Published Sep 01, 2010When you have the Mercury Prize jury and the NME among others calling your debut album the best release of the year, you're bound to feel some pressure to prove it wasn't beginner's luck. That was the case for Klaxons and Myths of the Near Future. However, when it came to making that all-important second album, a number of tall stories emerged, ranging from their label Polydor scrapping it because they deemed it "too experimental," to working with producers as likely as Tony Visconti and unlikely as Dr. Dre. The way guitarist Simon Taylor-Davis sees it, "It might not be into our fourth or fifth record where we get talked about in musical terms."
In a phoner with Exclaim!, Taylor-Davis spoke to Exclaim! about all of the misconceptions that came with making their sophomore album, Surfing the Void, where the astronaut cat gracing the cover came from, why they don't believe in the Mercury Prize curse, how "nu-rave" wasn't a regretful experience and why they chose to work with Ross "Godfather of Nu-Metal" Robinson.
First things first: Where did you find the astronaut cat on the album cover?
We found this image on the Tumblr community. While we were recording we had it on the desktop of the computer in the background. We were in this cavernous space, and I suppose it just became the mascot for the record. Before all takes we'd kind of consult the space cat for his guidance, I guess. And then we couldn't use that image because it wasn't ours so we replicated it. So, that's the space cat. He's been to space and he's not very bothered by it. It's Jamie's cat and James's body.
Was outer space another theme for this record?
More like inner space. Outer space was more the first record. We just got kind of bored with the illusion of vastness and answering questions about space. We wanted to make it like the cat had already been to space and now he isn't bothered. He'd prefer to be right here… Those are the kinds of jokes we have. It was to kind of end outer space artwork. That was our funny joke.
Was there anything missing from the previous record that you found making Surfing the Void?
The thing that was missing that Steffan wasn't the drummer on the first record. Our producer James Ford played the drums on every track except for one, and we were a three-piece band in the studio with a drumming producer. Now were a four-man collective unit that can write music together, where before it was quite an awkward way of facilitating that. This time it was more like a solidified band where everyone had their role. I guess we just evolved into this state.
There's a real urgency to the new songs. Where does that come from?
It's just the short attention spans of our generation with the people growing up in England. There's always been a need to work very fast with us, which is not what you'd expect to hear from someone who's take three years between records. The bulk of this record was written in two weeks, maximum. The urgency, I guess, comes from writing music quickly. To do instinctively without thinking too much about things. It's quite fast and urgent, it's our way of expressing how we make music together. I listened back to it the other day for the first time in a while, and yeah, it is quite frantic and all over the place.
Have you ever tried to write a ten-minute-long song?
No, I don't think so. We've never sat down and said this song needs to be ten minutes long. I suppose "Cypherspeed" is five minutes long! That was just 'cause we had loads of parts to that song.
What made you choose Ross Robinson of all people to produce the album?
We just instantly had a connection with him on a humane level. We were really blown away by his attitude towards recording music and his excitement and his enthusiasm. If you listen to those records, those nu-metal records, as well as the ones he did with the Blood Brothers and At The Drive-In, which we love, they all have passion and urgency about them that is imprinted on those records. That was something we were excited by, and he has this method of working that is quite spiritual and very much based on a deep level, whether it's getting to the meaning of a song or a personal issue. He's very into exploring these areas that you've put into a little black box and thrown away the key. His approach to music is very much about putting that into your music and our previous experiences have mainly been editing takes together, but Ross is about capturing everything on a take and leaving in those mistakes, leaving that on the record. We didn't ever ask Ross about the bands he'd worked with. He would occasionally tell us stuff, but we didn't meet him and talk about the records he's produced. For us, it was about his character and personality. For us it's always been about getting on with people, first and foremost, on a humane level, without worrying about whatever cool bands that person has produced before.
What did you make of the rumours about you working with Dr. Dre?
I think it was just that someone asked us who we'd like to work with and we just said Dr. Dre.
Did you look back to Myths of the Near Future at all making this one?
