It’s summer 2003 and as the UK basks in the highest temperatures and finest sunshine in years, and The Rapture are dubbed the hottest band in the world after their stunning debut album ‘Echoes’ unites indie kids and electronic clubbers worldwide. Now, in summer 2006 the heatwave is back, even hotter and even brighter. Likewise The Rapture return with ‘Pieces Of The People We Love’, a hotter, brighter second album that’s ready to blaze a whole new trail of its own.
Early August 2006 also brought the biggest heatwave in a decade to the streets of New York City. Afraid to brave the 120-degree subway stations, Clash stutter their way downtown in a yellow cab badly in need of some better air-con. As temperatures nudge 39o C (102oF), we pass kids, dogs and even adults, playing and showering in burst fire hydrants reminiscent of ‘Do The Right Thing’, Spike Lee’s depiction of the hottest summer in history. Office workers dodge in and out of air-conditioned tower blocks trying to stay fresh for that meeting downtown. Ice-cream vendors stand with towels on their heads, umbrellas are evident everywhere yet there is no chance of rain, and people cue to be anywhere near a fan or swimming pool as hundreds of official cooling centres overflow with restless natives. A normally bustling Manhattan is stifled, the pace slower, stunted, oppressively challenged.
We eventually pull up to the Lower East Side address of The Rapture’s recording studio. Standing outside smoking is Mattie Safer, who greets us wiping a hand across his face. “Hey, a bit hot isn’t it?” smiles the young vocalist and bassist. Safer welcomes us into their studio, a musky, dark, old Yiddish theatre with a towering ceiling, ancient woodwork and old furniture throughout. It’s typically strewn with instruments, bottles, cans and overflowing ashtrays. The rest of the band are emerging from their downstairs recording room happy with a rehearsal two days ahead of a forthcoming gig in Japan.
The concept of doing what we’re doing now was completely alien to me when I was 17.
Walking with me out of the sauna-like studio into the blinding heat of the street is band founder and drummer, Vito Roccoforte, supposedly the leader and spokesperson of a group clearly free of autocracy. I’m informed it’s his voice that counts above all others in studio decisions. He introduces me to fellow-founder Luke Jenner, who I’ve been misinformed as the ‘moody’ one. He is initially the most talkative and immediately laughs about the erstwhile frontman tag he has worn till now, adopted through his majority share on vocal and guitar duties. Cheekily swaggering alongside is Mattie, 7 years the junior of the others, and now propelled into a pivotal role. He is clearly a young man full of confidence who represents the band on all levels, including being their club DJ at the frequent hipster shows they are asked to play on the worldwide club circuit. The last person I’m introduced to is synth, sax and percussionist Gabe Andruzzi, the quietest of the bunch, intense in his looks and considered in his thoughts. He is the one with the driest humour, offering the least words, the one who will contradict when he thinks the chat is too safe. Immediately you see The Rapture as a group, a mix of personalities, not a bunch of individuals. They happily pose for photos as we eat hot dogs and ice-cream in searing heat on the world famous Delancey St before ushering me eagerly into a cool fan-filled diner round the corner to recount their story and their hotly anticipated second album ‘Pieces Of The People We Love.’
The Rapture, named after a song written by Helios Creed of influential San Francisco band Chrome, were formed initially by Vito and Luke, long term best friends, “born in a shitty suburb of San Diego, where there was fuck all to do,” explains Roccoforte. Vito took up college in San Francisco and Luke followed, his reasons slightly less directional, “I only went to San Francisco because he was going and I didn’t know what else to do. I had the same best friend since the age of ten, so him leaving was the end of life as I knew it. We started to play instruments together a little bit in San Diego, so I had to go with him. We started to play a lot more in San Francisco.” Thus The Rapture was born. Would heaven, as the name suggests, truly await them?
If it was to come, it wasn’t to come easy. The Rapture embarked on a whirlwind period of evolution starting in San Francisco and ending up in New York 18 months later. Decisions like ‘let’s just lose this band member’ or ‘let’s get the fuck out of here to a new city’ became commonplace in a spell Vito describes as “pretty fucking hectic, man”. Their former bass player’s house was burnt down by drug dealers, forcing him to suggest a move out of San Francisco as he “had better music contacts in Seattle anyway”. They agreed to go but things didn’t work out entirely as intended. “It fucking sucked,” Vito says of that time. “It rained every day for 3 months. All we did was drink and we didn’t write songs. We were there for 5 months between January and May ’99. We got to New York as fast as we could.” Things weren’t all bad, Luke protests. “We’d figured we’d get the kind of support that we didn’t have in San Fran, and did sign to Sub Pop as our first label.” However he agreed the band needed to get to New York. “I remember sitting in a café on another miserable Seattle day saying, ‘right, we’re moving’, but we still wanted to put a record out, and did. The label had given us half the money to buy a van, so we chucked all our stuff in it and just went. We slept in that van under a bridge in New York for a while.”
