slow magazine the revolution will be photocopied
     

slow #3/summer 1999

UNKLE: Cutting edge dance music for the next millennium, or overblown vanity project for egocentric label owner? Last summer we got drunk and wrote to James Lavelle, because we do that sort of thing when weíre drunk. The label wrote back with threats. Round One to us.

Kool magazine interviews DJ Shadow in September 1998. He moans about getting a certain letter. Round Two to us.

And now the final part of our trilogy ó Kool have secretly booked us an interview with James Lavelle, and we ainít come to talk Star Wars.

Why did the NME ask you to do the tour, and why did you say yes?
Um, I have no idea why they asked me to do it, and the reason I said yes was because I think I was probably hungover and it sounded like a good idea at the time. I did it really more to just challenge myself and also I felt that I didnít really know whether the support in that area was very sincere, and I wanted to see what it was going to be like myself rather than reading it in a magazine ó actually go to colleges and see what people felt, so I could educate myself.

It must be difficult to tour an album like yours as there are so many contributors. Itís not really a live show, is it?
It depends what you constitute as Ďliveí.
Guest vocalists arenít here; DJ Shadow ó responsible for most of the music ó isnít here either. It seems to me the album is a completely separate thing to the promotion of it.
It kind of always was in a certain way. But the way we kind of did it was all over the place; itís not really been done in any normal manner, I donít think. I mean the singers never wouldíve gone on tour — we never thought that would happen. You donít go to a Chemical Brothers show and expect to see Noel or Tim Burgess or anything. You pretty much go to any dance bandís show and youíre never going to see anybody they collaborate with, but theyíre still being used elements of their vocals and stuff The Shadow thing I completely understand, but he never really wanted to get involved with the record after it was finished recording, so Shadow only ever came over for a little promotion. Thatís why I had to do all the promotion — I think some people had the impression that was what I wanted out of it. I didnít really want to have to do all the promotion.
Why did he make that decision?
Because heís not really into it on that level, Heís never been into doing press. He also doesnít like touring, doesnít like going out there. He also burnt himself out, so when it came to this tour he was too tired. So you take a view ó you work three years of your life making a record, am I not going to go out and take it live because people are going to be concerned because Shadow isnít there, and then that means that the record would never ever go out ó or do you try and take the project toward a further dimension by furthering the collaborative effort by working with other people? And ultimately the whole project of Unkle was always something that I instigated and always was going to take on, itís not something that itís ever been, I donít think itís something new or old. As far as Shadow ó his involvement was only ever going to be for that record, and I think where it goes from now is gonna be up to me to decide, whether it continues or not. I wanted to try and do a tour like this with the Scratch Perverts because it gave me the opportunity to work with people Iíd known for years that I work with in the recording process anyway. Itís given me the opportunity to see how I could make a record like this more spontaneous, because I felt that the thing you lose on vinyl is that kind of gritty slightly clubbier experience and I wanted to see if I could get that in the live shows, and I think we have. I mean thatís all up for everybody to decide if they feel like we have. I need to try and inspire myself to do other things and this is the way you know you do it ó by going out there and seeing what happens ó experiencing.

So how have audiences take to you and the Scratchies being stuck with what is essentially a bunch of indie bands?
I havenít had any kind of for or against really. In my experience youíre very detached from the crowd because you go to your dressing room, you wait for half an hour, you go downstairs, you play a gig, you walk off the stage, and you go back down 45 minutes later and everybodyís gone. Whereas if you play in a club you walk in the club probably an hour and a half before the gig, you stand around in the club, you chill out, you have a laugh. You have a few beers, you can stand in the DJ booth, you get to see the crowd, you meet a few people, you play your set, you finish and you tend to hang out for maybe another hour, or to the end of the night.
But isnít that your attitude to me surroundings more than anything else? You could come here, go out and see the other bands...
You could, you could, but itís such a different thing. I suppose for me itís because itís something new and itís the whole nervous side of it. I donít get nervous when I go in a club but I have to sit here for about 20 minutes before I go on and psyche myself up, because in a club people tend to not be so concerned with the technical end and the performance side of things ó they respond to the records you play, which is obviously part of the performance but itís not in a visual sense. Whereas with this theyíre very concerned with whatís going on ó everybody stands there watching you, people arenít just smoking a spliff in the back fucking dancing away, so itís just a different experience. Obviously if itís something that one pursued and got more used to maybe I would go out more in the crowd. I think if I did another string of live performances Iíd do it myself and build my own surroundings so Iíd have bands that Iíd wanna bring on or DJs or whatever, but I wanted to challenge myself. To be really honest with you I didnít really know as yet why or why I havenít or why I will or what it will I mean, but it felt like a good idea at the time, and thatís why I did it.

