A surprisingly good article from MP3.com, featuring an interview with the articulate James Righton, of The Klaxons group, touching on Crowley, the OTO, Psychic TV, et al.
Well worth a read, and nothing like you’d expect in an article about “pop music”.
The myth and magic of the Klaxons
By Chris Rolls
Conducted April 6, 2007, 07:00 PM
James Righton of the Klaxons discusses the occult in pop culture, modern American psychedelic bands, and the fact that his band is not rave.
MP3: Hello, James.
James Righton : How are you doing?
Good. How are you?
Just great. I’m sorry you were holding on the line for so long.
Well, actually I was just sort of writing cheap questions on yellow-sticky paper and listening to your album while I was on hold.
Good. I love it. [indiscernible] That’s all I used to do. I used to leave it to the last minute and then just be at it all the time.
I don’t like writing questions beforehand. I mean, I try to listen to the album as much as I can and then just walk a lot.
Exactly. That’s what you want to do. It just doesn’t…there’s no point in being rigid and expect a few boring question about the obvious.
Right, music is obviously a subjective experience. I think once you begin speaking to the musicians who create the music, you can’t stick to a rigid question set when there has to be fluidity.
Exactly. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
I’m interested in you and who you are–your backstory. It seems that you were involved in university for quite some time and teaching English.
So how is it that you’ve managed to record such an accomplished album when it appears that you would have almost no time to dedicate to music?
I don’t know, I’ve always played music. I’ve always had music in my family. My dad’s very good at the piano and the guitar, and he used to play music for me all the time. So I always kind of dabbled here and there, and [I was] always in bands growing up really. Since the age of about 10, you know, I always kind of played in little bands, formed bands, and stuff like that. And I used to do music but it was always…I’ve got like this cheap recording equipment just to record little demos and stuff, but the thing is, coming from where we’re from…I don’t know.
I think the problem always is finding people that there’s a chemistry with–that there’s like a spark with. That’s the hardest thing I think always when you’re forming bands because a lot of time you think, you can form bands, but it’s just with the wrong people who are there. It just doesn’t work out, you know.
So I went to university, tried to find bands there as well while I was studying. I couldn’t find any. When I moved to Madrid to teach English, I just learned a bit of Spanish [indiscernible]…still playing music at the same time, but again, I couldn’t’ really find any bands.
And then while this was going on, me and Simon used to jam–just play and just put our ideas down every summer back from university. And then he came out to a festival I was at in Spain, Primavera Festival, and he said, ”You know, come on, let’s just do it for real, and let’s take it seriously. Let’s move to London and try and actually do it.”
So I think you can be in a band and be OK if you’re from outside of London, but if you’re in London, it just makes a massive difference. That’s where the industry is. That’s where you can meet new people who actually want to take music seriously. And it was there where we got together with Jamie and the three of us started playing together and all of us–the three of us–all dedicated ourselves to music.
We just started to put everything into the music. So we didn’t have any jobs. We just played together every day. We were just on the dole, you know, picking up our benefits every couple of weeks. We were just trying to keep on the benefit system, but they kind of kicked us off eventually.
Yeah, I sincerely wish we had that luxury here.
Yeah, in a lot of ways we’re lucky because there is…I mean, it’s very tough to get onto it, but there’s a musicians…I forget what’s it’s called. Musicians’ benefits basically, where you can go on it for three or four months or whatever, and you’ve got to show and prove to them that you’re doing things. Like you write a diary saying, ”Today I wrote a song,” and that kind of keeps them happy.
But they wouldn’t allow us onto it because they didn’t have that program in our area where we were living in New Cross. So we just got on the normal dole, but there’s rules that you can’t leave the country. And there were times that we would have to do gigs in Amsterdam and stuff, so I would have to fly out to Amsterdam. And then I remember I got back, and they kicked me off the dole, so I had no money. But luckily enough a week later, we signed our record contract.
Well let’s not move into cliche territory here, but there was brevity involved in your career and signing so quickly. So maybe you could explain what happened when you came to London. You formed this sort of golden dawn, if you will, in pop culture.
The band got together in November 2006. Oh no, that’s November 2005. It was only two months later. And what happened is…through a friend of ours…a friend of ours was putting on a night and asked us if we wanted to play it. At this time, we hadn’t even had a practice together. So the date was booked. I think the 11th of November was the gig, and we started rehearsing on the 5th of November…I think it was.
So we had basically six days to kind of work out a set. And, like, we just played every night for those six days. By the end of it, we wrote about three songs, which when we actually played, all fell apart during the gig. It was one of the most punk gigs ever I think….It had a lot of high energy in it, and it was very punk, but there wasn’t really much music involved.
This was at the same time when a lot of bands in London were Libertinesesque, you know. The influence that the Libertines had over London was still kind of there to be seen really.
But your sound seems to be so completely different from that.