A pivotal point came with their introduction to Mattie and his cousin Gabe, who’d complete the quartet we have before us now. Until now Vito described The Rapture as “a fuckin’ mess. Really driven, but really chaotic. We had all this energy but would constantly sabotage ourselves, making random decisions. It was only when we got to New York and got our shit together that things began to happen.” Luke agreed that meeting Mattie was a signal that they had indeed got their shit together. “There were 5 people in the band before Matt in the space of just over a year. He was the first person that was actually good. He was musically way better than us and brought a lot of stability. Listening to him for the first time made me think that I actually had better learn to play my own instrument.” Gabe gave the band its natural completion but modestly describes himself as “initially Mr sax-man and Mr cowbell man”.
The next crucial shift in their success was another meeting, one that happened just as a new musical movement was brewing. The Rapture’s introduction to James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy of the DFA production team and record label would coincide with the dawning of a new era in club music. The turn of the millennium had drawn to a close one of the worst 5-year periods for music as a whole, particularly dance music, where over-paid under-talented egotists ruled. DJs were paid inordinate amounts of money to travel the world playing uninspiring music-by-numbers, and apathetic crowds started to shift back to the live scene. By 2003 this shift was nearly complete and The Rapture, having collaborated with the DFA on their rough demo EP, ‘Mirror’, soon launched the ultimate crossover anthem of the decade to effectively re-generate a genre.
‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ triggered the tipping point of a new wave of New York dancefloor bands including, most notably, LCD Soundsystem, !!! and Radio 4 amongst others. The whole world was now looking Stateside to see where they’d lead this musical future. In the UK their music was called punk-funk and in the US dance-rock, both inaccurate names, but what was obvious was that dance fans had found a sound led by visually more appealing bands, and rock fans had found music that made you want to shake your ass rather than pogo. “I was really proud to be able to straddle the electronic and indie divide so well,” says Vito. “It’s a really fucking hard thing to do, a fine line to tread, and to do it well and get credit as one of the first was amazing.” For more than a year this NY scene co-led by The Rapture ruled the world. Their 2003 debut album ‘Echoes’ was cited by many top critics worldwide as the stand out of the year.
‘Echoes’ had taken a long time to put out. And despite the success of the results it wasn’t a recording process without tension. The band and the DFA spent expensive studio time working out where they’d take initial edits and demos as studio time ticked away. It was hard to get everyone to agree on ideas, and working with such a focused production team meant stronger opinions were poured into the mix. That said, nobody could argue with the energy and individuality of the raw funk they produced across 11 tracks of the freshest music to emerge from New York in years. The band then set off on an excruciating worldwide touring schedule only finishing in September 2004. It was enough to make the major labels of the world take notice.
A lot had been achieved and learned but a break was needed. Vito, Luke, Gabe and Matty took a few months off before regrouping full ideas to launch and improve their second offering, which was now gonna appear on major label Mercury Records. Things were to develop and things were to change.
One of the primary switches was the production team behind this album. The Rapture and the DFA parted ways in a professional sense. The band are at pains to state that this was simply a practical decision based on the fact that the DFA are now, like themselves, part of a major label operation, EMI Records, with individual commitments to fulfil. “We are all still great friends,” Vito stresses. “I last saw James Murphy and the guys from !!! last night. There’s no bad blood.”
There is still an element of tension, self-doubt and argument amongst everybody. Nothing is ever perfect.
On ‘Pieces Of The People We Love’, to be released in September, the DFA are succeeded by respected British producers Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Futureheads) and Ewan Pearson (mixer for Chemical Brothers, Depeche Mode and Gwen Stefani) who assume production duties on 80% of the music with Mr hip-producer-2006 Dangermouse completing the formation. They made some noticeable, quick improvements with this new team. “Fundamentally we all didn’t really like all of the songs on the last album,” says Luke, “and it would take someone in the studio to push certain songs that we weren’t agreeing on. It didn’t make for a good recording experience because at the end we still didn’t all agree that all the songs were there. This time around we agreed we were all gonna like every song before stepping into the studio.”
