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ireallylovemusic vs apollo 440

 

apollo 440 have done everything, with everyone.

they have released chart killing albums, they have slayed the advertising executives with their stylised brand of techno-rock-n-pop-n-dub-jungle, they have remixed all and sundry, from emf to u2 via lenny kravitz! but recently, things have been somewhat quiet. so ireallylovemusic decided to track down trevor from the band, and find out what's been going on in their world.

for a band/production crew there is so much to cover .. so lets rewind to 1986 and see where we end up.

 

early days

my first awareness of you was via the rather fine, sample heavy age of chance album, '1000 years of trouble', that your brother howard co-produced. you were obviously involved in some capacity as you are listed in the thank you credits. so, tell us your aoc story please ?

 i think this was the first paid session i ever did. howard waited till the band had gone home, and asked me to come round to trident studios and play some keys on a track that he felt could go in another direction. that track was 'don’t get mad get even'. we messed about with a load of different things but settled on a house style – it was something like what we had been hearing at clubs that dj noel watson, (aka age of chance's dj powercut), was playing at, and howard wanted to introduce some house keys on the track.

the band loved it, and the mix that featured most of the keys i’d done was used bigtime on channel 4’s american footy show that was just breaking. i was well pleased.

what did you and howard learn from that production?

howard used the sequential circuits studio 440 sampler/drum machine for that album (it helped name the band later as nok was persuaded to buy one when he heard what you could do with it). it was the beginning of programming for him, and session playing for me, learning to work with a track instead of just jamming, which is what i was used to. i guess it started us off as a working team, which was to develop later. if we’d had the gear you can get now, in those days, we’d have blown the world apart, as we were so hampered by the technology – it was very slow!

 are you aware that everyone, except the band, is now very famous. the studio crew comprised of steve osborne, mark ‘spike’ stent, and of course howard, this would be a rather expensive exercise in 2005 ! were you aware that all involved would go onto become involved with some of the worlds biggest rock-n-pop names?

you could tell mark (he wasn’t called spike then) and steve were very enthusiastic, and knew what they were doing. howard was a very accomplished engineer in his own right, and he said mark was the best engineer he’d worked with. they were all very safe pairs of hands. it’s not surprising they went on to do what they did. i know howard likes to think some of his method worked on them too, and i’ve met them both since, and they give howard top respect.

 then, following on from the aoc album, i next saw you popping up as remix gurus for people such as emf/pwei/u2 etc how did you approach the whole process of remixes?

by then we were a team of 4 – adding nok and james gardner who we were at school in liverpool with. it felt like the old days jamming after school in friend’s garages again. there were no egos, just a lot of laughs. our growing studio techniques/knowledge helped us to move on with every mix. we’d just jam along with tracks like a jazz quartet and keep the good bits. we were accomplished musicians in our own right so we could cut it.

 what were the differences with a remix and a new/fresh production?

on a remix we were just jamming and trying to get a great groove or mood, fresh productions mean you have to think about the song and it’s end place more, but as we moved on the 2 became 1 and everything we did we would write and rewrite until we were happy. sometimes this drove us mad. our last album took 3 years to record when we could have just left the early tunes and done 3 albums! nothing much changed.

 when you sort out a remix, do you liaise with the artist involved to see what style of remix they are wanting, or, is it a case of them sending the relevant music files, you then do your thang, and see if the artist like/approve of any ?

every mix is different. some are specific, but most just ask you to do your stuff – we’ve made some many records people know what we can do, and they trust you to have good sense. what you have to do is make sure you do what’s right for the tune, not just pull up this week’s break and put it on. for instance, that’s how our stealth sonic orchestra mixes for the manics happened – we did what felt right, and it really surprised them!

of the early period which remixes stand out after all these years later (emf – head the ball is my own personal fave)?

scritti is king – without that mix we wouldn’t be talking now. green had a lot of faith in us and we did the biz on that one. 'head the ball' was good too – going on tour with the emf lads was such a laugh!

then you seemed to be on the peripherals of the sample/rock collective known as hoodlum priest – a very strange setup that had major interest from ztt, but fell away prior to any commercial success.

rock is at the heart of all we do – we grew up listening to zeppelin, purple, sabbath etc. being able to sample that, mess with it and put it to a beat was just made for us. hoodlum was a project very close to howard’s heart, he was gutted it never came off like it should have.