Were, you embarrassed by the praise the album received?
Was I embarrassed by it? I feel at the moment, to be really honest with you, Iím confused because it was very well received, and now everybody seems to have a grudge against the whole record a the moment. When the end of the year came it was like we had this album which everyone had been saying was the best album of the year blah blah blah, and then, by the end of the year, we werenít even in the top 20. Itís just very strange how everybody went cold on us.

Would Unkle have happened on such a large scale if it wasnít for the success of Money Mark and Endtroducing?
We already put records out before Endtroducing and Money Mark, I already had a number one indie record. I think we wouldíve done fine personally.

Do you think that devoting your time to this turned attention away from the other artists on MoíWax?
I didnít though. I finished the projects I was involved with and worked on this, and the whole reason this took so fucking long is because I spent most of my time working on the artists rather than working on the record. The weird thing with the press is that people just write very aimlessly and very out of context things that they donít tend to know, and they make their own opinions up. With what happened with MoíWax they have very little idea, nobodyís actually written about what has happened in the whole Polygram side of things. I went from finishing Money Markís album and Unkleís record to having my boss resign, the record company collapse, then be moved to a new record company who didnít like us, to then being forced out in the last year. So when people talk about me deflecting my responsibilities to be perfectly honest they can fuck right off, because nobody has been through what Iíve been through in the last year as far as the record industry goes. I had my two biggest records this year and they both fucking have not... people think that the Unkle record has done very well ó itís done great, and the Money Mark record it couldíve done ten times better if the record company had just got on with it. For the last year Iíve had people constantly being fired around me. I worked in a company where I knew 200 people and out of that company only 20 people have their jobs left; so thatís what Iíve been surrounded with in the last year and I get very annoyed with the British music press who donít seem to take much of that into consideration and would rather say that thereís a problem within the label, which is absolute rubbish. The problem with the label is that Polygram destroyed it, itís got nothing to do with my responsibility to my artists.

Going back to the album, what was your actual involvement, as we notice you have no writing credits.
The writing issue is funny because I do Shadowís publishing and I do his label and heís on my label, and it felt slightly awkward. It was a very strange scenario to be in and I backed down as I felt because it was sampled music it all got a little bit jaded, and I just dropped out to be honest. The way it was made is we went to either a studio in London or in San Francisco and just sat there and threw a load of samples in and Shadow would start constructing the beats and stuff in the same way that Iíd usually work with an engineer; and then the tracks would start taking their own direction, or Shadow would maybe come in with a demo idea, or Iíd come in with something Iíd heard that I wanted to try and recreate in some way, and that was how it was made. Youíd throw in different ideas, so different techniques would be championed by one or the other of us. I wanted things like edits on the record, so that was like the whole Mike D thing with the breakdown edits, and the strings and the whole reprise on the end of Lonely Soul was what I brought in Will to do and he came up with that whole thing. But then Shadow would go away and he wanted to make a hardcore record ó we needed a bass player so weíd sit there and decide who we were gonna try and get, and itís not gonna be someone from Huey Lewis & the News, weíll get in Metallica because weíre in San Francisco. A lot of ideas were kicked around.

