DMC World exclusive!! Pnau brings Elton John to the party
Nick, Peter welcome to DMCWORLD. I think as Elton John said on Radio 1 last week speaking to Zane Lowe, "this has been such a lovely story concerning this project, things like this don't happen very often". So four years ago Elton picks up one of your records in a vinyl store in Sydney and the next morning you are having coffee with him. Did you think it was a hoax when the call came through?
Nick: "It was in a Virgin Megastore actually and he gravitated to the cover art initially. I found out that he had our record though a mutual friend of the Oscar winning actress Toni Collette. She conveyed to us that Elton had fallen head over heels in love with our music. I then proceeded to email the 7 star hotel where Elton stays and left my phone number with them. A few hours later, I was receiving a full body massage when my phone rang and the first thing I heard was..."hello it's Elton!" From that moment on Dan, our lives have never been the same."
Before we find out all about Elton, let's go back a way. You have been basing yourselves between Australia, New York where Nick was working on Cirque du Soleil and London where you have been working with Elton. Where is home at the moment?
Peter: "Home right now for me is London, but soon to be LA. Nick has been in New York now for about a year."
I believe Nick was the youngest ever composer to take charge of Cirque du Soleil? Was it as magical as it sounds, did you enjoy New York?
Nick: "I am the youngest but after that experience I feel decades older, such an amazing apprenticeship. Without the mentoring from Sir Elton I never would have made it through. There is a lot of work that goes into a dreamlike experience that only Cirque can create, full of mysteries and mysticism..."
The dance world is obviously nothing new for you two, you used to start sneaking out to raves in the mid 90s in your early teens - what do you remember from those halcyon days and nights - who were the DJs you were jumping around to back then?
Peter: "Surprisingly, I remember quite a lot. A lot of soot covered warehouses, bass bins, hypnotic music that anyone could get into given a chance, the usual stuff - fun times. We were heavily into acid and early rave / industrial and some techno out of the UK and Europe mainly. People like Thomas P. Heckmann, Meat Beat Manifesto, Future Sound of London, LFO, Speedy J etc. DJ wise, we liked so many - but Frank de Wulf, Laurent Garnier, Joey Beltram, Derek Carter are a few I can remember - anyone who was different or had something musical that meant something to us."
So what sort of artists growing up would you say have influenced you?
"Cornelius Drax, Pet Shop Boys, The Boys Next Door, Ride, Plaid, John Lennon, Anthony Newley, Leslie Bricusse & O.S.T., Vangelis, Flaming Tunes, Kate Bush, Lindsey Buckingham, Lonnie Liston Smith, My Bloody Valentine, Laurie Anderson, Einstürzende Neubauten, The Stranglers, The Sugarcubes, Boredoms, Goblin, Roy Ayers, Nino Rota, The Alan Parsons Project, Coconut Records,John Martyn, Lee "Scratch" Perry, The Avalanches, Belle and Sebastian, Moondog, John Barry, Thierry Müller, Bright Eyes, Eurythmics, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Arthur Russell - to name a few!"
The last single also on Ministry of Sound, 'Unite Us' features remixes from the likes of Kris Menace, Wookie and Tommy Trash. Australia it seems is finally coming through with some major DJs and producers. Why has it taken so long?
Peter: "I'm not sure. It's probably just the distance and the weather. When it's sunny all the time most people don't really contemplate locking themselves in a darkened room for hours making beats."
So Mr John. He admits you get on like a house on fire, how soon after meeting did he suggest you move to London so he and his management company could start taking charge of your careers?
Peter: "Well, we didn't really talk about the management side of things for a while and yes, we do get on like a house on fire. He initially really helped re-enforce something that we already knew, which is that as an Australian, if you want your music to be heard by a larger audience and to have success outside of your home country, then you really need to leave. There are probably exceptions to this rule but it felt long overdue for us and he just gave us the push that we needed"
The notion of one of the biggest stars in the world giving you the masters of a large chunk of his back catalogue is simply unheard of. What was your initial reaction when he suggested this, what was his original idea of the project?
Peter: "Our initial reaction was elation. What an incredible breadth of music to be allowed to run wild with. Of course, we were also freaked about him not liking it and also living up to our own expectations of working with someone so crucial to the history of music. But I swear, he is the easiest artist we have ever worked with. I don't think he even made any changes. Maybe a few suggestions. The coolest thing was that he literally let us do whatever we wanted and didn't try to steer us in any direction creatively. If there was any concept in the back of our minds, it was to try an avoid re hashing an album full of songs that had already been hits - songs and recordings that music fans were already deeply in love with and closely attached to."
