An interview with Athlete

Athlete got together in London’s Deptford in 1999. They’ve released three albums, including the powerfully evocative track ‘Wires’, which shot to number four in the UK charts, while the album it was on, ‘Tourist’, shot to number one in the UK charts. They are Joel Pott (lead vocals and guitar), Carey Willetts (bass and backing vocals), Stephen Roberts (drums and backing vocals) and Tim Wanstall (keyboards and backing vocals).

Once again, this is a re-run of an interview conducted for a UK magazine, which is now out of print.

Q: Tell us how you got together?
A: We’ve all known each other since we were teenagers. We had mutual friends and before long realised that we were all interested in bands so just naturally ended up playing together. I don’t think we’ve ever had a conversation about being in a band, it just seems like we always have been.

Q: Your third album, ‘Beyond the Neighbourhood’, was released last year, what can you tell us about it?
A: ‘Beyond the Neighbourhood’ was probably the most fun record to make so far. We built our own studio on an industrial estate surrounded by mechanics and carpenters. Then we decided to produce it ourselves. This was very new and exciting for us. The album’s a real mix of noisy guitars and then a more electronic feel. It was good to try out lots of new ideas, I guess this is where the freedom to try new arrangements, sounds and songs came from.

Q: Your song, ‘Wires’, has been a huge success – do you feel under pressure to do the same again, or do you prefer to explore new ground?
A: We’ve always loved trying new things. To try to recreate ‘Wires’ would have been impossible and probably a bit contrived. We just worked with the songs that were coming at the time. I think that’s a much more natural and freeing way to work.

Q: What’s your advice for bands just starting out?
A: It seems like the music industry is changing so quickly at the moment I would be wary of jumping at a five album record deal. Instead, I’d just keep enjoying writing, play live loads and see what opportunities come your way. Everything seems much more DIY at the moment and that’s exciting if you can come up with good ideas.

Q: When you create a new track, how do you all work together?
A: It works in different ways. Sometimes we jam over an idea at the very start to get it into shape; other times somebody will finish a song before we start putting it into a band form. Other times we will just start recording some stuff with a song/chords in mind and just build it up.

Q: How would you define your sound? Some say you write pop songs, others explain you write highly interesting indie-flavoured music?
A: I hope that we do both of these things. I think sometimes people are afraid to use the word pop, as if there’s something shameful about it. To me a pop song is just great melodies and words. We always try to produce them in the most interesting way for that song. We also try to make sure that lyrically the songs have some kind of depth to them. I get bored very quickly of songs that don’t move me or mean something to me.

Q: Who would you describe as your greatest influences musically?
A: I don’t know if there’s a certain band or era that we look to as an influence. I think just great songs. So this could be Neil Young, Jonny Cash, The Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Blur, Pulp…We are all a bit partial to a bit of Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk, DJ Shadow, A Tribe Called Quests, Kano…

Q: How useful are MySpace or Facebook to new and established artists?
A: I love it. It gives us a chance to have a actual connection to fans. I go onto MySpace all the time. For new artists it looks like it’s becoming more and more important. You can have an identity without a record company marketing budget. If I hear about a band, I can check them out straight away online.

Q: Where do you see the music industry going?
A: Well when the glass is half full I think the future’s bright for independent labels and for artists prepared to take a DIY approach to how their music is made, released and marketed. For the cost of a week in a crap studio you can get a decent home set-up so I imagine more and more people making their own records. On days when it is half empty I fear we are losing the value of choosing and buying the body of an artist’s work and see a future where we feel it’s our right to have hundreds of albums to scroll through on our iPods at no cost to ourselves.

Q: What are your reflections on Radiohead and the Charlatans moves last year?
A: I suppose, in the case of the Charlatans, the idea is that by giving music away for free more people get to hear it and choose to see you play live and it’s easier to make money playing gigs than selling records. But it’s all a bit defeatist for me. In one sense you can’t fault Radiohead as there’s no doubt it has been an incredible success for them, but they are unique. It’s a move that spells disaster in the short-term but it’s been coming ever since record companies chose to fight to maintain their business methods when they needed to evolve at the same pace as internet connection speeds.

Q: Do you own iPods
A: Yes too many!

Q: What music are you listening to at the moment?
A: Well aside from the usual classics listed as influences, Band of Horses, Stina Nordenstam, Postal Service and as a life long Pet Shop Boys fan I’ve decided to check out if I like early Depeche Mode….

The Big Art Mob
Athlete frontman Joel recently lent his support to Channel 4’s Big Art Mob campaign to create different pieces of public art across the UK. He told us why art matters.

“Art is hugely important for our sanity and our souls! Whatever form it takes, people need art. It’s a way of expressing things you can’t explain or talk about. Also as a listener or viewer of art, it’s an opportunity for you to connect to something funny, sad, complicated, angry or whatever and go “yeah, that’s me.”. It affirms you as a human being. Check out and the Big Art Mob , they are great forums for expression and connection. Lovely.”

Athlete on MySpace

This is the video for recent track, Hurricane, taken from the recent ‘Beyond the Neighbourhood’ album.

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