 how did the album come about ? it seemed to continue in the same vein as aoc with the sonic collision aspect to the music – was this intentional?

again this was mainly howard’s thing – james gardner worked very hard on that album as his assistant, but all the music was hoodlum’s. howard was the catalyst to make it come together.

after several years of being remixers on demand you started to release records under your own alias. what prompted the shift from remixing to generation of your own noise?

it always felt like a band thing doing remixes. it was just performing in a studio instead of a stage. as we always wanted to do it live, it was only natural that we would put out some tunes we’d been jamming on together. as i said earlier, at the time it was 4 of us – but james moved to manchester and then to new zealand (he’s a lecturer and composer out there), and the three of us just kept making music together so it naturally became 3.

 while you have a core of three, gray bros and noko, you have always seemed to remain loyal to a certain set of vocalists, from mary mary to your sister elizabeth, do you like to keep it in the ‘extended’ family?

it’s easier to work with people you know and trust. mary instinctively knew where we were at in so many ways, and elizabeth was someone we (or certainly i) had been making music with since i was 7.

.. or, are you always trying to find new vocalists to experiment with, and, just how do you decide which people you are going to work on your project?

a lot of the people who appear on our records are friends who’ve come down to the studio and hung out, then just joined in! when ewan macfarlane sang on 'electroglide..', he was actually round the studio as howard was helping him with demos for some solo stuff. he heard the music and just said ‘do you mind if i have a go at this?’ he sat down with howard, and they expanded the couple of lines he had, and then he sang it in 1 take. that’s right, 1 take. he only sang that tune once! he didn’t know what he was exactly going to do, he just went with the flow. they are lots of instances of that, and loads of outtakes that we didn’t use. we had 4 different vocals for 'electronic civil disobedience'!

some people of course are chosen – like the beatnuts and jalal. we knew they’d be great on those tracks, so we invited them to join us. but the guys in the band (the ‘live band’) were all mates of ours.

 with the release of the ambient-techno classic ‘liquid cool’, you actually sent your music out to others to be remixed. how did this feel considering you came from a remix background, was it weird to hear the interpretations by others?

we couldn’t wait! liquid cool was actually a great success as a remix project. the triple gatefold promo is still very sort after, and often goes for 50 on ebay! it’s nearly 90 mins of music.

did anyone within apollo 440 have issues with any particular remixes that were submitted?

there have been one or two we’ve rejected or sent back before now! no names though! one remix we had of one of our hits, was sent to a huge remix star we paid loads for. it was terrible – he obviously spent no time on it, and was banking the cash. we refused to pay him the balance due. however he phoned us, apologised and did a cracking mix in the end! we still never paid him!

did you ever do an aphex twin in regards to a remix ? ie just take a random track out of the archive and submit it ?

how does he sleep at night?

you recently inferred that you never received the respect/recognition that you think apollo 440 should get for certain productions (kirsty macolls stuff), is this something that irks the  apollo 440 gang at all, the negativity/the slurs etc. why do you think you are subjected to this type of profile?

i just think that people out there don’t realise how many records we’ve worked on in the past. we’ve never been championed by journalists – why i don’t know. some have suggested, that because we had industry backgrounds we could never be ‘discovered’ by anyone, others that we hadn’t come out of any ‘scene’ which would have had it’s associated journos attached. guess we’ve just never been seen as ‘cool’ enough.

we should have gone into djing straight after our initial techno records…….

do you ever use your studio to make non-@440 music and release it via non-stealth recordings routes just to check on the reaction from the outside world (a la roadblock – by stock aitken waterman)?

you’ll never know!

 considering you make music with dance grooves – are you still regular club goers ?

i don’t think we make club music anymore – that probably stopped when we stopped going to clubs. i think you reach a certain stage where other things appeal – i feel sorry for people whose life is just one thing, day after day, without variation. we need the stimulus of other things.

 what’s the current musical passion in the world of  apollo 440 ?

noko’s been doing some brazilian drum’n’bass, howard has been producing northern indie bands again (check your art brut album credits ! - bizarre fact ed), and i’ve been listening to loads of swing jazz! nothing’s ever static in the world of the 440!

 filmscores and adverts

you obviously love em – surely this is going to bring accusations of ‘selling out’ – does that snobbish attitude bother you – or is it a case of ‘fuck it – lets go to hollywood !’ ?

