There’s genre blending, and then there’s genre destroying. The Go! Team does a whole lot of the latter. With a crapload of samples and a rah-rah fist pump, the U.K. six-piece makes your favorite party album sound like it was recorded by a gang of mutes on Valium.
Though their debut, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, wasn’t released in the United States until October (thanks to some thorny sample clearance issues), the blogosphere has been intoxicated with the Go! Team’s energetic blend of rock, soul and hip-hop since late 2004. The album has snagged more than a few spots on critics’ best-of lists, and the band’s sold-out shows have only furthered its reputation as the safest alternative to uppers – and landed it on major label Columbia here in the States.
Prefix spoke with team captain Ian Parton, who largely pieced the record together himself before assembling the full band, during a recent tour. He talked about assembling the band, the surprising success (as well as its pros and cons), and what the future holds for the Go! Team.
Where are you guys right now? Los Angeles?
Yeah, just out on a balcony in a Hyatt in L.A.
How’s the view?
Good. We picked this hotel because this where they filmed that scene in Spinal Tap on the rooftop.
How have things been in general?
Excellent. We’ve sold out every show so far and have had good responses everywhere we’ve gone. And there’s no album out. [There have been] lots of varying degrees of awareness. In Chicago there was a good turn out and in Seattle. Each crowd is kind of different, strangely. They respond differently. It’s kind of interesting.
What city or show have you enjoyed the most so far?
The best crowd so far was Seattle – really rowdy and really going for it, which is always the best kind of gig. It was kind of surprising because everywhere we go people say, “Oh, yeah, nobody dances in Chicago – ever.” Then we show up and the crowd is thrilled. I think San Francisco was the most muted or reserved crowd for some reason.
Do you ever judge your performance by how much the crowd dances or moves?
Yeah. It’s hard sometimes. You can’t really put your finger on it how one is different from another because we always put our all into it every night. We might fuck up one night more than others. Something often goes wrong with us, whether it’s breaking strings or I don’t know. [There are] just so many instruments on stage for something to go wrong. I don’t measure a gig on how technically spot-on it is or anything like that. It’s more of the feel of the room, really, that we go for.
You guys have been doing a number of festivals lately. What band or act has impressed you the most?
The boring answer is that we hardly get a chance to see anyone else because we’re always doing our thing. But I’ve always been a Sonic Youth fan, and it was a dream come true when we played Primavera in Barcelona [in May 2005] and I watched them from the side of the stage. Also, Buck 65 at South by Southwest. Occasionally you get a chance to see acts you normally wouldn’t get to see.
I know you did a remix for Roots Manuva. How did that come about?
I really don’t know, actually. I know the label Big Dada just approached Memphis, our label, and asked if we were up for it. I get requests like that quite often. I did a Bloc Party one the other day and Polyphonic Spree and Hot Chip. And I’ve turned down quite a bit as well because of time or because I don’t really dig the band or something. I love doing remixes because it’s very similar to the Go! Team process: Taking the best bits or my favorite bits and changing them in some way – changing the chords or some parameter.
The big deal around you guys is about you inking a deal with a major label.
They’re kind of acquiring the album from the UK. So it’s kind of a licensing thing. The alternatives were do it illegally on a tiny label or go to a major label and clear everything. We met a whole bunch of people [from different labels], but we did kind of a joint-venture thing. In England we’re still on Memphis Industries, but there’s a tie in with BMG.
I have a healthy suspicion of the whole world of major labels, and we structured the deal in such a way that we have complete creative control and we get final say on stuff. So hopefully not too much can go wrong.
Could you envision the Go! Team being successful commercially, with a video on MTV?
I don’t think about it too much to be honest. It’s quite strange. I’d rather have people totally be into it and get it. I don’t want to have mass appeal alongside Green Day or someone because of everything that goes along with that. I’d rather be a cool, nice, little-sized band just doing their thing.
There is a bit of commercial sound to it, although it is a bit lo-fi. I can see people at some point pushing us in that way, but we’ll see. As long as it doesn’t get out of control.
I’ve read that you guys have been getting offers from companies like McDonald’s and Grosch beer for commercials.
Yeah, I’ve turned down quite a few adverts now – T-Mobile and Old Navy and Grosch. For lots of reasons really. Maybe a bit stupid. Financially, obviously.
The Go! Team is primarily your project, but do you ever sense that some of your bandmates may want you to pursue these advertising offers and get a bigger payday?
There are some subtle different views within the band, but generally we appreciate the same kind of stuff. There have been times when we’ve been offered TV programs, and even something like playing on David Letterman would be a dilemma for me. I don’t know how exactly to put it into a words, but it’d be a bit lame. I know it’s an amazing opportunity, but I just don’t have this thing back home. Do we really have to? Most bands would lobby for it. I don’t want to sound ungrateful or anything, I just don’t know. I’m a bit picky. Although I guess we all are.
It’s an interesting perspective because nowadays it doesn’t matter how big a band is or how small a label is. Most bands are willing to jump.
I just want to keep it special in some way and outside of the mainstream in some way. It’s more a gut feeling about stuff than what I can put into words.
It’s definitely admirable. You don’t usually see this too much with bands these days.
Well, we haven’t exactly. We are dealing with a major and stuff.
The band is comprised of friends of friends and all people associated with you.
Yeah, except Ninja, who was a randomly sought-out person.
Have you found it difficult in terms of chemistry since this is who you’re spending all your time with now? Has it been awkward?
It’s unusual, but there are no egos in the band. We’re all quite laidback, so it makes it easier. We’re all quite mild-mannered. It was a social experiment in a way: we are all quite culturally different as well. [We’ve got people from all over the world.] Our backgrounds are quite different, but at the same time we don’t argue or anything like that. We just monkey around and it’s turned out quite alright.
When I interviewed you guys initially a few months ago, you said it wasn’t your full-time job. Is it now?
Oh, yeah, it is now. We all gave up our jobs recently. I still don’t really consider myself a musician. For me it’s all in the editing and the idea, being able to spot what’s good and what’s bad in my opinion, and just following through with it. Just keep chipping away everyday and keep editing down. What started out as something I did just after work with a mike and sampler became something that’s my love.
At the end of last year, you had heavy tour schedule – Australia, Japan, Germany and America. What’s in store for 2006?
I don’t know, really. It all depends on how things go. I’m sure we will. Probably be playing songs off this album. Hopefully just playing out until we have enough songs that we can pick and choose from.
How many songs are your sets nowadays? You said you’ve been playing two new songs and some b-sides, so I imagine they’re longer.
Fifty minutes now, and that’s the longest we’ve ever played. The album is like thirty-five, with twelve or thirteen songs.
When I saw you guys
When did you see us?
It was when you guys were in New York. I think it was your third show there. The crowd really got into you. There was no opening act and it was a short set, but it was really effective. I do remember waiting a long time, though. Did you get a chance to see New York?
When you’re on tour, you don’t have too much free time. It’s basically tour and rest up, maybe hang out for a little bit. But basically you’re off to the next city. There’s something kind of addictive about the repetitiveness of it. You get in this routine. You don’t know what the venue or hotel or the crowd is gonna be like.
Do you have anything that sticks out about the tour or any one moment?
In Chicago we did the Intonation Festival. And we noticed there were some local neighborhood kids dancing around in the park next to the festival site. They were groovy, funky little fuckers. All ages, little kids up to teenagers getting down. So we asked them if they wanted to get on stage for our last song, “Ladyflash.” Basically the kids got on stage and we’re dancing around. It was amazing. And then on the last beat, they all clapped into a heap on the floor.