Athlete have been around since the turn of the century and it seems that their millenium bug has grown even more ever since lead singer Joel Potts managed to check out of a skate shop and into a tour bus.
The band are now 3 albums into their careers and have enjoyed seeing themselves mooching around the top 10, stopping for a short while at the number 1 spot with their 2nd album ‘Tourist‘
Charlotte Russell managed to sneak some time in with Joel before their recent UK tour and this is what went down.
How is life currently?
Very good thank you very much. I like autumn.
Is it true you guys skate board and used to work in a skate shop in Kensington?
Just myself, the other boys can just about cruise along! I used to manage a shop called ‘Slick Willies‘ years ago and would skate a fair bit then, never enough to get any good though really. Now I’m getting old and it just hurts too much if I fall…so I stick to snowboarding.
Are you aware that many skaters are into your band?
No not really. It’s great if they are cause I love the vibe of the skate scene. I remember when Mark Baines first came down to a gig in Sheffield and I was like “Wow…Mark Baines!”. I never really want to be part of any particular scene though; I want to make music that is scene less!
What did you learn the most from releasing your last album?
To make sure we’re always making music from the gut and because we fucking love it. I never want it to be about how many ‘units are we shifting’ – too many bands and artists are worrying about that.
What qualities did Ben Allen bring to the new album?
We really wanted someone who wasn’t an indie rock mixer. Ben Allen comes from a hip-hop background – Gnarls Barkley, P Diddy, that kind of stuff. But he says he’s had enough of hanging out with gangsters while J Lo struts around in a bikini. Basically we wanted our album ‘pimped’.
The second album “Tourist” outperforming the successful debut “Vehicles and Animals“, and single “Wires” won Best Contemporary Song at the Ivor Novello awards in May 2006. When writing new material, is there a constant awareness of having to “live up to” such successful hits?
Like I said earlier, there’s a shit load of pressure on people to sell records and be commercially successful. Our culture tells kids to pick up a guitar, write a catchy tune (preferably with an 80’s vibe), get a weird haircut and a drug habit and you’ll be famous. I want to steer clear of that bollocks. We are fortunate to be on a label that has a history of bands that make creative music from the gut that turns out to be commercially successful. What I love about the Ivor Novello, is that that award was for the song, not the commercial success that came with it. Having said all that…I’m well up for selling a shit load of records!
The songs on new album “Beyond the Neighbourhood” use more synthesisers and electronic beats than the first two albums. Is this a reflection of your personal music tastes and preferences?
I guess so. We all love electronica, stuff like B Fleishman, Efterklang and Justus kohncke. It was bubbling under the 1st two albums but is more obvious on this record.
In what ways have the band progressed and evolved since the first album?
We’re always pushing each other to be better musicians and have a better understanding of music. We are getting better and we keep evolving because of that and because we love discovering new music and being inspired by a variety of stuff. It’s a journey and if I ever feel like we’ve arrived then we may as well give up.
For the songs written on this third album, were the song writing duties shared between the band or were the majority written by one person?
We all get involved. Songs start in loads of different ways. The only rule is – I write the lyrics!
How did the writing of the songs featured on “Beyond the Neighbourhood” differ from the process with the first two albums, if at all?
A few of them began on laptops while we were on tour. Others we wrote from just jamming together which I guess has never happened before.
“Beyond the Neighbourhood” was recorded in a studio put together by the band, without the use of a producer. What overall effect did this have on the band morale and the songs recorded for the third album?
It was probably the most enjoyable record to make. It was exciting being in our OWN new studio writing and recording stuff with my mates. It was also a load cheaper!
For this album, you used organic beats, which are described as “beats made from doors shutting, switches flicking and equipment being shaken, hit or dropped“. Which was the most unusual “organic beat” you came up with and on which tracks are they used?
Oh I don’t know, probably putting the toilet seat down or doing my flies up! You’ll notice them on ‘The Outsiders‘ and ‘This Is What I Sound Like‘.
One of the new album tracks “Flying Over Bus Stops” features female vocals from Londoner Marie-Juliette. How did you get together with Marie for this track?
She’s a friend of Jonny’s (who now plays live with us). She’s got a gorgeous voice.
If you could have anyone as guest vocalist on any of your songs, who would it be and on which track?
I’d have Bruce Springsteen sing ‘Best Not To Think About It’ cause it’s got a bit of a ‘Philadelphia’ vibe!
The first single from the new album, “Hurricane” was inspired by an article in National Geographic. What other situations have inspired the writing for “Beyond the Neighbourhood”?
I wrote ‘This is What I Sound Like‘ after watching the film ‘Munich‘. Lyrics for ‘The Outsiders‘ were taken from a poem I wrote in backcountry America and ‘Best Not To Think About It‘ started after watching a documentary called ‘The Falling Man‘.
Due to the increased presence of guitar on the new album, it has been necessary to add former Weevil guitarist Jonny Pilcher to the live line up. Has this forced any changes in the way the old material is now performed live?
We’d been talking for a while about having another guitarist for playing live. Jonny is an old friend and an amazing guitarist so it’s great having him around. We wanted Jonny to come up with some new parts for the old material so yeah, it’s different, fresh and even better!
Which venues where you most looking forward to playing in and are there any venues you wanted to play but, for whatever reasons, haven’t been able to?
I always love playing in Glasgow and we’ve never been in the Barrowlands before so that should be class. Shepherds Bush in London is one of my favourite venues and we’re doing 2 nights there. Bring it on.
Which of the new songs are you most excited about debuting on this tour and which of the older songs, if any, are being dropped from the set?
‘Second Hand Stores‘ and ‘Tokyo‘ feel great to play live and have been going down really well. I’m really glad to announce we’re not going to be playing ‘El Salvador‘ from the first album! I know some people love that song but tough shit cause I don’t anymore!
Lastly, your house is burning down and you have room to take one thing with you, what would it be?
Thank you for taking time to answer these questions, and good luck with the album release and upcoming tours.
‘Beyond the Neighbourhood’ is out now on Parlophone Records. Visit www.athlete.mu to get the full experience.