Interview: The Prodigy

I interviewed the Prodigy on Saturday afternoon before their show in Seattle. The British band is hugely influential and relevant – a sure sign of their relevance was shown to me by the youth apparent at the show. When teens like something that means it’s a presence to be reckoned with, whether you like it or not. I happen to love it. Another sign of the band’s importance was likewise reflected in the presence of fans who have stuck with them since their first LP, Experience.

Liam Howlett, Keith Flint and Maxim answered a variety of my questions from such as what they think of EastEnders and Gordon Brown, controversy surrounding the band, and the Prodigy’s place in British music.

Dagmar: I was reading that Liam is a fan of horror movies – are you all fans?

Liam Howlett: It’s just me I believe.

Maxim: I do like the old style horror movies.

Keith Flint: I like porn, myself.

D: You did a song for a porn movie soundtrack, right?

LH: Not a very good one.

KF: But it was the first zero gravity cum shot.

LH: That is true.

D: Is the music available?

LH: I think you can probably hear it on youtube. It’s called Titan.

D: The band doesn’t make many TV appearances, why not?

LH: What it is, in a world where you can download the music, steal it, get it from mates or whatever, you can’t download coming to see the band. It’s fine if it’s a bit of footage of us playing live at a festival but we tend to try to stay away from more studio stuff.

D: There’s a lot of compromise on that level. When you go into the studios there’s always a compromise of some sort, whether it’s the sound, whether it’s the lights, whether it’s the performance.

LH: We want people to come to the gigs.

KF: They think they’re doing you a favor, putting you on the show and they become more important than you are. The music – it’s not about our performance – it’s about the importance of the music. If someone’s prepared to do it the way we want to and have absolute control over the sound . . . we have live guitar and live drums onstage and people try to mix that like it’s a live band. Essentially that’s not the sound of the band.

M: When we do a show there’s no restrictions. When we’re performing onstage Keith or myself might jump in the crowd. When you’re in the studio you’re told to perform within a certain area. We’ve never done it since day one so I feel like we should carry on . . .

D: I read that parents used to write in to TV stations and complain that kids were scared of Keith in your videos.

KF: That’s ludicrous. I think that’s ludicrous.

LH: We were always confused with that. I think they were scared of expression. Marilyn Manson is scary to kids.

KF: [It’s] honest energy. I think it, in effect, makes me more chill. You get up there [onstage] and get all your anger out. I reckon I’m more chill. It’s something that often comes up and I’ve never found the right answer for it. There’s nothing scary there. There was never a day where we thought there was an angle . . .

LH: Saw is scary.

KF: Kids, whilst they’re watching that, go into their rooms and turn on their laptop, pressing two buttons and watching anything they want to on the Internet. They should get scared about the right thing.

D: How did you balance on those ropes in Firestarter?

KF: Harnesses.

D: It looks kind of fun.

LH: It was good.

KF: It was a sixteen-hour day. A lot of the time they save the most arduous shots till last and I remember at the end of the day just having my nuts crushed and blood rushing to my head. It was all in good fun.

D: The video for Baby’s Got a Temper is great too – what was making that like? I love that video.

LH: You’re the only one. It was alright. Baby’s Got a Temper came from a dream I had, playing to a bunch of cows. We went to the gig and all the sudden [the audience] were all cows. I mentioned this to the director and he made the whole story about it. It was pretty cool to shoot.

KF: I actually haven’t seen it since the day it was made.

M: It was quite humorous . . . the people that played us.

LH: We don’t particularly like that song. It was written during a downtime for the band. We look at that period and we don’t really reflect it on much.

D: I’ve been reading that you consider the new CD to be more positive.

LH: That sounds a bit hipped-out. More like we had something to prove to ourselves. The last album was seen as more of a solo album, which I didn’t intend it to be, that’s just the way it had to be for us to move forward. We had unfinished business. We needed to make a band record, with all three of us. In the positivity of that, in getting back together in the studio, made the sound feel really up. It’s not a dark album. It’s got a lot of up energy in it.

M: Where we are as a band is reflected on the album. I believe that if a band’s going through a tough time you can hear it through their music downer.

LH: Baby’s Got a Temper felt lethargic and low energy, to me. I’m pretty critical of my music.

D: I read Liam watches EastEnders?

