Need To Know: Simian Mobile Disco | Out Magazine

Need To Know: Simian Mobile Disco

Need To Know: Simian Mobile Disco

If you havent been sweatin to tracks from Simian Mobile Discos latest album youre clearly not going out enough. Released last month, the British electrostars second effort, Temporary Pleasure, has enough saucy energy to start its own sonic stimulus plan, living up to the promise of 2007s debut Attack Decay Sustain Release as a new, if retro, direction in dance music.

Already known for their sick beats and headline-grabbing videos (who can forget the absolutely sick, line-toeing Hustler?), coproducers/synth-wranglers Jas Shaw and James Ford call in their contacts for a whos who panel of our some of our favorite queer-friendly guest vocalists from Hot Chip to Super Furry Animals -- and in the case of the Gossips Beth Ditto, some bona fide homos -- who lend a new dimension to the dance floorready tracks. We caught up with the 31-year-old Shaw as he was headed to a gig in Singapore and got the low-down on American Apparel alliances, the pleasures of producing with Peaches, and how there's no such thing as too much analog -- or too many flashing lights.

Out: As a fan of the Gossip, hearing Beth Ditto as a soul diva on Cruel Intentions made me do a double take. I never would have thought of that for her.
Jas Shaw: Yeah, shes sort of known for really shouty vocals, but from chatting with her at festivals we knew that she was up for doing something a bit less belting it out, a bit more quiet. For Cruel we knew we wanted a kind of soul-y, Detroit-y kind of vibe and just on the off chance, we sent her the tracks Fortunately she went for it!

How did you pick the rest of artists who sang on the album?
Its quite weird actually. It almost feels like they picked themselves. We made loads of instrumentals which suggested types of vocals, like a female vocal or a particular type of style we were looking for, and we literally just ended up e-mailing MP3s to people who weve met on tour that would be able to do that kind of vocal, figuring only a few people would get back to us. We expected to only get two or three vocals back and we got nine! That really defined the direction of the record.

Did you write the lyrics in collaboration or just leave them up to the guests?
On a couple of occasions they used working titles as a starting point to the track, but we gave the vocalists free range to write whatever they wanted. We choose people because of their writing style and the sound of their voices, so it would have been a bit wrong to write vocals and give them to say, Yeasayers Chis Keating [for Audacity of Huge] who is an amazing writer himself.

Are there any artists you would have liked to have for this album but couldnt get or will be approaching in the future?
Weve been trying to chase down Nick Cave for ages, and understandably he hasnt gotten back to us yet. There have been loads of people wed be up to using, so going forward wed definitely chase down people. But at this stage, I feel its time for us to get back to doing some instrumental techno stuff. Thats our background.

As coproducers, do you and James have complimentary qualities you to bring to the creative process?
No, not really, which is probably a bad thing. [Laughs] Usually well both kind of jump between the traditional roles of someone playing the artist, and the other person giving comments and being the producer. Our music taste is very similar simply because we lived together for years and years, and we still go out and DJ together. And when we find new bands that were interested in we tell each other about them.

So which other bands are exciting you right now? Whats the hottest sound coming up?
You should check out UK Wonky, which is a slightly weird version of UK Funky stuff, which is a slightly faster Dub set. The wonky stuff just has a really, well, wonky edge to it. In terms of American stuff, Grizzly Bear and the new Animal Collective record are amazing. Recently I recorded in London at Toerag Studios and have been getting into a lot of stuff theyve done there like Diagonal and Electric Wizard. Its a 50s style studio -- all valves, tapes, no computers, and no nonsense.

You guys really do dig the analog. Why stick with it instead of more modern incarnations?
Thats really difficult to answer because were definitely not slavish to the analog retro scene or anything like that. It probably just goes back to us having been in bands and we enjoy the process of proper instruments and proper dials and proper plugging stuff in to effects. Theres something slightly clinical about doing everything inside of a computer. Moreover, were big fans of something being a performance. Even if youre only kind of looping some drums out for a synth, actually doing it manually you get things you wouldnt expect, weird kind of feedback-y things happening, where as if you do it all inside of Pro Tools you just get exactly what you wanted. Its that chaos of things, on the tipping point of complexity, particularly with modular synthesizers, where they start to do weird nonsense. And nine times out of 10 the thing that it wants to do seems to be more interesting than the thing you wanted it to do anyway. That lack of control is a good thing.

