IN THE WORLD of dance music, getting the nod from underground purists while achieving mainstream success is nigh impossible. But British duo Tom Findlay and>"/>
IN THE WORLD of dance music, getting the nod from underground purists while achieving mainstream success is nigh impossible. But British duo Tom Findlay and Andy Cato—alias Groove Armada—have managed to do just that. Elton John and Madonna have both sung the praises of their eclectic yet cohesive Vertigo (Jive-Electro), which juxtaposes jazzy, down-tempo gems ("At the River," "Inside My Mind") with sumptuous house tunes ("Chicago"). And Fatboy Slim volunteered to remix their sassy single "I See You Baby," which became a US radio and MTV hit— albeit only after editing a naughty word out of the hook. In a marked departure from DJ performance practice, the Groove Armada live experience involves a nine-piece band, which some critics abroad have compared to Sly & the Family Stone. Cato took a break from helping his neighbor install a new washing machine to give Seattle Weekly the skinny on the band's adventures.
Showbox, Sunday, June 4
Seattle Weekly: How tricky is it negotiating a nine-piece band?
Andy Cato: It can be hairy, depending on the venue. Sometimes you get quite cramped conditions, because there's a lot of equipment and people. The main drag with the live thing is that it's live. So much of dance music that claims to be [live] isn't. So you're going up against stuff that's prerecorded onto a DAT, with people standing there pretending things are happening and obviously getting incredible sound quality because it's all mixed down in their studio. Sometimes that makes you wonder why you bother. But if you can work out ways to create the sort of textures that people are used to, but with live musicianship, then you can have moments that are lovely. That makes it all worthwhile.
This tour is a big undertaking. Is breaking America really important to you?
We've put a fair bit of effort into America now, with time as much as anything else; that's certainly made us radically reappraise our desired recording schedule for the next album. The opportunity came up for a sponsorship deal, to get the whole band over there, which is not cheap. And it's the live band that's turned things round for us here and in Europe. Having come this far, it's worth a shot. For whilst DJing is fun, the parameters of DJing in a club on a Saturday night from 12 to 2 means that you can't reflect the whole spectrum of the Groove Armada sound. In a live performance, we've got leeway to do that.
One of Vertigo's greatest strengths is the wide range of moods it evokes. Was that a deliberate consideration when making the album?
The main thing was [the attitude that] "It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. We're just going to go and write music we really like." It just happens that other people liked it, too. Obviously, even though our record collections cross pretty much every style you can think of, [incorporating] two people's tastes kind of brings the album towards a central point. But it's still going to cross a lot of different boundaries.
Your debut album, Northern Star, was just reissued. Looking back on it, would you do anything differently?
I listened to Northern Star a couple of weeks ago, and I think its greatest downfall in some places is also its greatest asset. It's just so simple. One cut I really like is "Pillar 13." We were [recording] in the middle of nowhere, and turned on the radio, just to get a few weird radio noises to sample. And they'd just started talking about how Princess Diana had died. We had no idea. So we just left the radio on and started recording. And then Tom Cruise started talking about his experiences of being hounded by the paparazzi. That's his vocal on that tune. It's [entitled] "Pillar 13" because that's the pillar that she crashed into. When you're making music that quickly, and you capture a moment, it's really nice.
How did you feel about having to delete the word "ass" from "I See You Baby" in America?
I just thought it was so ridiculous that there's people driving around with guns in their glove compartments, but you can't say "ass" on the radio. Add in the linguistic diet to which people are exposed on a daily basis, and it just seems so ridiculously hypocritical to me that [the matter] doesn't deserve any attention at all.
Does it strike you as odd that Groove Armada share a label (Jive) with Britney Spears and 'N Sync?
It's amusing, but we don't have a problem with that. What that basically means is that Vertigo, an album of pretty underground music, is getting mass exposure. We're not stupid enough to think we got radio play and Basement Jaxx didn't because we're better than they are. I'm sure the people at radio are saying, "Look, we've got the new Britney Spears single in two weeks' time? Do you want to hear it? Then in that case, [Groove Armada] goes on." That kind of thing must go on. If that means people will sit and see a few sunrises to "At The River," then I've got no problem with it.
Have they ever asked you to remix a Britney single?
Not as yet, but we're waiting.