Somewhere along the line where indie rock meets hip hop, Bollywood infiltrates Brighton and samples become morphed to the point of unrecognisable, you’ll stumble across The Go! Team. Third album Rolling Blackouts takes their ever-quirky formula, plays off the diverse influences of a band who claim their only shared musical love is the music they produce themselves, throws in an African orchestra and a thumb piano along the way, and comes out the other end a critics nightmare. How do you even begin to describe a sound that touches on everything but resembles so little?
Founder Ian Patton might be at the very heart of the band, but urban vocalist ‘Ninja’ is just as important: her vocals have quickly become one of the few features that ties the throbbing, disparate parts together into a more coherent all round effort. Every bit as bubbly and off the wall as you’d expect, the singer avoids the media clichés, isn’t afraid to speak her mind and even risks throwing in a joke about wishing other musicians dead along the way. The cost of those samples is huge, after all…
The Go! Team has always taken on assorted off-the-wall influences. What pushed you in the direction of the latest album, ‘Rolling Blackout’?
It has a slightly different sound, but we’ve still gone for the same things, really. A lot of ’80s stuff – northern soul, Brooklyn rap, those kinds of styles, but it’s done in a different way this time around. We feel it’s a little bit more balanced, while the first two were very raw. There’s a bit of that thrashy stuff that people know The Go! Team for, but there are also some slower, nuggety, more vocal-focused tracks, too. That makes it a bit easier on the ear, but believe it or not it does take the same influences, just in a different way.
We heard you have an entire African choir on one track. How did that come about?
It’s on the track ‘The Running Range’, and it was actually originally meant to be a Brazilian choir. But sometimes these things just don’t sound right, so instead Ian got an African Gospel Choir on the track. You can hear their accents and everything. That’s definitely my favorite track on the whole album.
Songwriting must present quite a challenge given your disparate backgrounds. How do you even start to mix together such diverse styles?
That’s a lot of what we set out to achieve, really. We want to show that everything can go together, that you don’t have to be a rock band and stick to just rock style stuff. As we don’t really fit to any genre, we can take music from all types of genres and mix them into one. It’s like we’ve created a new genre, we just haven’t named it yet. We’d like to think that’s what makes us unique.
How would you describe your music?
We’re indescribable. Really, people just need to listen to us to get what we’re about, we don’t really have an image or a face, and we don’t spend a lot on marketing or anything like that. We’ve got great fans, but being so different makes it a continuous fight for us, we’re not a Coldplay kind of band. We’re not slick and produced, and you don’t hear music like ours on the radio. We don’t fit into any box, so we’re constantly passed by. But it’s okay to be different.
I can’t imagine you like many of the same acts?
We don’t have a lot of common. If you saw our music collections you’d never guess we were one band. It’s difficult at festivals! We often don’t even know the same acts, and it’s pretty impossible to play a CD on the tour bus. As The Go! Team is a fusion of what we all like, though, our own music has something that suits all of us.
When you first started out, you were quite widely portrayed as a rebellion against the indie rock style that was so dominant at that time. Do you see yourselves that way?
Yeah, we’re still a kind of rebellion. We don’t do the uniforms, the skinny jeans, the greasy hair and the bad attitude or the drug habit. We don’t tick the boxes in that sense at all, so we built our own box. It’s a multi-colored, eclectic-sided box, and inside it looks a bit different. But it still fits together.
Do you still feel what’s now known as indie’s as inane as it was back then?
Yeah it is. And it’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just that everyone wants to find the next one of the last big thing, especially at the record labels. That makes it really difficult for anyone different to push through. It’s still a big fight for anyone who doesn’t fit the mold.
Is it important for you, personally, to spend a bit of time away from The Go! Team and explore your own musical angles?
Yeah it’s really important to me. The band is really laid back and easygoing, so that makes it easier, but it’s really important not to lose your identity. The Go! Team sound is really Ian’s sound; the samples come from his record collection. I’ve been in the studio putting things together based on my influences, and I’m really enjoying that. When there’s something for you to hear, you’ll definitely hear that.
The way you are on stage, it comes across like you might be a bit of a party band on tour…
No, not at all. We’re not very rock and roll, actually. We like sightseeing, making the most of being away from home. If there’s anything exciting related to the country, like the Shaolin Temple in Tokyo, we have to see it. Apart from that, we all just like to laugh. We’re definitely not a party band. Apart from on stage, of course.
How are you going to reproduce an album that contains so many guest vocals and so many different musical ideas on stage?
Erm… we’re not completely sure yet, to be honest. I mean, we even have a load of kids playing brass slightly out of tune. It’s intentionally like that, as we wanted the rugged sound, but obviously we can’t bring them with us. We haven’t made up the set list just yet, but if we bought even a few of the guests we’d have absolute chaos. The stage would be like one of those 3D pictures where everything just flies out towards you. For health and safety reasons, everyone outside the band should probably stay off the stage this time around!
Your tours seem to take you absolutely everywhere. Do you make a conscious effort to play in different places?
Not really, we just get offered stuff! Often we don’t make any money, but we’re really happy just to have the opportunity to go somewhere that we might not get another chance to see. It’s not just about making money and playing the show, we just want to make the most of it, and as the music industry’s so fickle, we have to do it now. We don’t want to be the band that said no to going to Russia because we thought we might be killed. We went, and we’re alive! We were scared in Russia, as we’d heard a lot of stories about bands being made to pay a lot of money, and even afterwards they might be thrown in a jail. I’m glad we went, but I’d never go back.
China was bad as well. We had to send them our lyrics before we were allowed to go there, to check they weren’t saying anything political. We went when it was open, and it’s all closed off now, thanks to Bjork. There’s very limited exposure to western music, so there are people there who have no idea who Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson are, so we were very lucky to be able to do that. We felt a bit irritated with Bjork. She knew what she was doing, especially as they check all the lyrics. She’s lucky she made it out alive.
The commercial aspects of the music industry clearly bother Ian. Are you pointedly anti-commercial?
That’s probably a little bit too far, but Ian particularly dislikes the idea of our songs being associated with a product above anything else. Then again, we have to accept certain things. Taking an obscure advert in another country, for example, could fund an entire tour that the label might not have paid for. You can have your beliefs, but you have to balance them with the financial realities, and try and avoid selling you soul along the way!
The sheer volume of samples must create another financial issue?
It is certainly a hassle, but it’s also the origin of The Go! Team sound. It’s something we have to do. In America, if you don’t pay they’ll put your ass in jail. Ian doesn’t actually mind, though. There are a couple of songs where we’ve actually given away over 100% of the song just to keep the samples and make everyone happy. The song is given first priority. I just hope that Ian uses things that are so obscure that the person’s dead, or an addict, or in rehab, on the street, in prison… that’s nice. We always hope for someone who made our sample to be in jail, that’s a nice Christmas present! Then they’ll never find out! But it’s not a P Diddy kind of thing, so it’s not usually something that’s known. It’s not riding off the back of anyone else. It’s usually tiny split seconds that are unrecognizable, from old records, made into entire new songs. It’s the opposite of how samples are normally used now.
How do you see your future panning out?
It’s too early to say, really. It’s really difficult to know what might happen in this industry. We’re just looking forward to a few tours, maybe heading back to Japan, as that’s probably my favorite country. Playing a few big festivals, too, and getting a big billing is always nice. That’s a big deal for us. We know people don’t always know us, so we go out to try and make the headliners look bad. We just want to show people that don’t know us that they should, and give the audience their money’s worth. We sometimes feel like we’re in a sea of bland musical acts. We just want to make ourselves stand out.
As published by State.ie, February 2011.