interview by: Catherine McCarthy
Ian Parton wrote and recorded the Go! Team’s first album alone in his kitchen. Thunder, Lightning, Strike became an instant hit for its bizarre-yet-infectious hodgepodge of sound and subsequent calls to perform live necessitated the creation of a full band. The sextet’s collective kaleidoscopic world view on music has only expanded Parton’s vision for the band from there. Playing a handful of US dates before heading back on a second leg of a European tour, the Go! Team will crash into DC on Wednesday night to play music from their just-released Rolling Blackouts. Parton was able to speak with BYT about the new record from his home in Brighton, England, pausing to reflect on what it’s like to perform for dozens of children at the Black Cat (requiring gratuitous linkage to various Pancake Mountain performances–DC’s very own Weird War was his favorite guest) and how he’d describe the Go! Team to someone who had never heard it before: “trashy and colorful…lots of trumpets and shouting girls.”
BYT: I know you’ve played Black Cat, I don’t know if you’ve played 930 Club before.
IP: Yeah, we have. Pretty sure I’ve got a sticker from it on my drawer. I always like playing Washington. It’s one of my favorite towns in America, actually.
BYT: How come?
IP: I don’t know, it’s just the feel of it, all the neighborhood ans stuff like that. Maybe I’ve just had good times there.
BYT: I wanted to ask if there any cities in the US that remind you of your hometown, Brighton?
IP: Not really. I guess you’d say San Francisco or something would be the nearest to Brighton you’d get, I suppose. It’s quite liberal, and it’s got a big gay community and it’s by the sea.
BYT: You worked with Chuck D on your last album, [2007’s] Proof of Youth, and now on Rolling Blackouts you’ve worked with Satomi Matsuzaki [of Deerhoof], Bethany Cosentino [of Best Coast] and Dominique Young Unique. What’s the unifying thread in your attraction to these diverse vocal talents? How did you approach them?
IP: It’s interesting actually. I love the idea of different people rubbing shoulders. I love the idea of different continents and different countries coming together and surprising people. I love the idea that each song can have its own kind of world, which you’re always trying to kind of find. You’re constantly racking your brain, thinking, “How can I bring this song to life?” and it always works that way around the melody, rather than me signing into a phone with an acoustic. And then I’m listening and thinking, “What kind of voice does this need?” But I think what defines them is that I’m always looking for things that are kind of cheeky. I don’t even know if Americans use that word. I remember having to explain it to someone once.
BYT: I think maybe…kitschy? Or tongue-in-cheek? Insolent? I’m grasping at straws here.
IP: No, not really. That doesn’t quite do it. It’s quite genuine for me. It’s not kitsch, or ironic or anything like that. I don’t know, I guess sassy might come close? I’m looking for things that are on the edge of being unprofessional sometimes, in the best possible way. I always loved [Velvet Underground drummer/vocalist] Mo Tucker, her singing. It was kind of around the edge of being crap, you know what I’m saying? It’s a sort of spark, it’s personality, rather than being slick and ready for the charts.
BYT: I remember when Thunder, Lightning, Strike came out in 2004. You did that as a solo project. When did you know that you needed to recruit a full band?
IP: Well, I kept getting offers to play live, and I kept fending them off, saying, “No, leave me alone! I haven’t got a band.” I didn’t know how the fuck I was going to do it. I didn’t think it would be possible. The main thing was that I didn’t think I could find a rapper who would be bold enough to venture out of the hip hop world into something that’s a bit more strange, and I guess that’s where [English rapper] Ninja came in. We had this offer to play in Sweden, and I pulled out all the stops to make it happen. I put out adverts on the internet, in the back of NME, I asked friends–
BYT: The back of NME, really?
IP: Yeah, that wasn’t so fruitful, actually. I got some shockers through there. Advertising just generally gets you lunatics, you know. As soon as I met Ninja, I thought, “Hang on, this chick gets it and I think it could work.” The fact that we are very different and she likes very different music than me–I saw that as a plus. That’s what I wanted my band to be, not just blokes with guitars, but to have people that had maybe not been in a band, from different backgrounds. So we got together for this one gig, and the first night was a bit crap, and the second night was like, okay, maybe we can do this. We’re kind of on to something here.
BYT: If you had to describe the Go! Team’s music to a relative who had never heard it before, what would you say?
