’ll always bring a bag of records back with me, because a lot of the records I know and love are all made there. I remember looking for this track called Playing Your Game Baby by Barry White and couldn’t find it anywhere in the UK and went to the US and found about 30 copies of it on vinyl. So I still do a bit of that, but I used to be like a proper collector. I think CDs have changed everything. You can kind of get access to everything now. If you really wanted a track you used to have to spend days hunting in charity shops, now it’s a piece of p*** to find a track online.
It’s a lot easier to make music these days. I’m not scared of it, it’s all good.
ILM: I love the story about how you were in HMV the other day and At The River came on, so you nodded to it and thought, top tune that. But it took a couple minutes for you to realise that it was your tune…
Tom: Yeah that’s true. Sometimes it doesn’t click when you’re not anticipating it and you’re just standing there and you’re thinking, ‘ah, I f***ing love this record,’ and it took me quite a while to work it out, because that record in particular, it’s just been here there and everywhere and people have got married to it and we’ve played it at festivals, it’s almost taken on a life of its own. I don’t even feel that I wrote it anymore, I can’t even imagine that I did, but I must have done. It’s like Bob Dylan I can’t believe that he ever feels that he wrote Blowing In The Wind anymore, because it’s hard to believe that anyone even wrote that song, it’s just become a part of the fabric of every day life.
ILM: That must be very strange but also very proud.
Tom: Yeah, it’s odd. The other day at my kid’s birthday party, one of the dad’s came over and told me he got married to The River, so it’s very humbling.
ILM: Over three million people own your albums. How does it feel to be part of the soundtrack to so many people’s lives?
Tom: It’s nice. I think we’re in quite a nice position because our music managed to get far and wide, but I don’t think I could deal with too much hassle. I don’t play in the band anymore, I stopped playing in the band a few years ago. I’ll go to rehearsals and word hard with the band to get it to a point where I’m happy with it, but I was watching a show in Melbourne the other day, standing four rows back and nobody recognised me at all. So I’m probably the only man in rock n roll who can watch his own band and never get recognised. It’s good. Sometimes I wish people would recognise me, but it’s nice to have your life to yourself. We’re one of those bands where people know the music and not necessarily the name.
ILM: You’ve been making music with Andy for a decade so know each other pretty well by now….
Tom: Yeah we do. Right now that feels like a group thing but a few years ago it felt like we needed a break. A lot has changed in our lives, like him moving away and we’ve both had kids and stuff which always changes your priorities. We’ve learned so much about each other and we know that we sort of need each other. A few years ago there were buttons I could press that would wind him up and I probably did, but now I don’t press those buttons anymore because, what’s the point? It’s a good relationship now, based on mutual trust and reliance and we’re still friends, but that’s not the first thing anymore and it works quite well now. I think what you need to know when you’re in a partnership with someone else is that he’s the only other person in the world who’s thinking about it and worrying about it all the time, and if you feel that with your partner, then I think you can make it work.
ILM: Please can you describe the Groove Armada process of making such brilliant music? Is it melody first then lyrics or samples or samples first then build a beat round that? How does it generally work?
Tom: It tends to start with beats and a groove, that’s what it’s all about and that’s the nicest bit about putting a track together, the most exciting part of the track. Putting in the bass line and the beats and shifting it all around; it’s a very step by step process. I’m not the sort of guy who sits down at a piano or dreams up an idea in your head, you just work it out. But sometimes a lot of stuff comes through the live stuff because we rehearse so much with the band, you get a lot coming out of the randomness of rehearsing. Superstylin’ was written in conjunction with the band just playing that tune again and again until we were into it, and then we recorded it. But mainly it’s layer on layer and then it’s organised in layers and finding the best combination of layers and then hammering it out. But it tends to be music first, and then you sit back and say ‘this is what this track is saying to me’ and you try and put that across in the best way possible.
ILM: How was it touring with your other band Sugardaddy? How does it compare with touring as Groove Armada?
Tom: The Sugardaddy thing is something I do with Tim Hutton who co-wrote some of the tracks on the Groove Armada record too. He’s a super talented human being. Me and Tim share quite a lot of musical loves. We don’t have a manifesto and I’m not really after a big record deal, the vibe is just sort of growing old gracefully and playing music we like and that’s what it’s all about. We’ve got a great band together now, a pub landlord on drums and a wicked bass player and really nice keyboard player and I’m really happy with the band. We started to put some stuff together, doing a really good cover of Love Like Blood by Killing Joke, which is great. And we’ve got a few dates lined up including a couple of gigs in South America. I suppose it’s just a little bit more underground really, and that’s where we’re kind of aiming. And looking to bands like LCD Soundsystem for inspiration on how we do it live; quite a garagey punky kind of band, and that’s the kind of vibe and the band’s coming together, especially the last set of rehearsals we had.
ILM: Last time we spoke, you described your best Groove Armada moment as the first time you played Glastonbury. Are you going or playing this year and have you had any other career highlights since we last spoke?
Tom: We’re not no, we didn’t get a f***ing offer. It’s really annoying. I’ve got enormous respect for the festival, it’s the best festival in the world, obviously. But I don’t understand how their booking system works. Obviously last year they had a year off, a fallow year, and they’ve got a lot of pressure, and there are a lot of great bands breaking, so perhaps if you had to choose between Groove Armada and The Gossip this year, maybe you’d go for the Gossip, because they’re a newer band and fewer people have seen them. But it’s disappointing because the festival dates we’ve just done in Australia were so good and there are only two members of our band that are still around from when we started, so it feels new and exciting. I know if we’d had a slot closing the Other stage, we would have smashed it. But what can you do, short of throwing your toys out of the pram, which is what we did, you just have to go with it. Hopefully we’ll get booked for next year.
ILM: Is Chicago still your lucky track and the first track you play?
Tom: Yeah it’s a great track and we used to always open the set with it and we did that for eight years. Now we’ve stopped doing that and moved it to a different part of the set. We’ve got some great visuals with it, like this running man visual, it’s very Kraftwerk, the visuals; it’s just a moment of musical serenity, but it’s rockin’ as well, it’s got balls. So it’s still a real favourite, but the track that we’re opening the set with now is The Girls Say, which is on the new album. We do a tweeky acid version of that and that’s become a real favourite. It’s great to have some new material in the set. We’ve got four or five tracks, and we’ve taken some of the old tracks and dusted them down and freshened them up and it just feels like a really good set. I’m really excited about playing it and we’ve got a new rhythm section, two new vocalists and a new guitar player and it totally feels like a new band. It’s great. It’s the livest we’ve ever been and the best. 90% of what you can hear you can see. There’s very little on the backing tape now, all the beats and the bassline, everything that makes our dance music, is all happening live in front of you and it’s rockin’.
ILM: Are you playing Ibiza this year?
Tom: Yeah we’re going to do a few bits and pieces. We’re going to cover a couple of nights when Pete Tong’s away on his Friday night’s at Pacha, which is always a pleasure never a chore. It’s a really nice night and then Sunday’s we do Space. So yeah. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a big year for Ibiza this year. So long as their line up reflects the new forces in dance it’ll be a big year.
ILM: Our favourite track on the album is Lightsonic.
Tom: It’s very ravey. The live version of that is great. It was definitely inspired by watching Orbital close the Other stage at Glastonbury the last few years, that’s what it’s all about. It’s a shame we’re not doing it this year, but maybe next year. We’ll have it down by next year!