LH: I don’t watch it anymore. My friend is actually one of the main actresses in it, she plays Roxy, a barmaid. Do you watch EastEnders?

D: I do but I’m behind.

LH: How far behind are you?

D: A couple years.

LH: So you know the Queen Vic gets blown up by terrorists?

M: I actually hate soaps.

LH: I watch films.

M: Yeah, loads of films.

KF: I do watch TV. I have to watch a certain amount of TV to chill me out at night.

D: Keith, you’ve turned down a few reality things.

KF: I’ve been offered reality things. It’s just not something I’d consider doing. I’d rather die poor than die with the shame of doing that.

D: There’d be footage of you brushing your teeth on TV.

M: Some things you’re supposed to keep to yourself.

D: What about tattoos and piercings. Are you going to get more?

KF: I don’t like my tattoos. I think piercings are over, well and truly over.

LH: Tribes in Africa don’t think that though. They get them for the right reasons. I watched a documentary yesterday [about Masai warriors and earlobe loops] and the bigger the loop the more the women go [for them].

M: Same with the guys with the lip plates.

D: The beginning of the song Firestarter, how did that develop?

LH: We were friends with Dave [Grohl] and he was a fan of the second album. He was telling us about Foo Fighters and he gave us the first album. I was playing it and I think it was track seven – I really liked the guitar riff. I got my guitarist to come round and said, can you play something similar to that? He played a riff that was different enough but had a similar energy about it.

KF: Put it in the computer and then fucked it around a bit.

LH: Fucked it around and reversed it. I rang Keith and said I’d done the first track for the album. It’s going to be an instrumental – come by and check it out. Keith came round and said if there’s ever a track I want to be on, this is gonna be it. He picked up the mike and a day later he’s finished. The demo is the actual thing that we used. We went into the big studio to mix the whole tune, and we ended up using the demo and recorded the vocal into the demo. Not a lot of people know that. I’d produced it so well at home that they couldn’t recreate it in the studio. I was proud of that.

M: Sometimes things that are raw like that are the best.

D: Do people still say stuff to you about Smack My Bitch Up?

LH: We laugh about that. Funny enough all the actual attention came from America. We came home one night and they were talking about it on BBC TV on some kind of politics show. It was Tracey Emin, who was basically on our side, talking for us –

KF: About freedom of speech. We’re in touch with the kids and they’re not in touch with the kids. They just don’t get it. The fucked up side of it is that they don’t see hot chicks at the front of the stage singing Smack My Bitch Up. The girls think it’s their track. As Liam says, I come back and turn on the TV and there’s an art critic, Tracey Emin the artist, a guy from the NME and an MP on a political program that’s usually debating the state of the Euro . . .

LH: A bit surreal.

M: Debating about Smack My Bitch Up is quite contrived.

LH: It shows you much the times have changed. To us it’s not controversial. The video was controversial. We set out to make a controversial video because that was our further way of laughing at everybody.

KF: You think that’s controversial wait and see what we do when we want to be controversial.

M: I think having the debate was more controversial.

LH: Now, like Keith was saying, kids can turn on the computer and see something far more shocking. You can’t create controversy like that. Kids are smart. You can’t create false controversy. When people do that people see through it. We’re not prepared to do that. If it happens naturally, cool.

D: Did you all learn to dance?

M: No, we just went out and took loads of pills. It’s just expression. I don’t actually call what I do dancing. I’m not a dancer, I just move across the stage and bang my head.

LH: I may have [danced] in 1992 when I took loads of ecstasy. But not lately.

M: I dance probably in the same way as you do when you go out and dance. I’m about 5 foot or higher than you are but . . .

LH: We come from the British rave scene, which was a dance culture. The idea of anyone giving us dance lessons is hilarious to us.

KF: That’s why the band has the appeal to the kids. . . express yourself across genres. It’s just three lads that are real, that get up there and do their thing. We didn’t go to music lessons and dance lessons and have rich parents who said you must perform and make money.

M: It’s raw.

KF: We knew we could do it. Liam was obviously writing music and we just jumped on his bandwagon. I’m just a guy who jumped up onstage one day and never got chucked off. That is my role now.

M: There’s nothing about us that is trained. When you say dancer it scares me. I hate that. I don’t like that word because it puts you in a category with like, Beyonce and dancers behind her doing all the routines. There’s three terms which I hate: MC, dancer and electronica.