Well, we had no real interest in it. I respect and loved what the Libertines did. Their first record is great. But I think none of us ever kind of really wanted to replicate it, and the influences that we wanted to draw on weren’t current, really. We were kind of just rehashing a lot of genres past, really, and a lot of bands that maybe weren’t being referenced a lot in current music.
Well I’m interested in that — and that you say that — because I’m reading all of these press clips about you, and they seem to make a lot of references to rave culture. Now my age — I’m approaching 34 — and I was very much a part of the American pre-rave culture of Acid House and the Psychic TV albums that transitioned into rave culture and what have you. And in any event, to make a long story short, I see the influence, but I think that’s a cheap reference.
I think you’re really reaching further back than that.
Right. I couldn’t agree more. The whole kind of…the rave aspect and the tag and all the kind of stuff that surrounds it–it’s got very little to do with our band–rave culture. We did steal certain bits from rave culture, but it was one part of many influences that we have. And, you know, I think it’s really misleading to see us as a rave act because we aren’t that. We don’t have 303s. Our music isn’t electronic.
We’re a band, and we play live, organic music. And we were more influenced by kraut rock bands like Can to Cluster and early electronic bands like Silver Apples. From ABBA to what Timbaland was doing–or is still doing. Blur…you know how massive Blur sounds…and just good pop.
I think that the elements of rave, which we really liked, were less about the music…more about the playfulness and the euphoria and the good-natured element that rave has. It’s not an angst, angry movement…you know, rave. It was, I think, a very passionate, outward-looking movement rather than an inward kind of pale-faced movement, you know.
We glean that out maybe more in our live shows. We are very high energy, and we like to make shows into events. And I think music…it’s a form of escapism. And during our concerts, we want people to escape and to be caught up in the music and just the moment, you know. But it’s exaggerated–that rave–the whole kind of rave element to our band. It just got blown out of proportion by certain musical journalists, press, whatever…
I think it’s very misleading to put references to glow sticks and whatever. Like, I’m picturing Mickey Mouse gloves, and it associates something very…almost negative.
Right, I couldn’t say it more. Like, we really hate it, and no one likes it. It’s like a cheap crass tag that is misleading and hasn’t got anything to do with what we’re doing and nothing to do with what these other people are doing.
It just kind of snowballed out of control from NME, basically, who kind of started pushing the tag and then it became kind of gospel. A lot of journalists took that tag and created a theme and a movement that didn’t really exist, but now it does. We didn’t set out to be a theme or anything.
But suddenly, these bands are kind of lumped together. And suddenly, there’s like a lot of kids–a lot of kind of 14 to 17 year olds–all dressed in that kind of paraphernalia. And it’s really, really bizarre because we are just a weird pop band–an experimental pop band. We’re not rave band. We’re not a dance band, really. There’s a dance element to us, but we’re not one thing.
And it was really funny because we saw that tag gain momentum during the time we were writing and recording. And it was quite funny actually…thinking about it now…because we just reacted against it. As soon as we heard that tag being bandied around, the more we wanted to go off into a different direction and come up with the album that we did.
Well, and the album is Myths of the Near Future. There’s a lot of…well the reason I say your music theme is older…it’s funny that you mention the Motorik sound and German Experimentalism because I definitely see that reference. And then I definitely see the more opulent ’70s glam references as well. And I don’t think that a song has broke on the British charts–since Bowie–that references Aleister Crowley.
Yeah, Led Zeppelin kind of was…
Oh, I guess that’s true. Yes, absolutely.
There are few that come…I mean…that was the weird thing for us. I mean we’re a weird pop band who sings kind of about…we’re dropping literary references and sing about things that probably shouldn’t be sometimes.
Yeah, you’re talking about magick in popular culture.
Yeah, exactly. And the weird thing is, like, I think there is the time that we all sat in the van driving off to some gig somewhere, and it was on Jo Whiley’s daytime radio show on Radio 1. We heard it come on the radio and…”Magic.” It’s a dark weird song. It’s not a radio song, and there it was being played on the radio. And then straight after it was…I think it was… James Morrison or James Blunt or something with ”You’re Beautiful.” And it was just the juxtaposition of those two songs couldn’t be more…it couldn’t have been more out of place.
But at the same time, that was what was great. It was kind of like it was proven that you can actually put these things into the pop sphere and get away with it. And that’s what we were trying to do. And that’s the element…like with the KLF…playing with pop and putting ideas into pop, which shouldn’t be there. Or just playing with ideas and getting these things into pop–back into pop music–because I think pop has become so rigid, you know…the rules of pop. And the artists that we admire are the ones that kind of like…like the David Bowie’s and the Roxy Music’s, whatever…that kind of have a weirder slant and a different take on pop.
Now how far do your interests really go in, say, the Ordo Templi Orientis or black magick? Are you just making pop references to them or is this something that you’re very interested in–in your personal life?
