UNKLE: Cutting edge dance music for the next
millennium, or overblown vanity project for egocentric label owner?
Last summer we got drunk and wrote to James Lavelle, because we
do that sort of thing when weíre drunk. The label wrote back with
threats. Round One to us.
Kool magazine interviews DJ Shadow
in September 1998. He moans about getting a certain letter. Round
Two to us.
And now the final part of our trilogy ó Kool
have secretly booked us an interview with James Lavelle, and we
ainít come to talk Star Wars.
Why did the NME ask you to do
the tour, and why did you say yes?
Um, I have no idea why they asked me to
do it, and the reason I said yes was because I think I was probably
hungover and it sounded like a good idea at the time. I did it really
more to just challenge myself and also I felt that I didnít really
know whether the support in that area was very sincere, and I wanted
to see what it was going to be like myself rather than reading it
in a magazine ó actually go to colleges and see what people felt,
so I could educate myself.
It must be difficult to tour an album
like yours as there are so many contributors. Itís not really a
live show, is it?
It depends what you constitute as Ďliveí.
Guest vocalists arenít here; DJ Shadow
ó responsible for most of the music ó isnít here either. It seems
to me the album is a completely separate thing to the promotion
It kind of always was in a certain way.
But the way we kind of did it was all over the place; itís not really
been done in any normal manner, I donít think. I mean the singers
never wouldíve gone on tour we never thought that would happen.
You donít go to a Chemical Brothers show and expect to see Noel
or Tim Burgess or anything. You pretty much go to any dance bandís
show and youíre never going to see anybody they collaborate with,
but theyíre still being used elements of their vocals and stuff
The Shadow thing I completely understand, but he never really wanted
to get involved with the record after it was finished recording,
so Shadow only ever came over for a little promotion. Thatís why
I had to do all the promotion I think some people had the
impression that was what I wanted out of it. I didnít really want
to have to do all the promotion.
Why did he make that decision?
Because heís not really into it on that
level, Heís never been into doing press. He also doesnít like touring,
doesnít like going out there. He also burnt himself out, so when
it came to this tour he was too tired. So you take a view ó you
work three years of your life making a record, am I not going to
go out and take it live because people are going to be concerned
because Shadow isnít there, and then that means that the record
would never ever go out ó or do you try and take the project toward
a further dimension by furthering the collaborative effort by working
with other people? And ultimately the whole project of Unkle was
always something that I instigated and always was going to take
on, itís not something that itís ever been, I donít think itís something
new or old. As far as Shadow ó his involvement was only ever going
to be for that record, and I think where it goes from now is gonna
be up to me to decide, whether it continues or not. I wanted to
try and do a tour like this with the Scratch Perverts because it
gave me the opportunity to work with people Iíd known for years
that I work with in the recording process anyway. Itís given me
the opportunity to see how I could make a record like this more
spontaneous, because I felt that the thing you lose on vinyl is
that kind of gritty slightly clubbier experience and I wanted to
see if I could get that in the live shows, and I think we have.
I mean thatís all up for everybody to decide if they feel like we
have. I need to try and inspire myself to do other things and this
is the way you know you do it ó by going out there and seeing what
happens ó experiencing.
So how have audiences take to you and
the Scratchies being stuck with what is essentially a bunch of indie
I havenít had any kind of for or against
really. In my experience youíre very detached from the crowd because
you go to your dressing room, you wait for half an hour, you go
downstairs, you play a gig, you walk off the stage, and you go back
down 45 minutes later and everybodyís gone. Whereas if you play
in a club you walk in the club probably an hour and a half before
the gig, you stand around in the club, you chill out, you have a
laugh. You have a few beers, you can stand in the DJ booth, you
get to see the crowd, you meet a few people, you play your set,
you finish and you tend to hang out for maybe another hour, or to
the end of the night.
But isnít that your attitude to me surroundings
more than anything else? You could come here, go out and see the
You could, you could, but itís such a different
thing. I suppose for me itís because itís something new and itís
the whole nervous side of it. I donít get nervous when I go in a
club but I have to sit here for about 20 minutes before I go on
and psyche myself up, because in a club people tend to not be so
concerned with the technical end and the performance side of things
ó they respond to the records you play, which is obviously part
of the performance but itís not in a visual sense. Whereas with
this theyíre very concerned with whatís going on ó everybody stands
there watching you, people arenít just smoking a spliff in the back
fucking dancing away, so itís just a different experience. Obviously
if itís something that one pursued and got more used to maybe I
would go out more in the crowd. I think if I did another string
of live performances Iíd do it myself and build my own surroundings
so Iíd have bands that Iíd wanna bring on or DJs or whatever, but
I wanted to challenge myself. To be really honest with you I didnít
really know as yet why or why I havenít or why I will or what it
will I mean, but it felt like a good idea at the time, and thatís
why I did it.
