Warding off the curse of the sophomore slump ain’t as easy as it looks. For Klaxons, their Mercury Prize-winning debut record — 2007’s Myths of the Near Future – won over critics and fans alike (in that order) while spawning countless remixes and even a brand-new movement (“nu rave”). Backlash in the British press soon followed, along with rampant rumors about the recording of their follow-up album — most notorious being that an entire first version was scrapped due to label rejection.
When Surfing the Void finally emerged last fall, it was plain to hear that all the negative hearsay was just a myth of the recent past: The album revealed a more sonically mature direction that expanded scope while retaining the signature elements of their melodic/noisy sound and obtusely psychedelic/new-age-y lyrics – perhaps heavier than its predecessor, and more intent than ever before on transporting the listener across the dimensions of space and time.
At press time, Klaxons’ North American magick-al mystery tour in support of the record, originally scheduled to begin March 25, was just abruptly canceled due to unexplained “unforeseen circumstances.” More than a shame, as last fall’s U.S. shows proved the fourpiece were becoming a tighter, more dynamic force than ever. [Stay tuned to Prefix for possible news of a rescheduled tour.]
How does it feel to be touring U.S. again?
It feels great. We’ve just moved labels here [to Tiny Ogre], so we have a new, really nice family of people who we’re surrounded with. It just feels kind of like a clean slate here. On their first record, U.K. bands suffer that horrible wave of annoying hype where people probably won’t listen to you because they’re pissed off with what they’ve read about you or you’ve just been kind of thrown in their faces. That’s kind of inevitable, unfortunately, but in America people seem to be excited about the music, which is cool for us.
What can you say about the Surfing the Void recording process? All kinds of tales, particularly in the U.K. press, were floating around about how your label rejected a finished album and forced you to start from scratch and rewrite the entire thing. Is there any truth to this?
Well, the real story is that we just kind of talked it up, and maybe we opened our mouths a little more than we should have done. Looking back on it, three years isn’t a ludicrous amount of time between records – we were playing a lot of the same shows with Arcade Fire, and they’ve been away exactly the same amount of time as we have. Being a weekly thing, the U.K. music press are always kind of gasping for news. I think there was a lot of “chat” about our record …
What actually happened was, we were touring until the end of September ’09 — we were heavily touring for nearly three years. In between touring, we’d gone off and recorded some tracks with James Ford [of Simian Mobile Disco], who [produced] our last record. We’d literally gone into the studio without ideas and made stuff up on the spot. People forget that up until now we’ve only actually had 35 minutes of music out, so for us going into the studio was still a relatively new thing — we kind of wanted to go in and experiment and muck around, be like children let loose in the sweet shop and just kind of play with stuff.
We talked about that, and people were aware what we were doing. But truth be told, we just recorded some music with James, and it wasn’t with an album necessarily in our minds. We were just recording, and at the end of it we had a bunch of music — some of it really good, some of it not that good … It wasn’t something we wanted to patch together and put it out. James was busy doing part of the Florence and The Machine record, half of the Arctic Monkeys record … and we just [thought] it would be beneficial to work with someone else. He kind of suggested that. That was all that, then all of a sudden it’s kind of presented to people that we had this record that we threw in the bin and the label rejected.
Ironically, the label were the ones who were really up for us putting all of that stuff out. [The material was released by the band in late 2010 in the form of a free five-track EP titled “Landmarks of Lunacy.”] Then we met Ross Robinson and wrote some more songs, and we began to have ideas that this could all be a record. There were a couple of songs that were demoed with James that we kind of reworked and recorded, but the majority of the record we wrote in about six weeks and recorded in Los Angeles.
But yeah, the story’s got a bit warped as it kind of tends to do. It was actually kind of simple and enjoyable, the whole process.
Are you all still on good terms with James?
Anybody we’ve ever worked with, we first and foremost got on with them on a kind of humane level. When we first met James, he said he wasn’t even that into the band; he just really liked us. We see him all the time, and we may work with him again in the future. There’s not this kind of falling out or anything — it’s just that at that specific time it wasn’t working.
How did you get involved with Ross?
His manager, Bill Fold, who runs Coachella, actually got in contact with us about playing Coachella again. We were like, “We haven’t even recorded a record yet — we haven’t even got someone to record one with.” Bill was like, “Are you serious? You should work with Ross, he’s a huge fan of yours.” I was just like, “Jesus Christ, the guy [who] did At the Drive-in and The Blood Brothers and all these bands I was completely in love with is into us?” I was quite baffled, and excited. He literally got on a plane and flew over — we just fell in love with him instantly. He’s a magnificent human being, who we all learned a hell of a lot off. He’s got this kind of positivity and love and enthusiasm — we’d been looking for this guy our whole lives. We were just like, “This is it, we’re going to make this record with Ross.” A couple months later we flew over and recorded it in his house in Venice Beach.
