The big talk in the lead-up to the release of The Go! Team’s third full-length LP, Rolling Blackouts, was bandleader and producer Ian Parton’s new found focus on songwriting. To that end, the sampling was assigned a backseat and a bunch of esteemed guest vocalists drafted in – including Satomi Matsuzaki of Deerhoof and Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino.
The result is an album that takes the long way round to sounding much like the first two. Unsurprisingly, it’s the guest spots that really elevate Rolling Blackouts – Cosentino’s contribution, in particular, on “Buy Nothing Day” is something special indeed – and when Parton indulges his marching band fetish things get bat-shit crazy. But Rolling Blackouts can occasionally sound like the leftovers of Thunder, Lightning, Strike and Proof of Youth, particularly during the album’s overlong denouement, and for all of Ninja’s live prowess, she’s a middling, one dimensional MC. Thankfully, Parton will always be a talented producer, and even if only half of Rolling Blackouts is amazing, it’s a half’s worth more than many artists will ever manage.
On the phone from his Brighton home, Parton proved strangely imperturbable for someone in charge of a band as permanently excited as The Go! Team. Still, he spoke in easy, conversational tones about music and sampling, and was quite at home discussing the pitfalls of major label signings and the online hype machine. From what I could tell, he wasn’t wearing a cape or wool-lined shako. – Matt Shea
You’re calling from Brighton. You’re still living there these days?
The new album, Rolling Blackouts – congratulations. Dropping the samples first approach – why the change there?
I think we’ve always been a bit like that anyway. We’ve never been a band to just highjack a good song and put a beat under it and a rap and say that it’s a Go! Team song. I like to think we’ve never done that. Definitely more emphasis on melody really – just a feeling that we’ve done the double-dutch chanty thing, and it’s a lot harder to make a song with a singer singing the melody and with people actually singing on it, rather than just rapping or whatever, even though I love that stuff as well. So that was my obsession really: it was all about melody: to just hoard little melodies and try and write a song that you could play on acoustic possibly, you know what I mean?
If you had to strip everything down, it would stand up to that. So, that was really the kick-off, and sometimes I’d fit samples to the song and sometimes I’d find a sample that I’d base the song around. Each song has a different story, really. Some songs have no samples and some songs have twenty, you know? And it’s that confusion or not knowing what is what – I’ve got no problem with that and I’ve always liked that idea of, ‘Is it their idea? Is that a live brass section or is that a sample?’ You never really know.
Did that approach slow down the writing process?
Well it always takes me a while. That was literally my day, just hoarding ideas and they’d generally be shit, sometimes every record I’d been listening to, and then occasionally something would jump out and I’d think, ‘Oh, that bit’s cool.’ Maybe a drum break or whatever. So the process is long, but I think that process as well triggers your own ideas and, you know, you sing into your phone and before I knew it I had hours’ worth of ideas and I was able to listen back and whittle it down. It is like a filtering process in a way.
Dropping that samples first approach – did it have anything to do with how hard it is to get samples cleared these days?
No, not at all, no. I’ve never really factored that side in, to the point where some of our songs are actually given away over 100 per cent of a song because everyone wants a part of it. I’ve had the decision: ‘Do you want to change the melody or get some dodgy sample recreation made, or do you want to keep the original?’ And I’ve always tried to keep the original if it’s not too expensive, because I don’t want it to become too Muzak-y, and too much like a ring tone version of the real song, if you know what I mean. So yeah, I try not to think about that side of things because it’s really quite tedious; it’s about percentages and money and lawyers and stuff like that, so it’s not very creative, that way of thinking.
This is your third album but second as a full group. Do you feel like you’ve settled into a groove with the writing and recording process?
Um, not really (laughs). It’s always quite hard work. I mean, I write the music and then I get on the hot line to the rest of the band and say, ‘Do you wanna come down and do some bass,’ or to Ninja, ‘Come and so some vocals,’ or whatever. But it’s quite a bitty process and the songs don’t really reveal themselves properly for a long time – it kinda builds up and I’m not a good jammer: that’s one reason. I’m more about just getting little ideas and slowly building these thigns up. I think some bands might get together in a room and start jamming, and that might be a more satisfying way of making music, I don’t know, but that’s not The Go! Team way.
On this album you have the six band members of course, but also a whole slew of guests – did you ever find it hard to balance all that input?
Well I really just take it a song at a time and kinda imagine the world that the song exists in, you know? A song like ‘Secretary Song’, I was really imagining things like a Tokyo office with loads of symmetrical typists and elevators and quite 60s sort of Mad Men style stuff. So, I had an idea about the kind of voice I had in mind and that voice was Satomi [Matsuzaki, of Deerhoof] when I was imagining it, so you really work backwards from the song and try and think what the song needs rather than, ‘Hey, I really want to work with that person.’ It’s all about working backwards from the melody, for me.
