UNKLE on “The Road: Part 1”

Man of Many Parts

Aug 18, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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Some 25 years ago, James Lavelle, then 18 years old, was running around London, earnest and passionate, his already magnified eyes covered by horn-rimmed glasses seeming like they would pop right out of his head. That head, filled with so many original ideas, including his visionary musical venture, UNKLE released on his legendary independent label, Mo' Wax.

UNKLE's fifth album, The Road: Part 1 comes after a lengthy gap. It is also the first UNKLE album where Lavelle is the sole musician at its core. As is always the case with him, Lavelle manages to get a host of headturning names to collaborate with him. The Road: Part 1 is no exception. The album, recorded in a number of cities, among them, London, Los Angeles, Venice, Naples, and Berlin, hosts Mark Lanegan, ESKA, Primal Scream's Andrew Innes, The Duke Spirit's Liela Moss, Queens of the Stone Age's Jon Theodore, and Beck collaborator Justin Stanley as well as Chris Goss, Twiggy, and Troy Van Leeuwen. It also features new names such as Elliott Power, Mïnk, and YSEÉ.

Lavelle has accomplished many things since he came into the public's consciousness a quarter of a century ago. A few of his more recent achievements have shaped The Road: Part 1. He joined the ranks of David Bowie, John Peel, Nick Cave, Morrissey, Elvis Costello, Massive Attack, Jarvis Cocker, and Yoko Ono as the 2014 curator for London's annual cultural event, the Meltdown Festival. He also started curating his "Daydreaming with..." series in 2010, at choice galleries worldwide. Here, artists of all kinds react to works by other artists, with every exhibit having been met with critical and public acclaim.

The James Lavelle who is hosting a listening/screening of The Road: Part 1 is slightly less manic than his teenage self, but not by much. He feels calmer inside but the innovative ideas are still spouting from the geyser that represents his unstoppable creativity.

Lily Moayeri (Under the Radar): The Road: Part 1 is the first UNKLE album with you officially as a solo artist. How is that different than before?

James Lavelle: Solo in the sense that I'm not in partnership, in a marriage, a democratic marriage, anymore. I'm on my own. I will not ever partner with anyone else ever again. Tim Goldsworthy, DJ Shadow, Richard File, Pablo Clements, everybody came out of Mo' Wax. The easiest way to describe it is you go out with someone and then you go out with their best mate and their best mate and their best mate and their best mate and in the end you're sticking to the same politics of 20 years ago. I felt like Elizabeth Taylor. I've been through four marriages. The drama and the energy spent on all that stuff was too much. It's not healthy. I'm 43 years old. I've made some mistakes. I've been involved in some amazing things and I've done some stupid things, pushed it maybe too far hedonistically in my career. Then Gavin Clark [UNKLE vocalist] killed himself and that was pretty bad. A lot of the energy around it wasn't being very productive and it was sort of fulfilling everyone's addictions shall we say, whether that was music equipment or other things. When the last thing came to an end. It wasn't very pleasant.

Why do you think your partnerships don't sustain in the long run?

It always started amazingly but always ended up in a massive, massive amount of friction. And I think that's because a partnership with me doesn't work. It has made some great art, but the albums, Psyence Fiction for instance, didn't come out as the record I intended it to be. The second album was a lot of hedonism and drugs and DJing at the height of it. It was fun but it was also very destructive. Also, I had a kid very young. I was in a relationship with someone who was 10 years older than me. I was 24 when Psyence Fiction came out. I was 27 when Mo' Wax finished. That's when most people are starting their lives. The domino effect of that had a big effect on my life. And that's what's created great stuff, but it's also been detrimental.

Doing this album the way that I have, having this focus and this opportunity felt like it's where I had to be and where I need to be in my life right now. It's not been a totalitarian thing. It's kind of lonely sometimes. Part of the reason I always had partners is I'm not very good at being on my own. I need noise. I like quiet, but I don't want to lock myself away. I like collaborating and being with people and feeding off their energy. Doing the Queens of the Stone Age record, which is the first thing I did on my own, and then doing Meltdown, these scenarios are very much about me taking responsibility for myself, which is something I've never been very good at doing. A lot of people wouldn't understand that because I've been very much in the forefront, but I had to be in the forefront because most of the artist on Mo' Wax didn't want to be. In a weird way, that also became detrimental to me. That added to my addictions and the bad choices I made, out of insecurity, out of putting yourself out there too much. The easiest way of dealing with that was a slightly more narcotic and mental approach. Out of all this, find yourself surrounded by some of the greatest musicians in the world that you adore, people that you're discovering, they were all there to celebrate you, which is very strange for me. I really didn't think at the time people gave a fuck about what I did or even liked me. It gave me a lot of confidence, but it also made me realize I needed to take that energy into what I was doing.

