We're the Jedi Masters of rave says Orbital's Paul Hartnoll ahead of Cambridge gig
Dance music legends Orbital's first album in six years dropped a few months back. We spoke to Paul Hartnoll about it, their new tour and how he and brother Phil are getting on.
“Battle ye not with monsters,” said Friedrich Nietzche, “Lest ye become a monster.” But there’s more than one kind of monster and more than one kind of battle – tyranny, greed and let’s not forget sibling rivalry.
The monsters of rave are back, with new album Monsters Exist. They’re also touring again, including a gig at Cambridge Corn Exchange on December 19.
Q: New album Monsters Exist is out. It’s your first new album in six years, one fans wondered if they’d ever hear?
It’s funny I’d done solo albums, so it doesn’t really feel that different to me. It’s what you stick on the label that’s the difference (he laughs). It’s a good test, though; to have an album out there. It got to number 12 in the album charts, number one in the dance charts and number three in the indie carts so that’s brilliant. The masterplan for this one was to make a ****** good album and then see what happens.
Q: Is there a point where you think you’ve been away so long, is the audience there anymore?
Of course you think about that to a degree, “oh I hope people are still going to like it”. You just have to go with your gut feeling and artistic endeavour and hope people like it. In a way, one of the things that got this off the ground was we got offered really good festival slots, for a band that hasn’t existed for five years and they’re asking us to headline a festival like Blue Dot there must be some kind of love out there. That’s a good litmus test.
Before you’re successful, you can do your thing. Then you get successful and worry about how you can maintain it, that’s what younger people do, they worry about that and sometimes you can screw it up. Worrying about that you end up playing to the gallery and if you play to the gallery you’re just dead in the water, you’ve got to keep going with what you think is the right thing. If your drive is artistic; if you’re a really good songwriter, sitting around crafting a pop song, that’s a different game altogether. It’s funny, if you go off tangent and do a strange album people will come back if you do another album if it’s a bit more accessible. You’ve just got to follow your own view.
Q: Monsters Exist is more classically structured than, say, Wonky? How does it compare to other albums?
Honestly, I would leave that up to someone else to decide; that’s like saying what shape are the woods when you’re in it, I couldn’t possibly tell you. All I know is when I finished this album I was really excited to play it to people and had absolutely no idea what they would think of it. That was great for me because if you really are 100% behind it, you feel like you’ve done the best thing you can do at that time and expressed yourself well. If everybody hated it you’d still go “well, I still said what I wanted to say”. I’m really excited to see what happens. Compared to other albums? When I do another album down the line I’ll be able to look back at this one and try to fit it in. I can never really listen to an album until its old.
Q: You mention setting out to say what you want to say; Monsters Exist seems to draw inspiration from the international political landscape all the way back from yours and Phil’s pre-rave squat-punk roots right up to the world today?
When you haven’t made an album in six years it just comes tumbling out. Because of the global situation I was torn between writing a really aggressive crass-type album that says ‘**** the man or going back to rave sensibilities. You know, let’s really rebel by stepping away and actually living that alternative lifestyle. The idea of Monsters Exist tied it all together.
You don’t need to spell out who the monsters are. We’re not pointing our fingers at Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un. It’s clear who the monsters are. I’ve never liked preaching to people. It’s much better to provoke a bit of thought.
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do an album that was going to be angry, having a go at people or whether to do an album that’s completely the opposite diverting you away from your troubles and actually what it ended being us a score of the emotion of now rather than telling people what to do.
I have my opinions as far as music goes. I prefer it to provoke rather than preach. I like a lot of preachy music; I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
Q: You’ve also got Professor Brian Cox being emo on the track There Will Come A Time?
I got in touch with him on Twitter (he laughs) and he got back to me straight away. I’ve always wanted to sample Brian and do something with him. He is, after all, one of us. As well as the nation’s premier physicist he is also an old raver from his D:Ream days. He was totally up for it. It was great, a really good collaboration, really good fun in the studio.
Q: How has performing changed for you since reforming?
When I’m on stage, you’ve got to be in the moment. If you’re thinking about something else, worrying about something else it stops working. You’ve got to kind of with the audience. I’m improvising the structure up there so I’m looking at them, if they’re really happy and start throwing their arms in the air you stick with what you’re doing and then think “actually, I’m going to tease them, I’m going to take it right back to the bass line, play with them. If they look really bored and they’re running off to the loo you think “what can we do to jumble it up”.
