The Team Between:
An EXCLUSIVE interview
THE GO! TEAM’s
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
The Go! Team is unlike any band you’ve ever heard. Imagine picking five of your favorite songs from different musical eras, playing them simultaneously and then having them magically sync together. Yeah, that’s the best way to sum up The Go! Team sound. They mix musical genres, throwing Hip Hop beats under banjo picking and soulful horn blasts, topping it off with a gorgeous vocal that seems to have been lifted from an obscure ‘60s girl group record. The band, led by Brighton, England-based mastermind Ian Parton, is beyond classification. However, if you prefer your Pop with large side orders of Jazz, Rock, Rap, soundtracks, Soul, and World Music, then this is one band that will satisfy practically any musical craving you have. From live instrumentation to samples of classic records, The Go! Team serves it to you piping hot and fresh.
Parton recorded the first Go! Team album, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, in his parent’s kitchen. He cleverly mixed samples and live instrumentation, creating a bubbling hot musical stew that leapt from the grooves. The album was released in 2004 to critical acclaim and spawned classic singles such as “Ladyflash,” “The Power Is On,” and “Bottle Rocket.” Unsurprisingly, the album was lovingly embraced by the Rock, Dance and Hip Hop crowds. The success of the debut encouraged Parton to put together a band and take the Go! show on the road. Three years later, they released Proof Of Youth, which included hits like “Grip Like A Vice,” “Doing It Right,” and “The Wrath Of Marcie.” The Team train kept a-rollin’ into 2010 with their third album Rolling Blackouts. Continuing with their magical blend of sounds, that album included a handful of tracks that were even more melodically-inclined than their previous records. Songs like “Buy Nothing Day” and “Ready To Go Steady” had hooks that were hard to ignore – they were bona-fide Pop gems with that charming Go! Team spin. However, touring was becoming more difficult when members started having children, working on side projects and spending time away from the Team. A band meeting was called and by the end, it was decided that The Go! Team would go back to basics. Ian was free to build a new Go! Team album on his own from the ground up, just as he had done a decade before.
The Scene Between is the first Go! Team album, since their debut, to feature Ian Parton in full control again. Although he brings in a cast of guest female vocalists and friends to help him out, The Scene Between is Parton’s musical vision reborn. Taking his cue from the previous album’s poppier moments, this fourth full-length platter is a wonder to behold (and be heard). The Hip Hop vibe is toned down a little, making room for heavenly melodies that recall the best of ‘60s Pop mixed with Saint Etienne, ‘70s Soul and bits and bobs from the dark recesses of Parton’s brain. The Scene Between is not a return to form, since the band has never disappointed, but it is an extremely accessible record that may just be their best one yet.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Ian Parton and discuss The Go! Team, The Scene Between and more…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: The Scene Between has just been released. How are you feeling about it and the reaction you’ve had so far?
IAN PARTON: It’s a relief to have it out. It’s quite different from other Go! Team records, I suppose. I don’t know if people will necessarily recognize it as a regular Go! Team record. I’ve said that before. I sometimes write a song and I think, “Oh, this doesn’t sound Go! Team at all,” and then somebody else will say, “Oh, it’s very Go! Team.” (laughs)
SPAZ: What are your influences? There’s always so much happening on your records.
IAN: The palate isn’t as wide on this album. Honestly, the emphasis was on melody on this record. I think the people in the past have been guilty of almost being side-tracked by the references, if you know what I mean. It turns into a bit of a list when people review the Go! Team sometimes. They’ll mention double dutch and the car chases and Bollywood and all that. I almost want to say, “There’s a song in there!” I was trying to really put the spotlight on melodies and I was trying to write kind of classic songs in a way. At the same time, the other part of my brain was trying to fuck it up a bit. I’m not interested in hits - I’m interested in melodies that stick in your head and kind of earn the right to exist.
SPAZ: I do feel that the album is far more melody-oriented – closer to “Buy Nothing Day” than “Grip Like A Vice.”
IAN: I got to the point where I thought catchy melodies are the hardest thing to do in music. I’m not interested in some technical wanking off or anything, you know? I’m interested in the song. It was relatively easy to put a rap over the top of a core sample. When you get it right, it’s fucking amazing. I got to the point where I was kind of like, “Okay, I’ve done that. I want to do songs now.” I want to do delicious, curvy, undeniable, sunshiny songs, basically.
SPAZ: When I listened to the new album, there were these beautiful female voices floating above this cacophony of sound that reminded me of a princess overseeing a finely synchronized musical battle. When you write the songs, do you always picture a female vocalist singing them?