What about records: were there any in particular that you were listening to as you created the album?
I was looking in different places. There’s a bit of African funk influence going on there and a more sort of psychedelic Boards of Canada thing, or Ennio Morricone – the Western theme – or the public information film kind of thing, or 60s girl group – I think that kinda thing comes out most – it comes out quite a lot. I think possibly the biggest thing, though, was the whole marching band kind of thing.
I’ve always had this obsession with parades and marching bands and even the uniforms that marching bands wear, like the breakbeat sound you get, that ‘boom-boom dic-a-ta dic-a-ta dic-a-ta /boom-boom dic-a-ta dic-a-ta dic-a-ta’ of marching bands: I really dig that stuff. So we actually used a real massive brass section – there were like sixteen year old kids on this record, scoring parts out with the saxophones and trombones – that was all new territory as well. That was quite liberating, the idea that I could actually have a melody and hear it played back by 20 people, you know, is quite a dreamy thing really. So yeah, I think the whole military band vibe kinda comes out a bit more on this record too.
You guys are known for a blazing live show. With that balanced against the origins of you, Ian, in your bedroom cobbling together tunes, do you consider yourselves more a live band or a studio band?
It’s just a bit of both, really. I mean, we definitely gel more as a band onstage, because the recording process is quite bitty – it’s not a satisfying band experience, possibly [laughs]. But when we hit the stage all of that is really blasted away and we all sort of thrash around. We never really spoke about what we do onstage but just naturally we’ve become the band that sort of thrashes around in different ways. Like, Ninja, is pretty funky and I just kinda put my head down and chuck my guitar around, so I think visually we all look pretty different onstage as well, which is always something that I’ve quite dug about us.
You were signed quite briefly to Columbia in the United States – something that I read you personally were never that comfortable with – what was that like as an experience?
I don’t know, I think we kinda pissed people off in a way. We were on a major in England they’d say, ‘We want to do an advert for the record: “Heyyy. Buy ‘Thunder, Lightening, Strike’ in the shops now!”’ and most of the band didn’t really like it because all the bands we ever see advertised like that are people we don’t like (laughs). I dunno – maybe it’s snobbery or something, I dunno, but they’d get really fucked off with us when we’d say ‘no’ to these things and they’d call meetings and try and persuade us and we’d go, ‘No.’
So, I don’t know, maybe we took it for granted at the time but, you know, we’ve always been kind of untouchable in a way because we’ve always been able to shrink back down to Memphis Industries, where we started. We never really had that, ‘Hey, this is our make-or-break!’ We never had the whole tied-into-six-albums-and-they-fuck-you-over type deal. It was really all on our terms and I’d get really assey with them about artwork and stuff, so maybe they just thought we were too much trouble.
I read a recent interview with Maynard from Tool, and he talked about how the band’s propensity to say ‘no’ to everything eventually came round to benefit them. Do you think that’s been the case with The Go! Team?
Um, I don’t know. I don’t think financially, particularly, but personally we’ve said on the whole sort of advert thing, we’ve turned down lots and lots of things. I could have potentially bought a house by now, but I think the cringe factor is kind of what I keep thinking about. I have mellowed and I think you kinda have to mellow really, and you have to say ‘yes’ to the odd thing, but we’re not exactly Fugazi in our militancy.
That experience with the majors – did that take the sheen off trying to make it in North America?
Not really. I mean, America is really very hipster-y anyway, like England is. I don’t know how it is in Australia, but it’s very next-thing next-thing next-thing, very hypy, and lots of bands seem to have a short shelf life. So, in the early days that hype was used to our advantage – we’d go to America and sell out everywhere we played, and this is a year before the album came out, purely on the strength of that kind of Pitchfork-style hipsterdom, you know what I mean? And that soon kind of evaporated and then you have your true fans, which is maybe at the stage we’re at now. It’s really a voyage into the unknown. I don’t know how long you can last as a band anymore (laughs). I’ll let you know in a few months.
To my mind, you were one of the early bands to blow up through blog coverage.
Yeah, exactly, yeah.
Do you feel like pioneers in that respect?
It was interesting, yeah. Totally. We were right on the edge there, weren’t we, between the very blogosphery type thing – all about tip-offs – when Pitchfork was really powerful and the hipsters would really listen to it and stuff, so, yeah, is it like that anymore? I don’t know.
I would say it probably is… What are the plans for the rest of 2011?
Well, February is UK, March is Europe, and April is America and May is potentially Australia and Japan, but I don’t think we’re allowed to name dates or anything. So, lots of touring, but I have a kid now so I can’t quite be on the road as much as I used to be!