One Day At A Time: The Return Of Groove Armada
One of the most influential dance acts of all time, Groove Armada are back with an absolute belter of an album ‘Edge Of The Horizon’, their first studio LP after a ten-year hiatus.
Things sure have changed on Walton’s mountain since the crazy days of the 1990’s – Andy Cato spends his days sustainable farming in France and Tom Findlay has just qualified as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.
Despite these changes, one thing hasn’t changed - their ability to make amazing music that is both moving and uplifting in equal measure. ‘Edge Of The Horizon’ fuses old-school house, disco, funk and soul and this could be the duo’s best album to date.
Clash links with the seminal electronic duo to find out how it all came together.
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Congratulations on the new album, ‘Edge Of The Horizon’. Why is now the right time to release a new album?
(A) We took the decision back in 2010 when we were touring 'Black Light' that we would stop doing the live shows which were a big driver of the albums process. So, we just thought we would go back underground, and we did. We kind of went back to where we came from – and we were going to stay like that. Until we decided to get the live band together as it was a lot of fun and we wanted to do it again. Those gigs were electric and that started us thinking. There was stuff lying on the cutting room floor from 'Black Light' and a lot of things that had been done and put to one side. We came across them and they sounded exciting and that’s where it started.
We ended using very little of that and ended up writing a whole new set of tunes. That’s what gave us the impetus to do it.
You spent a lot of the album making process working remotely, how did you make that work for you?
(T) It worked pretty well actually. It was a really nice process as whenever we came together, it was only for two or three days and it was a joy to be in each other’s company. It’s lovely for those two or three days, but when you get into three or four weeks it can get quite wearing so the album speaks of a process which is one that we both enjoyed. I think if we were to write again, we would probably continue in this process. We are both living very separate lives now. So, it’s not quite possible to just commit everything to a process like we used to fifteen or twenty years ago.
You mentioned before that this could be the last album? Are you still standing by that or do you still feel like there is more to give?
(A) We definitely said that about the last one as well! We have been saying that for a while! I think now more than ever we are in a ‘one day at a time’ situation and we said that after Black Light that this was our finest ever record and it wasn’t an easy record to release.
We didn’t have a proper label or team around us, so we had to rely on word of mouth to get good music out there which definitely worked. Tunes like ‘Paper Romance’ was one of the most popular songs on 6 Music in the end. When we first put it out, it was a radical change of style and there wasn’t a lot of support for that. That was a difficult period as despite being incredibly proud of it, it was quite tough which is one of the reasons why we said we wouldn’t do this again.
As Tom was mentioning the way that we ended up working on this was just really intensive. Long weekends – not much sleep and beers in the fridge. Very much like we have always done right from the beginning. It was a lot of fun and that in itself makes you think maybe we should do more of it.
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It does feel like every track on this album could be a massive hit. Do you have a favourite track that you are particularly proud of?
(T) Personally, I am really pleased to hear that. I really love the record. It’s funny normally when you do a record, I go through a period of thinking it’s the most amazing thing the world has ever heard for about two weeks and then I can barely listen to it.
This record I have listened to a lot and I think it works really well as a piece of music and I think it flows really nicely. It’s got an energy that makes a lot of sense so that’s what I really enjoyed and loved about 'Black Light' too. They are two records that really hang together as a body of work. There are some standouts, I love the second track ‘Holding Strong’, I love the title track ‘Edge of the Horizon’ and ‘Dance Our Hurt Away’ which closes the record which is sort of that era of house music that we both love and it was a real honour to write with Paris Brightledge.
We are planning a little project after this which is going to be a more dancefloor thing. I am dreaming of being back on some decks and we are moving towards that kind of vibe.
(A) I think ‘Holding Strong’ - it manages to sit on the best edge of the eighties power ballad which is a knife edge, and you can easily fall off the wrong side of it! I love the ‘I Can Only Miss You’ tune, I love the ‘Don’t Give Up’ track. I have got the same feeling as Tom, it’s a record that I really enjoy listening to from start to finish.
I obviously agree with you that if you put any of those records on the radio they would go down very well. Whether they end up there or not is out of our hands – but it’s good music.
‘Holding Strong’ is a really beautiful track and is one of my favourites. What was your inspiration behind it?
(T) That’s a piece of music that has been around for a while as a backing track and we tweaked it quite a lot and started to turn it into more of a song and like Andy said you have to be right on the knife edge of an 80s power ballad. It’s about getting the right vibe and we think we got it just about right where its moving and uplifting but it’s not cheesy, I think.
Do you create the tracks with a particular artist in mind or do you create the tracks and think that would be perfect for this person?
(A) It’s a bit more scattergun than that really. We start with the tracks and will throw a vocal sample in there as inspiration and will sing some ideas. Sometimes we keep it instrumental and send it to a few different people and just wait for some interpretations. Creating nice music is something we have done a lot of and it doesn’t feel particularly hard. Getting something special is one thing, getting a great sounding piece of music together is something we can do reliably and when it comes to the song writing stage it’s all about that killer line.