What happened to Tim Goldsworthy?
We departed ways. Itís very natural peopleís musical tastes differ.
So he started the album with you, and did the Unkle remixes of Tortoise and whoever... did the Unkle remixes.
Weíd grown up together since we were eight-years-old and shit had happened, you know? New girlfriends get in the equation and things like that. Things just went like that. We started the album in LA, he was there the first day that Richard came in and did his vocal and then that was the last time he was involved. He just said to me that he wanted to pursue other things and didnít really feel at this point this was something he wanted to do, and he went off. I got him involved in the Richard Ashcroft remix of the Verve, just to come in and do a bit of programming, and we talk quite a lot. Heís in America ó he does David Holmesí stuff now ó he went and did that, and he's got some new project on Domino.
How come The Verve remix was done under your name, rather than as Unkle?
Because at that point Iíd kind of disbanded the whole Unkle thing as a unit on that level. Because you have to sit here and answer these kind of questions all the time, to be honest about it; I just wanted to clear it up. Tim wasnít the person that was coming up with the ideas at that point to do that remix. That was why, whereas before it was an effort between all of us in the studio, so itís just trying to define it more clearly ó peopleís roles ó in the same way that when Tim started doing stuff when weíd split up he was doing it as a Tim Goldsworthy thing instead of us both carrying on using the Unkle name. It was better to stop it there and then so it was more defined about what people were doing, because otherwise it gets a little bit confusing.

We were talking earlier about the positive reviews you got ó did you see that as confirmation that people understand what youíre doing?
I seem to dwell a lot on the negative press though. I felt that people didnít understand at all, that was the problem, to be perfectly honest. I think I dwelled a little bit too much on the bad press rather than the good press. I think from a lot of people I felt wouldíve supported me — much more the dance press ó the intellectual press was great but I kind of always thought that would be anyway, but the indie press and the dance press I thought was pretty strange. I think if you go and read the Muzik review again or stuff like that, they were a bit hard. There was Jockey Slut and stuff, but they just, write about the stuff they like and theyíre really good people. They look beyond the politics ó theyíre not interested in politics, theyíre just interested in the music for what it is, but I felt that a lot of the other magazines dwell more on trying to stir up some kind of trouble or whatever — who does this, who does that, what goes on, blah blah blah. It all got a bit personal rather than actually writing about the music.
So do you find it hard to take criticism about something that youíve taken so long to put together?
Definitely, I think anybody would. I think if youíd spent three years at college putting together your end of term thing and you get slagged off for it youíre going to take it as personal criticism.
But isnít that the point ó the fact that youíve done this to the best of your ability?
But youíre only human arenít you? Do you know what itís like to open magazines and in that be told youíre an arsehole? Itís not the most pleasant thing in the world, is it? Itís not something you revel in. Whatever anybody may think of me I also have my own sensitivity ó I donít get up in the morning and itís business business business. They donít know what the fuck Iím like, they donít have any idea, they spend half an hour with me at the most three times a year, so what the fuck do you know about me? So when you have a go at me you should at least have the opportunity to spend some time to have a go at me.
The only things the press know about you are learnt from other sources ó your persona is made up of rumours from elsewhere.
Yeah, itís just rubbish, itís just peopleís opinions. The more you get in the press and the more stuff you start seeing coming around the more you realise itís the worst thing. If thatís what your answer in life is ó to be in a magazine — that is where youíre going to start having a bit of a problem. Itís like when you walk in a club and people have an opinion of you because thet read something in a magazine. They don't know you, theyíve never had a conversation with you, theyíve never sat when youíre making lunch with your girlfriend and your daughter and just doing the normal things that people do. Everybody just has this perception of a very small part of your life. I think I will be hibernating for a while after this tour.

Can you boogie?
Can I boogie?? Ach, I cannot.
Wrong answer. Have the Scratch Perverts been getting drunk on this tour and does it mess with their intimate skills?
To get drunk? Theyíve done more than get drunk! I think if they didnít drink it would fuck with their intimate skills Ė before you go on it tends to be a pint of vodka and orange.

Now we pause for the obligatory photo shoot which we thought would be more fun if we got him to pose reading out infamous ďno longer keeping it realĒ letter. Unfortunately he took his glasses off and couldnít read a word of it.
Have you seen the letter we wrote to you last July?
No...
He puts his bins back on, and an awkward silence fills the room...
...Oh yeah, we have. Yeah, itís quite funny.
So why was DJ Shadow still whining on about it three months later? We were surprised youíve taken us so seriously.
Uh oh (another long pause...) I think it goes way beyond that letter to be perfectly honest. But anyway... cool. Alright?

From Kool magazine:
Last question ó will there be another one?
DJ Shadow: Hmmmm... there might be another one, but I donít know if Iíll be involved. I feel like Iíve graduated, Iíve learnt my lessons.

 

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