I always try to make sure I’m enjoying it as much as I can. I run through stuff so much, the idea being that it’s kind of second nature you don’t think about it. By the time we hit Cambridge we’ll have done a little tour of Europe and a couple of UK gigs. There’s going to be four new tracks in the set, so it’s definitely not as rehearsed as the old blunderbusses that have been in the set for years. There’s something exciting about that, it keeps you on your toes.
Q: I’ve got to ask about yours and Phil’s bitter split after 2012’s Wonky tour, the two of you didn’t speak for a few years?
It was silly really. We’re brothers and business partners and creative partners, so we were three times as likely to fall out. But, in the end, we had to remind ourselves that Orbital is something we’re really proud of and that we love doing it. If we were both the same then it wouldn’t be Orbital.
We’re in the process of making a book about all of this (he laughs). Ultimately I’m the kind of powerhouse; I’m the nine–fiver. I write most of the music, I do most of the performance. Phil’s my partner in crime, my big brother. He was my hero as a kid, he joined me and essentially he got my passion and as time’s gone on… by the Wonky tour he was so off the hook with everything and not really helping, I had no confidence in him, he was totally different.
It feels a little bit unfair but I try to be honest about these things because I think that’s the problem, I think the reason we split up is because we didn’t really have that conversation – “what the **** are you doing, sort it out. I’m doing all of this, what the **** are you doing”. That’s how I felt. He would say “hey, I didn’t know, you didn’t tell me that”. I’m trying to be fair, but at the same time we spent years covering up what was going on… and I started getting resentful about it. We were raised by wolves in the beautiful sense we don’t really know how things go and if you look at the Beatles, John and Paul wrote most of the music, it wasn’t a problem but we always felt is it a problem that only one of us would be writing it.
Ultimately I got fed up and said “I can’t work like this” and tried to do the honourable thing and say “I’m just not going to do it and walk away”. Now I’ve got a different attitude, when we got back together I said “you don’t have to do anything, you just come and be in the band, do what you want and I’m not going to complain if you don’t do it, I’m not going to complain if you do do it but let’s just do this thing”. I made my peace with that so that’s where we’re at, let’s see how it goes. It’s really an open door for Phil to do what he likes and it seems to be working out.
It’s brothers, isn’t it? We’ve been at this for 30 years; I’ve known him for 50. It’s a complex scenario for me, I’ve wanted this job for 30 years, it is the only thing I’m good at in a works sense. I actually feel like I’ve become Obi Wan Kenobi. I know what I’m doing and it’s like “great, let’s do it”. It’s fine, you can really play with that, I can play with it now that I couldn’t 30 years ago - but then I had the arrogance and ignorance of youth on my side and that was good too, that “I’m going to tell you what you need to hear”. I still feel like that. I try to play people what they need or what I think they want rather than what they want, I try not to play to the gallery and I’ve confidence in that and it’s good fun. You get stuff wrong…
Q: What’s Phil’s take on the new relationship; I read he’d said you’d learned to talk to each other rather than let things stew and things are much better. That you used to waste a lot of energy wondering what the other one was thinking and getting on each other’s nerves but now you talk and it’s brilliant?
You’d have to talk to him but in all fairness, he’d probably say “he threw his toys out the pram like Little Lord Fauntleroy”. It’s alright to say if you’re not doing all the ****ing work. It’s who he is… he doesn’t work like I do; he doesn’t have that mad, kind of, OCD arc. Give me two weeks off what do I do, I’ll play the synthesiser I can’t stop, I love it’s great.”
Q: Where does Orbital sit in the great story of British dance music?
This is what the book is about. I’m not going to try to write a history of electronic music, I don’t give a **** what other people have done, well I do but I’m going to write about what I’ve seen.
I’ve read so many books and accounts of rave music and everything’s wrong from my point of view. I’m going to write it from that, the people I’ve met. The people I’ve thought were good and the people I thought were ****heads. It’ll be a tale of two brothers and a tale of rave from the trenches. Where are we? Jedi Masters of course, that’ll do for me.