Were, you embarrassed by the praise
the album received?
Was I embarrassed by it? I feel
at the moment, to be really honest with you, Iím confused because
it was very well received, and now everybody seems to have a grudge
against the whole record a the moment. When the end of the year
came it was like we had this album which everyone had been saying
was the best album of the year blah blah blah, and then,
by the end of the year, we werenít even in the top 20. Itís just
very strange how everybody went cold on us.
Would Unkle have happened on such a
large scale if it wasnít for the success of Money Mark and Endtroducing?
We already put records out before Endtroducing
and Money Mark, I already had a number one indie record. I think
we wouldíve done fine personally.
Do you think that devoting your time
to this turned attention away from the other artists on MoíWax?
I didnít though. I finished the projects
I was involved with and worked on this, and the whole reason this
took so fucking long is because I spent most of my time working
on the artists rather than working on the record. The weird thing
with the press is that people just write very aimlessly and very
out of context things that they donít tend to know, and they make
their own opinions up. With what happened with MoíWax they have
very little idea, nobodyís actually written about what has happened
in the whole Polygram side of things. I went from finishing Money
Markís album and Unkleís record to having my boss resign, the record
company collapse, then be moved to a new record company who didnít
like us, to then being forced out in the last year. So when people
talk about me deflecting my responsibilities to be perfectly honest
they can fuck right off, because nobody has been through what Iíve
been through in the last year as far as the record industry goes.
I had my two biggest records this year and they both fucking have
not... people think that the Unkle record has done very well ó itís
done great, and the Money Mark record it couldíve done ten times
better if the record company had just got on with it. For the last
year Iíve had people constantly being fired around me. I worked
in a company where I knew 200 people and out of that company only
20 people have their jobs left; so thatís what Iíve been surrounded
with in the last year and I get very annoyed with the British music
press who donít seem to take much of that into consideration and
would rather say that thereís a problem within the label, which
is absolute rubbish. The problem with the label is that Polygram
destroyed it, itís got nothing to do with my responsibility to my
Going back to the album, what was your
actual involvement, as we notice you have no writing credits.
The writing issue is funny because I do
Shadowís publishing and I do his label and heís on my label, and
it felt slightly awkward. It was a very strange scenario to be in
and I backed down as I felt because it was sampled music it all
got a little bit jaded, and I just dropped out to be honest. The
way it was made is we went to either a studio in London or in San
Francisco and just sat there and threw a load of samples in and
Shadow would start constructing the beats and stuff in the same
way that Iíd usually work with an engineer; and then the tracks
would start taking their own direction, or Shadow would maybe come
in with a demo idea, or Iíd come in with something Iíd heard that
I wanted to try and recreate in some way, and that was how it was
made. Youíd throw in different ideas, so different techniques would
be championed by one or the other of us. I wanted things like edits
on the record, so that was like the whole Mike D thing with the
breakdown edits, and the strings and the whole reprise on the end
of Lonely Soul was what I brought in Will to do and he came
up with that whole thing. But then Shadow would go away and he wanted
to make a hardcore record ó we needed a bass player so weíd sit
there and decide who we were gonna try and get, and itís not gonna
be someone from Huey Lewis & the News, weíll get in Metallica
because weíre in San Francisco. A lot of ideas were kicked around.
What happened to Tim Goldsworthy?
We departed ways. Itís very natural peopleís
musical tastes differ.
So he started the album with you, and
did the Unkle remixes of Tortoise and whoever... did the Unkle remixes.
Weíd grown up together since we were eight-years-old
and shit had happened, you know? New girlfriends get in the equation
and things like that. Things just went like that. We started the
album in LA, he was there the first day that Richard came in and
did his vocal and then that was the last time he was involved. He
just said to me that he wanted to pursue other things and didnít
really feel at this point this was something he wanted to do, and
he went off. I got him involved in the Richard Ashcroft remix of
the Verve, just to come in and do a bit of programming, and we talk
quite a lot. Heís in America ó he does David Holmesí stuff now ó
he went and did that, and he's got some new project on Domino.
