Friday, April 15, 2011

SOMEONE LIKE HER: An interview with ADELE

Experiencing the type of fame that comes only a few times a generation, Adele is a genuine, multi-million-selling diva in her native UK who has set several new chart records in recent weeks. Why it is has been a topic of some discussion, ANDY HAZEL looks for clues in a 2009 interview he did with her for Frankie Magazine.

It was meant to be a normal interview, but Adele is a hard one to track down. Three cancellations, a postponement and several phone cards later, her warm and broad South London accent crackles from her mobile as she relaxes between shows on her tour bus.

Still reveling in the first flush of fame, Chasing Pavements has recently hit it's 100 millionth YouTube view, her album 19 has just cracked the Top 10 and Adele is finding herself thrust from an anonymous yet promising BRIT School graduate living with her mum to internationally famous, tabloid-analysed, award winning BRIT School graduate living with her mum.

"I moved out for a bit," she says warmly, "but I moved back in 'cause I missed her," she laughs. "She comes to a lot of the gigs and the TV shows - but not the early morning ones. She doesn't travel with me anymore, she just checks up on me. She can tell if something isn't right or if I'm upset. I call and text her everyday if I don't see her." Adele agrees that this might be why she's handling the pressures and strains of life so well. "To be honest I'm quite oblivious to it, I know things have changed a lot and that it's all happened so fast," she pauses for thought. "But I like it better this way; not thinking about it." Surely that must be pretty challenging, ignoring fame while all around you life changed. "Well," she thinks carefully. "I never wanted to be famous. I only decided I that I wanted to do this when I was offered the record deal over lunch. I was there with my manager and my mum, we got taken out to lunch by this guy from XL and he just kind of popped the question. We looked at each other and I said, 'yeah, OK then'. It was really that simple."

This kind of poise and relaxation is hard to come by, and indicative of the way that Adele has courted fame, without any scandals, celebrity boyfriends or anything to distract from the music at all (despite some tabloid obsession with her physique). At the core of all of this attention and fame though, is her voice. "I always loved to sing," she says happily. "I have done since I knew you could make noise. With the kind of artists I grew up listening to it was never about having a talent, it was about looking pretty and having a gimmick; that's all they knew 'cause that was all I saw on TV y'know. So, it seemed impossible for me to consider it as something I could do for a living, it wasn't something I ever even thought about growing up."

A key aspect of Adele's rise to prominence is her graduating of the BRIT School of Performing Arts and Technologies, a school dedicated to training adolescents who want to make a career in the performing arts. Through focusing on dance, musical theatre, drama and technical theatre, graduates have collectively amassed dozens of awards and tens of millions of album sales which isn't bad for a school with less than 900 students that only began in 1991.

"I didn't know about The BRIT School before I went there," she says keenly. "I was just really bored at my secondary school. The BRIT School was free, it wasn't full of kids pushed by their parents like I thought it might be, there were kids who were there on a Saturday morning working because they loved it. I would literally jump out of bed in the morning knowing I was going there; I'd never felt like that before. I think it was well overdue when a lot of us [seven] all got big about the same time. There was me The Feeling, The Kooks, Leona Lewis, Katie Nash, Katie Melua and Amy Winehouse - all of us Brit School graduates, all of us debut albums at number 1," she laughs. "But, y'know. It's not like we planned it!"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

NINJA TUNES: An interview with NINJA of THE GO! TEAM

Ninja, singer with The Go! Team opens up about ‘destroying bands who sell millions of records’, the making of Rolling Blackouts and the possible split of the band later this year.

It’s rare for a band to be so tightly wound to the picture painted by their name, but then The Go! Team were never going to do things by halves with a name like that. Rolling Blackouts, their current album and one likely to be featured prominently in their upcoming gigs, is a melange of the riotous hip-hop beats, cheerleader chants, slashing guitars and horn blasts with which they made their name, but also finds time to chill out a little, something lead singer Ninja has little time for. “Once I start I can’t really stop,” she says of her famously exuberant stage presence. “If you’re running the 100m you can’t slow down and say ‘whew I started way too fast, gotta take a break now’ you start off at one level and you can’t fall beneath that level, and that’s it really. I don’t plan to be 110% constantly, it’s just what I would do at home even if no one was there with me.” At the suggestion that there is a difference between the performer Ninja and the woman behind her, Ninja gets even more vocal. “I am Ninja! There is only Ninja, there used to be someone else but Ninja killed her. I’m not like Beyonce; she thinks she has her performer side and her shy lady side, that’s not me. There is just Ninja.”

With gigs renown for tight, thrilling reinterpretations of their sprawling recordings, Ninja is the prime force and pinnacle of the Go! Team as a live unit. However, when it comes to making the music, there are two versions of the band. “Yeah, and it’s always been like that,” she says changing pace. “Ian [Parton, songwriter and guitarist] locks himself away for a while, a few months maybe, with some sandwiches and bottles of water. He has to create the album on those scraps of food and people come over and put down bits and pieces; bass guitars, guitars…you never know what’s going to happen. He’ll get guests in to sing on parts, then he shakes a wand and the album is finished. We’re happy being involved in the live version, that’s the fun part where we get to mix it up and get involved. The album is made up of Ian’s influences and that’s his baby.”

