“At this stage in our career we have to have something to drive us forward” - hmv.com talks to The Chemical Brothers
It’s been five years since The Chemical Brothers released their last studio album Further, the longest spell without an LP in a career that stretches back over 20 years.
Not that Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands have been idle, they created the soundtrack to Joe Wright’s action thriller Hanna as well as live concert film Don’t Think and toured the globe several times over. Now though they are back with a brand new album, Born In The Echoes, which features contributions from St. Vincent, Cate Le Bon, Beck, Ali Love and Q-Tip, and includes 11 barnstorming tracks.
The album is released today (July 24th) and we sat down with Tom Rowlands to find out all about making the album, working with big-name collaborators and their plans to take the album out on tour…
Your new album’s out tomorrow, first time on a Friday!
“Yeah, I quite like it! You get the album on a Friday and you’ve got the weekend to get into it. I think it’s a good development.”
Born In The Echoes is your first album for five years and the longest gap between records in your career. Obviously you released Hanna and Don’t Think, but what made it take a little longer to get the album down this time?
“After Don’t Think came out we toured for a long time after that and it took a while for us to get back in the studio and find a reason to make an album. I’m always in the studio making music, but I need a reason to make an album. At this stage in our career we have to have something to drive us forward, something to aim for, we need to have an album that we’re excited about and something that pushes us forward.”
When did you know that this was an album and that’s what you were working towards?
“It’s an album, not a just a collection of tracks, an album needs a reason to exist and it just took us a while to find that this time. We’re always making music, but an album is a very different mindset, it’s got to be cohesive, they’re not the same pieces of music, but there’s definitely a thread that ties them together.”
Does that mean you end up with a lot of music?
“Yeah it does, we always make a lot. You create a lot of stuff in the hope for finding the good little nuggets, you can go for months without finding anything. Studio sessions are weeks and weeks of frustration and then you find something that gets you excited. We don’t sit around and write on guitars, they’re all happy accidents and things that happen in the studio, it’s hard to come by. I like it best when it’s something that’s not what you intended, it’s the coincidences that move you on, it’s an intense way to do things, but it’s how we’ve always done them.”
How can you know when something’s finished?
“I basically know when I wake up and my brain isn’t full of thoughts that go ‘How can I make this better?’, ‘How can we get there?’, so it's when I wake up and I don’t have those thoughts. It’s how we like to work, there’s a lot of frustration, but when you get it right, that’s the real joy of this job.”
You’ve got some great guests on there, Beck, St Vincent, Cate Le Bon, how did you get them all?
“We just go after the musicians we love, the people who’ve made our ears prick up, people with defined voices. With Annie (St Vincent), I asked our management to step it up and we got an email chat going, we had a rough idea. She was on tour and she did an initial session in Australia and then after that we came together for a session in London. They quite often happen like that, we’ll do a rough demo and imagine their voice and how it would fit, then we approach them.”
You’ve collaborated with lots of great musicians over the years, do you have a good sense of what will work? Or is it still purely down to chemistry in the studio?
“These days we know very quickly whether something will work and they still don’t all come off. When you work with other musicians for a long time you know how to get things going, but the magic of collaboration is when you have an idea and the other people have an idea that you never would have thought of, you need to be lifted somewhere else.”
Where do lyrics come from? Do you leave them up to collaborators?
“It’s a mixture. Occasionally it’s words I’ve written, but mostly when it’s other singers the words are written by them. It’s whoever has the best idea for the words.”
How did you settle on the title Born In The Echoes? That’s the track you did with Cate Le Bon…
“Yeah, I could sit here and rationalise it and say that it’s a metaphor for how we make music, but the truth is it’s a lyric and it sounds like an album title. I don’t really know the reason, I don’t know the reason I do all sorts of things, I don’t like it when you over-explain things.”
Were there other titles in contention? Or just that one?
“We had it for a while, pretty much as soon as we made the song with Cate. It sounded right and it ended up sticking.”
How much of the album have you been able to play live? You’re doing a lot of summer shows…
“At the moment we’re doing about five, we’ve done a lot of gigs already and we were a bit hesitant, especially as we’re doing festivals, not just people who come to see us, but it’s been really exciting. It’s a lot of fun fitting it all together with our older stuff, I love fusing it all together, making music from different times sit together. We wouldn’t tour if we didn’t have new music, we want to tour when we have something fresh to play.”
How do you find putting setlists together now? It's a lot to choose from...
“Yeah, it is, I can’t ever imagine not playing tracks like ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ and ‘Star Guitar’, but we’re playing a few songs we haven’t played for years, we even like to mix unreleased stuff in, we play everything from when we started right up until now.”
Finally, have you got a headline tour in the works?
“I’m sure we will, but we haven’t yet, we’ll work one out.”
The Chemical Brothers’ new album Born In The Echoes is out now in hmv stores across the UK and available to purchase here from our online store.