The Big Pink: "We needed to create a different energy"
As The Big Pink trade in their explosive debut's distortion, Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze tell us why their live show will be all change on Valentine's Day
London duo Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze's 2009 debut A Brief History of Love was enormously successful, with its blisteringly distorted pop rock songs that were as much for dancing as they were paeans to lost love. Speaking over the phone as their second album surfaces, Cordell marks their change in direction.
“The first record was quite a personal, heartbreak record, that’s just where we were at the time. We were in exactly the same place; we’d both just broken up with girls, and that’s when we got really close, and started playing music. But this record, we wanted more of a universal feeling, it’s not really about love, or anything in that vein. There’s elements of that, but it’s got much more of a positive energy in there. Just trying to put across a positive feeling without going too deep. It’s a lot more outgoing than the last record, which was slightly inward and quite retrospective. I think it’s a much fairer representation of who I am and who The Big Pink actually are."
The two big singles from A Brief History of Love – Dominos and Velvet – ended up as unlikely pop hits, finding ubiquitous radio play as well as the very modern endorsement of gracing an Xbox advert. "The first time round they were happy accidents, we never really set out when we first started this band to make any pop hits, and suddenly we did start writing these ‘big’ sounding, radio-type songs. It was amazing hearing it on the radio, and so we thought if we can make this sound that’s slightly off-centre – you know, it’s not regular pop music, it has slightly dark lyrics – we’ve always liked the idea of being able to infiltrate the radio with what we do, and so we set that as a goal.”
The band's new singles have certainly moved on from that first outing, which Furze suggests was difficult to present in the live arena. “A lot of this record was inspired by touring the last one," he notes. "We wanted to create an upbeat, positive, more groove-based album. Our shows were almost a bit of a downer. We just didn’t realise how melancholic our songs from the first record were – we needed to create a different energy. We want to evolve to keep ourselves excited, and to keep our shows exciting.”
Future This has taken yet more strides in its diversity. Turning away from shoegaze to greet the great traditions of early hip-hop, all previous comparisons to My Bloody Valentine have turned to ash. “This time round we did a lot of research into how to create movement at the bottom end and some swing on the beat, and I think that was partly missing in the last record.”
The introduction of sampling has also had a significant effect on the way the duo write and record. "We’d find a sample, manipulate it and stick a loop or a beat underneath then build up the track from there," says Furze. "We actually used a lot of samples and took them out towards the end of the process, and it would leave an imprint of the initial sample in the song. I mean, Lose Your Mind initially sampled Happy House by Siouxsie and the Banshees, but by the end we took it out, and I think there's still a slightly 80s feel to it.”
Similarly, lead single Hit the Ground (Superman) makes heavy use of Laurie Anderson’s 80s hit O Superman. Was it this particular song that drove them to write their own? “Yeah, we put the sample in right at the beginning, and created the song around the sample, and then it wrote itself," Cordell admits. "It was the last song, but it wrote itself. It seemed like the vibe was there straight away.”
Re-teaming with Dominos producer Paul Epworth, the band found an ally completely in accord with their vision from the start. “When Paul asked 'What do you want to do with this record?' we said 'Well, we just want to make hip-hop beats with guitar,’ Furze recalls "He was like 'Crunk beats with Sonic Youth guitar? Let's do it!'" Seeking an elusive tipping point “anywhere between Nirvana and Biggie” was an ambitious task, not least because the band were working with new methods. “We got a lot more into software and effects to give it a certain aesthetic. I think it’s quite beat and synth-heavy. But there are loads of guitars on this record; a lot of what sounds like a synth is actually a guitar!"
With the onus on the band to create music that’s equally fulfilling for them as it is their audience, Furze is convinced that a change of format was essential. “With the last record we did get a bit bored of the stop-startey stuff and playing the same song again and again. I think if we’re bored that translates over to the crowd a bit. We try to keep everything in mind, from our experiences of where we were at last time.”
Having parted ways with Akiko Matsuura of celebrated noise rockers PRE and Comanechi, their approach to the live set has since progressed further into electronic territory: “We got a new band. We found new ways of making music through Ableton, and different types of software to reproduce the songs live. We’re now able to make it a more organic electronic experience where we can loop sections, speed up BPMs, manipulate our songs almost like DJs; we can make them longer, or speed it all up.”
Their embrace of digital technology and reluctance to retread those melancholic overtones of A Brief History of Love has also opened up the floor for remixes with broader possibilities. Were they writing with a view to having more songs remixed, particularly given the flurry of interest from producers ranging from Mount Kimbie and Rustie through to Gang Gang Dance? “We've had a couple of great ones already, we had araabMUZIK do one for Stay Gold, araab's really good on that and it's got the great Danny Brown rapping on it," Cordell enthuses. "For Hit the Ground (Superman), we’ve just released a Forest Swords remix, which is really cool, it’s got a dub feel to it, but it’s also got a Dre 2001 vibe to it. I love choosing the remixes, and I love remixing; we’ve got one with Ladyhawke coming up."
Far from the sombre shoegazing of their earlier shows, when The Big Pink bring this latest incarnation to Glasgow on Valentine's Day Furze promises a work in progress that is bound for the dancefloor. "They’ll still be the same songs, but if you come see us play in February, and then when we're back in the autumn, those songs will be very different. I want to see it progress to a crescendo dance show, that's where I want it to go.”