Arthur Galestian Interviews Orbital
Saturday, September 22, 2012
Arthur catches up with Orbital before their set at Nocturnal Wonderland 2012. The brothers Paul and Phil talk about their experiences on the road, their live shows, music, history, and life!
Arthur Galestian: Hey, my name’s Arthur Galestian. I’m here backstage with Orbital, the brothers Paul and Phil. How’s it goin’, guys?
Orbital: Fine thank you. Yeah, good thanks!
Arthur Galestian: This is a pretty big deal for you guys. You had taken a hiatus back in 2004, and now you’re rekindling everything and ready to jump back on board here in the U.S. What was the reason behind the hiatus in the first place?
Paul: We were creatively not doing anything exciting. It was time to stop and try something different, do different things. Basically, we had to step away from the auto-machine in order to view it properly and get a perspective on it. That wasn’t the plan, we didn’t stop and think, “We’ll stop and start again in a few years.” We just stopped ‘cause it seemed like the right thing to do. And then with some perspective, we were like, “Oh, it’s quite nice!”
Phil: We weren’t really feeling it. We ’re very conscientious, and we weren’t feeling it, so that was it.
AG: So what would you do in the past to gain inspiration for your music, and what did you decide to differently when you got back together again?
Paul: I think it was just the fact that we’d had some time away. I think I realized that there’s fifteen years of music—of hits, favorites, that kind of thing. When you do a live set of that, it’s a rich vein of creativity to tap into. And to give that up was maybe foolish. Well, not necessarily foolish. It was a great thing. After kind of thinking about that, about two and a half years later just doing different things, we got asked by the Big Chill Festival, a friend of ours. They said, “If you get back together again, you can headline our festival. How would you fancy doing that?” And they kind of challenged us to do it. And that was kind of the final spot when we were like, “Let’s give it a whirl and see what happens.”
AG: Your first ever tour in the U.S. was back in 1992, which is pretty incredible! You had another tour earlier in 2001 here, which is quite a long span of time. How would you say the dance music scene has changed from your first round of tours until now? Twenty years plus, that’s a large span, so what’s your take on it?
Phil: When we used to go around touring back in 1992, there were pockets of ravers in every city, downtown warehouse parties, it was all going on, but it just wasn’t on a national scale. We come back here now, and it all seems to have gone national. It’s grown bigger, those pockets of people have just grown and grown and now it’s just gone boom! That’s the major difference, I would say. Everything’s still the same, you still have ravers, the younger generation’s growing up on more electronic music than we were. So it has just grown and grown and gone on a national scale.
Paul: The thing about dance music is that it’s kind of primal, so it doesn’t actually change too much. It’s got to be pounding; it’s got to have kind of a tribalistic energy. You get all the different emotions in there, you get dark stuff, you get exciting stuff, but it’s the base level of what dance music does, and does well, and just keeps doing. Even with the clothes and the fashions, when I think about some of the crazy characters we would meet in 1992 over here. I just had a little walk around here and people still look the same! Yeah, they’re still here!
AG: Before we turned on the microphone here, we were talking about you guys being brothers, and it’s pretty rare to see two siblings traveling around the world doing music together, especially being on a similar musical wavelength. Then you said something interesting about putting smiles on people’s faces, and looking for that connection in the crowd. So what do you look for between your interactions with the audience, how does it feel to be back on stage?
Phil: Well, it’s fantastic being on stage. The way we perform live, we’re improving the starch of the song. Everything’s broken down into individual parts, so you’re trying to feel the energy, and you can feel it when people are enjoying a piece, so you can continue a section even longer, or take it away, and you can do things like that more. Wherever we play, we both look to our gut feeling, like, “Oh no, we’re not connecting” or “Hey, we are connecting!” And it’s that connection, really. It’s most important when we play live. At least that’s what I look for.
Paul: Yeah, you just look into their faces and see if you can see the glee there. If they’re all smiling and looking gleeful, it’s working! As I’m arranging stuff, I go with my gut feeling. I’m sort of inspired by what’s going on in front of me. If people are really happy, I’m happy to take it wherever it seems to want to go. You just get on a roll with each other. You start living now, you start living in the moment. As soon as you’re thinking about, “Now I’m going to do this, and I could try that, and if I did that,” then you’re not in the moment. But you do have to do that sometimes, like tonight. We have an hour set; we prefer an hour and a half, or an hour and three quarters. So we have to cut some tracks up, but we don’t want to cut the tracks up, we want to keep all the tracks in, so we’ve cut a few. But we’re going to try to squeeze them in, make them a little tighter tonight, a little shorter, more concise. That, in itself, is exciting, because it’s a new challenge, it’s something I haven’t tried before. Even tonight, we’re getting some joy out of losing some of our set. You know, it’s going to be an hour, we’re going to get all those tracks in, it’s going to be mad, let’s see what happens!
Phil: I think the side effect is that the performance of those tracks is going to be done in such a way where we’re playing a set just for the people there. They’re all one-off performances.
Paul: And because we choose to do that, if I do the first two or three tracks and they look like they’re wanting the tracks to be longer, I’ll start stretching the tracks out, I’ll just throw two more tracks into the middle. I’ll just stretch the tracks out if that’s what feels like the natural flow of the evening. I like being able to do that.
Phil: The audience plays a large part in the way we perform, more than they’d ever know.
AG: How do you run your sets now? You’re known for having elaborate stage setups. How do you run your live shows now compared to the way you did ten years ago?