LH: Or an MC that dances to electronica.

M: Some people put that title on me. That’s the most hated person on the planet.
D: Are there any tunes you haven’t been able to sample and been disappointed about?

KF: The theme tune to EastEnders.

LH: Some of the stuff is obscure so it’s kind of hard to sort out. I try and find things that people haven’t heard before. The latest record doesn’t have too many samples – Warrior’s Dance has got a big sample.

KF: It’s hard to use a sample without people getting excited about the Prodigy using the sample, and thinking they’re making it the next big thing. Samples are there to enhance a body of music.

M: Liam doesn’t use a sample as a blatant sample. He uses a sample and makes it his own sound. He twists it up, recreates and creates a new sound of it.

D: What’s something that drives you crazy when you read about the band?

M: Electronica. In America we’ve been trying to shake this electronica tag for years. We just want to be seen as a band, a band that’s separate from a scene. Probably with how I imagine Nirvana were fucked off with being called a grunge band. They probably just wanted to be a band and get merit for their own music. If electronic music is in fashion, our music should be on the radio.

M: That word [electronica] pulls you back into a pigeonhole.

D: How’s your Prime Minister, Gordon Brown doing?

LH: He’s fucked it right up. I think he’s in trouble at the moment. If there was an election he’d be out straight away. It makes you think Tony Blair was actually all right, which is quite scary. People are wishing he was back.

D: Keith, I was reading that you would deliberately give yourself shocks?

KF: I used to tempt myself and pull the plugs out and touch the prongs in an attempt that I might get an electric shock. I don’t know why I did it.

LH: [It’s not like you were] putting a jump lead on your dick.

KF: One time I went to a restaurant with a girlfriend of mine and they wouldn’t let me in because I wasn’t wearing a tie. So I went to the car and all I could find was a set of jump leads. I put them on and went back to the restaurant. They told me they’d let me in as long as I promised not to start anything.

D: How do you think you fit in with some of the other big British bands like Oasis?

LH: Oasis would be the first band to agree that they don’t fit in either. If you’re in a band, you don’t want to fit in. I think the Prodigy, as a band, has always ridden the outside of any scene. Even when people were talking about, here they come they’re techno, we said no, we’re not techno because we respected what the real techno was. We knew we weren’t that, we’re not purists. We’re a mish mash. We’ve never worried about fitting in. You make yourself relevant by what tunes you write and make sure the production sounds fierce.

M: As individuals we’ve got our own style. We don’t fit into any scene.

KF: We take pride in the fact that we can go to a rock festival and play it and on the same hand we can do a dance festival. No one thinks we’re faking at any of them and we are not. That lack of restriction is key to us. One day Maxim will be vocalist, then I’ll be a vocalist, we’ll both be vocalists, we’ll sample a track or it will be an instrumental track.

LH: Firestarter can be one single, Smack My Bitch Up could be the next and Warrior’s Dance could be the next. There’s no confusion where you have to have vocalists on every track.

KF: People tried to take that from us but we’ve fought to keep it.

M: It’s the same thing with being pigeonholed. How are you going to move on from that?

LH: Especially in England people respect the fact that we can move around and not be tied down to one format.

D: I read that you have said you will never do a track with Madonna.

KF: She missed the boat on that one. The boat wasn’t there actually.

LH: The boat sank. Or blew up. Anyone that knows the band knows that that’s something that will never ever happen. It’s like asking Hendrix to go on Kylie’s album. We’ve got respect for her. She was the one that headhunted us. She didn’t send a fucking load of people from her office to see the band. She came to the gigs and went out of her way to sign us. I think when you’re in that pop world you’re looking for the producer to take your career to the next thing. At that time Fat of the Land was big and I was well known as a producer. She was probably just trying to get a piece of us to put on her next record. At the end of the day she didn’t need us anyway.

D: In terms of drugs what’s the scariest?

LH: Acid, for me. You can’t escape it. You know you’re in for a long, eight- hour trip and if you’re not enjoying it within the first five minutes you’re fucked.

KF: Drugs are hardcore, that’s the end of it. Don’t fuck with them if you can’t handle it. They’ll fuck your head up.

M: I don’t fuck with drugs.

LH: We’ve never been a smack band. That drug wouldn’t suit this band anyway. We come from the British rave culture, which is an ecstasy culture so that is in us, that energy. Our music encompasses the British party scene.

