Chemical Brothers Tom Interview: 'Drugs Are Bad' Mmkay
For the last fifteen years, UK electronica duo the Chemical Brothers have marked the flow and ebb of dance music in the U.S. with their block-rocking beats. Peaking statewide in 1997, the Chems have been making their money overseas, from Ibiza to Czechoslovakia to Japan. Selling millions of records and collaborating with everyone from Oasis, Mazzy Star to Fat Lip, the now 37-year-old men (one with a proper family of his own) have displayed incredibly longevity thanks to a bedrock friendship, a healthy work ethic, sonic populism, and a robust touring schedule.
Now the Brothers Chemical return to the states for their first large tour in five years, backing their 2007 release 'We Are the Night.' On the heels of Daft Punk's searing U.S. shows and with Justice inbound this fall, the Chemical Brothers might be pleasantly surprised with the re-lit glowstick of the U.S.
Chemical Tom discusses why America has such a fickle relationship to electronica and why drugs are bad, mmmkay prior to tonight's show at the Concourse.
The pr says you haven't done a proper tour in five years, where's the U.S. love?
We did a few dates there in 2005.
The whole shebang?
Yeah, we brought all the gizmos we only played about four dates, but there's a whole world out there. We go where people want to see us play, and the sort of show that we do is so expensive and massive. We can basically play anywhere in the ...
civilized world and people will come and see us and it will all work out and America, well, we'll see what happens. We're happy to do it and were excited to do it especially with San Francisco, it's always been an exciting place to play.
Any fears of U.S customs? What with all your gizmos and your name?
They go one way and we go some other way. We used to always fly with all our weird contraptions, now the stuff is freighted off separately. It's not how it used to be. I would hate to have to be flying with strange little boxes with lots of circuits and wires coming out right now.
Tell em about the world reception of 'We Are the Night'.
For us to get a 5th consecutive number one album in the UK is just like amazing; it's really really exciting that the records we make are still connecting. The gigs we've been doing this summer are some of the best ever. We've been playing really massive gigs, Sunday night at Glastonbury, we played a free concert in Trafalgar Square and all through Europe, headlining Fuji rock . It's been really exciting to be playing music that we've made recently and everything coming together with the older material.
Can you chart a progression over the years?
The word 'progression' always worries me, the idea that we're going to somewhere -- I think we're just sort of spinning around, finding things as we spin aimlessly. It is eclectic, this one. It's the most extreme album we've made. It moves from song to song, talking about everything from salmon to a song about dying in an old people's home.
Describe the creation of the salmon song.
Salmon song. We'd been working on the music for that song for a while. It was always something we'd come into the studio and play, always something we wanted to listen to, it had this addictive quality, this strange elliptical riff in it. It sounded so wonky, we liked it. It was surprising. We normally come up with the words, and we thought we would see about getting a voice that would fit with it, and do the sort of strangeness of it justice. We immediately thought of the Pharcyde, we're fans of 'Bizarre Ride to the Pharcyde' and then it was getting in touch. With the vocals, we already had the 'float down stream' chorus idea 'to drudgery of daily life.' We went back and forth with Fat Lip and eventually he came up with his idea and it was all salmon, it was. That was the joy of collaborating with someone. It was something we just couldn't believe. We had to listen to it again. It has that sort of quality that we liked in that it reminds of a De La Soul record but remade for now with a weird groove playing in it. In Ibiza in mad clubs at seven in the morning they spin it and it's like psychedelic hip hop, that psychedelic idea of whimsy.
You guys have been around for 15 years. Can you describe how you've achieved such longevity vis a vis, drugs, relationships, friendships, work and business?
That's all of it, isn't it? “Chemical” is a wide-ranging thing, it doesn't just relate to recreational drugs. Drugs are not really part of my life, it has to be said. Music is the thing for me. It's almost like making music so people don't have to take drugs. If you make music then you don't need drugs. I love it when people say, 'Wow, that made me feel like I was out of my mind and I wasn't on anything. ' Drugs are bad. I think people have every right with their psyche or their body, but we don't rely on them to create things in music. The reason we still make records and we're still excited about making records is we're still good friends. We still enjoy hanging out with each other, we still enjoy it. If we hated each other it wouldn't work. We were friends before we ever started our band. A lot of bands come together in advertisements in the back of NME. We were friends and then we fell into making music.
Talk about longevity in relation to work.
I don't know, we're obviously sort of driven. I go to the studio every day. I love making music I still see it as place where magic happens. I walk in one way and come out feeling a different way. The idea that you're trying to make something happen out of nothing, but then into the hard cold business world.
Lots of people make great records that connect with people, but I think being DJs and being aware that our music is not ivory tower music, part of the enjoyment and excitement is what other people hear of it. As DJs we're always excited with playing new tracks. We're inherently making music that you hope will connect. Those on this record, we were DJing last winter, the kind of thing we had new copies of stuff on Cd-R we were asking what people thought. Were they excited? That's always an important part. Some artists make music and almost forget about the fact that people are going to listen to it.
That and another thing that's important -- we have always played live.
Do you have families now, a wife and kids?
I do and Ed doesn't. Just a slight divergence.
Tell me about a day in the life of. You're in the studio what 8, 10, 12 hours?
I'll see if something happening and that goes on for hours until you get some good ideas together. Then we go in a big mix studio where we work very feverish fourteen hour days, it depends if we're on tour.
How do you deal with the neck cramps, do you do yoga?
Yeah, the cramps. No, no yoga, I like cycling though.
I read that you turned down a chance to remix Metallica's 'Enter Sandman', is that true?
Yes, I wish we'd done it now. 'Enter Sandman' is one of my wife's favorite songs. It probably would have turned out bad, though.
It seems like 'Enter Sandman' is pretty hermetically sealed.
Yes. It's always been that way. If it's a classic piece, I'm always just like, 'why?' Well, people want to try and sell the same piece of music twice, but if things are good why change it?
Why does the world rep harder than the U.S. when it comes to electronica?
It's just more of an ingrained part of people's lives. It's just more. It's weird, you go anywhere in the world we live, from Japan to Czechoslovakia to Italy to Bratislava to sSweden it's like people see electronic music as worthwhile. Coachella is a shining beacon, though.
And Daft Punk had a huge year in America.
You would never imagine that some crazy disco looped action would entertain a crowd that could potentially be watching Limp Bizkit later that day. People just have to see these that things can work in that environment. The boom time for electronica was in 97, and it never really reached that again. Plus, America is so massive.
Yes, the density thing. We're less dense.
Which is why a city like SF and dance music are totally connected. People know what good electronica is in SF.
What can American audiences expect out of the latest Chemical Brothers set. Describe it for them.
Just go on youtube and search for “chemical glastonbury” and you'll get a taste. It's something we've been evolving. When we started playing we were just trying to make a kind of an intense psychedelic environment that just heightens the music into sensory overload.
So then you don't have to bother with the drugs.
That my position. I don't think there should be any pressure on people to think they should go and do a bunch of drugs. I'd say it's not the only way to enjoy electronic music. I always hated that idea, I mean, for some people thats how they connect with music, that's how they connect with rock music. Some can't listen to Led Zeppelin or the fall without being stoned it's just a different idea. My position is: there no set way of enjoying, just find whatever works for you and for some people taking drugs is just a nightmare. Don't enter the nightmare on perceived ideas of thinking. It's kind of a convoluted stance. Just get on with whatever you want to do.
We've had some brilliant times in SF, and I just hope this is another one. We're excited about playing America. Playing in America is a big part of our band we're still excited to just see the place.