"We were always about doing things from the heart..." Basement Jaxx
After a five year hiatus from releasing studio albums, Basement Jaxx return next week with their new LP, Junto. We caught up with Felix Buxton to chat about what they've been up to in that time, their experiences with film scores, and why now is the right time for a Basement Jaxx return...
It's been 5 years since you released Scars and Zephyr, in that time you've worked on the soundtrack for Joe Cornish's film, but when did you start work on Junto?
“It was probably about two and a half years ago. I mean we did also do the music for The Hooping Life film in that time, as well as the Basement Jaxx vs The Metropole Orkest live album, we worked on that for about a year actually. But it was never mainstream, so I guess it doesn't really count! Which is stupid because it's a brilliant album!”
Were these your first experiences of writing music for film?
“Yeah, they were. We really enjoyed that, we'd had a full 12 years of touring, doing albums and all the rest of it, so we were very keen to do some other creative stuff in a different way. So film seemed like a really easy way for us to express ourselves differently and find an outlet for it. The weird thing about doing music for films though is that you can put lots of work in and do loads of amazing creative stuff, then it gets put underneath a load of dialogue and the director goes 'actually, I think it works better with just the dialogue on its own' and you go 'oh, okay then', haha! But yeah, we did really enjoy the process of doing it.”
Did you learn anything about that process that informed what you did on the new album?
“Well, I think more than anything it taught us not to be too precious, which is good to remember, not to take yourself too seriously. At the end of the day its just some bits of melody, sounds... you can set off with this grand intention but unless its connecting with people and doing something in the bigger picture then its useless. So I think with this album we did want to do something that could fit into a bigger picture and we were also conscious that we wanted to create some stuff that we could DJ with again. We've always done that alongside whatever else we're doing, but we were realising that there were less and less of our tunes that we could play, probably because things became either very minimal or very noisy.
“But then suddenly about two years ago house music started coming back, you had people like Rudimental and Disclosure appearing, and suddenly we had all these young DJs we were meeting going 'you guys are legends, we've been playing all your old stuff from '93' and all this. So we were like 'oh, so what we were doing, they're all doing now?! We're relevant again?!” So it just seemed like we should put something new out and also with the live shows we wanted some new stuff we could throw in there.
“Also, with DJing, you realise that there's loads of stuff coming and going but there aren't really many 'tunes' any more. In club culture there always seemed to be the big tunes of the moment and although there's been a bit of that surfacing in the EDM scene that's happening at the moment, in wider club culture that seems to have gone, you know? It all seems sort of faceless, often people are dancing without any idea what the music is.”
We read a quote that said you wanted to make an album that was more 'at one with the world' – what did you mean by that, and how does it translate into the music?
“Well, firstly we meant it as being at one with ourselves in the sense that it had to be true and honest. We live in an age where there's tons of music that's contrived for a particular market place and to me that's just very unappealing. I dunno, artistically it just doesn't feel very distinguished or it doesn't hit home to the core of artistry to me. It seems the industry has more in common with Wall Street or the advertising business. Which is fine, but it feels very much from the head and not from the heart if you know what I mean?
“We were always about doing things from the heart and I guess the title Junto, which means 'together' in Spanish, and the whole album really is about interconnectedness and interdependency between us as human beings and with the planet around us. In a way we've reminded ourselves of the original Basement Jaxx vibe, which was also the whole thing with house music in the first place, it was about inclusivity, it was open to whatever style, it wasn't about egos or stars, there were no superstar DJs then, it was just about bringing people together to enjoy the music. That all sounds very flouncy in the modern world, I know, but that's partly because we've become so cynical but also because we're constantly bombarded with a load of pap that doesn't really ring true, like we've been manipulated too much. So that was the idea with not really having loads of guests that people recognise, going back just us making some music.”
That leads us neatly on to our next question, with Scars you had a lot of collaborators on the record – everyone from Yoko Ono to Amp Fiddler - this time there's just one, ETML. So that was a conscious decision?
“Yeah, but even then, ETML isn't even known at all yet, he's just left school! He doesn't exist in the world, haha! But yeah, we were very eager to not use names to push anything, which shouldn't be what it's about anyway. More than anything though it was to try and get voices that were sincere and honest, unaffected by the whole system out there in the world. That's getting increasingly hard to do, by the way. Radio 1 will snap up anything the moment they hear about it, I mean when we took first took Dizzee they were all over him, just because they were getting a little bit of something real. Then of course the industry sets about making him as unreal as possible!”
You also released a track with Sam Brookes last year, but it's only on the deluxe version of the album? Was that why you decided to leave it out?
“That's right yeah, 'What A Difference Your Love Makes' is just on the deluxe version. We did 'Back 2 The Wild' as well, and that was really a nod to the whole deep house thing coming back, but we realised it was just far too alternative. With that, we were aiming to something quite straightforward but people were saying 'it's really leftfield'. But for us it was just about putting some more dancefloor orientated stuff out there. It didn't really connect with a mainstream audience, I guess people just decided that it wasn't really the fashionable thing to be listening to.
“At the same time though people were getting into Daft Punk and saying 'isn't it incredible, they've reinvented music!' Just because they've got live instruments! It's just amazing that people regurgitate this stuff, it's like nobody uses their brain. I mean, what are people doing out there, gobbling up all this stuff that the media feeds them? It seems a shame really, we're not using our potential as human beings at all, we're just wasting energy on a lot of crap.
“I'm not saying the Daft Punk album was crap by the way, not at all, just all the stuff that went with it in terms of the media coverage. In a way we were actually kind of relieved when that record came out because it was just the antithesis of EDM and we thought 'oh, so it's ok to make music that's not slapping you around the face and saying 'hey, we're really exciting', it is possible to have some sophistication and some subtlety and people can still get into that.' So it was like that record was stage two of us returning. Stage one was Rudimental arriving and us going 'okay, we're allowed to exist again' and stage two was Daft Punk and 'oh, it's ok not to be noisy'.”
There's pretty much an extra album's worth of stuff on the deluxe version actually, was this another attempt at a double album?
“Well, I was very keen to have an album of about 30 tracks, and of course you've got people outside saying 'that's too much music, no-one wants that', and I was up for selling the whole thing for £1 and then it's 'well no, you can't do that. I mean for us it was just about celebrating the fact we'd made loads of new music, we're not about being greedy, we've got loads of stuff that's creative and interesting that we want to put out there, but it's about making it fit within the world we exist in I guess. So the deluxe version has loads of great stuff and initially I saw that as one album, but we kind of bowed to industry advice on that one so there's the deluxe version instead! But I'm really pleased with that as there's loads of great material on there.”
Do you still approach writing & recording the same way as you did when you first started out?
“I suppose it has evolved into certain strands, some of it we would start just like in the old days, like the track 'Sneakin' Toronto' was done in a very old school way, starting out with just a groove and a couple of chopped up samples, we played some keys and then me and Sneak went into the vocal booth and basically chatted rubbish, and that more or less ended up being the track!
"Then there are tracks like Unicorn, which I wrote with a friend just because I bumped into her in a car park and she came in for a cup of tea, we started talking about unicorns and UFOs and things and then it was just like 'well, it's a nice day, let's make a song!'”
How does it work between you and Simon in the studio? Does one of you take the lead or is it quite democratic?
“Well, generally I'm kind of the ideas man I suppose, I'll do the writing of the melody and stuff. Simon's always traditionally been more the production guy out of the two of us. He can make things sound like records sound, you know? Often I'll play him ideas with loads of layers and ideas in there and he'll go 'there's too much going on, I can't hear anything' so he'll strip it back. In the simplest form its often me singing with him playing guitar. Then that guitar might become a keyboard and my voice might become someone else's voice, we'll try several people singing it, that kind of thing.”
What are your touring plans for the new album? Any shows in the UK?
“We're doing a UK tour this December which ends with the O2 Arena in London, then we'll probably do Japan and Australia. We've got to work out what to do in America, we'll see what interest is like. 'Never Say Never' is up to no.5 in the Billboard charts I think, it keeps creeping up each week, which is great. It's interesting actually, it feels like there's been more excitement in America than in the UK.”
Do you think that's down to the EDM scene over there at the moment?
“Partly maybe, yeah, but we just seem to fit in over there, the UK has always been very snobbish towards us and we had that when we started, none of the DJs in the UK were playing our stuff, then all the American DJs were playing it and eventually it caught on, but New York and Napoli in Italy were the first places that really started playing our music in the beginning. But that's the exotic thing with music isn't it? Maybe we're more exotic in America because we're English!”
What are your live shows like these days? Are you playing only new stuff or is it pretty much a career retrospective at this point?
“No, it's not just new stuff, we just did Fuji Rock and Camp Bestival in the last couple of weeks. I think we had about 13 people on stage at Bestival, ballet dancers, a robot. I think we were plying eight new songs in those places but we play the hits as well. There's song we did with Ella Eyre called Diamond that hasn't been on an album but we've been playing it live quite a bit. The new stuff's been testing out very well whenever we've played them over the last couple of years.”