Where There are No Roads
Apr 01, 2008
Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Spring 2008 - Flight of the Conchords
Any child of the ’80s knows the idea of the year 2000 back then was really insane,” says Bryon Hollon (aka Boom Bip). “There were a lot of TV shows and movies with laser guns and hover cars and stuff. According to Gruff, all roads from the ’80s lead to John DeLorean.” When it came to light back in 2006 that indie-electronic artist Boom Bip was collaborating with Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys to make a concept record under the name Neon Neon about the troubled life of eccentric automotive engineer John DeLorean, the indie world shuddered at the potential for the dynamic duo to charge up the flux capacitor and take us back to the future. What started out as a broad idea to make an album of ’80s anthems dripping with excess, cocaine, fast cars, and faster girls, came to fruition when Rhys stumbled across a biography of the celebrity automotive magnet. “The amount of anecdotes, stories, and drama in DeLorean’s life provided a perfect way to present a different kind of record,” says Rhys.
“Gruff came back with all these stories about [DeLorean’s] obsession with celebrities, all his plastic surgery, and how he was baptized in his luxury swimming pool to clean up his image,” elaborates Hollon. “All these really crazy ideas and I thought, ‘We’ve got to write a song about this.’”
DeLorean’s life proved bigger and more complex than the two could cram into one song, so they opted to compose an entire album about the engineer and entrepreneur whose car was made famous by the Back to the Future movies. Stainless Style recalls a time when life revolved around hyper-consumerism, Reaganomics, and cocaine-fueled dance floors. “We strove to do something unique and unexpected from the collaboration between the two of us,” says Rhys. “The music is this investigation of the American dream and the American nightmare. It’s a celebration of all things plastic and synthetic.” The idea of an ’80s inspired album had been brewing in Hollon’s mind for years, but he needed the right collaborator to pull it off. “I wanted a lot of big pop structures with lots of hooks but using the sounds from a lot of stuff I was listening to, which was a lot of Italian disco and psychedelic disco,” says Hollon. “Gruff was one of the people that popped into my head. Anybody who knows Super Furry Animals knows what a good songwriter he is. It doesn’t matter if it’s country, rock, a ballad, or full-on metal, the Super Furries explore all these directions and weave in and out of genres. So I knew he could handle anything I threw at him.”
Although Rhys lives in Cardiff, Wales, and Hollon makes his home in Los Angeles, both insist Neon Neon is an actual band, not a side project, so there were stipulations. “Right away I said the only way this is going to work out is if we’re in the same room together throughout this whole thing,” explains Hollon. “Even though [Gruff] had other projects going on, he had an open window here and there. We set aside a three-week period when I was in London and that’s when the bulk of it was done.” The three- week session opened up the tracks to include numerous guest musicians like Spank Rock, Har Mar Superstar, Yo Majesty, and The Magic Numbers, whose schedules were also less than accommodating, making Stainless Style an album over a year in production.
Thematically, Stainless Style is a concept record about DeLorean and his ’80s based vision of the future, but Hollon and Rhys were careful not to sacrifice a song’s essence for the sake of the concept. “Even though it’s a conceptual record, we didn’t want it to feel really heavy like a concept record,” says Hollon. “The story helped to fine-tune things musically and lyrically, but we didn’t want to get in too deep. We wanted the songs to stand alone as well.” Neon Neon plan to tour with a full backing band and as many of the guest musicians from the album they can round up. Rhys is expecting the birth of his first child this summer, after which Neon Neon will reconvene and hash out plans for their next collaboration. “It will have to be about a different biographical piece,” says Rhys. “I’ve got a couple of ideas. I think I’ve done the right-wing industrialist, so maybe next will be an underground socialist revolutionary. The music would have to suit the narrative and vice versa. I don’t want to reveal too much at this point.”
Until then, Neon Neon plan to let the good times of the ’80s roll, because fun is what brought about Stainless Style in the first place. “The common denominator throughout this whole project was we gotta make it fun,” says Hollon. “I mean, we’re dealing with this very morbid issue. John DeLorean was a really tragic guy. It’s a dark subject matter, but we put this glossy shine on it. We made it fun.”