The Go! Team on “Semicircle”

Inspiration is Everywhere

Mar 30, 2018 Issue #63 - Courtney Barnett
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When the average music listener thinks of the act of songwriting, it's often from a point of scarcity. Images of an artist struggling to channel the muse come to mind, strumming a guitar for hours in hopes of finding a spark. Even that word, spark, is symbolic, an immediate flicker of light that disappears with immediacy.

Ian Parton believes you have it all wrong. Inspiration, at least in his own experience as the centerpiece of The Go! Team, knows no bounds. The only reason for a lack of creative ideas is one's own fault, a decision to leave the world unobserved. And Parton and companySimone Odaranile, Sam Dook, Ninja (aka Nkechi Ka Egenamba), and Angela "Maki" Won-Yin Makare inspirational themselves in the way they pack each album, like 2018's Semicircle, with influences and instrumentation so disparate and dynamic.

With Semicircle in the rearview mirror, we recently spoke to Parton to find out more about his creative approach, his melodic commitment, and what it means to "serve the song."

Matt Conner (Under the Radar): When people write about the band, so much is made of the number of elements in a single songso many influences, instruments, ideasa kitchen sink approach. Five albums in, does the well ever run dry?

Ian Parton: One thing I never do is scramble around for ideas. I never struggle since I always have a backlog of good shit, at least how I see it anyway. I never have the feeling that The Go! Team has run its course or there's nothing else to do. In fact, I'm almost overwhelmed by possibility, if you know what I mean. I never think of it as a kitchen sink kind of thing. It's more that I'm trying to serve the song and do it justice to give it what it needs.

I'm also really into sections, so I'm into tangents and confusing people, doing these little turns, almost like channel hopping is how I think of it. For me, it's quite simple. It's all about melody really. That's what runs the show for me, so I'm not randomly shoving samples together. It has to flow like a song.

That's what I'm frustrated about a little bit with The Go! Team is that people don't really talk about songwriting when they talk about the band. They talk about double-dutch and cheerleaders and cop chases and shit like that. [Laughs] But really I think of myself in the hook business and catchiness in non-obvious ways. That's what I'm looking for around the clock. I'm trying to chase that melody that's just out of my reach, you know?

My assumption then is that you can find inspiration at any time or in any thing.

Yeah, I'm always turned on to the idea or potential of it. It's singing into my phone, basically, and that's walking down the street or watching a documentary. It's rarely when I sit down with an acoustic guitar to try to write a song. It's all about listening back and trying and the best ideas reveal themselves over time and rise to the top. Basically every song is a greatest hits of my best shit.

A song like "Mayday," a part of that song existed in isolation for months waiting to be jammed next to each other. It's pretty much the same with every song. I don't really write beginning to end. It's trying things next to each other. So normally each song starts with a killer idea and grows out from there.

I've interviewed comedians before who talk about viewing all of life with the lens that everything is fair game.

With The Go! Team especially, I've always thought that life is flashing before your eyes with this band. It's not a literal "let me sing about my life" type of band. It's not a singer/songwriter thing. It's grabbing things from across your whole life that you've liked, which could be your own experience but it could be a theme tune or documentary or trashy B-movie or anything. It's all up for grabs and that's as much a part of it as anything. I don't like the word postmodern, but I guess you could say it's that kind of idea where you're literally grabbing your favorite shit basically. [Laughs]

Have you tried more conventional routes of songwriting in the past?

I'm a believer that a song should work with just chords and melody. You should be able to pick up an acoustic and knock it out. Those things happen occasionally, but lyrically, some of the songs on this album are on the down low. I'm just trying to serve the song, really. I'm trying to wrap my brain around what each song needs. "Chain Link Fence" is about salvaging a relationship. "Plans" is about missed opportunities. So it's not, "Hey, it's party time!" which people assume with The Go! Team.

When you have this overwhelming backlog, as you described it, what does organization of ideas look like for you?

It's quite geeky. I do have a super document with all my best ideas on it. Those could be samples I've been hoarding. They could be drum fills. They could be minor melodies. I have to arrange samples into chords, but I don't even know the names of the chords, so I name them "one," "two," "three," or "four" or even "major" or "minor." When it comes to those moments going off on these weird tangents, I can easily grab wildly different things and shove them next to each other. So I do have to be kind of organized or else I'd be randomly listening to things all day.

You mentioned "serving the song" a couple times now. Has that been the rudder of the ship for as long as you've been doing this or was that learned along the way?

I'm trying to tread a line. For me, The Go! Team has always been a tightrope walk between cuteness and noise and not going too sickly. We're making songs go off on tangents, but not to the point where it feels wrong. It's a whole balancing act for me.

I'm obsessed with how differently songs could go and I like all of those things. There are so many things I love about different kinds of musicalthough I also hate lots of music as well. But the right kind of voice could make or break a song. There are so many ways you can get things wrong, isn't there? In the past, we've veered into overly cuteness, so I'm really aware of that. I'm obsessed with the ways you can take the edge off of things in terms of darkness or production and things like that.

When you can do anything, is restraint difficult for you?

Well, one thing I'm pleased about is that a Go! Team song is generally recognizable as a Go! Team song. I often hear that within seconds of it coming on, you know who it is. No matter what I do, there's obviously something flowing through it, whether that's a melodic idea or drum sound. So I guess that's what I'm most proud of, besides that we're still here, since a lot of our contemporaries have fucked off. But I still feel unique. The fact that there's still a mark left on music that is Go! Team-iness, whatever that is. Even though we have wildly different kinds of songs"Mayday" is nothing like "VIP" ["Everyone's a VIP to Someone"] which is nothing like "Rolling Blackouts" which is not like "Ladyflash"there's still that thing, whatever it is that goes through it, that makes it recognizable as us.

[Note: This article originally appeared in the digital version (for tablets and smart phones) of Under the Radar's Spring 2018 Issue (March/April/May 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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