The Psychonauts are probably responsible for some of the slickest, dopest and most accomplished mixes you have ever heard. When we talk about mixes, we are not talking about Back To Mine stylish, coffee table ensembles but innovative, intricate, milk fresh mash-ups that are so sick they require a health warning.
Take a wander across to Pearson Towers to join their mixtape community and share the love for the Essential Mix, a mash up of hip-hop, electronica, indie and funk and the Cream Live 2 Mix (produced with James Lavelle) that manages to stitch together Street Fighter dialogue, Dr Octagon and Air.
They’ve been operating as producers, musicians and DJs for the past 15+years and despite critical plaudits and being cited by the likes of DFA as major influences, have remained in the shadows. With the re-release of their excellent debut LP Songs For Creatures, an album they state is beyond definition, we attempt to lift the lid on one of the UK’s most uber talented groups.
First up, how long was Songs For Creatures (the original release) in gestation for? For a long time the album was rumoured to be coming out on Mo’Wax and it was a surprise when you switched labels and the record came out.
I have to be honest here…we started making the album four years before its initial release but there was a reason for this long process. When we signed to Mo’Wax we found ourselves in quite an unusual position…we had a recording contract but had never recorded a song. Tim Goldsworthy showed me how to turn on a sampler. We spent a lot of time in the early days in the studio’s at Mo’Wax with Kudo & Tim, we were both very much into their work as producers before signing to the label so it was perfect for us to be given the opportunity to learn from them. We all started working on demo’s together and that was our introduction to working in a studio and we developed from there.
We wanted to be in a position to do it all ourself and that meant taking a few years to learn.Many of the demo’s we made in the first couple of years never saw the light of day. The album came together in the final year, thats when we felt confident with what we were producing.
Unfortunately for various reasons Mo’Wax died and we got caught up in the legal mess with XL recordings who at the time invested a lot of money in the label. As soon as we were free we licensed the album to Gigolo.
Secondly, what was the decision behind re-releasing Songs for Creatures and for anyone who has not heard the LP, how would you describe its sound?
I guess when we finished the album seven years ago we knew we had made something that would stand the test of time, and thats one of the things we wanted to achieve. We often considered re-releasing individual songs form the album but not the whole album, however over the last few years many people had suggested it. Simon, Gigolo’s label manager heard the album for the first time around a year ago and totally fell for it and offered to release it. We were more than happy to oblige.
How would you describe its sound?
I would not know where to start.
What was the inspiration and motivation for making your own music? In the context that you had already made your name as a DJ unit.
We always wanted to make music in some shape or form from a very early age, the first steps were using two cassette recorders and making loops with the record and pause button, then came the Amiga computer. We were incorporating these ideas into out DJ sets, we had the Amiga computer next. DJ’ing and making our own music all come together as one from day one.
On this tip, the Essential Mix from 1996. I was listening to this when I was thinking about the interview and I can safely say it’s one of the best mixes I have ever heard and, if you look for reviews of it on the web, lots of people would agree with me. The music selection is dope and it’s got fantastic blends, cut ups, turntablism and some brilliant film/TV samples – the Wu Tang acapella that flows into the Stars Wars snippet that goes into Oasis’ Wonderwall is insane. The mix is the complete package. How much work went into it (it runs at nearly two hours) and what are your thoughts on the mix looking back?
A lot of work went into the mix, we used to put a lot of work into all of our DJ sets around this time. Spending every day practising and thinking about what might work. If my memory serves me correct we spent about a week planning and rehearsing it. Listening to it again now I think its great, it really captures what we were about at this particular moment in time.
Finally does a version exist without Pete Tong chiming in every so often?
Haha, I don’t have one. I have no idea what happened to the original DAT, in fact it was only six months ago that I managed to get myself a copy.
The Mo’Wax Time Machine mix is much shorter in comparison and zips along at a frantic pace. Did you enjoy cherry picking the tracks and what was the concept behind the release?
The concept was simple, ‘get as many songs as possible from the Mo’Wax catalogue onto a piece of vinyl’. It was certainly fun to do but its not something I enjoy listening to now, its all a bit hectic and changing from song-to-song to quick.
It got pressed on a 7″ and there were only 3 copies… James Lavelle, Pablo & DJ Shadow have the only copies. Believe me its nothing spectacular.
Also in the press release it mentioned that you started working with Mo’Wax through passing Tim Goldsworthy one of your early mixes. Have you got a copy that anywhere? I’m sure quite a few people would be interested in hearing that if it’s still kicking around?
I’ve not looked through my tape collection for many years but when I next do I will keep my eyes open for it and if its there I will post it online. But only if it sounds good!
As musicians and DJs what kind of equipment are you buying these days; do you collect vintage equipment or are you purchasing cutting edge technology?
We are both into the vintage analogue path especially when it comes to synths but also keep on it with the new technology.
Looking ahead will you be touring as The Psychonauts this year and as individual artists what have you got lined up?
We are planning some shows at the moment, not sure where or when and also a new single hopefully in the spring. I will be touring with my new band Boy of Girl in March and Pablo will be touring with UNKLE in the summer.
Finally have you got a top five hip-hop or related tracks you could share with us?
Pablo’s top five…
- Pete Rock and Cl Smooth / They Reminisce Over You
- EPMD / Funky Piano
- Globe and Wiz / Play that Beat
- Blade / Lyrical Maniac
- Beastie Boys / So Watcha Want