Michael D. Fellows
The bus is pulled in the back of the venue and countless men are going in and out in frustration. Orbital are not happy. For one, they have no power for the soundcheck let alone the gig later that evening. The venue the show was booked in is not an Expo Hall, but a huge horse stable with a corresponding dirt floor and who knows what else on the ground; not something that one can dance on with ease. The kids are still happy to have Orbital on these shores, which last happened 2 years ago at the final Lollapalooza.
Nevertheless, Paul and Phil Hartnoll are taking this all with stride and are quite happy to sit down and chat with me about the current tour and to get some of these bad feelings off their chests.
Who thought of the Community Service Tour?
Paul Hartnoll : Well I suppose the idea and name came about from Crystal Method.
Phil Hartnoll : We wanted to tour America with a full production, really. Most of the time we had to scale it down from what we had done in England. We were looking for something bigger with other bands playing with us. Crystal Method had the idea of a sort of yearly technopalooza with one or two main bands and several other bands opening with the emphasis being on live music. So our agent put two and two together. The timing was perfect as we wanted to come to America to play our new material, so we said yes. The Method keep the name and run the Web site. (http://www.communityservicetour.com). They are flying the flag for the tour, basically.
Usually whenever we come to Florida, we generally have a shit time. We were hoping this time it would be different.
Paul : Tampa and Gainesville in 1996 were alright. We had good shows there.
Phil : But generally speaking because of a fucking stupid promoter, Fat Harry, we never get the proper promotion and no one hears about our shows til 2-4 weeks before the gig.
Everyone is quite furious really. He fucks it up every time; I don’t know why he thinks he can handle it. So basically every time we come to Florida its like “Ugh.” Why do we bother because it always happens this way?
Paul : It not all of Florida. Just bits and pieces and every time Fat Harry gets involved. Which is quite often, it seems.
Phil : We have said we didn’t want to work with him again, and we need to speak to our agent about it, because it’s fucked up here again as well.
Can you describe the songwriting process?
Paul : I don’t think there is a process, really. Everyone thinks there should be a formula to writing and recording, but there isn’t with us. It’s not like a regular band like Oasis, for example. Noel writes it out on his guitar and then teaches the rest of the band. They go from there. For us, it’s our room full of technology and we play around. That’s the formula.
How do you handle remixes of your own songs? For example, the song “Style” has reworkings called “Old Style,” “New Style,” and “Big Pipe Style.”
Paul : We just try to put a different hat on every time. With “New Style,” which has some guitar and rock sounds on it, a Stereolab Hat on, with “Big Pipe Style,” a Norman Cook hat on. Basically put your head in a different place and do it in the style of where you are.
With the Nothing Left EP, was that the first time you used other artists to remix your music?
Paul : It’s been a long time. The last time was for “Our We Here?”. For Nothing Left , we didn’t have time to do it all ourselves. If I had all the time in the world, if I could stop clocks, I would do them all myself. We did two ourselves on this EP, one of them being a very different track.
Phil : We could have put that on the new album, really.
What about other artists remixes?
Paul : We haven’t done one for so long I have forgotten.
Phil : Normally you listen to the track and get a feel for it and where you want it to go.
Is it something you have to like to remix it?
Phil : Like or dislike really.
Paul : It’s something you have to like about it, but not something you really like because you don’t want to change it. Something you really don’t like because it hard to keep a hold of something like that. It’s got to be sort of a medium ground.
Any artists you have refused?
Paul : Loads, mostly because of time really. We haven’t done anything since Madonna. We just have been busy. We have decided to concentrate on our own stuff.
Did Madonna approach you?
Paul : Yes, not sure how she heard of us. The label sent us the tape and we had a go at it.
What about the band James?
Paul : I wanted to do that. But someone didn’t get the tapes to us. Someone had the tapes for two weeks and we sat around waiting for them. Someone said we had been converting them to this format. So I said, why didn’t you tell me that cause I could have used what we had during those two weeks, but then it was too late. It was for the song “Sitdown.” It’s a shame really.
You have a new album coming out in 2000?
Paul : I hope so. We have two tracks we are working on. When the last album came out, we had a few tracks we were doing for this album.
Phil : 3 years later they came out.
Paul : I’d like to get something out soon, I don’t like big gaps. Unless someone gives us a big film score in between then, it would come out in 2001. We have done Event Horizon , The Saint , and various scenes, but I want to do a whole film score.
A science fiction film?
Paul : Not necessarily that.
Phil : Anything, really. Well, not anything, something huge.
Paul : God forbid anyone make a good science fiction film. Well, they just did, actually, with The Matrix . That was a good one.
Maybe Stanley Kubrick’s unfinished film?
Paul : You mean AI . Don’t think that will ever get finished, if it does it will be quite a strange film. Who would direct it?
What do you think of the UK single law of only 3 tracks maximum and 20 minutes time limit?
Paul : Thank god for that. Well sometimes, if you know what I mean. I think it’s daft, but if people would behave themselves, your wouldn’t need it, would you. I like the old fashioned singles with an A-side and a B-side and that’s it. I get confused trying to buy other people’s singles. What bloody thing do I want? With 15 remixes and all that. I want to get out of this 2 to 3 CD thing. The only thing is, if we don’t do it ourselves, we are like the only one who isn’t on steroids.
Phil : That’s a good analogy.
Paul : Well it is. Sometimes there is no point being honest in a dishonest world. I want to get away from that really. Do only one CD that is only 21 minutes long [laughs].
Does the label care about you following the chart rules?
