For 30 years, Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands have been motivating and emboldening one another on their shared musical journey. Paul Jones spoke to the former about the pair’s outstanding ninth album as The Chemical Brothers, No Geography.
“MAH [Mad as Hell] is my standout track on the album. We’ve been playing it all over Europe last year and that just seemed to capture something for people. It’s a kind of visceral cry, and I think dance music is often just associated with celebration and joy and togetherness, which are all very laudable, but sometimes there are other feelings at play.”
One half of the enduring Chemical Brothers, Ed Simons, is talking to STACK ahead of this month’s release of No Geography, the duo’s ninth studio album. Simons is in good spirits and is eager to get the new music out.
The Chemical Brothers are possibly the most unassuming musicians in the history of popular music. By contrast, their audacious creative output – from their origins as remix connoisseurs to big beat torchbearers – has produced some of the most exciting electronic music to come out of Britain, perpetually evolving; vivid and distinct. No Geography is no exception.
“After Born in the Echoes we had a bit of time apart and then we had some DJ gigs booked,” says Simons, recalling how the genesis of No Geography emerged. “We always like to have some new music to play so we brought each other some ideas – vocal samples and different grooves that we were kind of interested in. Got To Keep On, MAH and Free Yourself were all tracks that emerged out of that DJ time.
“Tom [Rowlands] came up with the idea of working with Aurora and we met her, so that’s how those three tracks came together. There was maybe an 18-month period of writing songs and sketching ideas before we decided which ones we wanted to more fully develop. Last summer we spent a lot of time together in the studio with the engineer and mixed the record, just seeing where we ended up.”
So how do they know the ideas they have been working on are fully honed and realised? When does it become evident that the album is finished?
“It’s just a sense of completion at the end, which is sort of ineffable really. You can’t really define it, you just know,” he explains. “It’s been 20 years since Surrender and we’re putting out a big box set of that; we found lots of different versions of the tracks and it’s really interesting to listen to them now to see what we considered to be the finished version. We’ve got a 20-minute version of Out of Control – we used to just make them for fun.”
I remind Simons of an article I once read about the first time English icon Bernard Sumner came into the studio, and how they were blown away as he tuned up to Love Will Tear Us Apart.
“Yeah,” he laughs. “We were massive New Order and Joy Division fans, and there he was tuning to that, and I remember looking at Tom and thinking, ‘Is that really how you tune a guitar, playing that?’
“We love Bernard; he’s still a friend of ours. We actually played this festival last year in Macclesfield and Bernard lives quite near there. We got offstage after this really amazing gig and we got this text from him saying, “Oh f–ing hell guys, turn the music down, I’m trying to watch telly.“
The Chemical Brothers already have a busy year mapped out with tours planned through the US and Europe (no Australian dates as yet). The pair have been collaborating for close to three decades and Simons acknowledges that the avidity to create and inspire is still omnipresent.
“We do really enjoy it,” he says. “We enjoy sharing our music, and there’s moments that we want to get across how we’re feeling. Just creating these kinds of moments of intense feelings for music, there’s a kind of joy in that, a need in both of us to affect people. We both inspire each other. We met 30 years ago, and it’s why it’s The Chemical Brothers… it’s something in the chemistry between us that’s inspiring.”
No Geography is out April 12 via Virgin/EMI.
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