i have never understood the idea of ‘selling out’. surely you want as many people as possible to hear your music. our music has been used for many strange things and that’s cool for me. we have turned stuff down where it’s been inappropriate, but for the most part, the music is used in a good way.

 apollo 440 seems to have its heart in commercial techno-rock-ambient – but with an eye on the underground. this became most apparent with the video for charlies angels track.. there you are on a major film soundtrack – making a video with mary mary in an old gboa t-shirt. didn’t anyone realise what he was wearing?

nobody batted an eyelid! this was just us doing our thing like we were on stage at a gig. we’ve never been ‘styled’ as such, it’s all just who we are, what we wear and how we act.

 are you still passionate about being regarded as a band – or has the  apollo 440 name become a brand, and albums are merely an showcase for advertising execs to hear what you can do for their commercials/filmscores?

we will always be a band in the sense that the music is always a group effort. that doesn’t change from the stage to the studio. as for a brand, certainly people come to us and ask for the ‘apollo’ sound – i guess that means we are a brand, meaning people expect a certain quality and a certain vibe to the music. we have been lucky in that many of our tunes have been sync’d – this hasn’t been a calculated thing, it’s just happened that way. our stuff has been used for things like tv programmes on angling, entrance music to underground caves in germany, the wake to princess diana’s funeral, the evening dress part of miss world, and the start of the oscars. there’s no way any of these tunes were written with that end result in mind. you just make music ,and if people pick it up, that’s great. i’m really proud our music is used for weird and wonderful uses. it shows the music comes from the heart, from human feeling, not written to order to try and manipulate emotion.

how do you approach a track for a film differently than for an album – or is there no real difference?

you need to know if it’s written behind dialogue, what action is going on, how long it is etc, but then you just go at it like a normal tune. it has to sound like you’re enjoying it – it’s kinda hard to fake.

 do you ever get full vocal sample clearance for every film you get involved in for possible future apollo 440 usage ?

on charlie’s, lost in space and 101 dalmatians we asked for as much dialogue as possible to be sent to us so we could use it in the track. i think it really works and helps us to punctuate moments better. it also nails the track for the listener, no, we could never get permission to use it for something else. don’t even go there!

 now, in regards to the apollo 440 albums.

first one, ‘millenium fever’, was packed with epic big electronic/techno anthems, second album, ‘electro glide’ slimmed down the sound, but enrolled dub, ambient, jungle, breakbeats etc etc and seemed to ride a certain zeitgeist by achieving several hits in the process, then you decided to become a full on rock band for ‘getting high on your own supply’, before setting down again and retreating back to the funky grooves of ‘dude descending a staircase’

 do you ever get resistance from the record label – especially after such deviations from the path as with 'getting high..', i mean, at the time, this totally went against the grain of the sublime ‘electro-glide' album and totally flummoxed most of the press?

see to us it was just the way it happened. it wasn’t a calculated thing. we grew up together in liverpool, playing in bands, doing gigs, but also messing about in bedrooms and garages with whatever equipment we could muster, to make music. having a studio just gave us more gear, more control. plus with experience you get better.

after 'electroglide..' we wanted to, and were encouraged, to go out live. we’d done that after 'millennium fever' too – but then with tapes as well as playing live. this time we wanted to do it with real musicians, we wanted to be able to improvise and work with the audience more. we were also with mary as opposed to noko on vocals, so that was always going to be more free, more spontaneous. this tour took us all over europe, and was such fun we started to write songs on the road. when we got back, it felt natural to use the tour band as the basis of the musicians on the album. the success of 'aint talking 'bout dub' and 'raw power' in europe cemented the relationship with mary, so we felt that presenting a band image was more consistent and wouldn’t flummox anyone. but you’re right, it seemed to confuse this whole ‘are you dance’, ‘are you rock’ thing. in fact, we were just a rocky, dancey thing same as ever. listen to our early stuff like blackout and tell us which we are – we don’t know! we wanted to get away from the bands that were using tapes on stage and miming like the prodigy, chemical brothers and leftfield – subsequently bands like groove armada, faithless and basement jaxx were doing the same thing.

 then just as certain sections of the press got used to you being all hip hop, you drop that funk and go all disco and more laid back.

