In Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic The Doors, there’s a scene in which the embryonic outfit retreats to the California desert to sample the mind-blowing effects of peyote. An intense moment of self-discovery, it sets the mood for the remainder of the film, serving as signifier for the band’s unbreakable, brotherly bond. A similar epiphany, it seems, befell UK space-rockers Klaxons during their sabbatical between debut and sophomore albums. Introduced to shamanistic South American hallucinogen Ayahuasca by a New York yoga teacher, the outfit went through a deep personal cleansing process during the writing and recording of Surfing the Void, their 2010 follow-up to 2007’s Myths of the Near Future (released in Europe last August, Void was only just released Stateside in a physical format in January 2011 by tinyOGRE).
Used as a religious sacrament by Peruvian Amerindians, Ayahuasca is a purgative psychedelic that opens up a window to the soul. Taken in the rainforest during intense, ten day vomit-inducing sessions, it’s far more than a recreational drug, producing a trance-like state in which the user is said to enter the world of the spirits. Name-checked by musicians from Sting and Paul Simon to Devendra Banhart and Paul Butler of The Bees, Ayahuasca has become the plant medicine of choice for a new crop of musicians eager to embrace internal self-discovery as a key part of the creative process. A huge influence on Klaxons guitarist Jamie Reynolds, it helped the band throw off the shackles of nu-rave and re-emerge as one of Britain’s finest rock bands.
A dense, lysergic maelstrom, Surfing the Void finds the former Mercury Music Prize winners refreshed and reinvigorated three years on from the release of their acclaimed debut. Recorded in Long Beach, California, with the Godfather of nu-metal Ross Robinson (Limp Bizkit, Korn, Slipknot, Vanilla Ice), this new offering’s far meatier than the poppy indie-disco on Myths Of the Near Future, embracing psychedelia, punk, electro, and prog. Written and produced in an intense four month period at Robinson’s house cum recording space, it’s a startling and original album laden with fantastical imagery.
Making the mistake of entering the studio with no new material, the four-piece wasted a lot of time and money during the early sessions for Surfing the Void. Contrary to reports in the British press, though, the band’s label, Polydor, didn’t reject an album’s worth of songs. Concerned the first batch of tracks they’d recorded weren’t true to the spirit of Klaxons, the band made a decision to start again from scratch, ditching original producer James Ford (Test Icicles, Simian Mobile Disco, Florence & The Machine, Arctic Monkeys) in favor of Robinson. Bringing with him a unique, soul-searching production style, the sessions with Robinson yielded some of the the band’s most accomplished material to date. From the breathtaking new-wave of lead single “Echoes” to the explosive electro-punk of the title track, Surfing the Void surprises and confounds at every turn.
Emerging from the overbearing glare of expectation, Klaxons have unleashed a ferocious blast of electronica-driven space-rock few would have expected. Fueled by a heavy dose of South American psychedelics, the band have firmly established themselves among Britain’s dance-rock heavyweights. With the addition of live drummer Steffan Halperin, Klaxons have grown into the tight, well-oiled outfit they never expected to be. Skyscraper caught up with singer/keyboardist James Righton to get the lowdown on the ensemble’s latest disc and what went into its creation.
Skyscraper: Firstly, how are things going?
James Righton: Things are going good; slightly jet lagged but good. We’ve just got back from a flying visit to Australia and Japan.
Skyscraper: You’ve also just released your sophomore LP Surfing the Void. What’s the reaction been like?
JR: I can only really gauge reaction from the shows we’ve played and it definitely feels like the new songs have slotted seamlessly into the set. You can tell people are still digesting the new record and trying to sing lyrics to songs that haven’t quite sunk in yet, which is cool. “Echoes” at present gets the biggest reaction in the set, which is a good sign.
Skyscraper: Tell me a bit about the album.
JR: It was recorded in Los Angeles with Ross Robinson between November and February last year. We lived and recorded at Ross’s house in Venice and spent an amazing four months under his watchful eye. All the songs were written beforehand so our time in LA was firstly spent in pre-production: tweaking and fine tuning. Once that was done, it was all about capturing the feel and essence of the songs.
Skyscraper: There’s been a lot of talk in the UK press about the length of time that elapsed since Myths Of the Near Future was released. Why’d you feel it was so important to not rush the follow-up?
JR: Because we had to write an album that we loved from start to finish and made sense as a whole. We didn’t want to put out a record we didn’t have a hundred percent conviction in or a record with a couple of singles and the rest filler. The album had to be something we all loved.
It’s quite strange, the fascination the UK press – and it is just the UK press – seems to have over the length of time the album took to make, especially when three years seems like a normal amount of time. You look at the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire, or The Strokes and you see that most bands spend a similar amount of time between records. Ideas and songs need time to grow before they’re ripe for release.
Skyscraper: You’ve said that most of the album was written pretty quickly. How important was it for you to capture that sense of urgency on record?
JR: The majority of the record was actually written in a couple of sessions over the course of a couple of months. the songs came quite easily once we woke up and remembered who we were as a band. The sense of urgency or relentlessness of the record is merely a manifestation of where we are at this moment in time. I also thing, you don’t want an album to let go of the listener and Surfing the Void doesn’t let go. The excitement of playing as a live band over the last four or five years and understanding what works probably had something to do with it as well.
Skyscraper: Tell me about your relationship with producer Ross Robinson.
JR: Ross is producer, therapist, and all round good guy rolled into one. He’s our collective father.
Skyscraper: You’ve said that working with him was very much a cleansing experience. Tell me about that.
JR: Working with Ross is a highly cathartic experience. Once you enter into his world there’s no hiding. Before any take, you all have to delve into what the song is about and why you are here making it happen. There’s a natural cleansing as a result of the honesty you all have to give.
Skyscraper: You’ve described lead single “Echoes” as a bridge between the two albums. How do you think your sound has evolved over the last three years?
JR: Our sound is bigger, more confident and more accomplished than its ever been. I also think it’s more soulful. “Echoes” bridges the gap as it maintains our melodic, pop sensibility.
Skyscraper: You arrived on a wave of near-universal praise with Myths Of the Near Future, picking up the Mercury Music Prize, NME’s Best New Band, and kick-starting the whole nu-rave scene in the process. Do you feel that the roller-coaster’s finally stopped and you can get on with the job of being musicians?
JR: I don’t know. Looking back that was strange, exciting and wonderful period of time. I do feel, though, that only now we’re starting as a band. It’s got a lot to do with the addition of Steff on the drums. For the first time we’re a proper band and not just an idea. We’re stronger as friends and better at our instruments. We’re in a good place.
Skyscraper: I read that you partied for a month after winning the Mercury Music Prize. What did you get up to?
JR: Just the usual hedonistic band things.
Skyscraper: How big an influence was Ayahuasca on the new album?
JR: I guess it was helpful in changing attitudes. I know Jamie felt a need to search for something and Ayahuasaca helped him realize there was no need as it was already there.
Skyscraper: What are your plans for the future?
JR: We’re touring for the foreseeable future, but we have one eye on the next record. There’s a collective understanding and desire for the next record to be the game changer.