I also took photos of their show that night – check them out here.

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Show Preview: Handsome Furs @ Neumos, Friday June 5

Handsome Furs will be at Neumos tonight, Friday June 5th. I have been hearing about them for some time and they’ve even got a second CD out – and I am saying here that this duo is really, really great. Their follow up to 2007’s Plague Park, called Face Control is so welcome in my world. I have been listening to All We Want, Baby, Is Everything nonstop. Impressive stuff.
Tix are $15 and openers include Feral Children, who were so kind one year as to play one of my birthday shows at the old Crocodile.

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Show Review & Photos: The Riverboat Gamblers @ El Corazon

Alex Crick braved the Seattle heat wave last night and ventured into El Corazon to shoot pix of the Riverboat Gamblers and to report on the show. All photos by Alex Crick:

On a day of record high temperatures in Seattle, the Riverboat Gamblers, a five-piece band from Denton, TX brought their infectious punk rock performance to El Corazon. Opening bands The Hollowpoints and the Girls could not match the sheer raw energy that front man Teko (a.k.a. Mike Wiebe) brought to the tiny makeshift stage in what’s usually the 21+ section of the club. Right from the start Teko belted out raging punk rock spirit with the Gamblers’ song Dissdissdisskisskisskiss.


This rowdy performance took Teko all over the time venue (and out the door at one point) as he mingled with the loving crowd who were singing along joyfully to every line as though each song the band played was their personal favorite. At several points during the show Teko created makeshift stages from which to perform, such as a very wobbly table, a seat in a booth, culminating with Teko scaling the walls of the venue. At one point Teko took down a paper mache skull hanging from the venue’s wall and sang to it in a Hamlet-inspired moment.



The hot weather didn’t seem to phase the raucous band as literally dripped sweat while they tore through their thirteen song set list. It was damn hot in there but the Riverboat Gamblers poured every last ounce of energy they could muster in order to bring an incredible high energy performance to all who were there.



The Girls

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Head Like a Kite interview and show photos

Head Like a Kite frontman Dave Einmo was kind enough to answer my questions via email prior to last Saturday’s terrific set at Chop Suey. Although I’ve seen them seven or eight times, I’m somehow still a little surprised when just Dave and Trent (Moorman, on drums) take the stage and manage to create all that wonderful sound. I’m pretty sure I had a goofy grin on my face their entire set – their shows are just so much fun! More photos after the interview.

Q: Your shows are like house parties with lots of friends and really great music. For anyone who’s not had the pleasure, you usually have musical guests and/or dancing creatures onstage and glitter confetti and happy fans in the audience. It all seems so effortless, but must take a lot of work – how do you prepare for your live shows?
 
Dave: I try and make the live shows feel like half party and half theater. Our shows are super festive. I love mixing the dancing, furry animals, confetti, film projections and all the costumed mayhem in with the music. It makes it different every night. It can be complete chaos up there sometimes with people running around slipping on cords and tripping over fog machines. But I feed off that craziness. It’s truly a party.
 
Q: Head Like a Kite is on my list – what are some of your favorite live bands?
 
Dave: Wolf Eyes! They are absolutely insane live. I mean, get-out-the-straightjackets crazy. Love it. The Juan Maclean were amazing when they came to town in 2008. Flaming Lips. Cornelius when they do their projections. LCD Soundsystem. Lymbyc Systym. Radiohead. Those guys are kings live.
 
Q: What are your non-musical influences?
 
Dave: When I mixed the first two albums, I spent significant time browsing the paintings inside the Art Institute of Chicago, which is one of my favorite museums. The way painters use light and color to create dynamics is similar to the way a music producer uses sound to create dynamics. It’s an interesting relationship that I love to explore. I’m also really influenced by field recordings and found sounds. Have you ever been walking down the street listening to your iPod headphones, and then a plane flies over or you hear a bus drive by, and the sounds they create oddly mix perfectly with the song? On one of our US tours I carried a recorder with me and captured sounds from each city we visited. I used those sounds as a backdrop all over the album “There Is Loud Laughter Everywhere.”
 
Movies influence me as well. I love the pacing and cinematography of Alfred Hitchcock, which introduced me to the composer Bernard Herrmann, who composed the music for classics like Vertigo and Psycho. He also worked on Orson Welles’ Citizen Cane. The music had a huge impact on the mood of these films. It inspired me to create music that feels like a soundtrack. In the case of the first Head Like a Kite album, “Random Portraits of the Home Movie,” it actually was a soundtrack of sorts since it included samples from home movies my dad shot on an old Super 8 film camera from when I was a kid. We still project those films during our live shows. Although they are often obscured by flying confetti, fog machines, and dancing pandas.
 
Q: The extremely talented Trent Moorman is your live drummer… he sings and plays keyboards as well – is he involved in the recording and/or writing process?
 
Dave: Trent is an amazing drummer and is one of the few players I know who can play drums, synth and sing all at the same time. It’s a circus to watch. After I finished recording and mixing the first album, I starting experimenting with how to play these songs live for the first tour. I met Trent, who was playing drums with Graig Markel at the time, and I asked if he’d join me on the tour. It went really well, and he’s been playing on every tour since. He’s primarily the live drummer. But he does appear on some of the more stellar tracks on “There Is Loud Laughter Everywhere,” and also on some new songs I recently mixed for an upcoming album.
 
Q: Head Like a Kite has toured in some far-flung places – any tales of the road you’d like to share?
 
Dave: You mean like running around naked at a truck stop in Idaho? Or staying out way too late after a show and ordering scotch at 7:30 AM at a dive bar in Las Vegas? Falling into an orchestra pit in Pittsburgh? Playing in CMJ dressed up as airplane pilots and then having to get on the plane in New York still dressed as pilots and making the passengers a little worried that a couple of hung over indie rockers were guiding the plane back to Seattle? Sleepwalking in San Francisco? Eating raw horse in Tokyo?
 
Q: What would your fans be surprised to learn about you?
 
Dave: Trent has run about 15 marathons, and I use to be a pro-am bicycle racer and frequently rode 350 miles a week on my bike. I think that’s why our shows are so energetic. We are still addicted to moving fast.
 
Q: Any HLAK summer shows we should mark on our calendars?
 
Dave: For Seattle, August 14 at the Crocodile and Sept 7 at Bumbershoot. Fun times ahead!!!!! Lots more stuff coming up that people can see on our website at www.headlikeakite.com.
 
Q: You seem equally at ease with your keyboards and your guitar – which came first? 

Dave: Thanks. Guitar was first. My mom signed me up for a guitar class at my middle school. I was petrified because I was the only boy in a class of 15 girls. I was in 7th grade so it was a little weird. But I persevered.
 
Q: You’re the only band I know of that’s caused a riot at a middle school. What’s the story there and do you think you’ll ever be asked back?
 
Dave: They asked us to play an assembly and we were in the middle of a tour, so we thought it would be fun. We’d play there in the afternoon and then hit Neumos in Seattle later that night. We had 4 fog machines, a gigantic amount of confetti, dancers, and all kinds of crazy circus like stuff going on. We played about two songs and the kids went nuts and started rushing the stage and throwing confetti and the teachers were concerned that someone would get hurt. The kids were screaming so loud, it was hard to even hear the music. It was completely insane. Fog everywhere. Confetti everywhere. Kids screaming. Pandas dancing. Trent and I wear wearing Elvis Jumpsuits with feathered boas and rockin it hard. And then BOOM. We got shut down. No, we won’t be invited back.
 
Q: What’s next for Head Like a Kite?

Dave: I just finished mixing a new album at Electrokitty in Seattle. It sounds stellar. Her Space Holiday and Boom Bip guest on it, as well as members of The Long Winters, Smoosh, The Saturday Knights, Swervedriver, Animals at Night, and more. It’s a party record. It sounds a bit like a DJ remixing an indie band live. Big beats prevail. It will be out in either Fall 2009 or Spring 2010, depending on label stuff. It takes forever for albums to come out. I’m done. I want it out now!

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show preview: feral children @ neumos this friday

I haven’t seen Feral Children since November, which for someone who saw them 15 times last year alone is completely unacceptable. I know, they’ve been working on a new album, but seven months is a very long time. The wait is nearly over – Feral Children open Friday’s Handsome Furs show at Neumos and will be showcasing their new music. I’ve missed them (lots) and am excited to hear what they’ve come up with to follow last year’s excellent Second to the Last Frontier. See you there?

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