The Japanese Popstars have hit the ground running. After remixing acts like Daft Punk, Gorillaz and Kylie Minogue, the trio have just released their second album Controlling Your Allegiance. Touring it at festivals such as Glastonbury, Bestival and Dour this summer (with the possible help of guest vocalists such as Tom from Editors, Lisa Hannigan and Robert Smith from The Cure) an exciting few months are in store for them. We caught up with Decky Hedrock, who says it was a relief to finally get the album released….
“We’ve been sitting on it for over a year. Initially we were with a small record label called Gung Ho! and then we sort of put an album together. The manager fished it out, we had a lot of interest from a couple of majors and when we went with EMI they decided then rather than just release an album with a single they wanted to build a profile so we’ve literally been sitting on the album since last March. It’s not new to us because we’ve been sitting on it and having it on little files on our computers back home we’ve been tweaking and retweaking it changing it. We’ve had too much time to fiddle with it.”
How does this differ from the first album?
“The first one was mainly us locked in our bedrooms. Monday to Friday at work, after work trying to get some music together to play live, playing a show at the weekends and coming back Sunday nights going to work Monday morning 8 or 9 o’clock and then trying to make an album during all this. No vocalists. Any vocals on the first album was ourselves heavily disguised with effects, none of us can sing properly. We thought ‘We’ve got an opportunity now, let’s ask some people.’ First person we asked was Morgan Kibby from M83. We said, “we’ve a wee song sitting here, let’s just try a vocalist” so we sent it to her she sent us back the idea and we were like ‘my God this is the next level, this is something really different.”
So that’s what was happening? You weren’t presenting people with a lyric sheet, you were just sending the track and saying ‘go for it’?
“That’s exactly what we were doing. The joy of internet. We emailed it to her, that really worked. Within a few weeks she sent us back the idea, we recorded it in the studio, sent it back, she really liked it. So after that our manager said ‘pick a list of everybody you’d like to work with’. Everybody said yes bar one person. That was David Bowie. He never even got back to us.”
You approached everyone then? Did anyone come to you or is that starting to happen now?
“Strangely the track we did with Green Velvet… we’d played with him a few times and we thought it’d be brilliant to get Curtis on one of our tracks but hadn’t had the courage to ask him. We were playing with him one night at The Stiff Kitten, we plucked up the courage to ask him after everything got packed up and before we asked he was all ‘guys, that was amazing. Let’s work together.’ Happy days…”
How is it different doing a show with vocalists in terms of audience reaction?
“With Lisa, she’s so used to polite applause. Our audience are the reverse of that, they’re very aggressive so they were shouting and punching the air at her, she seemed overwhelmed by it. She was nervous, she told us she was nervous at the start but by the end of the show she kept turning round to us as we were playing and you could see that she was starting to feel it, starting to get into the madness of a dance show. It was a brand new experience for her. That made it for us. Lisa was the highlight of that show, watching her gaining confidence at something she hadn’t done before.”
Do you think Robert Smith will join you to sing ‘Take Forever’ live at some point?
“Bestival. Maybe. We’re playing the same day as him. Everything’s in motion, we just need to make sure that he’s cool with it. He’s pretty much a genius.”
How important is live performance to you? With winning so many awards for your live act do you feel a pressure to keep making the show bigger and better?
“Definitely. We do. There is an awful lot of pressure. What we’re trying to do, obviously is write new material and we can’t play all our old stuff if we’ve got new stuff that needs to be played. A lot of that has vocals and is a lot slower than our old stuff.. We have to rejig the live show so we can fit newer stuff in with the older stuff. Obviously we’ve got fans from the first album and we’ve seen too many bands ourselves play a load of songs you’ve never heard of. The song that you’ve went to hear them play they’ve forgot about and that’s a really good song. It’s not just us we’re playing for, it’s the crowd as well. Gary described our live show in an interview as a series of technical disasters one after the other until we get it right. Anything could go wrong. So many shows we switch the laptop on and it goes ‘no way, my day off!’. We now have a backup laptop but basically the more we add to it, the more possibilities it could go wrong!”
You’re playing Glastonbury this weekend, along with nine other Irish acts. Do you think that’s a successful result for Irish music?
“I think it’s brilliant! Glastonbury is one of those festivals that if you’ve never done it as a punter you’ve missed out. Ten Irish acts playing it, that’s brilliant, that’s successful Irish music. It’s better than nobody playing it. Glastonbury’s the pinnacle of UK festivals, possibly the pinnacle of world festivals. It’s such a big festival, people come from everywhere to go. The first time I played was in 2000, we played the dance tent at 1 in the afternoon. People were wearing pyjamas to the show but it was still ‘we played Glastonbury’. It’s an honour, it really is. When we played it as The Japanese Popstars it was after Subfocus on an outdoor small stage and there were thousands of people for him. We thought ‘this is going to be awesome!’ and as soon as he finished it was like the parting of the Red Sea. We were early in our career and discovered that you work on keeping people in the audience at a festival, keep people at your show. This time we’re playing between Steve Lawler and Pete Tong. Gods on the dance scene and we’re sandwiched between them at about 9:30 on a Sunday night. Our name has actually made it onto the flyers.”
Lastly, what are your plans for the future?
“The album. Currently writing ideas for the third one. We’re thinking of vocalists, we’ve got some tracks that we’ve sent off to management asking if we could move things forward with certain people. Our main concern at the minute is taking the live show live with these new songs and taking it to festivals, making it into something that we’re all happy with that we can work with the likes of Robert, Tom, Lisa live with minimum fuss. Remixes, touring, the same as always. To us it’s work, everyday, nothing exciting…”
Controlling Your Allegiance is out now on EMI.