It had been such a long time since we had written that record that it was impossible not to be separated from it. We recorded the bulk of the record in December 2006, so it was three and a half years between recording albums. We were touring non stop for the best part of three years. In between that time we had gone off and tried recording all kinds of different music, every kind of experimentation with James, who did our first record. Some of the sessions produced great music we were into but hadn't been recorded with us as a band in mind. A lot of it had been done with loops playing over top, and I think subliminally we wanted this album to sound like a live band. Certainly, we're noticing while we're promoting this album in Britain is the loss of the band in the pop charts. It's purely based around electronic, two-step garage kind of music. I think for us it feels like we need to remind people about the format of a band. That you can really just pick up a guitar, bass and drums and create music. I guess my slight worry about people's perceptions in England at the moment is that you need some kind of expensive, electronic equipment to make something. We very much on this record had this simple manifesto of keeping it to a live band. The resurgence of the band as a four-piece unit is something we definitely had in mind. This whole record was recorded like that, with a distorted keyboard, a couple of pedals, a guitar, bass and a drum kit.
What do you make of the Mercury Prize curse? Has there been a downside to winning?
I don't really remember much of the event as it happened, so it's kind of like it never happened for me. We had to play that night and the nerves set in so we drowned in a sea of the alcohol that was on our table. I woke up the next day and don't have much of a recollection. I've never even really seen the award. I think James has got it. It's not very tangible for me. I think people like to write about things like the "curse." Has there been a downside? I haven't seen one, not that I'm aware of. For us it was like icing on the cake of a really strange and wonderful year. That was just one of the weirder moments. It was a nice thing to happen to us, but we've never really sat down and talked about it. I did see a piece in the paper today about us called "Riding the curse of the Mercury" though.
I read a quote given by Jamie that said you guys felt the need to sort yourselves out after the Mercury Prize ceremony. Is that true?
That's funny, that implies we were some kind of lunatic drug addicts scheduled for rehab, which is about a million miles from the truth. I think it was just one of those things where we hadn't really incorporated Stef into the band and we hadn't quite figured out the best way to compose music together. All these things that we hadn't honed in, and for us going to Los Angeles for three months and working with Ross… He by no means had a whistle and was beating us into shape like a boot camp. It was just a great opportunity for the four us to spend time together and focus all of our energy on creating and recording. It was just a positive experience for us and our way of sorting ourselves out. There was nothing really negative that needed sorting out though.
How do you feel looking back on "nu-rave"?
To say "look back" implies that it's dead. Everyone in England implies that there's this negativity to it, but at the time in 2007 there was a genuine collective of different bands, not only from England, but also from Canada, South America and all over Europe, you had this collective attitude of exciting people. Wanting to make people have the best time ever and lose themselves. Being negative about it is just a scroogey attitude. I have no negativity about it. Certainly in England, that whole way of dressing filtered through to mainstream English, high street culture. It was a minor euphemism. I think now it's certainly in us, this genuine excitement to create an environment where you can lose yourself. I think the look or fashion may have somewhat vanished, but there's still a thread of that in us.
I know that the label didn't actually reject your album. What is the story with that?
It's one of those things where the first album was all about "nu-rave" and now this one is about the album being rejected. When the next music comes out it will likely be looked at as the rejected music. It might not be into our fourth or fifth record where we get talked about in musical terms. We just keep shooting ourselves in the feet. That music, yeah, all we did was, like most bands we just sent music into our label. There was nothing experimental about it, like it wasn't some Merzbow noise record. Literally, it's just a collection of songs, some of them longer – not ten minutes – but some of them approach a different style. Just a lot of music… The problem is with it is that we recorded music in a few very different locations, in Milan and France, and each session was specific to a place and a sound. Each session there was five or six songs to come out of it. We were really struggling about how to release them. We really like the songs, but they didn't make up a record. We decided in the end, strangely, in a chronological sense of time that we'd almost skipped forward a little and made this kind of weird, dream state music. We didn't feel like it was what we wanted to put out as the next record. We had a place for it, but it wasn't time to release an EP as our second album. We didn't want to butcher it by adding more music to it. We have this EP of music that the record label loved and was happy to put out. But I'm hoping early next year we'll put out the one made in France and then later on another EP. It's cool, because there are all these great ideas and you can elaborate on them in different ways. So we're just deciding what we can do with them. It's all being mixed at the moment.