What comes first when writing – lyrics or music or is it just a mixture?
(T) It is a mixture, most of the time it’s music first and you write a piece of music and it goes a certain way. There’s no particular way – you are just doing it, and something starts to take shape and you start to hear what that might be. Then you sit back and think what is the vocal and who could bring that to life. - With ‘Get Out On The Dancefloor’ the vocal came first and how do you write a piece of music around this kind of ‘crazy shouty half singy’ vocal thing? That way was to have the whole band jamming to make that fit which was rare for us, but quite a nice challenge actually. - With ‘Tripwire’ we had a similar thing where you get a track and then you start to build music around it the vocal. I think there is something in that actually as it’s more challenging and you have to work harder as a producer to try and work that around. So, there might be something in that in doing more of that – if we get around to doing another record.
You are at around two million steams on Spotify per month. Does it blow your mind how people are digesting your music and how the industry has changed?
(A) It’s certainly mind blowing how you can have a system where two million people are listening to your music and it’s absolutely impossible to make a living from that. That’s definitely quite mind blowing!
This brings us back to why it’s an amazing thing when you actually stop and think about what that means – it’s quite humbling and it’s a huge inspiration to carry on and do new stuff. But to make a living from that – it has to be transformed into live performance because it takes a lot more than two million streams on Spotify to go buy yourself a decent sandwich.
You have won Billboard awards and you have been nominated for Grammy awards too. I do have a feeling that this new album could push you through to win a Grammy award, as I think it’s amazing.
(T) Ahh! That’s lovely to hear! It’s funny the Grammy’s are quite weird as they exist in their own bubble and are completely unrelated to what is going on out in the world so who knows?!
'Black Light' was such a surprise to us it was an album that wasn’t massively fated in the UK. I mean we love the record and over time people have come to love it. I remember when it came out and we got the nomination we were both enormously surprised as we were for ‘Superstylin’ and ‘Easy’ – I mean why not? I think a Grammy is coming our way!
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Go for it! Are awards important to you guys?
(A) It is nice to have awards and that game hasn’t been a game we have really played or thought about playing to be honest. The awards are great because it brings the attention of a wider audience to the music and that happened with Black Light and hopefully it will happen with this one.
You took part in Clash Magazines Bathroom Sessions and this has been nominated for an award for the Third Sector awards so thank you for that. Did you enjoy doing it?
(A) It was fun as it gave us a chance to do something that I have been thinking of going for a while. Very very poor mans’ David Bowie meets Bob Dylan versions of dance music classics – the bathroom gave me a chance to do it!
If you could look back and give your younger selves any advice - what would that be?
(T) I wouldn’t really change very much. I think I would be enormously proud of the fact we have always retained our independence - whether it was setting up Lovebox or putting out albums like 'Black Light' really without a record label. We have never been up ourselves. I wouldn’t change too much, there’s a couple of very specific evenings I might change! but generally keep doing what we are doing.
Be independent minded and don’t be a dick. Work hard and be nice to people and I think we have done both of those things over the years and that’s something I am very proud of. I think people forget the basics sometimes and don’t be a dick is one of them.
You meet a lot of dicks in the music industry and you can see a lot of the ways in how not to behave for sure when you spend 25 years in it. Andy, what do you think?!
(A) I think similar – there’s a bit of ‘Je ne regrette rien’ with regards to a few things here or there. I think we have been enormously fortunate to have that bit of luck that you need to go from the people who can’t make a living out of music and who have got the talent to the people who do and it is just simple luck that gets you over that wall.
Secondly, having got over that wall to have surrounded us with just an amazing crew of people. We have spent 15 years on the road with our best mates. When me and Tom are DJing together there’s always been that great combination of nailing the gig and making sure no party stone Is left unturned and actually appreciating the absurdity of it all that you find yourself in when you are involved in making music.
What else is in store for you as a band?
(T) We are going to write some more club focused stuff, there’s a couple of new tunes that didn’t make the cut on this record as they are very clubby, and we wanted the record to feel like a bit of a journey, so it didn’t make it in. So, we are going to write some more stuff, much more dance floor orientated and up and at ‘em. We are putting some grooves together for that. I am quite looking forward to that actually. It’s been a really fun record to make this and I look forward to going back to some of the grooves that we were working on that didn’t quite make the cut and tweaking them. That’s the big next step - club-ready bangers coming your way!
If live music comes back, we would love to do a tour. All that stuff kind of feels like dream territory at the moment, but it would be amazing to do summer festivals, Everything, we lost this summer in theory will be back in for next summer. That would be heaven, but let’s wait and see!
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'Edge Of The Horizon' is out now - order LINK.
Words: Emma Harrison
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