Groove Armada Interview

Groove Armada Interview

Stepping away from the restraints of a major label and the commercial sound of their well-known hits, Groove Armada have moved underground, focusing on smaller crowds and an authentic sound that suits them down to the ground. To find out why they made such a move and what the music business is like for them now, we spoke to the greatest Dance duo to have graced this Earth, otherwise known as Tom Findlay and Andy Cato.

Hi Tom, Andy, how are you?
Tom: I’m good, thanks!
Andy: Yeah, I’m fine.

What have you been up to this week?
A: This week has been my usual combination of doing some reedits of some House classics, getting some things ready for some upcoming parties. We’re doing this Rockers Revenge-type series of going back to old classics. That and farming, which is my usual blend.

So do you do farming on the side or do you do music on the side?
A: That’s a good question. It depends on the seasons really. In the winter I definitely do farming on the side and I think it’s around about spring time I do music on the side.

We’ve been reminiscing about all your iconic tracks, from the chillout classic ‘At The River’ to the ass-shaking ‘I See You Baby’ and the heavy anthem that was ‘Superstylin’’; how do you and Andy work together to produce such catchy songs that epitomized pop culture?
T: There was no grand plan with it; it’s just living it. So much of those tunes speak about the moment in time, like, ‘I See You Baby’ was very much that we were there in the Manumission Motel when Ibiza was at its naughtiest and most salacious. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time. We’re quite good observers of things and find a way to capture those moments. ‘At The River’ was just a very jammy thing. It was one of those things that was probably supposed to be. We just bought that CD out of Bargain Basement and it was the only CD in the shop in the town we were in at the time, so maybe it was just fate. Superstylin’ was a coming-together of where we were in London and working with this MC. We were just lucky in those key moments and to find a way to capture that moment in a little bit of music.

Recently, you’ve stepped away from the limelight of the mainstream to go back to live shows, EPs and releases with Hypercolour, Moda Black and Defected, was this a conscious move after such huge commercial success? Were you looking for something different?
T: I think we were. We had done that whole process of being with a label and touring with a band and we made the decision in 2010 when we did our last set of shows, we’d been doing it for over a decade and it got to that point where, particularly at Brixton amongst the band, we were never really gonna be any better than that and it was hard to keep reinventing ourselves. When we stepped aside, it was right at the height of EDM and it was tough playing in a band when everyone else around you was white noise and we just felt like it wasn’t really a world that we felt comfortable being a part of anymore. It suits us where we are right now – doing fewer gigs, making music in our basement and getting away from the major label studio system and getting back to making a tune, bounce it and have it out in a few weeks’ time. It’s where our heads are at now and will be forever more, I reckon.

When was the turning point for you personally and when you decided to put a halt on the commercial releases?
A: Even when we were doing the big gigs, we had a few songs that became popular, but we never did the commercials, we never did the PR, we never said “’Superstylin’s been a big hit, let’s write another one.” We always just did what we thought was good music and when we spent 10 years pouring our heart and soul into live gigs, we were writing acid House symphonies with the live band, closing Glastonbury, and it was there and gone, there was no record of it. We never played ‘A Song For Mutya’ followed by ‘I See You Baby’, it’s never been a commercial operation otherwise we would have done things completely differently. We’ve always made music that we think is quality and the stuff now for more basement and warehouses than the big stages, this is the sound since.

So you decided to leave Jive Records; are you more comfortable now without the big record label?
A: It’s a double-edged sword, y’know. When you’re on a big label and you’re flavor of the month, it’s handy, you’ve got a lot of infrastructure behind you. They might nag about songs for the radio but that pressure can make you come up with good tunes. ‘I See You Baby’ was only done as an after thought because they were moaning that there weren’t enough singles. It’s not always negative. So I wasn’t particularly uncomfortable then because we always did what we wanted to do. Nevertheless, it’s nice to be free of all the non-music bullshit that comes with it. It’s not so much sitting in the studio with Tom, that was always fun – more or less – but the stuff that made your heart sink was now you’ve got six months of sitting in hotel lobbies answering the same question 5000 times. It was tough.

Would you say there is more or less pressure on you now?
T: Much less pressure, you know, there was a huge pressure in the tail end of it because the label’s always pretending they’re interested in albums, but really they just want hits and that gets quite waring, and then you’ve got the whole band, which isn’t just the six/seven people but also their crew, so you’re running a small to medium British business really. Now, I manage the band, a couple of people help us out organising things like interviews and that’s it. We answer to ourselves. The downside to that is sometimes we’re a bit too easy on ourselves when it comes to records. We could do with a bit more A&R these days! We’re happier. I’m not ruling out putting out some classic Groove Armada stuff, but I don’t feel that there’s any pressure to do that. We would only do it because it would feel right and the further you get away from it, the less it feels like it might happen.

Were there ever any rumours that there was a rift between you both?
A:I think it’s quite amazing really that we spent 20 years in each other’s pockets and most of that time sleep deprived, that there’s been maybe one door-slamming argument and some raised words, but it’s one of Dance music’s greatest love affairs. We’ve very different people, but we agree on the fundamentals of what life’s about and what music’s about, so you can never go too far wrong.

We’ve been checking out ‘Pork Soda’ and it’s quite different to the previous album stuff we’re used to hearing from Groove Armada. What does the EP say about Groove Armada today?
A: It’s the latest in quite a long line of the underground House stuff. Since we stopped doing the live band touring in 2010, we concentrated purely on the DJing side, free of all major labels, we were able to go back to making quickly released House tunes like we used to do. We’ve done three EPs on Hypercolour, and now this ‘Pork Soda’ one with Moda Black, this is the kind of House that we’ve always played. For us it’s always been where we’re at, but for people whose idea of Groove Armada is ‘At The River’ on a Marks & Spencer advert, it might be a bit of a surprise I suppose.

And what is pork soda?
T: I don’t know! I was being asked for a title and had two seconds to come up with it and I grabbed a record from my record box and it was the first thing I saw. I’ll probably get in trouble, but it’s by a band called The Meters, a New Orleans song band. It was the first thing I saw and I thought, “Fuck it, I quite like that. I don’t know what it is, but it sounds quite saucy.”

As one of you lives in France and the other in London, have you always worked at a distance?
A: Not always. I‘ve been out of the UK for 10 years now, but when we were doing album after album, I’d go to Tom’s, he’d come to mine. When we were doing the gigs, there’s all that travel time, but on this latest House stuff we’ve done more email exchanges than ever before, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Was it difficult to adapt?
A: It depends what mood you’re in. It can be great that you can pursue your road knowing that there’s someone else who you can bounce it off afterwards. When it’s going badly, you wish that you could get a bit of a vibe off someone to get things moving.

When was the last time you were in the same studio?
A: Not that long ago. About three months ago – for a day!

What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
A: The first one that comes into my head is Centennial Park in Sydney when there was a one-off V Festival and it felt like the whole of Sydney stopped and came. That was the best ever gig and best ever after party that I can remember.
T: There’s a few. We had some amazing times in Australia in Centennial Park in Sydney – that was a real special one for us. Also, when we closed the second stage at Glastonbury – it was like the Holy Grail for Dance music, so that was a bit special. We threw everything at it. I actually didn’t enjoy the show at all at the time, but then I watched it back on the TV.

T: Why did you not enjoy it at the time?
I’m just not very good at enjoying things at the time – it’s a bit of a problem of mine! I’m just so overawed and worried about everything; the smallest thing going wrong can make me think about that rather than everything else going right. We took a real producers view on things and if anything fucked up I was always obsessing about that.

What will the European summer hold for you?
T: Definitely more Ibiza, there’s life in Ibiza yet. There are some really interesting festivals, UK festivals, Zoo Project, Life in Ireland, Welcome To Future in Holland… All quite interesting, so it should be good.
A: Ibiza will always be nice because it’s a special place, and Snowbombing – it’s a real laugh and a great atmosphere.

Will you be taking to the slopes?
A: Oh yes, definitely. I’m lucky enough to live near the mountains here so I’ve still got my hand in.

Thanks guys, have a wicked year and we look forward to hearing more soon!

By Charlotte Mellor