Following the release of new album Semicircle, The Go! Team’s Ian Parton discusses working methods, recording in Detroit and why Motown is one of mankind’s greatest achievements.
At a time when we’re treated to a never-ending stream of new music, there’s something comforting about the fact that The Go! Team remain a project that’s at once refreshingly distinctive. Ever since Thunder, Lightning, Strike landed in 2005, which was a picture of technicolour brashness that stood out among the sea of guitar-toting post-Libertines chancers that dominated the British music scene throughout the second half of the last decade, their brand of soulful ebullience that’s often resembled demented kids’ TV show themes gone feral has remained a bright spot in the musical landscape.
Using the guiding framework of trying to recreate the sound of a school marching band going rogue while simultaneously liberating it from the realms of patriotism and sporting tribalism with which it had become almost exclusively linked to, on new album Semicircle Ian Parton rediscovers the collaborative approach last used on third album Rolling Blackouts (having essentially made 2015’s The Scene Between as a quasi-solo project). Amassing a stockpile of related instruments, recording them in a way that recreated the ‘gymnasium sound’ and fitting in something of a pilgrimage to Detroit to snare the services of the city’s Youth Choir, the results are simultaneously characteristically Go! Team and unlike anything they’ve done before. It’s a potent mix that’s at once nostalgic and familiar yet futuristic and exotic, vivid and overt yet nuanced and multi-layered. Following the album’s recent release, Parton talks working methods, working around a thematic framework, and why Motown is one of mankind’s greatest achievements…
Given that Semicircle marks a return to a full-band setup after the quasi-solo record of its predecessor, which was more difficult to adjust to: regrouping following the dissolution of the previous line-up or returning to a band dynamic after working on your own?
Well, I’m the one who writes the songs and that takes a long time – so in some ways it’s not that different – but at the recording stage I will get on the hotline to the band and ask them to come and record their instrument with me. I always want to be a band and particularly live they are more important than I am and they are better at playing their instruments than I am! I’m just the songwriter and I’m the one with the patience to sit there listening to thousands of records for months on end…
Having said previously that the record is an evolution of the classic Go! Team sound, what would you describe as the quintessential elements which define the band?
I think it’s a particular sense of melody that I’m probably too close to recognise. I love that about music, how there is this unexplainable melodic fingerprint. I guess there are things that I will always love. Using singers that have a particular kinda bedroom-y almost amateurish way of singing, sounds warping and bending, distortion on drums, layering brass which isn’t perfectly in tune with itself so it sounds more exciting, mic-ing things a bit from a distance so it might sound like its recorded in a gymnasium, having different production from section to section so it makes it quite schizo and tangent-y, using instruments that are rarely used so you have recorders, steel drums, kalimbas… maybe all of these things make it sound Go! Team-y.
Would you describe Semicircle as the first record with a stated thematic template and how difficult was it to incorporate the expanded marching band aesthetic into the existing Go! Team sonic framework?
I think the marching band thing was only one element – across the album there is a spectrum of sounds – I think generally I was imagining the whole thing as a fucked up, technicolour psych-y kinda community project. The ramshackle-ness of high school marching bands appeals to me… how they might be slightly out of tune or out of time but the enthusiasm is there. Other Go! Team songs like ‘Bust Out Brigade’ from Rolling Blackouts have used big brass sections but this album really ramps that up and drives that sound home.
Did you find that making a record with such a clear idea of what you wanted to achieve created a point of focus that helped the creative process or was it something that, in its own way, proved constricting at times?
That’s the good thing about the Go! Team – there are no constrictions! – the only thing that guides me is melody. For me melody is where it’s at. I think of myself as being in the hook business, so I never just randomly stick samples together. It has to flow like a song should and be catchy in an un-obvious way. Semicircle does hop around genres but hopefully there is something recognisably us about everything.
The new album has a a certain Motown-esque richness to it – was that something you were aiming for during its conception?
I guess that clash of bubblegum melodies and distortion is something that I’ll always be into. I did record some of the vocals in Detroit with a teenage choir but the writing was locked down by that point. I’d be lying if I said recording in Detroit wasn’t a big deal – for me Motown is one of mankind’s big achievements. We put man on the moon and we did Motown.
Would you describe the underlying vibrancy of the record as something that came out gradually while making it or as something you actively tried to create?
I certainly don’t set out to make a ‘happy’ record and I always slightly cringe when people use that word. I try and make the music action packed and unpredictable so hopefully positivity is a by-product of that. It’s a funny thing that even when the lyrics a pretty down-beat – say like ‘Mayday’ – people still say it’s a party song.
Go! Team records have always been incredibly upbeat listens, but given the incessantly gloomy wider world do you think having these pockets of positivity are arguably more important than ever?
I’m not really into escapism. I believe in being switched on and engaged, but there comes a point where you have to say ‘fuck them lot’. I’m not going to let them define this point in history. I guess The Go! Team for me has always been about focusing on the good stuff that is still around.
Given that you entered into the making of the album with a very clear vision of what you wanted to make, in hindsight do you think you made the album that you initially set out to?
Well, I guess I’m pleased that it’s recognisable as a Go! Team record. I’m a great believer that every band should have their own thing going on, but I don’t feel like it’s a retread. If anyone says that I always think: ‘well show me someone else that sounds like this then!’ It’s big and ambitious. It feels nicely channel hoppy and a kinda unpredictable listen. In some ways I think it’s the best Go! Team record.