“One thing that you don’t see in this bus is all the germs,” warns Kim Moyes, half of the Aussie electro duo called the Presets. “It’s really weird; [we] haven’t been this sick in ages — [we’re] just sort of hanging onto the threads of our nasal passages.”
Their battle against the bug was lost just a few hours later, wiping the guys out and forcing them to cancel not only that night’s show in Philly but also their last U.S. date, in D.C., and the first few dates of their subsequent Australian tour. (A bit of comfort for U.S. Presets fans: An appearance at Monolith in September and a fall tour with Cut Copy are promised.)
The aforementioned spring tour — a year after I last spoke to them — came hot on the heels of the release of their second album, Apocalypso, a synthy, invigorating, attitude-laden affair. This time we met, Moyes and Julian Hamilton discussed making the record, side projects, and why they enjoy stirring the controversy pot.
Kim, when I spoke to you guys about a year ago, you said “people here need to take some more ecstasy.” Do you think the vibe has changed for the better?
Moyes: Yeah, I think so. Since that time we’ve gotten more fans, more people know our music. When they come to the show, they’re a little more ready to go crazy. I guess I was making those comments based on shows we’ve done back home, where it’s a bit [crazier] — I think that generally has more to do with the fact that the people in Australia are crazier [laughs]. The last few shows we’ve done [in the U.S.] have certainly been really fun, jumping up and down, dispelling myths that certain cities don’t dance and stuff like that.
Second albums are notoriously difficult. Did you feel any pressure associated with that when making Apocalypso?
Hamilton: Not really. We’d been chomping at the bit to get started on the new record, because that’s what we love to do the most. We didn’t really worry that we were gonna make a worse record — we knew we were gonna make a better record because we got better at what we were doing. We were doing lots of shows and getting more confidence from the audience, who were really seeming to enjoy what we were doing. There really wasn’t any pressure at all.
Moyes: I guess if were a band that had a really massive hype on us and sold like 10 million with our first record, we probably would have a bit more of an expectation problem. I think we’re pretty under the radar.
Did you start off with an idea of what you wanted to achieve, or was it a purely organic process?
Hamilton: A mixture of both. We wanted to make a more uniform record this time in terms of the sounds, the moods, the landscapes of the songs. We wanted it to all feel the same kind of way, even though there are different styles of songs.
Moyes: In between the last record and this record, there was quite a lot of time playing the songs from Beams, and we got a bit sick of them. We also saw things that we could refine. We had a sense of what we wanted to achieve but not really a grand plan.
Apocalypso seems a bit darker and moodier than Beams. Was that intentional?
Moyes: I still don’t think it’s particularly dark.
Hamilton: To be honest, we didn’t really think about it that much at the time. We didn’t really have any goals to make a dark record or a light record or a party record. Now that we’re doing a lot of interviews and deconstructing the record, we’re sort of realizing maybe it is quite dark. When we look back on it, it’s quite clubby in a way that we perhaps didn’t fully expect. There’s a lot of real techno on the record — that kind of thing wasn’t really so much on the first record. The production’s a lot starker and cleaner and colder, but also the songs are a lot more developed and richer. We really wanted to make rich pop songs, and we did. We just made the music that was coming out of us at the time, and now when we look back on it we’re beginning to understand what we were doing.
Do you have a favorite from Apocalypso?
Moyes: “Eucalyptus” is a great song. [It’s] really different in the way that we play it — we’ve been playing this song like a conventional band would. I guess a lot of the time when we play it’s sort of all these computers and stuff going on.
Hamilton: I especially enjoy it when it gets to the climax of the set, “Kicking and Screaming” and “My People,” all that stuff — it’s really good fun. It’s funny, after Beams, we performed so much live and that kind of inspired the way we wrote for Apocalypso. I guess we were conscious these songs are gonna be on stage, kids are gonna jump around to them. Not that we try to cater to that, but I guess we’re always aware of it.
You often seem to be deliberately playing up an image that could be described as sexually ambiguous — most recently in the video for “This Boy’s in Love.” You guys are straight; is this just something you do for the shock factor or because you’re looking to broaden your audience?
Hamilton: It’s a tricky question, that. I’m never sure how to answer it, because it’s probably a little bit of a lot of things. We see so many photos of bands standing around looking bored, and I guess we try to make our band photos a little more fun or extravagant or flamboyant — something, you know? I don’t think we ever pretend to be gay or anything like that. We definitely try and mine that kind of idea. I guess increasingly we’re living — even though we’ve both got partners back home — in an increasingly sexually ambiguous world. We’ve got gay and lesbian fans and straight fans. We’re playing tonight at a gay club, but it’s the straight night. It’s hard to explain.
