The wait is over. Here’s the second half of our exclusive interview with Jas Shaw and James Ford, the duo that comprises Simian Mobile Disco. (Of course, don’t forget to read Part 1.)
Do you choose a setlist before you go out, or do decide the songs on the fly?
Jas: It’s a bit of both actually. The way it works, it’s not like DJing when you can literally just swap things around. Usually we’ll get out setlist within one or two songs. We might miss one or play one a little earlier. The main thing is keys—we’re quite fussy about things mixing in key. If you have another bassline that comes in and it’s a half step off, it sounds awful and clashes. There’s loads of other variables in terms of the mix and the structure, so it almost just makes more sense for us to play in a rough order. But sometimes we’ll play two songs in order and then not know what’s going to happen. We’ll just be jamming away. We can change the order of the songs, but it requires some thinking beforehand, just because of the way we have everything laid out. In order for things to be smooth, it’s not just like pushing a crossfader across.
What’s your live set-up like?
Jas: The way it works is one person will have some parameters or some stacks to mess around with and another is on the synth. There’s lot of detail changing in just a single track (pass) of sound. I guess maybe we get a lot of the detail that way. It just seems like an easy way of doing it. It’s so much easier to do it on the spot. We have a lot of equipment on stage. It’s quite a pain in the ass to move it around. It’s a bit of a brainfuck sometimes, trying to figure everything out and getting from point to point.
Do you notice a difference in European crowds compared to America crowds?
Jas: Yes, very much so. It’s not even as homogenous as that; it’s different from town to town. You can’t really narrow it down to “folks in the States are like this” or “folks in England are like this.” Going one town over will be different.
Do you have any favorite cities to play?
Jas: Manchester. Glasgow is always a killer. Anywhere in Ireland is always messy and involves a lot of food. London is easy because it’s our home town. But the clubs are great there—Fabric, The End. There’s loads of great places. Tokyo, too. Just the fact that it’s Tokyo. It’s fantastic.
Are you surprised when you go as far away as Tokyo and find an audience?
Jas: Yeah. Maybe less so now than I was at the start. We went to Chile and were wandering around and it was all salsa and local music. I didn’t hear anything like us at all. But with the Internet it’s obviously different. The geography is less important. Kids in any country can get access to more or less anything they want.
You usually leak out songs in anticipation of an album. Is that your choice?
Jas: No, not really. I mean we put it out, it’s not really leaking. You can’t stop it; tracks are bound to go out. We really don’t think about it much. We just have to get the record done and put it out as quickly as possible. We’d probably just put it all online if we had a choice. There’s certainly no master plan behind it.
(James Ford, the other half of Simian Mobile Disco, enters)
What about the future of music sales and distribution? Will the industry find a way to consistently make money off file-sharing and downloading?
Jas: I don’t know. No one knows. We were talking about it the other day. I can’t really comment on it because I don’t know how it works in terms of paying artists and not paying artists. It is really difficult because the real pitch is really with small indie bands who don’t make any money from touring, not really DJs. And I love small indie bands.
James: I think there will be a generation of people really soon who don’t even care about owning mp3s or music on their hard drive, let alone owning an actually boxed set. I think people are just going to be happy to consume music in whatever way it comes to them and people have to learn to accept that and live with it.
Jas Shaw (left) and James Ford
What about the role of music blogs? What effect have they had on your career?
Jas: Definitely helped us overall. It helps to spread the word without a doubt. I think about the stupid loops people would have to go into to get their songs on the radio. And how much do I listen to radio now? Not much in comparison to, say, how much I look on blogs for new stuff.
James: It’s almost like magazines in a way. It’s really just coverage. People like the music enough to write about it.
What can you tell us about the upcoming album? Is it finished?
Jas: Yes, we’ve finished it. The release date is sometime in August.
How does it compare sound-wise to the previous album?
Jas: The idea was that we put a couple of tracks out on beatport just for the people who were watching. You know, no big deal or anything. Just put them out there for anyone who’s been waiting for stuff to pick it up. The two tracks we chose are quite techno-y. The rest of the record is actually very poppy. Not poppy in a cheesy way, though.
James: We kind of weirdly went down a road of making a lot of techno, disco-y stuff. And we still have a lot of that stuff lying around in the b-sides and rarities pile. But I think it’s just the songs we like the most. Maybe it’s because we’re used to producing albums for other people. But the way we felt that album worked the most was just a collection of songs. I think a lot of that techno-y stuff will be sort of be stretched out and will see the light of day pretty soon. I think the vocals maybe pulled us away from doing a full on disco album. Though we had visions of it for a little bit.
Tell me about the “Synthesise” video (watch it HERE). How did that come about?
Jas: Kate Moross is the creative director. She’s great. It’s really nice having someone who you can talk to. One of the issues she identified with on the last album was that from our view, we had these kind of ideas for what it was all supposed to mean and I don’t think we articulated those ideas very clearly or cohesively in all the various mediums. For example, we would meet people who had a copy of the record but didn’t realize the cover was made out of spoons; they would think it was daisies. Clearly somehow the message didn’t get through. So the idea with Kate was that we could sit down and have a chat about what we think visually and all the other stuff. And then we don’t have to be watching over the website or anything.
What are your long term career goals?
James: I don’t think we have any. Just enjoy it.
Jas: One of the things we want—that I just saw the other day—is a massive light; I think it’s called a sky-scanner and it comes on a trailer. And you don’t plug it in, you put diesel fuel in it. So that’s pretty much what I’m working towards. Maybe we’ll grow beards. Or wear capes. (laughs)
What current musicians excite you? What have you been listening to recently?
Jas: Loads. We had Lindstrøm over recently and his new stuff is just great. His old stuff is great as well, actually.
What are some of the best live shows you’ve seen?
Jas: Jamie Lidell has a great live show. Hot Chip. Magma has a rocking live show, but I don’t think they’re coming to the states.
James: Dan Deacon. Daft Punk was pretty good. We’ve seen them a couple times actually. Jas has actually been inside the pyramid. Haven’t you?
Jas: It’s not as cool once you’re inside. I thought it would be like finding utopia.
Anything else you want to add?
James: Drive safely.
That’s it for the interview. Don’t forget to check out Simian Mobile Disco on their summer tour. Here’s a preview of what the new album has in store. August can’t come soon enough.
Simian Mobile Disco – 10,000 Horses Can’t Be Wrong
Simian Mobile Disco – Synthesise
And I can’t help but post another favorite remix:
Peaches – Downtown (Simian Mobile Disco Remix)