Most people, however, will know him as the main man behind UNKLE, who since 1998 debut Psyence Fiction, have been busy demonstrating why they’re the masters of collaboration. With UNKLE hitting Aussie shores this month, we gave him a call…
Hi James, so how come you’re chasing winter around the world? Ah, I just wanted to do something different really. We’ve always done the summer thing before, playing tours like Big Day Out, so it’s nice to have a change. Plus I liked the idea of heading inland a bit, getting away from the coast and seeing some new places.
You must be able to pick and choose your shows a lot nowadays. Where’s still on the wishlist? I’d love to play more gigs in central and South America. I’ve played there quite a bit, in countries like Argentina, but there’s so much to see. Plus I’ve never been to Brazil. On a more personal level there’s places I’d love to go but not play shows, like Nepal or Mongolia.
You were just 18 when you set up Mo’Wax. What made you pick that route so young? Well, I always wanted to work in music but I wasn’t into the whole band thing in those days so I really wanted to work for a record label. None of them would give me a job though so I started my own! The funny thing is, looking at my daughter now, I’m thinking that she is only a year younger than when I started DJing in clubs. I’m not too sure how I’d feel about her going out to do that now.
How did you persuade such an incredible selection of collaborators, like Thom Yorke, Richard Ashcroft and Ian Brown, to work on UNKLE’s debut record Psyence Fiction? Well, they were people I sort of knew already and they were all really into the project. It was more a matter of schedules, trying to get people together. With Radiohead that was around the time OK Computer came out so things went particularly crazy for them.
Do you prefer collaborating to working solo? Yes definitely. Maybe it comes from the DJ thing but I just prefer working with other people. [The process] really varies between who I’m working with. I certainly always write with somebody specifically in mind, normally somebody I already know, but then it varies really. Some artists really take to the music while others want a much more active role in the production.
You do a lot of soundtrack work as well. How does that differ? I really like it because it means I’m always doing such different things that everything always feels fresh. It’s very different because you’re working to existing material rather than going wherever you find yourself going, you have to have the ups and downs to match what’s going on, but it’s not limiting because at the same time the instrumental element to it means you can be a lot more avant garde. The range you can cover in 30 seconds can be far greater than you would ever do in a song because there can be so much going on, on the screen.
Particularly exciting on this tour is your Sydney Opera House show with live strings. Did you ever imagine you’d be playing venues like that? No, not at all, but then every venue is a bit like that. I’m still a bit of a kid about it.
According to IMDB, you were on Gladiators once in 2008… You what? Are you serious? Ha, I don’t think I’d last a minute on Gladiators, I’ve never done that. I think I’d better get on there and do some removing…
UNKLE play Melbourne (Apr 29), Brisbane (May 3), Sydney (May 9), Perth (May 11), and the Groovin The Moo festival at Bendigo (Apr 30), Townsville (May 1), Maitland (May 7), Canberra (May 8) and Bunbury (May 14). www.gtm.net.au