Basement Jaxx Talk Yoko Ono, Lightspeed Champion and Freaky Halloweens
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Pedestrian talks strange Halloweens, Yoko Ono and Lightspeed Champion collaborations and music literate upbringings with Simon Ratcliffe of Basement Jaxx.
Hey man. You guys just got back from America, is that correct?
Yes, we just did a little DJ tour over there. So we stayed five days. Yeah, it was good.
I was reading some of the interviews from America and it sounds like, whereas Basement Jaxx are a massive headlining act in Australia and Europe - in America it doesn't seem to be the case. Is that correct?
Yeah, not really. I mean, we did do Coachella in 2005 and we did a couple of festivals three years ago, one in LA and one in New York. But I think we've always been appreciated over there the dance heads they all know who we are and stuff, and that's all great, but we've never conquered America by any stretch of the imagination. It's a completely different universe over there. Either one song kind of sweeps across it and they all want to play this song or you just have to slog away and go there and kind of enamor yourself to America and I don't think either of us has got, you know the desire or the inclination to do that. We don't like touring too much. I mean it's nice going over there, the DJ tours are good for catching other people and like we were playing this thing called Hard. It's called Hard, it's a rave. It's called Hard Halloween, Haunted Mansion and it's in LA, and it was a wicked line up. It was us, Justice, Crookers, Major Lazer, 2ManyDjs, Deadmau5. It was wicked it was a who's who really. A-Trak was there too and the guys from Vampire Weekend. It was really a nice night. And talking to people there we got a lot of kind of kind of appreciation you know, because we've been around for quite a while now - more than most of those guys. Any of those guys probably - and it was appreciated. People are saying that we've been an influence and we were kind of like one of the early links in the chain.
Well, it's like, to the people who are making music in the dance music world I think we mean something and that means a lot to us. People like Switch, he's a really big supporter. He always picks us up and that's wicked. So it's nice to be playing along side people like that. But I mean take Major Lazer for instance. I dig what Major Lazer did for Switch. I think they are wicked and they are great. For me they are on top of the pile in the whole dance world at the moment. But they are not big in America. You know what I mean?
They play, you know, they DJ a lot and they brought lots of things in and we know a lot about them but they are not like, I mean, you go to Kansas or the middle of America, I don't know if anyone's heard of them. They haven't broken America. Whereas in England, bands like Basement Jaxx, Daft Punk or maybe Major Lazer, they do actually stand a chance of being played on day time radio over here and being in the charts. You know what I mean? Whereas in America it's very conservative in a way. It's just so vast and even though dance music is getting stronger all the time, we are still in the margins over there anyway.
So, just going back to the Halloween party, what were some of the costumes on display?
Well it only dawned on us the day before, that morning as we got into LA. Halloween is really a big deal over there. In England the kids go trick or treating and that's about it, you know, and some of my own fancy dress parties, it's like people get dressed up. Over there, it's bigger than Christmas, it's massive and it's quite creepy in a way because it's like, you'll be watching the news and there will be a story about some guy who murdered his mother and chopped his, you know, dad's head off on the telly in LA and then you walk down the street and there's five year old kid wearing an axe murderer costume with half his head missing or something.
But anyway, we kind of thought, everyone's really dressed up and most people at this thing were dressed up but we just basically, like, five minutes before the show, we had no alternative but to get a cab to the nearest Walmart and ran in there and there were about three costumes remaining and we bought them basically. I mean they were pretty good, they were scarier than you get in your local supermarket over here. I don't know about Australia. How big a deal it is there?
It's kind of bit like the UK although I think we're getting gradually more Americanized. Nothing like LA though...
I mean, they are really disgusting. It's like proper horror film stuff, you know what I mean, it's really gross. And there's all these kids off their heads wearing these masks and all this is so fucked up in America and it's like, I love it but I like going there and just going, "Oh my god!" and then getting out again.
You collaborated with Devonte Hynes from Lightspeed Champion on one of our favorite tracks from the album "My Turn". Can you tell us a bit about how you guys met Devonte and how he got involved in the album?
Yeah, well Dev was someone that basically just heard about. It was one of those word of mouth things and I can't remember if he released his album yet. I think he had and was it London Bridge, was it? Had it come out yet? I don't know. Yeah, maybe it was on Myspace. I remember hearing like three or four of his songs and thought he was wicked and I didn't know Test Icicles which he was in before. There was generally a buzz around him and we just heard through a few people we should check him out so we, yeah, got in touch and he was offered coming in. He came in and we played him a couple of ideas like grooves and there was this one. It was something that I started before when we were in New York earlier on, it was just something I had done on my laptop which he liked and he just sat down and started playing a couple of guitar chords on it and we just kind of kept recording, he just sort of wrote that song. "When we were little stars," he just did that there and then really. I don't know if he had it written before in his mind, if it was an old song of his but it seemed to kind of like trickle out just on the spot. And then we stopped and said "maybe we need a little bit here, maybe a bridge here" and we just virtually did the whole thing there in one go and he had a friend with him that had come and she was called-well she's now known as Little Boots.
That's pretty funny...
Yeah, but she wasn't-I forgot her name now. Basically she was just a friend. They were out running around town for that weekend or something and she happened to come in with him and she was really nice and everything and she said something about how she was working on her own stuff but she didn't play us anything and we didn't ask-anyway, we asked if she spoke French and she ended up speaking French on that track.
It was little bit of a laugh really but then, like a year later, she had her own career going. He was a really nice guy to work with. Really cool and we did another track with him which we didn't end up releasing which was called "In My Arms". We really should try and get that one out.
So you guys are sitting on this second song that you've done with Devonte. Do you guys have a bank of songs that have never seen the light of day?
