Monday, 10 November 2008

Groove Armada Interview: Tom Findlay

Groove Armada's Tom Findlay on making music, playing live and Lord Byron.

I know you and Andy [Cato] were introduced by his girlfriend. Did you guys just hit it off straight away?

Yeah, we did. I remember he played on my bass guitar; he's a very good musician so I was quite impressed but slightly annoyed because he was playing my guitar better than me! But yeah, I had a better record collection and he was good at playing instruments, and I think we were both mutually impressed by that.

Are there any funny stories you can tell us before you two became Groove Armada as you are today?

I just remember running clubs and losing a lot of money! We used to run a club night called Captain Sensual At The Helm Of The Groove Armada and we booked Dave Seaman and lost our shirts on him, so that was good. It was the same time as Euro '96, and we booked Dave Seaman to come and play on the same day England beat Spain, and the headline coming out on Sunday morning was Seaman sinks Armada which made me chuckle. So we got sunk by David Seaman, us and the Spaniards on the same day!

How do you and Andy work? Do you write the music and lyrics together, or do you do separate parts and put it all together?

We work together really. I think writing lyrics is quite a personal thing and we do that separately although having said that, I See You Baby Shakin' Your Arse isn't that complicated! We tend to work on the music and arrangements together, and on lyrics separately.

I heard that I See You Baby Shakin' Your Arse was written after a stint in Ibiza?

Yeah, it was the first time we ever went out there as a DJ duo and we wrote the song when we got back. Ibiza was mad; a real eye opener. Things went on there that I wouldn't even tell my children! Nothing that I did though, I kept my nose clean the whole time!

We'd been resident at the Manumission Hotel for a couple of weeks and that's where we met Grandma Funk. So afterwards, she flew into London and came to Tottenham where we wrote the track and drunk a lot of Red Stripe!

Who are your biggest musical influences?

I've got a lot of respect for our contemporaries. I always keep an ear out for what people like Bassment Jaxx are doing because they are always worth a listen, and the Chemical Brothers. I really love the Mylo record, also Plantlife and Bugz In The Attic, all of which we've got on at the festival and part of the reason they are there.

There's so many good producers around at the moment it's kind of weird in the sense that everybody says its a bad time for dance music because it probably is, commercially speaking, but I do think it's a more interesting time than maybe it has been for a long time.

There's a lot of music I love. I'm really into a lot of the re-edits that go on for labels like Gam records and 20:20 up in Leeds, and looking back, bluesy black music and classic artists like Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Prince. You know, the sort of people you really wish you cloud be, but the reality is that you know you're never going be that good!

All of your tracks are pretty diverse and encompass many different genres of music. Do you decide how it's going to sound before you start or does it just evolve?

We often start a tune with a sample and I think you begin to assume a bit of the character of whatever sample you use. Purple Haze is a sample from a really old Status Quo record, like an old blues record, so you kind of go with that a bit because that's the sound. The same with At The River which is from an old 1960s song, so you kind of take on that mood.

We usually have an idea of where we want it to go and the kind of edge we want it to have, but it just pops out from somewhere. I don't really know where it comes from, to be honest with you!

Tell us more about Lovebox Summer Weekender, your only live summer gig.

An opportunity came up on Clapham Common but we are now doing it on Victoria Park which is a brilliant site, right in the heart of Hackney, where I live, and where a lot of the artists who are performing live. There's a lot of festivals around at the moment, and most of them are run by the really big players like Clear Channel, the FJM's and Metropolis', so I do think it's good that there's an independent music festival out there because I think that's important.

It is a kind of a vanity project, but in the best possible way. We could make a lot more money signing up to Mean Fiddler and doing a festival they had funded, but we are doing this because we believe in the artists we are booking, and the people we are working with.

It's just one of those weird sort of things that happened by accident and its picked up a momentum of its own really. A whole set of relationships have come out of it which I can't really turn my back on it.

