Return to make contact...

Three years is a lifetime in the world of pop music. Don’t believe us? Let’s recap: Canadian man-child Justin Bieber was yet to unleash his debut album ‘My World 2.0’ like chemical warfare, upon the unbeknownst masses; Lady Gaga had only released her first LP, ‘The Fame’, a year before; and The Noisettes had released their second - and most recent - album, ‘Wild Young Hearts’. The world was a much more innocent and wholesome place. A friendlier environment. It all just made more sense. It marks the moment where the new age of pop villains were starting to rocket to fame - after years of plotting in record executive boardrooms - with chart topping alacrity. The birth of the modern pop behemoth - forged in the murky depths of Tartarus. So, fast-forward to the modern day and we are well into the reigns of the current dictators of pop music (they must be dictators - we didn’t vote for them). And, within this dystopian setting, how will the news that The Noisettes - a ray of light from the ‘before time’ - are ready to re-enter the world, when it is in such need of a saviour, be received by the sometimes questionable public? The answer, we hope, is rapturously. Armed with third album ‘Contact’ and a whole ream of stories to excuse their absence (more of which later), The Noisettes are here and ready to banish the chart demons forever.

“The sound we’ve created on this album - both the music and singing - hint towards this being our most accomplished record to date,” says Noisettes vocalist Shingai Shoniwa. “The performances are no-holds-barred, and not just from us, but also the other musicians we’ve worked with too.

“It’s important for us to be on our third album and still feeling on top of our game; that we’re penetrating the music scene and vibing with our fans as well as bringing in new ones. It can be quite hard right now as there doesn’t seem to be too much variety in the charts - there’s a polarisation between musicians who are making interesting music and those who are charting. There needs to be someone who can bridge that gap. There are often people in it for the wrong reasons. We love playing music and if that were ever going to change then we’d quit while we were ahead. The music is at the heart of everything we do: both our records and live shows.”

And indeed so it has proved. The band, made of Shoniwa and Dan Smith, have been on quite a journey over the last nine years - from 2007’s ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf?’ - right up to the modern day, and having developed a fierce live reputation along the way, they’ve emerged into 2012 kicking and screaming, clutching album number three tightly to their chests, ready to tell Clash their story.

“It’s a funny one because we had so many different experiences while making this album,” explains guitarist Dan Smith. “There were moments, like stepping into Westlake studio in LA with Jean Baptiste, who writes for the Black Eyed Peas, that you could never get a chance to warm up for. You’re just thrown in and have to go with it. I had some pre-conceptions of what it was going to be like and thought of ‘Boom Boom Pow’ and wondered how that was going to sit on our shoulders, but you walk in and meet the guy and immediately strike up a bond talking about old James Brown shows and some of our early influences.”

“But even with all of the experiences and opportunities we had to co-write with some amazing people,” he continues, “coming back to Electric Studios in Brighton and writing on our own with just our drummer was also incredibly important. During those times we came up with some of our strongest material.”

The opportunity, and experience, which has graced The Noisettes over the making of this album is one of its core components and certainly defines its creation. From the previously mentioned time writing with Jean Baptiste, to being flown in to work with Neyo as well as getting collaborations with Chuck Harmony and Wil Malone. The period also included time in some of the world’s biggest studios - Abbey Road being among them.

“My highlight was probably in Ireland,” reveals Shoniwa. “I was on horseback, cantering past the studio where we were recording the vocals for ‘Star’, which is the song I co-wrote with Neyo at the beginning of last year. It’s those kind of crazy experiences which have shaped the personality of the album for me and that’s something which can never be faked. No band could buy that story and it typifies how Daniel and I have led our musical lives - full of twists and turns. From there, we’d pop back to London - catch up with my Mum who is recovering from breast cancer - and then run over to New York and have some other musical adventures. We’d have it all up against us and be nervously drinking a gin and tonic on the flight. We were like school kids.”

The outcome, interestingly, is an album which is instantly recognisable as The Noisettes. Surprising in that so many cooks managed to get their wooden spoon into the ‘Contact’ pot. It’s the clearest example of the power of the band’s core writing duo, and while the importance of their worldwide musical escapades is undoubtedly the case, it was the Brighton sessions, between Smith, Shoniwa and their drummer, Toby Couling, which proved the most fruitful in the construction of the album’s identity. It’s an idea which was taken up in naming the third album ‘Contact’.

“It would be great to have an album name decided before we start but it’s usually the last thing we do,” admits Smith. “It’s interesting how ‘Contact’ became an umbrella term for everything that we’re about. It was the only word that summed it up. We were sat with all of these songs, which were really wayward in the way they sounded and, depending on who you ask, were either about me and Shingai or the people we’ve known or do know or relate to a feeling and how we view the world. The entire album makes up a rich tapestry of what we’ve always been about. ‘Contact’ is a perfect way to describe it.”

“The musical transition we’ve made on this album mirrors the transition we’ve made as people,” concludes Shoniwa. “It’s been exciting, fruitful - like a fairground ride. The backdrop has been this exciting journey - lots of amazing opportunities with pop and R&B heavyweights, which were unbelievable, but one of the reasons why it was so amazing was that they knew The Noisettes and also wanted to work with Dan and I.”

This is key and, perhaps, is the crux of ‘Contact’. Despite - and often because of - the huge names and places involved in the project, the soaring numbers and massive scale of production involved on many of the record’s big tracks, it is quintessentially The Noisettes. However, the album finishes with one of the most stripped back and minimal performances of the entire piece: ‘Nothing Is Lost’, which features Smith strumming on an acoustic guitar and Shoniwa’s vocal rhapsodising over a bluesy ballad. It’s a rare glimpse into the core of the band. And, when every last guest has left the party and it’s just the two of them left, this is the purest moment, and one that works perfectly with the entire premise.

Words: Sam Ballard
Photographer: Pelle Crepin
Stylist: Ogun Gortan Hair
Make-up: Monica Sorrs using MAC and Bumble & Bumble

Look 1 Dan wears: Leather jacket by John Varvatos, trousers by John Varvatos, polo neck by Uniqlo, chelsea boots by Jimmy Choo.

Look 2 Shingai wears: Suit by Martin Margiela, shoes by Topshop Unique, all accessories Shingai’s own.

Follow Clash: