Simian Mobile Disco: A Literal Translation

By • Nov 1st, 2009 • Category: Featured articles, Features

smdBand names aren’t designed to be the most literal of descriptors. From Air to Ash, from The Zombies to Zebrahead, group monikers are usually meant to be taken lightly. Short of calling themselves “Some People Who Play Instruments and Sing”, most bands leave quite a bit to the imagination when finally settling upon a group name. What the hell is a Zuton, anyway? For that matter, how about Zwan? Vue? Mew? There are plenty of bands whose literal incarnation would certainly be entertaining (Radiohead, Flaming Lips, Morningwood), but pop music also requires a certain appreciation for the figurative.

Yet Simian Mobile Disco comes as close as any band to being self-explanatory by name alone, and the electronic duo’s members James Ford and James “Jas” Shaw have their former rock ensemble to thank. As half of their former experimental pop outfit Simian, the two members splintered from the U.K. act in 2005, forming their redirected, beats-laden, follow-up shortly thereafter. Simian’s two psychedelic albums were rooted in Brit-pop structures and laced with British Invasion melodies, and Simian Mobile Disco updates those influences by drawing upon England’s longstanding love affair with dance music.

And the pair’s 2009 SMD release, Temporary Pleasure, hears the musicians-turned-producers delving deeper into that affection for control room trickery. “We’re producers first; that’s how we see ourselves,” said Ford. “We both have backgrounds in proper bands, and we love going out and playing live. But we’re really keen on playing around in the studio.” Ford, in particular, splits his time in both roles. The former Simian drummer never has stepped fully away from his kit, appearing last year on the debut from The Last Shadow Puppets, the side project of Arctic Monkeys mastermind Alex Turner. But it’s as a producer that Ford has excelled in recent years, taking the reigns of LPs by acts from Test Icicles to Mercury Prize winners Klaxons, with three number one albums to his credit.

The music that Ford and Shaw are making on their own not only sounds energetically dissimilar to their former band, but also different than the direction they intended to take with their sophomore album. “When we set out to make [Temporary Pleasures], we had been listening to a lot of disco-y music. So we set out to make a straight-up techno album with very few vocals,” said Ford of the 10-song collection. “But we kind of got sidetracked. We sent out stuff to some vocalists and weren’t expecting to get so many songs back that we enjoyed. We were really surprised by how many people were willing to be on the album, and how good the songs were that we got back.”

Some of those songs were collaborations from Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys, Jamie Lidell, Yeasayer vocalist Chris Keating, and Gossip leader Beth Ditto. And the outpouring of vocalists left Ford and Shaw with little choice but to change course midway through recording their second LP. “We’re still keen on making that [instrumental] album,” said Ford. “Projects need parameters, though. It keeps things purer if you put up boundaries. We do that with all our projects. For example, Simian Mobile Disco always will be a strictly electronic band. If we were to release other kinds of music, it’d be under another name.”


Chicago Innerview, November 2009

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