IAN: (Laughs.) I do, yeah. I don’t know why. It’s just personal taste, really. I mean, it’s all the stuff I’m interested in. I prefer female rappers – Roxanne Shante and people like that. I prefer ‘60s girl groups. I prefer Riot Grrrl. I do like male groups and I like the male voice, but there’s something about me that just prefers female voices. Within that, there are so many styles, as well. Even within the album, even though it might sound like it’s the same voice, there’s a kind of subtle difference in the delivery. For instance, a song like “Blow Torch” – I needed a really bratty, bubblegum-chewing, spitting-the-words-out, badass kind of voice. On a song like “Her Last Wave” – that song’s about someone dying at sea, so I needed some kind of a floaty voice which might evoke that in some ways. Even though the voices might seem similar, there’s quite a difference in the delivery, which is really important. So I almost had that Motown thing going on where I’d write a song and then I’d scour the world for the right voice. Sometimes, it didn’t work and I’d have to keep going and going. There’s something about me that doesn’t particularly like English accents. For me, they’re too prim. I kind of prefer the slanginess of American voices. And accents…I love accents – French and Brazilian and Japanese.
SPAZ: The Scene Between was recorded by you and a new cast of characters, right?
IAN: I don’t know if you know the background, but we had a meeting as a band and it became clear that it was becoming really hard to carry on performing. There were some new babies, there were side projects going on, there were jobs…So, basically, we decided to stop performing as a band. The Go! Team kind of shrunk back to me and this Thunder, Lightning, Strike way of doing things. I started the group and I did Thunder, Lightning, Strike on my own and then got the group together later. It was kind of back to that, and it was kind of liberating in a way. It was nice to just fucking do my own thing. I had this idea to just write the songs I wanted to and make them really quite Pop-y. I’d then find the vocalists to match the songs.
SPAZ: What is your song writing process like? Is it different with every track?
IAN: It’s generally driven by melodies and no lyrics at all in its first stage. I’ve basically got a two-tier thing going on at any one time. I’m basically looking for samples and the process of listening to records every day, out of that I springboard my own melodies and I sing them into my phone. Before I know it, I’ve got hundreds of ideas in my phone, and I kind of whittle it down to the best ones. Then I’ll think, “Okay, that chorus goes with that verse,” or, “I’ll try this with that” and sometimes it works. And then sometimes I’ll try and lay a sample over the top. A song like “The Scene Between” was really a nice combination of both processes. I had that melody going on and then I found this sample, which went perfectly over the top of it. So, sometimes there’s a bit of luck going on. I didn’t really want to be leaning heavily on other people’s samples – I wanted the ideas to come from me. A song like “Blowtorch” actually started on acoustic and I really dug the melody. And then I had this idea that I was going to build the song chord by chord from lots of different sources, so I’d get the G from this song over here and then I’d get the D from that song. I deliberately wanted to make it quite schizo and quite weird-sounding. Basically I layered and layered these things and before I knew it, it was kind of just taking me head off.
SPAZ: Like some of the great ‘60s singles, the production on the album is sometimes distorted and pushed to its limits. Is this an homage to these records that you grew up? Were you a fan of Phil Spector? Because sometimes I get that sort of “Wall of Sound” feeling from your records.
IAN: Oh yeah, I love Phil Spector. It’s hard not to, isn’t it? But I try not to be too retro about it. I’m kind of quite into the psychology of music and I think humans like distortion (laughs). I think if you’re on a dance floor and a beat came on, and it was slightly distorted, it would make it more exciting. It’s almost like a primal thing, I think. It’s more exciting to me. A song like Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” – when you hear that, you realize how distorted the trumpets are. Without you knowing it, I think you dig it more for some reason. When things are clean and ‘80s sounding, it’s a completely different ballgame.
SPAZ: There’s an air of mystery about The Go! Team’s music. When I listen to a Go! Team record, I’m always surprised when I find out later which bits are sampled from other songs. I’m too interested in listening to the song itself…
IAN: I’ve always had this thing where I’m trying to blur the lines anyway. I don’t really like using a straight sample. I’ll always layer it with real instruments or real drums or something. I do like the idea of mystery, to be honest. Things you think are samples aren’t and things you don’t think are samples are. I try not to list sources or reveal things, and be a bit obscure.
SPAZ: One of the great things about your records is the fact that you don’t sit there and question where everything comes from – you sit there and you experience and feel this record.
IAN: Yeah, exactly. Basically you’re trying to make something genuinely new out of something old.
SPAZ: Which format do you think the Go! Team sounds the best on?
IAN: Vinyl is the default answer, really, isn’t it? I think little 7-inch singles are the cutest things. (Laughs) You always have more of an emotional attachment to something like that – some colored little bit of vinyl. And there’s no doubt that streaming is more disposable. Things come and go quicker.
SPAZ: What’s next for Ian Parton and The Go! Team?
IAN: There is going to be a live show. A new side to the music will come out through that – the melodic side and harmonies and different ways of doing the songs. Where it goes beyond that, I don’t know. I’ve got ideas about what kind of music I want to keep doing, but God knows if anyone will be interested in any of that.
Thanks To Ian Parton
Special thanks to Steve Dixon, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky
THE GO! TEAM
THE SCENE BETWEEN