What was the impact of your curating the Meltdown Festival on what you were doing with The Road: Part 1?

Meltdown was incredibly humbling, but it was also cerebral. It wasn't about whether you can hang out and stay up the latest or do the most drugs or do a 12-hour DJ set or whatever. It was about what you'd created musically. It wasn't about my personality. It was about the legacy I'd been involved with: past, present, and future. It made me have to really look for myself and go, "Wow, people want to work with me because of the music, not because of hanging out or it's cool or whatever my insecurities are. This is about music." And that was something I really wantednot that it hasn't been beforebut there's stylized ideas and there's you and your mates "let's change the world" and all that's great, but this record was about going back to basics and be in control in a nice way, not in an aggressive way. Be responsible and take the reins back and start again, and start as you mean to go on. Clear all that other shit out, try and be inspirational to the people you're working with and learn from them also and engage in a new way.

You have been working on The Road: Part 1 since then, haven't you?

When all the UNKLE partnerships finished, I had to work out where I was in my life and figure out what I was going to do. I've always wanted to make another record. I just thought, this time around, I'm going to do it my way, and I'm going to take some time and find the right people to work with, people with younger energy. I need people that understand the culture of what I'm trying to do and understand the UNKLE universe.

I didn't want to make a rock record, an electronic record, a hip-hop record. I just wanted to take the elements of what I think makes an UNKLE record work. I wanted to get back to the basis of the emotional, what it makes me feel like to make music. Everybody that got involved had that same idea.

You may not be a partnership but you definitely have a lot of collaborators on The Road: Part 1. How is that dynamic different?

It's a good place for those involved because there are boundaries. The boundaries were fucked before. And that's my fault as well as everybody else's. I take responsibility for a lot of things but I think boundaries were always blurred because when I started working with Rich, I was 18, when I met Pablo, I was 21, Tim I've known since I was 12, we were kids. I was kid when I did Mo' Wax. I hadn't gone to university. Part of that is you lost your childhood and part of it is you lost your boundaries with people. You have to have boundaries in the way you work, especially with people around you so those people have a focus on what they're trying to achieve too.

In a positive way, that's fed into where I'm at now and it's exciting. Suddenly it's all opening up but I'm still in a little bit control of myself. I'm not having this constant fight that's been going on for a long time, a lot of which was unnecessary. I have tension when I'm in the studio with people to get the creation to the best place it can be, but it can be a different kind of tension. We are not in the fucking '90s. It's not the lunatics running the asylum anymore. Don't go to the office and do cocaine at meetings and hand over cash for deals. It doesn't work anymore. That's great we did that, but that can't go on anymore. It's not productive.

You've always had special products to go along with your releases, which in the current time is translated to cross-promotion between brands.

It was quite adolescent. Now kids are discovering music in a different way. My nephew's 12, he's obsessed with Supreme, he discovered UNKLE through my collaboration with them whereas I discovered Adidas shelltoes through Run DMC. It's flipping around. These days it's such-and-such artist is going to do this concert in this pop-up with this merchandise. In a way, people can understand the history of UNKLE more.

For me, it's about being creative. It's the world that I love. It's always been about more than the music. It's about the environment the music exists within, whether that be film or packaging or taking it to other places like toys. It's part of the UNKLE universe, but also, it's about community. People always ask me for advice about what they're doing and I always say, "You need to create a community." Community is what's important and digital community is not real community. You make toys, records, T-shirts. You're putting it into an exhibition space, creating a film. You're coming together with a group of people that are collaborating. It's about an organic engagement with people rather than with virtual engagement, which is what we're so used to right now. But you can't really feed off of a virtual situation. Human interaction is key to how we progress and how we behave as people. For me, there's a creative side, but there's also this thing about collaborating to create community, to engage. You're constantly engaging with people so then people engage more with you.

Are the visuals you have accompanying The Road: Part 1 a creative extension?

It was a combination of various things. Budget was part of it, but also about doing installation work in galleries. It was more about doing stuff which wasn't narrative based, i.e., "Rabbit in your Headlights" is a narrative. You see a rabbit being hit by a car. This is more about doing stuff that is more abstract. It's also about trying out inspirations that are multi-cultural. It was very much Dark Side of the Moon. Not a concept album, but an album that hopefully has a beginning, middle, and an end, takes you on a journey, and you can just let go.

The first playback of the album was in a cinema and I realized, I don't want to do this and just have people sitting there watching a blank screen. We've got all this material, why don't we put it together and just make it so when people come and hear the record, they can see the record and let go. It really worked really well. People were coming out of the cinema going, "God, I haven't listened to an album in ages." They turned off their phones for an hour. It was like being meditative and the visuals contributed to that experience.

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Jazdy dodatkowe gdaƄsk
August 19th 2017
3:04pm

This is good artist.