We definitely aren't in it for the money. We probably wont make a penny out of it when its all is said and done. We genuinely do do this for the love and it's great for us. This sounds lame, but there's an element of putting something back into where we came from, and the artists we've booked are the kind of people who have been our peers like Chicken Lips and Bugz In The Attic. They were all sort of new when we were coming through and its nice to give them a leg up as well.

What is it that you love about playing live?

It's the immediacy of it. It gets you away from the music press and I think there's something to be said about putting yourself in front of a group of people so that they can make a decision, rather than having to be filtered through other people's eyes all the time.

You know, this is us, it's real, it's is raw and if 60,000 people love it, then that just feels so much more special than if you sell 60,000 albums.

There's definitely something about playing in front of a crowd and having that emotional connection with a group of people, and that's the best bit about making music. So if you get crap review in NME, you think you can't be that bad if you can do what you did at Glastonbury last year.

You and Andy both play musical instruments. Do you think that gives your music an edge?

I think it certainly does in translating what we do live. I don't think there's many bands that can do it, but because we were brought up in that background so we understand how to take stuff off screen and put it on the stage.

In terms of production I don't think it helps at all. In fact I think it can almost work the opposite way and you can get a bit noodly! But I think you will find with most live acts who have been relatively successful, there will be someone there who knows their middle C from their F sharp. Like Bassment Jaxx for instance - Simon out of Bassment Jaxx is a really good musician too.

I read that At The River is used on 3456 coffee table albums. Is that really true?

I think that's somebody being a bit weird, but it's definitely on quite a lot. It was a pretty ubiquitous record a while ago, that's for sure. The thing with stuff like that is you basically get into a situation where you either let your music be used by other people or you take the Massive Attack root, which I totally respect, and don't allow anything to be licensed on any compilation at all.

The problem is, once you start being selective you can spend all day doing it, so you do end up on more compilations that you would of liked. Sometimes I see something in a service station off the M6 and you think bloody hell! I can't believe we are on that [laughs]. We are on a few Now albums which is a source of shame, but they are a good payer.

Is it true Superstylin and My Friend were used on a Brazilian soap opera?

Superstylin is on a Brazilian tampon advert and My Friend was used on a soap.

This Brazilian soap did a series of episodes around a story on drugs, a bit like with Grange Hill and Zamo, and My Friend was used as the soundtrack when this girl was taking heroin, which is a bit weird, but anyway! They don't have a massive record industry in South America, and you don't sell a huge amount of records so it's just a good way of getting exposure. We've gone onto play quite big gigs off the back of our Brazilian tampon ad which is strange but great!

We played in Sao Paulo, in the middle of an enormous race track with Goldie. They love drum and bass out there, absolutely love it! For Paul Oakenfold read Goldie - he's a legend out there!

What's your personal favourite Groove Armada tune?

There's quite a few really. I really like Chicago, from the Vertigo album. Superstylin and At The River changed my life in different ways so I owe them an enormous debt as well. At The River is the song that broke us and Superstylin was kind of the song that kept us going so I'm really fond of them in their own ways.

I always forget we wrote At The River. I was in a record shop the other day and they were playing it and I just thought; what a nice song. And every time I play Superstlyin I'm usually DJing, and everybody just goes mental, and you can't really argue with that, can you?!

Which DJs first inspired you?

For me it was a guy called Harvey who now lives in LA, but he lived in the same town I grew up in. I used to go and listen to him play at the Zap Club every Monday in Brighton. He was probably my first hero, but the first DJ who is relatively well known was probably Francois Kevorkian. He's probably the best DJ I've ever seen; just head and shoulders above everybody else.

You're having a party, who dead or alive is invited?

I think I'd be a bit random and invite that poet, Lord Byron. I'm sure he'd just make me laugh, or we could just get high together, so yeah, me and Byron.

What would you say Andy's best quality is, and what would he say yours is?

Andy is always there for you when you really need him to be, and he never lets you down. And what would he say is my best quality? Probably my left foot, because I'm good at football and a big West Ham supporter.

Rachael Hannan: Interview 2005

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