Filed under: Interview
Whether the inevitable collision of too many ideas on the table, the leisurely gait of seasoned artists who have little to prove in the innovation stakes, or just old-fashioned laziness, the Transit Kings have taken over five years to release their debut album “Living in a Giant Candle Winking at God”. The result is a hybrid of cluttered yet cohesive ambient, rock and dance textures perfectly befitting the genre-defying traditions that comprise the band – ambient house visionaries Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty, the men behind The Orb and KLF, Pink Floyd bass aficionado Guy Pratt, and producer, Guy collaborator and Orb contributer Dom Beken.
The album showcased on new year’s day 2004 in Tokyo, a location by Alex’s admission that was “far enough out of the way to not worry about the English press getting hold of what we were doing”. Paranoia notwithstanding, the album had enough clout to draw in contributions from former Smiths guitar maestro Johnny Marr, and, in the project’s comedic tour de force, former Fast Show performer Simon Day, who lent his rampant verbal torrents to the track “The Last Lighthouse Keeper”. Coupled with Guy’s forays into the underbelly of standup at the Edinburgh festival, and the arresting, suitably bizarre accolade that the group formed at Gunpoint (Guy and Dom’s London studio), we are further reminded that the darker edges of comedy are never far away from the Transit Kings. Higher Frequency caught up with Dom and Alex for breakfast on the last day of Fuji Rock.
Interview & Introducion by Matt Cotterill (HigherFrequency)
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : On “The Last Lighthouse Keeper” Simon Day from The Fast Show did the vocals, can you tell us the story behind that?
Alex Paterson : In my own little world The Fast Show was a huge tour bus experience, we were watching it on tour for years and years in the early days. I did Top of the Pops with The Orb once, and I got to meet the young Father Ted, and he was telling me about one Father Ted episode that is all about an ambient house DJ, and they said we basically just stole all your ideas and made that into a comic sketch, and I thought “fuckin brilliant!” And we took it another stage further in the sense that Simon Day, it turns out he’s a really good friend of Guy’s, Guy Pratt who’s also in the band, but he’s not here because… he’s a slag! (laughs) He’s a beautiful slag, he likes working with bands with names on them anyway, he’s like a rock and roll animal, and he got Simon Day involved, he came down, and the whole thing, he just ranted on and on, and it was like an epic story about this lighthouse keeper.
HRFQ : Did he write it himself?
Alex : It just all came out on the day! It was like.. pure male chauvinistic fuckin getting away with it in the 21st century! And people are laughing, you know. Talking about girls going round sweeping the flat, and the round stairs! Brilliant!
HRFQ : We were quite interested because Guy Pratt has done the Edinburgh festival of course.
Alex : Yea, he’s now become a comedian, I don’t know if you know about Guy’s history, but his father’s an actor. We were fortunate enough Guy and I because we went to the same school so we’ve known each other since we were pretty young, 14, 15. So I can say what I like about him! For the very reason he can say what he likes about me, it doesn’t hurt, we go too far back.
HRFQ : So everyone can slag each other off, you’re on the same level.
Alex : In a nice way, yes; I’m never going to slag him off in a horrible way coz he’s too nice a bloke to slag off in a horrible way… but he’s just a slag! (laughs)
HRFQ : Would you say that comedy is a bit of a force behind The Transit Kings?
Alex : Well it could be, couldn’t it? We could do an album with that kind of stuff. Everybody I play the album to, that is the track [“The Last Lighthouse Keeper”] that gets them smiling.
HRFQ : The album’s called “Living in a Giant Candle Winking at God”, and one of the songs is called “America is Unavailable”. These are quite interesting titles, what are they about?
Alex : Well, it’s all sorts of things, it’s a 9/11 expression really. Erm, you have to be careful with America and stuff like that because we put out a 12-inch on Kompakt as well this year called “God Bless America”, fuckin’ great title! “America is Unavailable”, the sample came from an ATM advert, it was “We’re sorry, this ATM of America is unavailable, please try again later”, so it became that, and the rest is history.
HRFQ : There’s a film behind the album release…
Dom Beken : There’s a plan for a film, there’s the idea of a film with Simon Day, which is kind of in preproduction at the moment, so I don’t know when it will be. Stand by your beds, and we’ll let you know as soon as we’ve made it!
HRFQ : Are you guys going to be in it?
Dom : We might make a cameo. We still haven’t decided how much of it’s going to be animation and how much is going to be live action. Have you heard the track?
HRFQ : We were just talking about “The Last Lighthouse Keeper”, Alex was saying that Simon Day just had free reign to say what he wanted, he just made it up.
Dom : He originally did it on a completely different track, and we just had 3 hours of the track loop, and they gave it to me to edit!
HRFQ : New Year’s Day in 2004 you played a gig in Tokyo to try out new album material, why Tokyo?
