Interview: James Lavelle of UNKLE
Mon, 23 Jul 2007 17:22:18
Founder of the beloved Mo' Wax label at the age of 19, as well as an influential DJ, remixer and leader of UNKLE for the last decade, James Lavelle has done it all. His UNKLE project alone has often seemed to encapsulate nearly everything that's going on in music.
If earlier albums leaned towards hip-hop and electronic, then UNKLE's latest, War Stories, is headed in the direction of dusky, apocalyptic rock, with a little help from Lavelle's many friends—who include 3D of Massive Attack, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, Ian Astbury of The Cult, The Duke Spirit and Autolux.
ARTISTdirect got Lavelle's take on making music in the Joshua Tree desert, the digital music revolution and not being 16 anymore.
There are lots of guest vocalists on War Stories. When you're working with so many singers, what role do they play in the songwriting process?
They're always pretty influential. Most of them write their own lyrics. They take away what I've given them as a basis, and a melody, then they come up with the lyrics and sing the song. And when you're working with a band, like Autolux, they bring in a lot of their own spirit and do a lot of the playing as well.
Your projects as UNKLE have always been pretty heavily reliant on collaborators. Throughout the history of the band, you're the only constant, and yet there's been a pretty big cast of people in involved in the making of each album. Would you define UNKLE as, simply, what and whoever you feel like working with at any given time?
I don't know. Yes, maybe. It's my band. I'm the only one that's signed. So in that respect it's a bit like Mark E. Smith, and The Fall, really. It's my thing. If I want to make a record with someone one day, I'll do that. And the next time it may be somebody else.
And it gives you the freedom to stay fresh?
I hope so, yeah.
Between the two different editions of the new record, there's about 80 pages of art-work. Is there a theme to this art and is there any specific reason why this record calls for a visual context?
I think all the records I've worked on are quite visually orientated. I wanted to try to change the look of what UNKLE is about, but still retain some kind of synergy with what we've done in the past. 3D played a big role again this time; that's one of the connections to the old stuff. But the new stuff is all based around the concept of "war stories", and the double-meaning of that.
I haven't gotten a chance to see much of the art. Is it at all influenced by where you recorded part of the record, in the California desert?
Not really, no, aside from little bits. There's a lot of photography that was taken in the desert, and some of that was used. But a lot of the art is paintings, mostly more abstract stuff.
Did you find the desert atmosphere creeping into the music?
Yeah, I think it was really important. It gave us a lot of space, you know? It's a place where you can really immerse yourself in the music. The people we were recording with, Dave Catching and Chris Goss, pretty much created that whole "desert rock" sound. We recorded in the studio where they do the Desert Sessions [PJ Harvey, Nick Oliveri, Josh Freese, et al]. That obviously had a big influence, and that's why we chose to make the record there.
Is the isolation an important part of that?
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