How come The Verve remix was done under
your name, rather than as Unkle?
Because at that point Iíd kind of disbanded
the whole Unkle thing as a unit on that level. Because you have
to sit here and answer these kind of questions all the time, to
be honest about it; I just wanted to clear it up. Tim wasnít the
person that was coming up with the ideas at that point to do that
remix. That was why, whereas before it was an effort between all
of us in the studio, so itís just trying to define it more clearly
ó peopleís roles ó in the same way that when Tim started doing stuff
when weíd split up he was doing it as a Tim Goldsworthy thing instead
of us both carrying on using the Unkle name. It was better to stop
it there and then so it was more defined about what people were
doing, because otherwise it gets a little bit confusing.
We were talking earlier about the positive
reviews you got ó did you see that as confirmation that people understand
what youíre doing?
I seem to dwell a lot on the negative press
though. I felt that people didnít understand at all, that was the
problem, to be perfectly honest. I think I dwelled a little bit
too much on the bad press rather than the good press. I think from
a lot of people I felt wouldíve supported me much more the
dance press ó the intellectual press was great but I kind of always
thought that would be anyway, but the indie press and the dance
press I thought was pretty strange. I think if you go and read the
Muzik review again or stuff like that, they were a bit hard.
There was Jockey Slut and stuff, but they just, write about
the stuff they like and theyíre really good people. They look beyond
the politics ó theyíre not interested in politics, theyíre just
interested in the music for what it is, but I felt that a lot of
the other magazines dwell more on trying to stir up some kind of
trouble or whatever who does this, who does that, what
goes on, blah blah blah. It all got a bit personal rather than
actually writing about the music.
So do you find it hard to take criticism
about something that youíve taken so long to put together?
Definitely, I think anybody would. I think
if youíd spent three years at college putting together your end
of term thing and you get slagged off for it youíre going to take
it as personal criticism.
But isnít that the point ó the fact that
youíve done this to the best of your ability?
But youíre only human arenít you? Do you
know what itís like to open magazines and in that be told youíre
an arsehole? Itís not the most pleasant thing in the world, is it?
Itís not something you revel in. Whatever anybody may think of me
I also have my own sensitivity ó I donít get up in the morning and
itís business business business. They donít know what the
fuck Iím like, they donít have any idea, they spend half an hour
with me at the most three times a year, so what the fuck do you
know about me? So when you have a go at me you should at least have
the opportunity to spend some time to have a go at me.
The only things the press know about
you are learnt from other sources ó your persona is made up of rumours
Yeah, itís just rubbish, itís just peopleís
opinions. The more you get in the press and the more stuff you start
seeing coming around the more you realise itís the worst thing.
If thatís what your answer in life is ó to be in a magazine
that is where youíre going to start having a bit of a problem. Itís
like when you walk in a club and people have an opinion of you because
thet read something in a magazine. They don't know you, theyíve
never had a conversation with you, theyíve never sat when youíre
making lunch with your girlfriend and your daughter and just doing
the normal things that people do. Everybody just has this perception
of a very small part of your life. I think I will be hibernating
for a while after this tour.
Can you boogie?
Can I boogie?? Ach, I cannot.
Wrong answer. Have the Scratch
Perverts been getting drunk on this tour and does it mess with their
To get drunk? Theyíve done more than get
drunk! I think if they didnít drink it would fuck with their intimate
skills Ė before you go on it tends to be a pint of vodka and orange.
Now we pause for the obligatory photo shoot
which we thought would be more fun if we got him to pose reading
out infamous ďno longer keeping it realĒ letter. Unfortunately
he took his glasses off and couldnít read a word of it.
Have you seen the letter we wrote to
you last July?
He puts his bins back on, and an awkward silence
fills the room...
...Oh yeah, we have. Yeah, itís quite funny.
So why was DJ Shadow still whining on
about it three months later? We were surprised youíve taken us so
Uh oh (another long pause...) I
think it goes way beyond that letter to be perfectly honest. But
anyway... cool. Alright?
From Kool magazine:
Last question ó will there be another
DJ Shadow: Hmmmm... there might be another
one, but I donít know if Iíll be involved. I feel like Iíve graduated,
Iíve learnt my lessons.