IP: I’d probably try and avoid it to be honest. I’d say…I don’t know, it depends how interested they were. I’d say we’re trashy and colorful and there’s lots of trumpets and shouting girls and stuff like that. I generally try to avoid it. Whenever a taxi driver asks us–we always get asked by taxi drivers–I totally just, totally bow out. Can’t be arsed, really.
BYT: You’ve remixed everyone from Polyphonic Spree, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Badly Drawn Boy, to Tokyo Police Club…what came first? The remixing, or writing your own music?
IP: Oh god, the music. The remixing is nothing really, just mucking about. I think people think that we’re a lot more dependent on sampling and from a dance music background than we are. I think people often assume the whole of Thunder, Lightning, Strike is just wall to wall samples when it’s totally not. On this latest album there’s hardly any–well, not as many–samples, in there at all. There’s a fifteen piece brass band on there, and people might hear it and think, “Another sample.” There’s a lot more songwriting applied to it than people realize.
BYT: So you’d say Rolling Blackouts is as a whole independent of samples?
IP: Yeah, people always say we are a sample band, but I always think if we do use them, we apply songwriting to them. It’s not like we just loop in a sample, put a beat on it and add a rap and that’s that. Particularly this record, everything kicked off from the melodies, and sometimes we’d actually find a sample to fit the melody, rather than the other way around. I’m kind of obsessed with melodies, really, and that was god on this record. It was all about songwriting, wall to wall, just melodies.
BYT: If you had to pick one classic pop song to remix, what would it be? Because most of the songs you guys have remixed have been contemporary. Or would you not touch the classics?
IP: I’ve always thought I’d love to get a hold of something like “Crazy In Love” or what’s that song, “Hollaback Girl.” I’d love to get a hold of that and take the sheen off it, make it a garage rock song. I’ve always been frustrated with that production, I’ve always wished it had been more dirty.
BYT: Where did you guys record the new album? Were you in Brighton?
IP: Some of it was in a posh–well not posh–but a regular studio, for the bass and the drums, and the massive brass band–a teenage brass band. That was done pretty early on, then we decamped to my house, where I lived at the time, and kicked out my girlfriend and kid for a few weeks and just did it through the night.
The guest vocalists were doing their things around the world at the time, so we had people record in Tokyo, France, whatever – I did some recording in a church in London with an African gospel choir as well. It was pretty patchwork-y. I was just getting these audio files in from random places around the world.
BYT: I know you incorporate visual projections into your live shows. I was wondering if you’d ever consider scoring a soundtrack for a long form film?
IP: I’d love to. I don’t really know how much of a musician I am, I still really don’t call myself a musician. I can’t read music and I can’t…I don’t even know the names of chords. If somebody said, “Play a D,” I wouldn’t even know what it was. But at the same time, I definitely think of music in visual ways. I could tell you what I’m envisioning for every second of every record. And it’s generally really quite inspired by films. We’ve been used in a few films. So yeah, it would be cool.
BYT: What’s your favorite show you’ve played in recent memory? I know you just did a big tour in Europe and you’re heading here and then going back to tour some more.
IP: We’ve had some kickass ones recently. We played Dublin the other day, and that was amazing. Some nights you can just go out and know it’s going to kick ass, even before you play the first note, there’s a feeling in the room where you know you’re not going to have any trouble, and other nights you think, “Alright, we’re really going to have to fucking kick some ass here to get them moving.” I don’t know, but with Paris, Dublin…the whole room was with us from the word “go.”
BYT: One last question. So you may remember that there’s a children’s television show called Pancake Mountain, and you guys recorded a segment for it here—
IP: Black Cat, wasn’t it?
BYT: Yeah, at Black Cat! Just wondering what you remember from that and what it was like to be recording for a children’s show.
IP: It was amazing actually. On that tour we were just watching the Pancake Mountain dvds on our tour bus, just seeing what bands they got on there, like Deerhoof and Arcade Fire. It’s possibly the best music program I’ve ever seen. It had all the bands I wanted to see. But yeah, it was really strange. I don’t think Ninja got totally into it. We were doing a soundcheck and then these fifty kids came out of nowhere and invaded the stage, and she was just like, “What the fuck is going on here?”
I remember the Weird War performance on the show was absolutely stunning. Dynamite, that one. I want to catch up with Pancake Mountain, actually.
The Go! Team plays 930 Club on Wednesday, April 13. DOM opens. Tickets are $15 and the show is all ages.
we have a pair of tickets to give away too, so holler at us in the comments if you’d like them.