Looking at the reviews of Surfing the Void, it seems to be a bit of a polarizing record, even though it’s not wildly different from your first one. Do you have any idea why that is?
No, but I love it. I just think it’s good that people have an opinion on it. … People’s opinions on music are a hell of a lot more engaged because of this culture of relaying of opinion that happens on YouTube and iTunes — it’s a much more interactive thing than before.
I think certainly in England, the music press have an agenda to hate us, and certain publications have thrilled on the fact that they finally get a chance to beat us down with a stick. I don’t have a problem with that – the shows have been great, and I really sense now that the people who come to our shows are 100 percent into the band, whereas before they may have perhaps been into elements of us that had crossed over. Now we’re in a position where we’re really solidified as a unit, and hopefully this record defines us a little more. I think the polarizing thing is great — I encourage that.
I remember seeing a link you guys reposted on your website to a terrible one-star review …
[laughs] I think Jamie retweeted that. I think that in this day and age for someone to say that your music is unlistenable is quite a compliment. We’ve always thought that. My parents used to hate the music that I played — now we’re kind of entering this weird world where kids and parents are listening to the same records. I think that for any adults — although, we are adults now! — to kind of hate on us, the child in us is still really excited by that. I think polarization and opinion are good. I think we’ve made an incredibly positive record — musically and lyrically, it’s euphoric and positive. We’re in a really positive and healthy and excited place, and if people want to hate on that, that’s kind of a reflection on them rather than us. We’re cool where we are.
Klaxons have always been a bit synonymous with partying. Have the rumors been overblown about certain substances fueling the Surfing the Void recording sessions?
What can I say about that? The first batch of songs, we were exploring ourselves and kind of moved into this eternal dream state. I think the music we recorded reflected that, but certainly we’ve kind of been involved in explorations … inner space and outer space. Personally, I don’t really go out — that’s something I’m a bit old for right now. But yeah, we party in waves. We’re a partying band still at heart. I don’t think you can do what we do and be on some wild train 24 hours a day. I mean, there’s this whole blown out of proportion idea that we’re some kind of massively sober band on our high horse now, but that isn’t strictly true. We play with a bit more of a controlled environment now, because I think that we can’t really play this kind of music being completely out of your minds, certainly I can’t anyway — it’s a bit too noodly.
We party occasionally, and we kind of explored ourselves on this record. I think there’s an element of partying by nature of the band that we’ll always keep, but certainly references that have been to ayahuasca and more kind of spiritual experiences that we’ve been on … we partook in some kind of shamanistic activities with a writer called Daniel Pinchbeck, who was very much inspirational for lyrically. But we were involved in ceremonies that were based on ancient medicine as opposed to chemical, mind-blown kind of things.
The songs from your first album seemed to be endlessly remixed, yet there have been no official remixes released for Surfing the Void. Is that something you’re intentionally avoiding?
Yeah, we’re having no remixes on this record. I think we’re really comfortable with the music and where the band is. We’re just really confident and proud of what we’ve made, and we’re happy with saying, “This is it and its form — please enjoy and digest it as it is.” That’s not to say in the future we might not do remixes, [but] for this record it was a conscious decision. We just have loads of B-sides and extra music we tried to put out as opposed to remixes this time. It was a conscious decision and a trial – it’s a lot more of a brave decision than I initially thought. That’s the bottom line at the moment. [Steve Aoki recently released a YouTube video of him working on a remix for “Echoes,” yet it remains unreleased and Klaxons’ involvement is unclear.]
Is “nu rave” dead? And are you sick of hearing the phrase still bandied about?
We’ve never tried to distance ourselves from it. I think even more so now it’s applicable to us – it’s something that is an essence of us as a band. I think it represents people celebrating and being optimistic and excited and wanting to excite other people – that’s a core element of the band and I don’t think it will ever disappear. It was a really apt term for describing a collection of bands that weren’t just from England or Europe but from South America and North America, and I think that it’s the first global, loose movement that was born out of the Internet. We don’t have a problem with it. We certainly seem to be on our own a bit more now. I think that the other troopers have slipped a little bit – I’m looking ‘round and I can’t really see many of them left, but certainly we’re still holding the flag.
And finally, what would people be most shocked to know about the Klaxons?
I guess the most shocking thing about us is that we’re really stable, collective, and happy at the moment. [laughs]