Why did you choose to partner with American Apparel to sell the deluxe version of your album?
It was the labels choice, but the way I look at it, if its good enough for Sbastien Tellier, its good enough for us! Also, increasingly there isnt a record shop in every town, but they might well have an American Apparel. Its strange times for music at the moment.

Well, you have a kind of slick sexiness that jives a lot with theirs, too. Can we expect more videos like the two for Hustler, with the girls making out or the sick model-food-porn version that played here in the States?
[Laughs] Were battling with the label at the moment because we really want to do another video with Saam Farahmand, who was the guy who directed the original Hustler video [with the lesbian make out circle]. Hes got this absolutely amazing and bizarre idea for Cruel Intentions that will probably also be banned on all TV channels and is actually quite expensive to shoot. The labels dont really have the money, so were kind of begging and borrowing from everyone to see if we can get it shot within our budget.

As youve traveled around the U.S., what cities have responded the most to you?
New York gets it. I always enjoy Philly, actually, and San Francisco and L.A. are always good. We did a gig in El Paso or something like that and it was in a small venue but really amazing, really good fun. Its as much as the individual towns as it is what kind of venue you play. Even though we feel like a lot of the European techno stuff is not that well known, people are getting it on a primitive level, which is exactly what were about. Theyre not into it because apparently its cool or any of those reasons. They get it on a level that a five year old gets it: simple, intuitive reasons.

Was there anywhere it went horribly wrong and all the factors just didnt mesh?
The worst disaster was in Boston. Every time we put the bass in, all the power for the whole venue shut down! Luckily our lighting guy is also a sparky so he ran around back and figured out what the problem was, and it all went fine after that. The crowd was really good and realized it wasnt our fault, but for a band like us, an acoustic set is not going to do it. [Laughs]. We usually spend our entire fee on lights, as many strobes and as many Pixelines and LEDs and whatever nonsense we can possibly cram on the stage. I dont think they were prepared by the amount of crap we bring with us.

Given youve got people like Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip on the album, can we expect some hot remixes from any of them?
Thats an interesting idea really, I hadnt even thought about that. Getting the vocalists and their band to rework the tracks. Actually, though, theres no time for that. I feel like the whole remix scene is so over-saturated as is. I get things through the post and its a track and maybe a dozen remixes on it. Thats just way too many. And weve been guilty of that, too, in the past, so were really trying to kind of pin the label down to just three good remixes and that will be that. But look out for a great mix of Cruel Intentions from Maurice Fulton. Hes one of my favorite producers.

I love what you did on Peachess new album, I Feel Cream. The title track is pure sex: hot, dirty, good. What was it like working with her? Shes a pretty big gay idol for a lot of people.
Ive been a fan of hers every since I got a copy of The Teaches of Peaches, so it was amazing working with her. To be honest, I never really thought of her as gay. Its kind of an irrelevant thing in the studio what someones sexuality is. But certainly shes such a strong character and has been such a strong voice in music for a long time that it was really interesting having her in the studio. We felt like the reason she got us involved was to push her in a slightly different direction so there wasnt really any point in doing something that sounded like her past records. Shes an amazing producer in her own right, she can easily do that by herself, so there was that degree of, I guess, creative tension. Were both planning to play at the Big Day Out [in Australia and New Zealand] early next year, so well get to hang out with her again, which will be very nice.

After Attack Decay Sustain Release got so many accolades, did you have any sophomore jitters of how you were going to best yourself this time?
Yeah, youre right, theres quite a lot of pressure on people regardless of how the first record did. But because both of us were working quite hard producing other bands, some of which were actually second records, the stress that they were feeling almost alleviated how we felt about our whole album. We literally didnt have time to analyze it. It was us trying to fit two or three days between this gig or that production gig, or whatever, to work on it. Im a big fan of just getting on with stuff and worrying about the details afterward.

Temporary Pleasure (Wichita Records) is available now. Visit SimianMobileDisco.co.uk or MySpace.com/simianmobiledisco for more info.

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