Moyes: It’s very inherent in Sydney. The club music scene is really closely associated with the gay scene and also partying, hedonism, experimentation. I guess it’s always come partly from those ideas. We were embraced from the beginning by the gay community, and I guess a lot of our heroes musically are openly gay bands like Pet Shop Boys and Bronski Beat and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I guess dance music in general is pretty gay. I think it’s the world of club music, it’s what it’s about. Maybe if you want to look a little bit deeper, it’s a bit challenging, I guess.
Hamilton: “This Boy’s in Love” has been getting a lot of controversy on YouTube, and there’s a big debate back home as well. A lot of people are jumping up and down saying it’s homoerotic and stuff. There may have been a tiny bit of our heads saying, “Ah, this is really gonna piss people off,” and it’s gonna set the cat amongst the pigeons, these two beautiful boys fighting in this milk, but partly that was us reckoning, “God, the last thing we want to see is two chicks in bikinis, fighting in jelly. We’ve seen that enough. Let’s just do something really beautiful, but it’s hot guys instead for a change.” It doesn’t necessarily mean gay, it’s just a different way of looking at things. I sort of look at that video and it’s a really beautiful, classical-looking thing, like a painting or something.
Moyes: The worst thing for me would have been a guy and a girl falling in love. I think we got about five treatments for that video that were like that. Then we got one and it was two guys fighting and you didn’t know what they were fighting over. In your head you could see a few possibilities, and one of them was they were gay.
Hamilton: Or they could have been fighting over a girl.
Moyes: Exactly. A lot of people are just obsessing over the fact that they’re models and fighting in milk! [laugh]
Would you say you’re attracted to things that buck stereotypes?
Moyes: Everything we’ve tried to do, even the music that we make, we try to make it a little bit twisted, mainly just to be more original and have a bit more of a turf.
Musically, Australian music has been in the international spotlight lately, with high-profile releases from Cut Copy, Midnight Juggernauts, et cetera. Is it harder to stand out now?
Moyes: No, I don’t think so. I think if it was hard we wouldn’t have made it. If we didn’t have anything that was particularly interesting or original, we wouldn’t have gotten even this far. We haven’t gotten anywhere amazing yet, but we’ve done pretty well. I think it took a little bit of spark.
In addition to there being more indie-electro artists around these days, the audience for dance music also seems to be growing bigger and bigger. Like this year’s Coachella, where the Sahara tent was overflowing most of the three days. Hamilton: Daft Punk did a lot to help bands like us, because they put on the best spectacle, the best show. Traditionally, dance acts put on the worst shows, and they really flipped it on its head and put on the most extravagant thing. Bands like Hot Chip and Justice, and then to a lesser extent bands like us and Midnight Juggernauts and Cut Copy, are getting a lot more people to shows now. Dance music’s becoming a much more entertaining thing that you can go and see. It’s not something you [just] have to listen to in a dark club anymore.
When we last spoke, I asked you if you had any side projects happening, and you said no. But around the same time I started seeing a bunch of electro singles popping up from “K.I.M.” [Kim Moyes’ more dance-oriented alias]. Will you continue to release music under that moniker?
Moyes: I don’t know, maybe. There’s going to be an album. [laughs] I don’t really know much about it, because the label [Modular] always comes up with the ideas for it. That’s the thing, when I spoke to you, Modular had no interest in it. Then all of a sudden Modular wanted to be involved in it, so I was like, “Cool, let’s do it,” and all this shit was finished. I’m still getting reamed for like the two cents they got for it. I think they’re doing an exhibition with all the artwork as well.
I only hear bits and pieces of it. I kind of don’t really give a shit about it. The point with it was club music stuff that I would do in an afternoon for fun, almost like sketches. I’d send them to the label and they’d kind of like it and I’d get confident about it. I don’t really care about it. It’s nothing like this, which is actually something I feel is really worthy of something. That music is just come and go, like a hobby that DJs like!
Julian, are you working on anything similar?
Hamilton: In the same way that Kim will sit at the computer and muck about meditatively, I’ll sit at the piano and write things. It just sits in my head or my little books. Who knows, maybe in five or ten years it might come out in some way. I guess because Kim’s stuff is so complete the way he works it, it can sort of just get chucked out there and put out, but the stuff I’m noodling around with can’t really. The thing is, the Presets is doing all those things that I want to do now. So now if I’m fucking around at the piano, I’m always thinking about the Presets.
What would people be really shocked to find out about the Presets?
Moyes: We’re not gay! [laughs] That’s usually the one thing that they’re shocked about — and surprised, pleasantly surprised. I guess it depends where you swing. I think we’re pretty normal.
Hamilton: I like to go home, cook, watch the football, and hang out with my girlfriend. It’s really boring.
How about anything particularly surprising about each other?
Hamilton: Nothing surprises me about this guy anymore. I’m sure I don’t surprise him anymore.
Moyes: It’s beyond that. You know exactly what your left testicle’s doing all the time.
Hamilton: I know what he’s going to say way before he even knows he’s going to say it.
Moyes: He still won’t know what it means!
Upcoming Tour Dates with Cut Copy: