Published Jan 23, 2011Assaulting trumpets and Ninja's boisterous rapping flood every gap of silence on "T.O.R.N.A.D.O."; it's impossible not feel the tension of the minor key brass lines creating a fierce fight song and a brilliant opener. It has been just over three years since the Go! Team released second album Proof of Youth, so it's understandable they want to pull you in and remind you why they're still a raucous band with unrelenting energy. The following 12 songs don't exactly follow suit though, and that's far from a bad thing. On Rolling Blackouts, the English sextet focus on melodies, mainly through the inclusion of more vocals. "Secretary Song" features Satomi Matsuzaki (Deerhoof), sweetly singing on the '50s-influenced pop song, complete with handclap drumbeats and whirling keys. And on "Buy Nothing Day," Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino lends vocals to the cheerful tune. Have no fear: there are still the thoughtful instrumentals and unruly tracks the Go! Team are known for. "The Running Range" begins with an addictive bass line set to a marching beat, using an African gospel choir to produce precise, chant-like singing and an overflow of harmony as the track flows from one part to the next. The song encapsulates the brilliance of Rolling Blackouts. The Go! Team demonstrate their ability to harness the energy of past releases and include a score of infectious melodies that will undoubtedly give the album staying power.
Rolling Blackouts is the Go! Team's third album. Does it feel any different releasing this record compared to the last two?
Guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Ian Parton: Undoubtedly. Lots of things have changed since the first album. The first album was pretty much a hobby, and I still try to think of it like that. I never really think of it like a job and I don't really succumb to any pressure. I still don't try to please anyone or think about the critics. The music industry is quite different than when we started, but I like it.
Most bands will say their newest album is their best ever. Would you ever say anything different than that?
[Laughs] It's a bit of an indie cliché; it's up there with, "Hey, we like playing small venues." I was thinking of writing a blog of indie clichés. I never point to the idea of maturity. If someone said this album sounds "mature," I wouldn't see that as a plus, particularly. It fucks me up a bit when people say, "Oh, it's such a mature sound." I think this record is definitely more of a rounded experience. There's more light and shade, and it's something you can listen to in one sitting. It's kind of schizo, but it hasn't got that relentlessness, which might have made Proof of Youth an exhausting listen ― deliberately so, though; it was all about pushing it to ridiculous levels [on that album]. This album has those dynamic moments, but it has more space and width. And I think the songwriting is at the forefront. This record, from the outset, was going to be about melodies and more about singing: less shouting and girl gang vocals. That's the main difference.
Why did you want to include more melody and vocals on this record?
Well, I've always been into melody and the idea of catchiness, thinking, "Why the fuck is this so catchy? Why is that melody in my head and I've only heard it once?" I've tried to get into that way of thinking. These are basically pop songs, but I'm trying to make it clear that we're not a pop band and we're not trying to get on the charts. I'm basically trying to make fucked up, little pop songs that are a bit strange. But nothing like fucking Lady GaGa.
How do you keep these songs from becoming like Lady GaGa and any other pop song on the charts?
I don't think it'd ever do that; we're not that type of band. I actually put the whole record onto a cassette during the very last stage in my hi-fi paranoia. [Laughs] It's a fucking ridiculous thing to do. If we were on a major label, they would have flipped. Writing catchy songs is the hardest kind of music you can make; it's easy to make noise, but I've always been aware that the Go! Team have been treading this line that can easily dip into irony and all that stuff I hate. If anyone mentions the A-Team in a review, I'm always like, "Fucking hell! No!" I'm aware that people would make those comparisons if they had to knock out a review in a half-hour, but for me, it's more than that. It's not like we're saying, "Hey, aren't these things funny?" or "Hey, we're making a cop show theme." It's quite a genuine thing, for me. I do really like the sound of marching bands. I do love 30 trumpets playing at the same time. I do like recorders.
What's changed in the production for this album?
It's more expansive and rounded ― there's actually some bass on there. What's the point in doing things the way they were on the first two? I think the air around the songs definitely has a subconscious feel to it; I'm always thinking of images when I write. Things like deserts and driving are recurring things for me. Things like parades and theme tunes to public information films and old documentaries about Yosemite Park. It's more of a cinematic, visual record. Each song has a world it exists in. Hopefully, there's something that ties everything together. I don' know what that is; it could be a melody, an energy or a drum sound. But I think there is something that makes the 13 songs the Go! Team.
"Running Range" stands out. What visuals did you have when writing it?
It's a really interesting song, actually. It's kind of mean, but at the same time, it comes across like a musical, like Hair; it has a flower-powery musical feel, although I'd never claim to be into musicals! But it's quite stab-y. It was actually recorded with an African gospel choir in London. That's new territory for us: working with choirs. I knew right away that it had to be a gang of girls. At first, I tried a Brazilian choir, but that wasn't working. If I had gone for a British or American gospel choir they would have really wanked off on it, bending notes everywhere. But the African way of singing it ― flatter and straighter ― I knew that would work.
"T.O.R.N.A.D.O." is another song that jumps out; it sounds like walk-out music a fighter might use.
Actually, the other day it was used hilariously at a wrestling awards ceremony. I think that'd be cool if someone adopted it as their entry song. But if you look at me, I'm the furthest person from wrestling. That was one of the last songs we worked on; it's a lot more direct than the usual Go! Team song. The fact it's [at a] walking pace helps as well; it's a bit like if Sonic Youth were a brass band. And when we play it live, it's quite Sonic Youth-y.
The soundscapes change within songs. Was that done on purpose?
At the start of this record, I wanted that to happen a lot more. That was my original idea and I think it's still a frustrated idea; I haven't realized it properly. I set out to make songs like you're flipping channels on the radio ― the fidelity and everything was going to change second to second. That's still a goal for someone to try and nail, to really make schizo music. For me, it hasn't happened as much. I think most of the songs are pretty coherent and rounded. I think something like "Running Range" is possibly like that. I'm pleased if that is the case.
Are you disappointed that idea isn't across the album as much as you wanted?
I did want it to be more schizo; I think a song where I nailed it quite nicely in the past was "Ladyflash." That was a tour of girl groups through the ages, flipping from the '60s to the '70s and '80s. One idea I'm really interested in is spanning decades throughout a song. It's something that's unique to this time; we have this history of music and you can make really clear-cut references and people will get it.
It has been over three years since the last album. Is there any worry that people have moved on?
I guess so, but if so, so be it. There's not much you can do about it. That might be the case and if so, we'd happily go back to our old jobs; I'll make documentaries again and that will be that. I'm not one to pander to tastes or to what is current. We're still quite unique and there's no one else like us in the world, as far as I know. People say Sleigh Bells, but not really.
Do you strive to be as unique and different as possible?
It's not really a conscious thing; I think it's a by-product of loving certain drum bits or liking harmonicas because they're not that hip. A lot of the instruments we use aren't visually cool to play. Basically, guitars will always be [cool]. We're trying to reclaim square instruments! I think trumpets are really underrated and they can be the most dynamic and triumphant sound possible. And my reference point for trumpets is Public Enemy, that kind of stab-y, tough, military trumpet.
Is it safe to say you don't feel any pressure at this point in your career?
Everyone wants to sell records and have people turn up to their shows. But I think we're a cult band; we were one of the first [on-line] buzz bands, I suppose, particularly in Canada. There was so much hype around that Lee's Palace show we did [Toronto, ON 2005] when we first started. We were one of those blog-y, Pitchfork-y bands that were blindsided with the mushrooming of the Internet. We'll always be associated with that time. When you have a sound that forms during a time like that, it's hard to shake off. (Memphis Industries)