His records from the era that you are working on 1970-76 were of course made in analogue, there was no cheating with digital back then. Do you think the analogue sound of the 70's are better than todays digital productions?
Peter: "Well, I could probably write a book on this topic having made records on both formats but...yes and no. I think that the 70's was a golden age where musicianship, culture, record label attitudes and technology were in a way at their peak. Yes, there was no cheating (apart from basic tape edits and loops) and as a result players were mostly incredible, otherwise you wouldn't get work. Gear wise you had most of the best equipment in history (16/24 track tape and discrete analogue consoles, plate reverbs etc). The charts were very varied and quite wild compared to today. But on the other hand, it's easy to be nostalgic about a time when you weren't even alive and I know that most records are simply not made like that anymore and I also love many aspects of the 'modern' sound. I guess we try to incorporate the things we like about all musical eras into our music."
How long did you sit and listen to those masters before coming up with ideas, or was it simply a case of you knew how experimental you wanted to be - and just got on with it...
Peter: "We started by getting ourselves i-Pods and loading them with Elton's whole recorded career. This was great because with someone like Elton who has done so many incredible and brave things in music - just like when I recently bought the whole Beatles catalogue - you discover so many things that you never knew about an artist and when you start thinking about the possibilities you begin to get more and more excited about the music that could be created in this way. We don't really do remixes and we don't see this record as a remix album, more like a collage of elements of several different tracks from Elton and Bernie's career blended with elements of Pnau to form new music."
It's well known Elton loves his dance music. He once famously went out and bought 100 copies of Mylo's 'Destroy Rock and Roll' as Christmas presents for his friends, knowing they hadn't heard it but should have it. What new dance music did you introduce Elton to?
Peter: "Ha ha. It's more like what new music did he introduce us to! I challenge anyone to keep up with Elton. He listens to probably 20 / 25 new records a week and he can tell you about all of them. We have made mix tapes for him as gifts (what do you buy a guy who has everything?) and we stupidly thought we might be introducing him to new music that we liked but he knew every track"
You took half of the finished copies to him last year, it was the first time he had heard them. What was that meeting like, did he give any criticism or was simply blown away?
Peter: "He had a few suggestions but was really happy overall."
Our favourite track has to be 'Sad' - what you did with 'Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word' is unbelievable, lifting a word from the backing vocal was genius. What is your favourite track, and what is Elton's?
Peter: "I'm pretty sure everyone's favourite is 'Sad' - sometimes things just work. That was probably the first track that we finished properly for this record and it is one I'll always feel close to."
Elton freely admits he wouldn't have a clue where to go clubbing in London, did you venture out anywhere?
Peter: "I can freely admit that I wouldn't have a clue either. We have been to Durr and a few other nights over the years and had a lot of fun but to be honest, we're always in the studio."
What has been the reaction from your hardcore fan base to 'Good Morning To The Night'?
Peter: "It has been really good - everything's been positive. Many people say it has a similar feel to our first record, 'Sambanova'..."
You have obviously very eclectic musical tastes. Your early albums, Empire of the Sun releases, stage work, Soft Universe and now dance and Elton John studio production shows that. So we come back to yours after the club, what is the Pnau Back To Mine 10 you spin us to carry on the party…
Brian Eno 'By This River'
Drax 'The Silent Meadow'
Leonard Cohen 'Famous Blue Raincoat'
Kermit the Frog 'The Rainbow Connection'
Vangelis 'Memories of Green'
Ryuchi Sakamoto 'Bibo No Aozora (Live 2011)'
High High's 'Phone Call'
Tomita 'Arabesque No 1'
Camille Saint-Saëns 'Le Carnaval des Animaux'
Yamasuki 'Aisere I Love You'
So what happens next - what is the next project for Pnau?
Peter: "We have a gig with Elton in Ibiza on July 2nd that we're jazzed about and we've been working on a Mica record in London, and we're really focussed right now on making the new Empire of the Sun album, which is going to be amazing."
And finally, 'Good Morning To The Night' - to you, is it a sunrise or sunset…?
Peter: "Definitely, sunset..."