The creation of Rolling Blackouts, saw Parton became even more hermetic than before and its creation is something Ninja describes as ‘shrouded in mystery. “I had emails and calls like ‘can you come down to the studio for this…’ or I’ll write raps or harmonies. We’re always recording stuff and not knowing what it’s going to sound like. I’ll record things and wouldn’t know what was going to happen with the song. The first time I heard the album was when the journalists heard it. But when we’re performing these songs on stage we’re singing and rapping a lot more.”

While fans are used to the low-fi rush of a Go! Team song, there has been more than one review which mentions the loss of Ninja’s lyrics to the horn blasts, booming drums and blasting guitars, likely due in part to Parton’s insistence on mastering to a C-60 cassette. “Ian puts it together and it’s a really clear vision he has; he would have liked to make it even more low-fi if he could. If I’m rapping something I want people to hear and understand the lyrics I write because you know, I spend a lot of time writing them, so I’d like it less low-fi but then he’d want it more low-fi. I think you need to see us live on stage as well as on record, because live I strive for clarity which I think is what the audience want as well as all the crazy stuff we do.”

This optimism and blithe sunshiny attitude is core to The Go! Team’s sound and energy and Ninja’s selection as the band’s focal point was a stroke of brilliance on the part of Parton when he was assembling the band. Last here in January 2009, their forthcoming tour sees them play smaller venues, which comes as a strange move given the massive airplay recent single Buy Nothing Day has received. “When we play a place that’s more intimate, that’s a challenge to us because we only have a tiny little area to jump around in and we love that, though it does usually result in injuries. We’re also doing festivals to thousands of people who may never have heard of us,” Ninja quantifies clearly relishing the opportunity. “Festivals are a challenge. We’re battling against weather and the lure of other bands so we have to get an audience and keep them there throughout the set - even if they don’t know who we are!” She says excitedly. “We’ve got nothing to lose - people don’t know us so they don’t expect much and we destroy it! We destroy those other bands who have sold millions of records and have a big following, you see they have a lot to live up to, whereas we get to surprise people.”

Something that came as a surprise to a lot of people was the offhand comment made by Parton during an interview with a small Irish newspaper in February “This may be our last year as a live band.” He also confirmed that the band “might split up” after this tour. Ninja is similarly uncertain, though doubtful. “I don’t know. I have loads of stuff I want to do, I’m working on a solo project with interesting producers, one of the producers is Starslinger another one is a guy called Rural. There’s a lot of stuff I want to do, who knows what’s going to happen really. I just don’t know, but I’ll put it on my blog when I do.”

Best catch them while they can still be caught.

Live Review: SANTANA


Seeing a legend like this is a strange experience, one almost crushed under safe expectations, stifling any chance to feel the transcendence the band built their legacy on. However, one glance around the arena says it's unlikely the crowd is looking for anything like that. With Carlos Santana you know exactly what you're going to get; a dude in a hat playing a lot of guitar, a large backing band of similarly proficient musicians, and a piƱata full of Latino goodtimes.

With well over 100 previous members, the current 11-piece lineup fills the stage with 30-odd drums and copious percussion, none of which is wasted. Riding rugged over the top off the heavily swung rhythms, pulsing bass and stinging Hammond oozes Carlos's guitar tone, dripping with sustain and busy as a Spanish flea pulling one song into the next. "I'm very grateful, very blessed at this time, on this planet," says Carlos after shaking the place to the ground for the umpteenth time. "It's important for us to stay lightheaded and to live in wonderment, healing and love." The audience cheers. "I happen to know a lot about love right now," he smiles. "You see, I got married in December to this lady..." and in walks Cindy Blackman (you know, Lenny Kravitz's drummer from Are You Gonna Go My Way). Cue a stonkering five-minute drum solo, a sloppy kiss and a blistering intro to Jingo, which has the audience cheering louder than ever.

From the crowd, many of who would have helped Abraxas to number one in 1971, there is a palpable excitement and a lot of arrhythmic arm waving when Santana pulls out Oyo Come Va and Evil Ways before segueing into A Love Supreme (there is a lot of segueing tonight). All inspiration for another soliloquy, this time we're told about 'SOCC' aka 'the Sound of Collective Consciousness' a concept with enough references to 'a younger time' and 'bringing the love from Woodstock' to make Anthony Carew apoplectic with rage. "If you remember one thing from tonight, make it are light and love," he solemnly intones before we all, gender by gender, chant it back arms aloft: "I am light and love!" So, it’s a relief for some when the band launch into Sunshine of Your Love and several of his recent Smooth(er) efforts, taking us back to the safety of the idea of Carlos, leaving us free to comfortably nestle in his warm spirit and copious baggage.