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SHOCK MACHINE
SHOCK MACHINE
(out 17 February 2017 through Liberator Music)

  1. Open Up The Sky
  2. Unlimited Love
  3. Shock Machine
  4. Lost In The Mystery
  5. Let Her Love In
  6. First Of May
  7. Fire Up My Heart
  8. Strange Waves
  9. Get You
  10. Something More

James Righton would like to get one thing clear. He didn’t end up in a cabin in the woods in the south of France because he was having “a Bon Iver soul-searching going-to-isolate-myself kind of thing”. That said, you could see why people might think he had. His former band the Klaxons had ended rather badly, after a career that appeared, from the outside at least, to have played itself out with the fast forward button jammed down. They hurtled from music press hype to a Mercury Prize win complete with notoriously boggle-eyed acceptance speech – “we thought we weren’t going to win, necked a bottle of wine and a few substances and the next thing I knew there’s cameras in my face and I’m hugging Jools Holland and I won’t let go of him” – to rock star excesses involving abandoned albums, the presence of a feather-clad shaman in the studio and the wasting of sums of money “up there with The Stone Roses in terms of amount spent” to “classic band shit of egos, people changing, insecurities coming out”. They split following a final gig in Guadalajara at the start of last year. Righton was left filled with “weirdness and anxiety”.

“It was horrible,” says Righton. “I came back from tour in January 2015 and I just didn’t know if I wanted to do music any more. I was like, “I’ve done this now for 10 years, do I still want to bother? I’d forgotten what I loved. I had no confidence, it had been kind of beaten out of me. I was just sat at home thinking, “Do I want to do this? Am I going to be one of those musicians who gets into making natural wine or moves to Margate and starts a microbrewery?” I’d kind of pulled the emergency cord and it was really fucking scary. What the fuck am I going to do? Being in a band, it’s not a vocational job, where you go “right, I’ve developed this skill set, which I can apply to something else”. It’s frightening.”

Indeed, Righton was so unsure whether he wanted to continue that he found himself writing a list of “all the things I love about music. I was just like, “what is it I actually really, really like?” It was done without a filter in terms of what’s now or cool or current.” What he wrote down was music noticeably different to that which the Klaxons had made: “Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star and Something/Anything?, ELO, Carole King, Roxy Music, Dennis Wilson. And 70s McCartney. I love Ram, I love the sound of that record, the songwriting, the melodies, and I liked that he didn’t care, that he’d gone away to Scotland and he wasn’t caring about being that guy from The Beatles.”

He started writing again, reacting to his experience of “sitting in a room, trying to write a pop song or a hit, which I found really frustrating and restrictive, because when we’d started that band, the idea was not to follow the rules per se”.  “I thought: I’m not going to write a four chord, 130 bpm verse-chorus song. I’d always loved Benny And The Jets by Elton John, so I was like ‘I want to do Benny And The Jets on acid’, so I was doing this wonky thing on keyboards, recorded a demo of it, and from there, I just went on a bit of run. I was really nervous about playing the new stuff to anyone, I was quite happy not to be on anyone’s radar, doing all this secretly in my own little world, but my wife overheard it and suggested I play it to some people. I’m really lucky to have a few people that I really trust, that are like go-to guys: Erol Alkan is one, James Ford is another and then James Murphy: they were all really, really enthusiastic about it, they all said ‘keep going’.”

Ford agreed to produce when he’d finished working on Foals’ new album – “I’d send stuff to him and he’d say, ‘this is great, but make it weirder’” – and Righton elected to fund the album himself: “I needed it to be like, this is my baby, I’m going to pay for this, I’m not going to compromise in any way, we’ll make it and deliver it and I want a label that loves it for what it is, who aren’t going to say ‘we need another single, go and write one’. This is a body of work, I’m very happy with it; either you’re in or you’re not.”

Which is where the cabin in the South of France comes in: Righton and Ford decamped there, keen to avoid both the situation of “doing a song here and a song there in different studios” and “making an album that sounded posh or expensive, like a new band going into a studio with lots of money”. “It was beautiful: we drank a lot of wine and played ping pong and made this album. The only problem was that we’d checked the place out in spring, thought it was going to be perfect. But when we got down there, it was one of the hottest summers on record, it was about 50 degrees in there. I remember walking to the nearest pharmacy and seeing this thing that said it was hotter there than Kinshasa. The equipment kept blowing up because it was so hot. Eventually we found a wine-maker in the area who loaned us an air-conditioning unit for keeping wine at the right temperature. That was the only stress, things breaking. It probably just fed into the spirit of it all.”

It has to be said that the music that emerged from the French cabin doesn’t sound much like the work of a man at the end of his tether, unsure of whether he should even continue in music or not. It sounds like a bold, confident push forward into expansive, beatific 21st century psychedelia: crisp, concise songs, rich with gorgeous melodies, sparkling with weird sounds. Sometimes you can hear the surroundings it was made in seeping into the music – ‘Shock Machine’ and ‘Let Her Love In’ somehow feel like songs emerging through shimmer of a mid-afternoon heat haze. Occasionally, as on ‘Lost In The Mystery’ or ‘Get You’, it sounds like something that might have emerged from the Brill Building refracted through a distorting lens. There’s a certain irony in the fact that when Righton stopped trying to write pop songs, he came up with stuff as unashamedly, anthemically pop as the choruses of ‘Unlimited Love’ or ‘Fire Up My Heart’, albeit pop with a distinctly warped sensibility. The sense of an artist finding his own voice, unbothered by fashion or current notions of what’s hip is pretty hard to escape throughout: it feels like an album powered by the giddy rush of someone falling head over heels in love with music again. Which is precisely what it is.

“The name Shock Machine, I thought was a really good metaphor for what I was going through – which was the band ending, being really fucking scared, what the fuck am I going to do?” says Righton. “Also, I had a child on the way, which was really scary: I’ve never been a dad before, I don’t know what I’m going to do, how I’m going to react. But at the same time, the end of the band was the best thing ever – I’ve got a blank page, people don’t have any preconceptions about it, I can just start again. There’s something incredibly liberating and freeing and inspiring in that. And similarly, the baby turned out to be the best thing that ever happened in my life. So a lot of this album, I suppose is a kind of internal monologue of trying to get my head around these changes that were happening at the time. It’s joyous and positive.”

Understandably, Righton is infectiously enthusiastic about Shock Machine’s debut. “I don’t want to sound like a dick, but I’ve kind of already won. Because if you told me a year ago, “you’re going to have an album coming out that you made yourself”, I’d have probably laughed at you. I’ve always thought I could do it, but it’s another thing actually doing it. So it actually just existing, I feel like I’ve achieved something and more importantly, I’m happier I’ve been in my life in five or six years, there’s none of the weirdness and anxiety I felt before. I just need to make things. That’s my job really. Just to make things I love.”

 SHOCK MACHINE IS OUT 17 FEBRUARY 2017

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