Paul : They love the charts, which is why we have to follow the 2 CD format. But the charts in England at the moment are just complete bonkers. It’s just all bubble gum pop.
Phil : The single chart in the UK rules, where in America it’s the album charts.
Paul : If a person buys both parts of the single, it counts twice for the charts. That is why they do it.
What about the “Satan” 3 CD set, how did that come about?
Paul : It’s the same deal basically, a cheap trick for the record company. We know they are only going to come out in the UK. We did them all at 2 pounds each, the label gets what they want, and we got what we wanted. The ruling for singles was different then, with up to 40 minutes or so per CD.
Phil : Basically it was a mini-live album for a third of the cost of a full British album.
I paid like $10 for each part, so about $30 for the set.
Paul : That is what we wanted to avoid. I learned my lesson, I won’t do that again. You live and learn.
Phil : We are very conscientious to the person that buys it, because we buy records ourselves. You have the record company and label, who are totally commercial, so it’s a battle all the time.
Paul : You think it would keep them happy cause they are getting three formats for chart position and we are getting a live album for less then the price you would pay normally.
Do you see any differences in US and UK audiences?
Paul : None really.
Phil : The US can be more friendly and a bit more responsive.
Paul : Boston is a bit like playing in Scotland, NYC is like London. You can compare them if you want to, but there is not much difference. Maybe the US fascination with glow sticks, but that is a fashion thing.
What are the current rave laws in the UK? How do they differ from the US?
Phil : There is no general rule. You need to get licenses, which take a lot of effort to get. If you get caught doing a free party out in the woods somewhere, they can arrest everybody and take all your equipment forever. There are free parties that go on, but not much, really.
Paul : You get some brilliant parties in hills of Wales, so I am told.
Do you ever go to gigs and play anonymously?
Paul : I DJ sometimes, but rarely anonymously.
Phil : We generally play like this really as a gig and tour, not a rave, really.
Did you start out as DJs?
Paul : No, we are music people rather than DJ people.
Phil : We used to go to clubs and dance.
What festivals are you playing in the UK?
Paul : V99 and we just played Glastonbury, which is always a laugh. It’s the best festival going today. Also the Essential Megadog Eclipse festival, which takes place on the day of the proper solar eclipse, so that will be great fun as well. That is in Plymouth near Devon.
Phil : It’s 5 days or so.
Paul : And the Homelands festival in Dublin with Underworld.
Ever played with them before?
Paul : Yes, we have crossed swords many a time. Played with them at the Filmore in San Francisco, which was a great laugh.
And with Crystal Method?
Phil : It’s our first time on tour with them, and it’s working out quite well. Their music is very different.
Paul : It’s good really, with the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars opening, which are a full on band. So you get a band-y sort of thing. Then you have the Crystal Method, which are also different from us.
Phil : Funky, breakbeaks.
Paul : Quite constant and dancey.
Phil : What Scott does with his keyboard is crazy.
Paul : Yes, he throws that DX-7 all over the place. He knocked someone’s hand with it the other night. He was down in the audience with towels, apologizing. Totally by accident, of course.
So you have been together 10 years this year?
Paul : Been together all our lives! (laughs) Yes, 10 years as a proper band.
Phil : Dynamic duo. (laughs)
Paul : Would that make me Robin? (laughs)
Do you support the MP3 technology?
Paul : I think it’s fair enough. I support it. Just waiting to see what happens. In the future people will be able to download albums as another outlet for getting music.
It will take a long time for things like Tower Records and shops to go. People will always want to buy an object. People are consumers and want to pay the money for the actual object. What I’d like to see is if you download it to a computer, you could get it for half price or something. Because you don’t get the cover or anything, you just get the music.
Our stuff will be going this way soon enough. So many people have their own CD burners. They can take it out of their computer and put it in their own format.
What about piracy? Are you concerned about that?
Paul : Not really, people pirate and it’s even easier with this new technology. Like in Spain, for example. We sell 7,000 of our album, you bet your life that 20,000 have got it. But I can do that for my brother, burn him a CD in under 15 minutes.
Phil : Thailand also is big on piracy.
How did you pick Liz Frazer for the track “Omen”?
Paul : Oh now you are going back! Just something we had lying around the house at the time.
Phil : She has a great voice.
Paul : Great voice to sample, and if you print this, we will have to kill you.
How do you pick vocalists for albums?
Paul : Cause they are friends of ours. That’s the way its always been.
Phil : A casual, pick your friends, Jamaican jamming sort of thing.
Paul : We ask them what they can do with this track, or we know he plays sax so we ask him to play. Just a casual, fun atmosphere.
What are the differences you see about each other?
Paul : Well, I used to say that I think before I act and he acts before he thinks, but I don’t know if that is true anymore. I’ve been leaving things all over the place. Mr. Forgetful.
Phil : Maybe we swapped roles. I think more before I act now.
Do you both live in London now?
Paul : I still do, he lives in Brighton. There’s the difference!
Do you still enjoy Planet of the Apes and Star Trek ?
Paul : Well, it’s funny, I saw the complete box set in the mall the other day, and I held it in my hand and almost bought it. Only the first two are any good, really. Also, we have never sampled Star Trek: The Next Generation or Planet of the Apes , in any of our songs! You just think we have.
Phil : Or you just think that’s the sample.
Paul : Actually, it’s me doing a impression of Michael Dorn. (laughs)
Did you know your logo is used as a background in a comic book?
Paul : No! which one?
The Invisibles , by Grant Morrison. It’s a sort of end of the world comic, it ends in January 2000.
Phil : We will have to look for that. ◼