Alex : It just seemed far enough out of the way to not worry about the English press getting hold of what we were doing to be honest, on that level. Call it paranoia, for me anyway. With that sort of material the English could have a field day with it. We’re gonna do English gigs in August so we’re going to get some kind of feedback.
HRFQ : It’s been two and a half years till the album release since then…
Alex : It’s taken us five years to do it! (laughs)
HRFQ : Twice as long!
Alex : Can’t think what the second album’s gonna be like!
Dom : Six years on this one, it’s gonna be six weeks on the next one! (laughs) There’s so many versions of every song, I think the next album’s gonna be every single track of the Transit Kings put end to end in solo. The first eight-year album! 500 DVD set! (laughs)
HRFQ : A few tracks on your album appeared on your “Tokens EP”. Any reasons driving that release?
Alex : It’s exactly what it’s called, a token EP, it’s gonna be part of the album. Playing around with words basically.
HRFQ : Jimmy Cauty wrote some of the tracks on that, but he’s on ‘extended leave’ from the band.
Alex : Well, it’s if we’d got really big then he’d have come back in again! (laughs) You know, basically if there’s any money around then he’ll come calling! (laughs) Shall I slag him off now as well, we’ve done the Guy Pratt thing!
HRFQ : Is he still on your Christmas card list?
Alex : Jimmy? Erm… good question… maybe his ex-wife is! (laughter) I got a text from her last week saying “Yes, yes, XXX”
Dom : You’re having a text affair with Jimmy’s ex-wife? (laughter)
Alex: No I’m not having a text affair, I merely stated The Orb would be playing in Brighton, would you like to come along, and she wrote back “yes, yes, yes, XXX” Shut up, man! (laughter)
HRFQ : Gentlemen, the big names associated with you, we’ve got The Orb, KLF, Pink Floyd, and The Smiths.
Alex : I can’t stand The Smiths! He’s DJing now, isn’t he.
HRFQ : Johnny Marr, yea, he’s having a go.
Alex : He’s having a DJ go. It’s almost as bad as Duffy out of The Cult becoming a fucking DJ!
HRFQ : It’s something about Manchester guitarists, they’re all at it. On a more poignant note, Syd Barrett passed away a couple of weeks ago, obviously Guy Pratt has a strong connection with Pink Floyd, what would be your comments on his contribution, obviously to Pink Floyd, but also to the music scene as a whole?
Alex : What I find kind of weird is that the album was released the same week that he died, and we managed to get clearance for “Shine on you Crazy Diamond” guitar riff that we used on the John Peel sessions, obviously a song they wrote about him, I found that was a weird connection, just the fact it came out the same week, but there it was, he died. Yea, you know, I pulled out a few old Pink Floyd records, “Be Careful with that Axe Eugene”, “See Emily Play”. It’s a weird one, I mean Pink Floyd I don’t really like.
Dom: Oh, I do.
Alex: I can’t say I like Pink Floyd if I don’t. Well, I could, but I’d be lying. And that’s not good.
Dom: It’s kind of a thing from history for us really, I mean, I don’t know, was I even alive when he was in Floyd? Maybe only just. Probably only marginally more alive than I am this morning! (laughs)
Alex: I remember Cassius Clay more than I remember Pink Floyd in the sixties, but then I was only… ooh…six when he left the band. You’d get a better answer from that kind of thing if Guy was here really, because he’s part of the Pink Floyd family in that sense.
HRFQ : Gentlemen, on a final note, your comments on the future of The Transit Kings.
Dom: Well, we’ve got a gig in about two or three hours, and after that, flying back to England, I might go on holiday for a bit. (laughs) We ought to make another record at some point.
Alex: Before we get bored with this one..
Dom: And see if people like it. It’s quite self-consciously not in any particular genre or style, and was sort of done over such a long period of time that at no point were we going, right, this is what someone wants to listen to, this is drum and bass, or this is disco or whatever.
Alex: This is indie, or this is post-rock. I mean that’s the trouble now with music, it’s labels within labels, and it’s whether you try to keep up or try to think of something different and be innovative. Personally I’ve done that already, and The Transit Kings is something that is really good in the sense that it has taken us such a long time and it hasn’t taken any particular style. The way I take it is there’s more guitars on The Transit Kings than any other thing I’ve ever done in my life, which, again, is another experience.
Dom: It’s more self-consciously musically written and less sample-based, and it’s just trying to fuse the two things together and find new ways of doing it. I mean the way we’ve always worked in the studio is literally to have everything set up and everything in record, and just play, and see what comes out. Fortunately with the mix of people that we’ve got you’re gonna come up with something, you know Guy’s influences, Alex’s influences, my influences are actually all quite different.
Alex: Jimmy’s was as well. (laughter) Like a big black noise, haha!
HRFQ : Well gentlemen, we’re pretty much wrapped up with the questions, we’re looking forward to the gig this afternoon very much, and would like to wish you all the best for the future!
Alex & Dom : Thank you!
End of the interview
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