We’re not practicing occultists. We’re not. We’re not, and I think it’s…we wanted to just…we just thought, ”Why not put it in there?”
Well, I love it. You have Masonic sigils on your album cover, and it’s great.
I think it’s a great play on an industry that perhaps uses magick. Exactly. Yeah, exactly. We’ve had a few fans…like one…we’ve got this one fan in the UK who seems to follow us around quite a lot at gigs and stuff. And he’s this big shaven-headed Welshman with tattoos, built like a brick shithouse. And he’s a big fan of Crowley, and we always see him down in the front shouting. And it’s so…it’s kind of surreal, really, to think it…he’s very friendly and very nice. I think most occultists are very polite and very kind and nice. We just don’t believe that we’ve bumped into an occultist. We’re not, in the sense, occultists. And we’re not, in a sense, practicing the works of Crowley. We just wanted to see what we could do…get it into music.
Well I mean, William Burroughs or Crowley or whomever, you know, Thomas Pynchon they all…
Yeah, they all make great, I think, lyrical cut-up material.
So you’re coming to the States. Are you at all surprised by the success so far of your album in the UK? This is exactly what you had been fighting for.
Well that’s what we wanted. I mean, we just find it funny that record companies–when we first met them–said that we wanted to be a big pop band, and we wanted to have our music heard by as many people as it can get heard by. We wanted our music out there. We weren’t ever a band that was kind of making music for ourselves or for our few friends in a bedroom to hear.
We wanted to be popular. I mean, there’s no better way of having an impact really than actually being popular and getting these ideas out into pop culture. I think maybe we were surprised, but we were very confident at the same time. We thought we had songs. We thought we had hooks and melodies that could cross over into pop. It all happened too quickly really to address and to think about too much. And we just really went with the momentum.
Are you confident that your recent successes will translate in the US?
We’re hopeful. And we’re not stupid. We know that America is a very big, different market and place compared to the UK. I mean, there are lots of bands that we see in the UK that are massive and are kind of still a small lather in the US.
But I think we’re prepared to work hard. I mean, we signed to BGC for a reason because we wanted someone in the States who actually liked our music looking after our record. We didn’t just want to hand it over to another person at Universal. We wanted someone actually to sign us in the States, and that’s why we kind of waited so long…to sort of make sure we got the right record in America.
And we know it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be tough, and it’s going to mean going back and playing a lot of small clubs again. But that’s the exciting part about it, you know. I mean, that’s where we started, and that’s what we enjoy. And it’s good, it’s a challenge, and we’re up for it.
Actually, after listening, like I said, quite a bit over the past couple of days, I have no doubt that you’ll definitely get some success in the larger cities…definitely.
Yeah, I hope we do. I mean, we’re just going to go over and just keep working it. We’re going to go and play a lot of dates and just keep coming back there. And it’s a country where we’ve got…it’s been one…it’s been a massive inspiration, really. American music in general…especially a lot of the current bands. And going back to about references and stuff, Liars were one of the bands that we…
Yeah, I could compare certain elements of what you’re doing to their first album in particular. But then you’ll hear elements vocally, I think, of the newer material.
Yeah, we’re more kind of inspired by the second and third rather than that and…
And the energy of the first one, I guess.
Yeah, the energy of that. But I think if you want…I think good debuts have to have an energy to them as well. They need to have that kind of…maybe it’s like stupidity, I don’t know. But they’ve got to be aggressive, I think.
But, like, the whole kind of…what’s going on in America. I mean, in the past year–two or three years in London–there was no music in London that really inspired us. And especially me and Simon are really into…kind of a lot of like Deerhunter and a lot of the bands under the Social Registry label.
I couldn’t agree more.
Yeah, like Gang Gang Dance, Psychic Ills and Indian Jewelry. That’s all we listen to basically is, like, American experimental. It’s almost like a new kind of phychedelia. I think a lot of these bands are kind of gearing…and then TV on the Radio…and I think Joanna Newsom’s album was incredible. And it’s quite funny, you know, there isn’t much really coming out of England that I can really be that interested in.
I think you’ll find good success here because you’re talking about these bands that would be relatively easy for you to align yourself with, and you appeal to the noiseheads here.
I was going to say, I think Simon would like if we were a bit more noise, to be honest. And we’ll probably go down that route for the second record. I don’t know, we might.
I think there are a lot of noise people who are hungry for intelligent pop music.
I think you’re right. I think it’s like with relationships. I think you can be pop and be noise at the same time. Those bands…I don’t think there are a lot of bands doing it, but I think, like, those late bands I was saying earlier…I think they do it really well. And I think if it’s younger, then it needs exploring a little bit more, I think.
Well, I’m sure we kind of need to wrap this up. Thanks for talking, James.
Nice speaking to you. OK, see you in San Francisco.