As the sun shines on our seafront in what looks like an eerily early first day of spring, The Go! Team feel like its perfect soundtrack. Their third album, ‘Rolling Blackouts’, is certainly a factor-30 funfest, but don’t be tempted to think of them as Brightonian in anything but postcode.
“People always latch onto it, they always write about us as a ‘Brighton sextet'”, says Team leader Ian Parton. “I knew they would, it’s that kind of seaside thing, but the reality is it doesn’t even sound British. I like the idea that it’s placeless; we can’t really claim to be an Anglophile band, there are so many international influences.”
Indeed, the album continues their safari through disparate musical dynasties, from Japan’s J-pop through Italian soundtracks, spaghetti westerns, New York no wave and, dare we say, the altogether more misty-eyed suggestion of sitting in front of the telly as a kid. Ninja, the band’s singer/chanter/rapper, has also considered this.
“It’s not a conscious thing, it just happens to be Ian’s musical influences. There’s a kind of carefree nature to the songs. I think there’s a lot of miserable indie around, people all swallowed up in themselves – we’re just going against that. It’s liberating, a liberation that links to childhood. I’m never going to grow up within the band; that element shows when you see us on stage and it comes through in the music.”
Ian goes further: “I hate the idea of us as retro or kitsch, it implies there’s nothing serious about what we do. There’s nothing ironic about it, it’s just a mix of the things I’ve always loved – like life flashing before your eyes. Things like the Monkees and the Jackson 5 cartoons are just as much an influence as the things we like now.”
‘Rolling Blackouts’, rather than prescribing to any notion of ‘difficult third album’, is more a bigger and bolder statement of what The Go! Team sound has always aspired to.
“It’s different in quite a few ways,” agrees Ian. “The production’s more ambitious without being wanky.”
It’s certainly a broader palate they’re playing with this time around – a live brass section, steel drums, autoharps, plus extensive and eclectic eBay acquisitions filling out the sound.
“People perceive us as a sample band but we’ve always had real instruments,” says Ian. “It’s a bit like directing – you’re trying to visualise how the songs should come out. I like to imagine I’m discovering them on an old VHS tape. ‘Yosemite Theme’ could be from some old promo video for visiting the park or something.”
But directing the musical course of the good ship Go! Team isn’t always straightforward, as Ian admits: “We tried a Brazilian choir on one track and it was just obvious it didn’t work. We don’t make things easy for ourselves…”
“It’s definitely a contrast from the last record,” offers Ninja. “It’s not slick, we don’t want to sound or look slick. It’s mainstream but rough around the edges.”
The band’s lo-fi sound manifesto is certainly put to the test on some of the most commercial songs they’ve ever presented. ‘Ready To Go Steady’ and ‘Buy Nothing Day’ shimmer with pop optimism – we wonder if there’s a deliberate steer away from a commercial sheen that would be all too easy to apply.
Ian reckons it’s definitely a balancing act: “The sound is less ‘bedroom’ than before – you can’t keep making the same record forever. I’ve always had an obsession with curvy, slinky melody and catchiness, but in a non-obvious way. My interpretation of pop is more Phil Spector and the Shangri Las than Lady Ga Ga, but I still love lo-fi and distortion. I even mastered the LP onto cassette – it’s suicide in a way but I love the sound of saturation and tape hiss. I’m always paranoid about it sounding too hi-fi.”
But despite this honourably obstinate act of sonic self-sabotage, the Team find themselves in heavy demand for music syncs that many more polished outfits have launched entire careers on the back of.
“We’ve had music in games and films – that’s cool, it’s quite nice. There’s no real money in it though, they just kind of consider it an advert for your songs. But I’m a bit funny about actual adverts, I’ve turned down things that could have potentially made lots of money.”
There’s a hint of a frown in Ian’s voice.
“We’ve had some horrible offers, like Gala Bingo – I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. But when people hear us on Come Dine With Me and Gardeners’ World, they don’t realise that no one actually asks us – if I could stop us being on Come Dine With Me, I would.”
In town for their show at the Concorde, it’s good to remember that their painstakingly crafted records are just one side of the Go! Team coin. Ninja believes the live experience is an essential part of the band.
“You definitely need the two, the band really comes to life on stage,” she says. “Everyone brings their own influences to what The Go! Team is. In the studio it’s mostly Ian really, but I think he’d feel pretty stupid jumping about on stage on his own. The whole band just goes wild, we really allow ourselves to loosen up. There’s lots of instrument crossovers between songs, everyone bumping into each other – it’s all part of the chaos that makes us fun to watch. You never know what’s going to happen – even I don’t know.”
Since the world first caught sight of the frenetic, Double-Dutching Go! Team on the Mercury Awards in 2005, many of their nominated contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. As Ninja points out, “Bloc Party and Hard-Fi? I don’t even know where they are now.”
Words by Nick Coquet
Photo by James Kendall, Matt Hodson, Matt Barker