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  • Interview: The Chemical Brothers

    Mon, 26 Nov 2007 13:16:17

    Interview: The Chemical Brothers - The pioneers of Big Beat discuss their latest collaborations, festival freedom and how Americans still love those "Block Rockin' Beats"

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    Electronic and house music once lived on the American fringe, but the door to the mainstream was kicked open by the crossover success of The Chemical Brothers, Moby, Fatboy Slim and The Prodigy in the mid-to-late 1990s. A decade later, it seems perfectly normal to hear a Chemical Brothers song ("Galvanize") anchoring an ad campaign for Budweiser.

    Earlier this year, the Brothers—Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands—released We Are The Night, their eclectic sixth album that featured throwback party-starters alongside psychedelic electronica and one-off bits of weirdness like Fatlip's preposterously catchy old-school rap on "The Salmon Dance."

    Simons and Rowlands hit Los Angeles to headline (along with Paul Van Dyk and Carl Cox) the city's annual Nocturnal Festival, in which glowstick boys and glitter girls frolic outdoors beneath the downtown skyline. Prior to setting off to prove the claim made by their album title, they sat down with ARTISTdirect in their bungalow at the storied Chateau Marmont to talk about their career, their range of collaborators and the recipe for a memorable festival.

    When it comes time to start a new album, are you starting with a clean slate, or do you have snippets and instrumentals that you go back and revisit?

    TOM ROWLANDS: There are always bits of music that haven't quite reached their full potential yet. Something like "Hey Boy, Hey Girl" was around for years in various sorts of forms until we thought we had finished it. It was the same with this record—there were a couple of tracks that were things that we had started but didn't get to a point where we were happy with it.

    How do you know when an idea just isn't working and you’re going to table it forever, as opposed to archiving it so you can come back to it?

    TOM ROWLANDS: Sometimes you just have an idea—you're working on something and it strikes you, "Hang on, why don't we take that bit and do something completely different?" It's like a puzzle you're trying to work out—you know there's something good in this idea, but it's not communicating. You're drawn back to those things, and when you come into the studio, the songs you load up on your computer are the ones that have that quality to them.

    Is there a finite beginning to when an album "starts" and when you know it's complete?

    ED SIMONS: When we actually finish an album, it can be miles away from the album we thought we were making—particularly this record. There was a whole parallel record that we were making at one stage, but it came to be how it came to be. It just depends on how you're feeling about music at that given time. The music that we were working on still exists, though, and it will live to fight another day.

    In the promotional interviews that accompanied the release of the album, you were talking about "Do It Again" and how you discovered that it has this sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde personality, depending on the setting in which it's played. Were you conscious of that dichotomy while you're putting the song together?

    ED SIMONS: Say a song like "Block Rockin' Beats," which is kind of our biggest record here in America… That was a record made for us to play in nightclubs. At the time we made that, we were DJing every Saturday night in a club in London—which we've never done since or before. We had a residency at a club, and we wanted stuff to play—we were playing three hours every Saturday night. "Block Rockin' Beats" was something that was played at like four in the morning, but then it became something that can be played on KROQ. "Do It Again" is a record that's on the radio in the middle of the day and it's kind of jaunty and poppy. But we were playing the other day in Chicago and it brought out all the acidic quality to it—just being in Chicago did that. It exists in a different way. "Hey Boy, Hey Girl" is the same way. Particularly in England, these druggy club records can be on the radio in the middle of the day. That duality has always been interesting for us.

    On the songs where you're feeding instrumentals to guest vocalists, how soon do you know who you're writing for?

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