No, they are things that we worked on like that track, we worked, we spent a lot of time on that and there's other songs that we spent a lot of time on and it got to a point where somehow they just work on a hitting list spot. They weren't sitting with the rest of the music and we had to abandon them, you know. And that's been one of the struggles of this album and it has taken quite a long time to finish. It's just kind of going down quite a few dead end streets in a way like work going down and working, working, spending days and days on something until you get to a point where you go, you know, you're going to have to just move on to something else. That's really frustrating, you know, and it's hard and there were times when we could have done with another Producer. We're both producers but sometimes I think we need to be produced by someone or at least we need someone to come and edit us and tell us, just to guide us sometimes in life. You know, we create lots of possibilities in the studio, lots of options. We start lots of things and then you kind of get swamped by it all and you are like "it would be a lot easier if we just had ten ideas and we just finished ten ideas" and that's the album, bang. But with us, it's usually like forty or fifty ideas.
Does that ever cause problems with the Record Label?
I remember giving a record company a bit of an update on how we were getting on with the album. This is after a year and we gave him this double CD, like two CDs with 45 tracks on there. And they were like, "Oh, that's great guys but you really do need to start narrowing it down a little bit and finishing all these things". And you know, it was all pieces and like some of those ideas were things that are now in the Zephyr album. They are more kind of experimental, bit more kind of cerebral in a way, than they were I don't knows. Yeah, a real mess. It has actually taken a few years to filter it all down and just whittle it down to what it is.
Yeah cool. Obviously the biggest collaborative name on "Scars" is Yoko Ono but I actually heard you guys say that she was actually a fan of yours and a fan of Romeo. Did she get in touch with you guys first?
No, we got in touch with her. We heard that she was into our stuff and she liked Romeo. We thought great.
How did you hear that?
Well actually, there was a guy, she had several managers for different aspects of her life and the guy who looks after her dance music stuff that she's done, he's also a music journalist and he's a really nice guy and he's interviewed us in America on numerous occasions and he's a big fan of ours and he just a nice guy. He's a big fan of ours and he also works for Yoko so he was the link and he had told us that she was a fan. For a while we'd been thinking it would be nice to do something with her when the opportunity came and at the beginning it was, this was in April 2007, we started Scars and we thought, what shall we do? Where should we start and Felix was like "I'd like to just meet Yoko Ono" just as an experience, you know. So that's how it started really.
And how was it working with Yoko?
Wicked. She was great. She was really very easy going. She didn't come in with any song ideas really, she literally was just like, what do you want me to do? And fortunately, Felix had some kind of scraps of paper with some ideas written on it that he brought in and she dug the ideas behind it. She liked the words and she kind of sang the melody we asked her to sing and it was fiery. She literally just did what we asked her to do. At that time, she was 76. So it was quite amazing really.
Is there any one that you guys would like to work with that you haven't worked with yet?
We said a long time ago about four or five years ago that it would be Grace Jones. And since then, that question has persisted and people have asked us about Grace Jones. She's someone who for a while, we thought would be nice to work with and we nearly got her on this album [Pause]. Sorry I was waving goodbye to my daughter.
Oh that's alright.
And then, we nearly got her on the album Scars and she loved the track but she was working on her own album. I think she was finishing off her own album and she's quite a hard lady to pin down you know so it didn't quite happen but we came very close. I think we're a bit over it now. We're not so bothered about Grace Jones anymore. I mean she is legend. She's awesome. We saw her play when she played in London this year and you know, God, if she rang us and said, "guys, I want to do a track with you," I think we'd definitely do it but we're not going to kill ourselves to get her on a track.
What does your daughter think of Basement Jaxx and the music?
She's three so I'm not too sure. She knows I go away a lot. She knows I have a studio. She knows I work with Felix and like if my funk is on the radio, my partner would say Daddy's song and she will jump up and down and go Daddy's song, Daddy's song. But I think that she'll do the same thing to someone else's song. I don't know. At the moment, it doesn't really mean much to her or anything.
Yeah, fair enough. Have you got any like sort of musical education practices that you are trying to implement?
Well we play all sorts of music through the house all the time so she's always got all different kinds of music and she's seen me play the guitar, she likes the guitar, she tries to play it and touch it and you know, same as with the piano, but for the moment she hasn't started piano lessons yet. But I'm going to wait till she can talk. I mean I guess I'll make the environment one in which she can absorb music if she wants to and wait and see which way she's inclined when she gets older and if she want to be musical. I'm going to encourage her and yeah, try to stimulate her and inspire her hopefully but it's too early to tell really.
Basement Jaxx have played in Australia a number of times and you've always brought out amazing performance, amazing stage shows, costumes, what have you got planned for the Vibrations tour? Have you started planning out what's going to be happening as part of the show?
We've done a lot, we've done a full year. We actually started in Australia and since then, we've not really stopped touring. So Australia was like dipping our toes back into it when we played at the beginning of this year. And then we went all through the summer, through the British summer, we went through Europe, it's literally been back to back. Japan, Korea, Russia, all over the place and the show's just gotten stronger and stronger and it's kind of rated well and now we've just done a DJ tour in America and we've come back and we've got about two weeks before we start rehearsals for this. We're doing like an arena tour of very big sort of venues in England for ten days. And for that we want to change what we've been doing because the live shows we'll be doing this year - we just want to inject something new into it. So by the time we get to Australia, it would have gone through quite a few evolutions and it is on fire basically, you know, it's really good. The visuals are awesome and we've got new ideas that we got from the studio and little mash up bits and I think we'll give people their money's worth. I think all the usual people will be on stage and it'll be a blast from the past with ideas for the future and bits from the new album. Yeah, a good balance.
BASEMENT JAXX ARE PLAYING AS PART OF THE GOOD VIBRATIONS FESTIVAL WHICH TOURS NATIONALLY IN FEBRUARY