I ask if on the last album the producers had too much influence on certain songs to which Vito offers, “Yeah maybe at times, but we all did sometimes, and that could work both ways, some tracks would improve as a result [of the DFA’s input]. This time we had 30 songs demoed before we went into the studio and knew what we thought was crap and knew the songs we all agreed on.” Luke interjects: “Take the song ‘The Devil’; I may not have loved that, but Dangermouse would, he’d get really excited. So he’d push us along to complete it in a way we’d all like. With ‘Whoo! Alright-Yeah…Uh Huh’ I think we all completely agreed on that one, and Paul would be really excited so he’d push it along. The studio was vibrant, and different people’s excitements and perspectives helped bring things to life.”
‘Pieces Of The People We Love’ is the sound of a band evidently comfortable with their sound and surroundings, more settled within themselves and those around them. “We’ve definitely got better at interacting and at being focused on what we want to do,” says Mattie, with Vito agreeing. “I think we’ve all grown up a lot. We’ve all learned from earlier mistakes. The whole process was nice. Everybody was able to get into their role, and this came across in the songs.” Gabe typically offers an alternative. “I think we were all more comfortable than ever but there is still an element of tension, self-doubt and argument amongst everybody. Nothing is ever perfect and those weaknesses have always been a characteristic of our music.”
Where ‘Echoes’ was raw, agitated and rough, ‘Pieces…’ is more composed, subtly self-assured, and less obvious in its production. But in no way does it lack the punk ethic and heart or the loose low-slung funk structure of ‘Echoes’. It’s just more complete, a progression learned from playing the same tracks over and over and knowing exactly how to improve your next attempt. The band also stated early on that they wanted to make this a party album, and that it is. Mattie’s disco punk basslines sit alongside Gabe’s electro synths and ska-flecked sax, all of which reverberate under Luke’s unmistakeable searing neo-falsetto vocals or Mattie’s slightly lower tones, with Vito’s hugely tightened funky drumming rapidly driving the whole show along. You can instantly hear the freedom and celebration in ‘Pieces…’. On this album The Rapture make it sound easy to enjoy playing music.
Lead single ‘Get Myself Into It’, written by Luke about nothing in particular other than that it reminds him of “burned red Brits on holiday in Ibiza”, is a Zane Lowe rubber-stamped summer ska-funk anthem. It sports a superb rollerskating video you may have seen all over MTV, with the awful body-double dubbing of Mattie having a skate-off surely a deliberate comedy ploy. Another highlight is ‘The Devil’, again written by Luke, about “the stupid stuff you have done and seen the past, or things you’re friends have done, and not wanting to become that”. It’s Daft Punk let loose in a New York basement, doing a skanking cover of later years Clash. The title track takes on the perfect modern dance structure, borrowing the sexy German Schaffel beat, shuffling its way across a dancefloor under a smoke-machine mist of the most haunting, brooding electro bass, a trait which is taken up a level on ‘First Gear’. The bass this time oscillating and intensifying as its pitch rises through the repetitive vocals of Mattie and his female harmonisers rejoicing their super-sexy Mustang Ford.
The album’s dancefloor anthem is ‘Whoo! Alright-Yeah…Uh Huh’, written by Mattie to describe “lame revivalist 80’s culture, the vapid subculture of New York.” With the second verse turning on himself to say, “fuck you, who are you to criticise other shit like some rock and roll poet?” This track is a perfect example of Mattie’s equality with Luke as songwriter and vocalist. Luke is happy with this as he searches to lose the frontman tag. “I feel ripped off by that because it’s not how it is; on this album the songwriting is 50/50. Every time we do photo shoots it’s like, ‘ok we’ve done these shots, can you now step out in the front’. That doesn’t interest me. I think the best bands aren’t just a frontman. What’s gonna have to happen is Mattie is gonna have a song, a big single that gets shown on MTV a lot so people recognise that he is our singer too.” I think they may just have found that song.
The Rapture have come a long way since the streets of San Francisco, and they’ve done all the things a band should to earn that place in musical heaven. As Luke puts it, “We are real do-it-yourself. We’ve all been in bands, lived in vans, slept on strangers’ floors and played basement shows.” And when they see the new want-it-all-now MySpace generation have it easy, Gabe puts it simply: “Nothing makes me hotter under the collar man,” before Mattie jumps in. “People starting a band now are dreaming of a much wider and higher success than I ever thought when we started out. The concept of doing what we’re doing now was completely alien to me when I was 17. But yeah, we’d use those channels too if we were that age now.”
Vito agrees that nothing has come easy, but with this album, clearly one of the best and most individual in a year of plodding indie-rock, things have seemed so much better to him. “Nothing’s ever perfect you know, but I’ve felt happier being in this band working on this album than ever before. I mean being in a band is like being in a relationship with 4 girlfriends… it’s hard.” Sounds like he can almost see heaven approaching.