we thought the 'getting high..' album would be more successful – 'stop the rock' should have been the biggest tune of the year, but somehow the record company messed up – i think that was really the beginning of the end for us at sony, they didn’t give us any time of day after that. we took too long to deliver 'dude..' too, and as always happens in record companies, the staff changes and noone’s championing you anymore. when we got back from the 'getting high..' world tour this time, we decided to get away from the band (they wanted to keep it very junglistic) and back to beats and different vocals. i guess we’d missed the control of 'electro glide..', and the great music we made. i don’t see much difference between 'dude..', and that album. it’s all the blues. we used different vocalists again but as i said sony strangled it at birth. it never had a hope. after 'dude..' did nothing in the charts, they gave up. it could have been a huge album. it’s my favourite.

 is there any style of music that is out of bounds for apollo 440, and if so, which ?

categorising music is both hard and wrong. if it’s good it’s good, that’s what matters.

 you seem to still love the steel slide guitar that was predominant in the mid-90’s as its still apparent on the latest album ?

yeah as nok says ‘i know the meaning of life, it’s in the neck of my bottleneck slide’.

we worked a couple of years ago with jeff beck, and that was one of his comments too . he doesn’t play much bottleneck, so it was hard work getting him to play some. then the track we got him to play it on never made it to the uk album version (it’s only on the japanese version), as someone had told him it sounded like clapton and he didn’t want that!

 for ‘getting high ..’ – was this a long desired attempt at being a full on rock-n-roll band?

as i said earlier, we had grown up listening to rock – it was in the blood. getting on stage in front of 50,000 people and burning up 'dub..' does things to you! you want to repeat that feeling! we were just having fun being a band and playing live. we didn’t know whether to call it a rock band or not – it was just playing music on stage and that carried itself naturally into the studio for the 'getting high..' album.

as the album seemed to revel in the sheer dumbed down rock fun with beastie boys/industrial/mutant ska all being thrown together in a totally non-serious fashion. to create a wonderful collision. was the term something like ‘a rock band that likes to dance, or a dance band that likes to rock’ used somewhere? was it all as good fun as it sounds ?

it was and it was. honestly 8 people on stage and 17 in the tour bus was a blast! but what goes on tour stays on tour! music should be fun, live shows should be fun – i remember great things like mary on stage in the middle of a gig in milan pulling his trousers down to ‘show his fella to donatella’ (versace who was there!). you can’t make up stuff like that! we had always said we were ‘stadium techno’ from day 1 and this live band gave us the tools to do that.

for ‘dude…’ – why a double? did you have to fight a battle with sony to get the all clear for this?

simply because we had written that much music. sony thought it was a good idea to do a double, so we could get it all out. guess they felt there wouldn’t be another album, so might as well in case anything gets sync’d. i think they didn’t promote it at the right time or in the right way.

i think that the album could have been promoted as a single album with freebie ambient album .. that would have been more commercially viable?

i agree – we were always tossing up whether to do a free remix album too. the only good thing was that it went for a single album price.

 re the ‘dude ..’ cover – you are obviously very proud of the use of that artwork, as it was used for the singles/album, there's a picture of you all standing in front of the original, and its on the website. please explain why the cover means so much to you ?

ausgang, the artist, is one noko’s favourites – he has a lot of his originals but not this one. we loved the picture, it’s vibe, colours, everything. and the title is so clever! we had used art in the past (millennium fever’s blood head for one) and it continued the theme. the video nearly hit the spot – but it did take the emphasis off live performance which i think was a mistake.

do you ever think that maybe your genre hopping makes life as an apollo 440 fan rather challenging, and for many a reason why you no longer have the same level of profile as before ? people don’t like change (except david bowie fans!)

i think you make music the way you feel it. i couldn’t be in status quo and play the same 3 chords in every tune for 30 years. no way. i think you can always tell our music and the feedback i get from fans is that it is the challenging part, the uncertaincy that makes it so good – what makes an album worth listening to all the way through rather than 3 singles and then a load of tracks that sound the same but are not as good as the first 3.

so, after all that in regards to the past ..

what about the future. you have recently relaunched your website. implying that there is more funk on the way.

what can we look forward to from the 440 collective ?

we’ve just finished a track that we hope to be the next single. we’re trying to get it on a film right now – when you hear it that’ll make sense – but the film keeps going back. if the film happens it will be a huge hit, no problem!

and i think that’s enough (for now!), thanks for making a long held wish come true – hope this wasn’t too painful.

that was good therapy for me! thank you for getting me to delve into my past – funny how it put certain things into perspective with time.

see you in the future, man…………..if there is one.

 

official band : link

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