Paul: It’s almost the same! The only difference is—we still take loads of analog synths, we still take 909s, drum machines, things like that. We still improvise with the structure, but we used to do it with MMT-8 hardware sequencers. Now, we’ve got custom software on iPads that run Ableton in the background. I can’t bare looking at computer screens on stage, but the iPads are great because they’re just big, colored touch-screen buttons. And it’s kind of like a rebuilt MMT-8, but more like a super version. It’s brilliant. It’s just great! It’s the best control system we’ve had. I think it’s the most “free” one. But we kind of change our synths around. As the tours go on, we kind of go, “Alright, let’s lose that one, let’s bring that one in,” and just get a different synth to do the job of other ones.
AG: Are there any synthesizers that you just feel like could never be replaced and will always be on tour with you?
Paul: At the moment, I’d say the two that are kind of like that are the Moog Voyager—that’s been with us for a long time. And the Tempest, the Dave Smith Tempest—that’s definitely there. We’ve got one called the MacBeth M5N; we don’t have that with us tonight, but that’s absolutely huge and it kind of tends to stick around in Europe. But when we come over here, we swap it for another one that does the same kind of thing, but it’s half the size. Which again, it’s interesting because it’s like, “I’m doing it on this tonight, what’s that going to sound like?” It keeps it fresh actually, changing the synths around.
AG: Now, after 8 years, you have a brand new album called “Wonky.” Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about that and what went into making the album?
Paul: Basically, we sat down and tried to write an album that we thought would be stuff we’d like to play live. Because we were enjoying playing live so much, and we want to carry on playing live. We don’t want to just be some heritage acts just playing all their old hits. Having toured for two years, that was missing from our live sets. What did we want to hear in there? What kinds of things? So, we basically sat down to fill the gaps in the set with exciting stuff that we wanted to throw in there. So it’s like a live-based album before we played it live, if you know what I mean.
Phil: It’s a sort of development from the one and a half years of playing live. Like Paul was saying earlier, when we went and did the reunion gig, we never said, “Alright, we’re going to get back together and do an album.” It was just a natural progression of the reception we got from the reunion gigs and the encouragement that we got from the people. And the way we were enjoying it, we thought we could definitely do some new music, because we weren’t ready to stop at that point at all [laughs].
AG: You have some upcoming U.S. dates in Oakland, CA for Beyond Wonderland, you have Vancouver, Seattle for the Decibel Festival, you’re going to be in Portland, and North Carolina. Are any of these cities new to you?
Paul: We’ve kind of dipped our toe into the outskirts of Vancouver before. Portland, we’ve done. We’ve done Seattle. We’ve done San Francisco. Never been to San Bernardino, never been here. Although people keep saying it’s LA, which it obviously isn’t, it’s miles away from LA! Ashville, North Carolina, never been there. We’ve definitely been to North Carolina, but not Ashville.
AG: No doubt you’ve put a lot of work into getting where you’re at now. What words of advice would you have to share with people who are trying to break into the scene now?
Paul: It’s funny, everything’s changed. When I started off, basically, I got introduced to pirate radio station DJs, especially a guy called Jazzy M, who used to run his own record shop. So I used to go and play him demos and if he liked them, he’d play them on his radio show. And he’d give me a handful of records, ‘cause he knew I didn’t have any money. So he’d tell me, “Mate, listen to these, do something like that, see that one, that’s what you want to do.” He used to sort of mentor me into how to take dance music forward, he was a very forward-thinking man, he was brilliant. So, hooking up with people like that. Listening to your elders, always a good one! [laughs] There’s definitely mileage in that, because they do know more than you, no matter how arrogant and youthful you think you are. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of power and passion in the arrogance of youth. There’s a lot of mileage in that as well. But, definitely listen to your elders, that’s my advice. I like that one! I’ll stick with that [laughs].
Phil: I would say don’t do anything you’re not feeling, really. Don’t do anything because you feel peer pressure like, “I’ve got to do a bit of dubstep, because that’s what’s really fashionable now.” I’d really avoid that route. I mean, some people are really good at doing that, and good luck to them.
Paul: They’re soul-less! They don’t have any fun!
Phil: They might have fun with all the money they make!
Paul: It’s just a job for them!
Phil: You can see where we’re coming from [laughs]. I get a feeling that if you do something from the heart, that translates through your music, and that’s what people pick up on. That’s the hippy side of me and I’m sticking to that!
Paul: I think that’s good advice. Do what makes you happy. And don’t adhere to peer pressure on any level, especially with technology. You can do the best music ever on a really crap laptop with hardly any software. You can make the best song compared to someone with a studio full of stuff, who can make a pile of crap. Don’t get me wrong; it’s lovely to have lots of technology—
Phil: It’s not really a necessity. “Oh, I must have that, then I’ll make it! I must have that bit of gear!” Then you sort of get involved in the technological side of it where you think, “If I have that, then everything will be alright. I must have that!” That goes back to what I was saying earlier, I’m not saying don’t be influenced by what’s going on in the scene, ‘cause you can’t help that, but don’t get caught in that trap.
AG: Anything else you’d like to tell our listeners?
Phil: I’m really happy about coming back in the U.S. I thought Orbital had finished! Genuinely. And that sort of escalated into a couple of summers of reunion gigs, then an album, boom! And here we are, it’s great, and it’s a joy to be back. I love it out here, I really do. It’s a joy to be back and playing again.
Paul: It is good to be back. I love it!
AG: So how can we stay in touch with you now?
Paul: We’ve got facebook.com/OrbitalOfficial. We tweet sometimes, we have phases of that. Twitter.com/OrbitalBand. And OrbitalOfficial.com.
AG: Thank you guys so much. I really appreciate you giving us your time. Phil and Paul, thank you!
Orbital: Thank you!