Rudimental talk new album Ground Control and why they made a clubbing LP when clubbing was outlawed...
Live music being, quite literally, outlawed during the Covid-19 pandemic has hit all artists hard. Almost all bands like to tour, but some tour harder than most, and some tour even harder than that. Then there’s dance collective Rudimental.
As well as full-band touring, the four band members are constantly DJing all across Europe, regularly racking up four countries in a single weekend. So, when that all ground to a halt, it must have come as quite a shock.
They’ve used the time productively. As well as completing new album, Ground Control, which is out today (September 3rd) in hmv stores, they’re already well onto the new one.
Ground Control is an ode to clubbing, made when the band and their army of fans were longing for the chance to go back to the dancefloor. Among the many, many featured artists are MJ Cole, Hardy Caprio, Skream, Karen Lomax, Backroad Gee, D Double E and Hamzaa, while regular collaborators Anne-Marie and Kojey Radical are also on duty once again.
With the album now on shelves, we spoke to the band’s Piers Aggett about how they put it together...
When did work start on this album? Were you writing and planning to record anyway or did Covid hand that time to you?
“Covid was actually a bit of a blessing for us. Normally we tour all the time, certainly all summer, and it gave us a summer at home for the first time in a long time. We made the whole album in lockdown. A lot of the songs were actually written in 2018.”
Going back a while…
“We went to Los Angeles and we did a bunch of writing out there. Lots of the songs are from those sessions. That’s the way we tend to work, we go on a trip, we write a lot and then it takes us a long while to actually work on the songs and finish them. The pandemic made us productive because suddenly there wasn’t a gig at the weekend and we could really focus.”
So was the whole album started in those sessions?
“We wrote some songs after lockdown had eased up. ‘Keep Your Head Up’ was at the beginning of the year, and a couple came after that. But the vast bulk are from 2018. It’s been nice to work this way, just to have the album to work on, normally we’re cramming in writing and recording around touring.”
Was it difficult to be in the same room with all the restrictions? Or are you used to working separately?
“To throw down the initial production and ideas, we tend to work on our own. Then it’s a bit like show and tell, I’ll show what I’ve got to the other boys, they do the same to me, and we’ll take the Logic session away and work on it. In the first lockdown, we just stayed in our houses. I’ve got two kids, so it wasn’t easy for me to get much done, trying to produce something while my four-year-old is wrecking the place! After things eased a bit, we started going into the studio altogether and working. We can only take things so far on our own. You have to knock heads at some point.”
Like every Rudimental record, there are a tonne of guests, were you able to be in the room with any of them to make the songs?
“A few were done overseas, most were in the studio. Weirdly, The Game is a sample of a session we did with him and Ed Sheeran ages ago. We grabbed the vocals and made a whole new tune. Our studio is a bit of a hub and a lot of the collaborations on this album are guys we know and people who are on our label. Skream, he’s a good mate of mine, he came in. For most of the time, we were working when lockdown had eased so people could come in.”
Was it fun? Most things during Covid-19 have not been fun…
“It was, actually. The funnest parts are when you write something and it comes together straight away. There are a few tracks like that, done and finished in four hours. That’s the best feeling, because most of them take ages. I love those days, they’re so exciting and satisfying.”
If most things take a while, how do you know when to ditch something and move on? Is it just a feeling?
“If nothing’s sticking, you have to make something new. I find the second song of the day is always the best. If you’re writing with someone, the first thing breaks the ice and the second is the best. A lot of our best songs turn up at five o’clock, just as you’re about to go home. Can be annoying when that happens…”
It’s a 16-track record. Is that 16 down from 20 or 30 or 50 or more?
“There were about 25 that got done. We had more, but once we had ‘Come Over’, which is this real garage tune, that felt good. We wanted to stay in that zone and it was easier to find the songs that work together when you’ve got a groove. It’s our clubbiest album. There’s house, garage, jungle, some drum and bass, it’s eclectic, but clubby. Having that thread really helped define things."
"There was a track I wrote in the first lockdown and I really wanted to get it on, but it just didn’t fit the sonics of the album. I was really upset and I kept trying to refit it to get it on there. I tried to turn it into a jungle track, then a drum and bass tune, nothing worked. I’ve got it locked for the next album now. We’ve got half of that already down.”
This feels quite singular then, it’s a clubby album…
“It’s our most defined thing. Our earlier albums are wild, we love jumping around the genres. This one is a real album, there’s a real side A and side B. Side A is a soulful, more radio end of the record, side B is the dirtier, ravier, clubbier side. It’s really cool. I like Side B the best. I’m a real raver.”
A clubbing album made when clubbing was illegal…
“Exactly. We were missing the clubs and missing the gigs. Don’t get me wrong, it drains you, I loved the year off. Clubs and festivals are such an integral part of our culture and the pandemic has just stripped that away. We crafted the album with that in mind. I can’t wait to play it in clubs, it’s going to go off.”
When did you decide that Ground Control was the right fit for the album title?
“Our label is called Major Toms and you’ve got the David Bowie lyric that everybody knows. This is us steering the spaceship. This album feels a bit like a return to our roots. We’ve got a lot of our artists on this album, guys who are on the label, guys who are on our publishing roster. I love what we’ve been able to do with the artwork too, the little sound system mascot. We’ve not named him yet, we need to…”
Are album titles normally easy for you?
“Nope, they’re usually really hard. When they come, you know, instantly and it feels really good. It’s so stressful getting there, it’s one of the hardest parts of the process.”
There’s a lot going on in Rudimental, there’s a lot of genres, a lot of guest artists and there are four of you. How easy is it to agree on the key decisions?
“There are always disagreements. Sometimes you really have to bend, sometimes a track makes the record because one of the boys really loves it and we’re not too bothered about it. You always have to compromise. The years have given us a good rhythm about how to manage each other.”
You guys have been able to keep working, but lots of other bands have found the separation very odd. You go from living in each other’s pockets 300 days a year to nothing at all…
“It was weird because it was suddenly like normal life was back. For the last eight years, my weekends have been gigs in three different countries, get back Monday or Tuesday, try to recover and then go again on Friday. If I can in that small window I can try and make some music. That was summer, then the rest of the time it’s touring with the band, America, Australia, Europe. I was beginning to crave a rest, especially with two kids. I actually really enjoyed just getting up and going to work and being back to put my kids to bed. I’m done with it now though, we all are, we’re ready to get back in the groove.”
Do you think you might pare things back a bit having had some time at home?
“I don’t want to go back to the craziness of the last eight years. Cramming in things is cost-effective, that’s the reason we do it. But it can damage you if you do it too much, you just don’t really sleep. I’ve done it with assistance, I’ve done it sober, you still feel like death on Monday. I want to approach it with a healthier mindset. Mind you, Brexit and Covid, I think touring Europe is going to be difficult, we’ve got nothing in the diary.”
Have you got a UK tour booked yet?
“We’ve done some Jazz Cafe shows and then we’re thinking about next year. We’ve not worked out the dates or the timings. I’d love to do Brixton Academy again, I prefer playing there to anywhere, even the O2. We’ve got a live gig at Warehouse Project up in Manchester in October, that’ll be amazing, that’s such a great night.”
What kind of set are you bringing out? You’ve got four records now...
“We’re looking to get six or seven new ones into the set, probably focusing on the clubbier side for the live shows. Hopefully, we’ll have plenty of guests.”
You said earlier on that you’re halfway through the next record, are you hoping to have it done before you go on tour?
“Yeah, I’d like to. I don’t think you need to wait two years anymore for another album. Especially with the pandemic and the lack of touring. I’d like to drop another album next year. We don’t need to take this one round the world, we can’t anyway, so we may as well keep working.”
Is it feeling different from Ground Control?
“It’s a lot less ravey and a lot more soulful. There’s a lot of hip-hop this time. But you know us, we love to throw loads of styles in there.”
Has anyone ever brought an idea in and you’ve all said ‘You’ve gone too far’? Or is it truly anything goes?
“There are songs we’ve made that I would never release. Every five or 10 tunes we make, one or two will be amazing, the others not so much. We’ve got a computer full of ideas, we’re forever taking beats from old songs and mixing in new vocals. The hard drive is full of ideas. The album is the absolute best of the best.”
Where’s the hard drive? Is there a Rudimental vault?
“It’s in our studio. It’s got an insane amount of stuff on there. We’ve not been writing much new stuff actually, but we still go back through the old bits, even things that go back as far as 2013.”
When you want some time off and the label needs something to fill the gap, you can just tell them to have a dig through…
“Absolutely. We’ll put our feet up…”