When Orbital released
their first single, "Chime", back in 1990, few gave them much
chance of survival. Back then, dance acts didn't produce great
albums, write intelligent music or play amazing live sets. Over
the last decade, Phil and Paul Hartnoll have consistently done
all three. What's more, they've done it on their own terms, with
epic space opera, cinematic electronica and dark, blunted beats.
Now they're ready to unleash their sixth studio album, The Altogether,
their first since 1999's underrated The Middle of Nowhere. Those
who've followed the Hartnolls' career over the last 10 years are
in for a few surprises. It's their most varied set for a long
time, featuring a mixture of rock-sampling instrumentals, full-on
vocal tracks and quirky, old-style numbers. Some people will love
it--others will just get confused. So what exactly are they up
to? Amazon.co.uk contributor Matt Anniss met up with Phil and
Paul Hartnoll to find outů
Amazon.co.uk: The Altogether is a
very diverse album. Do you think it holds together well?
Paul Hartnoll: To me it sounds really
odd for an Orbital album because I'm used to eight really long
things, and this has got eleven shortish tracks. When I listen
to it, I keep thinking it's going to finish, and there are like
3 tracks left!
Phil Hartnoll: It reminds me of records
that bands used to make a long time ago, the albums I used to
buy as a kid. I've often thought about getting a proper band to
record versions of our songs. I'm not sure how it would sound.
Some of our sounds and noises would be very difficult to re-create.
Amazon.co.uk: You're famous for eight,
nine and ten minute tracks, but most of the tracks on The Altogether
last four or five minutes. Why the change?
Paul: We consciously made a decision
to make shorter tracks. We tried to do it with In Sides but ended
up with an album with the longest set of tracks we've done. This
time we tried the same thing and it actually worked! We said to
ourselves "let's try not to make anything longer than five minutes".
Inevitably for us that was difficult, so everything has nearly
ended up exactly five minutes! That's the only thread going through
the album that was conscious--"let's make short, jolly tracks".
Which not all of them are, but overall it's quite an "up" album.
Amazon.co.uk: There are quite a few
punk-sampling tracks on The Altogether. In fact, the whole thing
seems angrier than previous releases. Would you agree with this?
Paul: I don't find it angry. To me
anger is the Dead Kennedys. The stuff we're doing is fun. To me
it's energetic bat music. What does Batman listen to when he wants
to let his hair down? He does the Batusi. That's the sort of thing
we're after. To me that's not anger, it's fun and energetic.
Phil: It's a release. Things like
"Tension" and "Tootled" are energetic. Don't misinterpret energy
as anger. They're completely different things.
Amazon.co.uk: Does this mean that
you're making a conscious move to get away from your dance roots?
Phil: Whatever people say, we're
not a dance band. We never have stuck in a groove. We've been
influenced by the dancefloor, but we get heavily influenced by
lots and lots of different types of music. We don't stick in one
groove. I think we're halfway between an indie band and the house
scene, if you like. The electronic music tree has got so many
branches on it these days that it's easy to express yourself in
any way you want, and be accepted.
Paul: People don't want to hear Orbital
when they're out at raves or in Ibiza, just as much as they wouldn't
want to hear us at Castle Donnington Monsters of Rock, though
we'd probably go down better there than in Ibiza!
Phil: Now there's a challenge!
Paul: I can wear spandex as good
as the next man!
Amazon.co.uk: How do you think The
Altogether compares to your first five albums?
Paul: I think it's the happiest one,
alongside the first one, but they're all different, like chapters
in a book or something, and it's very hard to pit them against
each other as individuals.
Phil: I'd compare The Altogether
to a day at the theme park, really. You've got "Tension" and "Tootled"
which are like the biggest white-knuckle roller coasters, then
there's "Funny Break", which is like the tunnel of love. "Shadows"
is like the haunted house, while "Waving Not Drowning" is sort
of like a soft play area for the under threes.
Amazon.co.uk: The new album features
a collaboration with David Gray ("Illuminated"). How did that
Phil: Me and Dave have got something
in common. He's married to my wife's sister. He's sort of brother-in-law
once removed. He's an uncle to my children. We used to go and
see him play and I used to be his biggest heckler. I'd be like:
"Dave, you're rubbish, get off!"
Paul: "Illusion" was an idea knocked up before the last album,
The Middle of Nowhere. It started off just as a tune that I got
David Gray to help me with. I went out to buy an acoustic guitar
and got Dave to help me choose one, him being king of acoustic
guitars. The first thing I wrote on the guitar was "Illusion".
I transcribed it into the computer and got Dave to sing on it.
Amazon.co.uk: The late, great Ian
Dury also makes an appearance on The Altogether in sampled form.
Are you big fans of the great man?
Paul: Yeah, love Ian Dury. I haven't
got any of his albums, but I've got a "best of" and its brilliant.
It's just packed with brilliant music. He was a wonderful lyricist
. I reckon he was a really sound bloke.
Phil: It's strange what happened
when we were making the Ian Dury track. A mate came round one
day and I played it to him, just after we'd finished it. He went
home and later that day phoned me to say that Ian Dury had just
Paul: So we made it on the day he
died. Spooky. It's good to know that, as he died, new life was
being breathed into his music. It's like his music lives on.
Amazon.co.uk: You're planning to
release a DVD version of the album. Why is that?
Phil: It's because of the 5:1 surround
sound. It just opens up the stereo field. It isn't just stereo--it's
all around you. You can make any channel go "whoosh", or push
sounds backwards and forwards, around the speakers. It's like
a whole new dimension, man, we're talking Dr Who here. We've utilised
the home cinema surround idea, recorded it off our own back and
said to London records "how about doing a DVD? This sounds wicked."
They agreed and gave us a tiny budget to make up some visuals.
Amazon.co.uk: The DVD is being released
in June. What can we expect?
Phil: With the budget London Records
gave us, they expected to do a small DVD, a three-tracker, maybe.
I wasn't happy with that. We've done the whole LP. As far as I'm
aware, no one has done what we're doing yet. Underworld did their
live thing, but no one has recorded and constructed the whole
thing in 5:1. There are videos for every track, and "Meltdown"
[a track recorded for Scott Walker's Meltdown festival] is there
in its full 25 minute version. It has turned out really, really
well--better than I could ever have hoped for.
Paul: We're only really scratching
the surface of what you can do with DVD. Hopefully it will be
the equivalent of a Charlie Chaplin film--rather basic but a classic
in years to come.
Phil: It will certainly set the precedent
for music DVDs. I'm not just largeing it up or anything, because
I don't do things like that: it's a fact. I've done my research.
There have been no albums specifically recorded for DVD before.