A large number of electronic dance acts emerged out of the techno/rave explosion of the early 90’s, but few proved to have the staying power as Orbital. With each new release, brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll managed to give their music a unique edge without straying too far from what listeners had come to expect. The duo was always know[n] for putting on great live shows; along with such acts as The Chemical Brothers, they proved that a few guys on stage with racks of electronic instruments COULD match the intensity of a rock band. But now Orbital has decided to call it a day. They have already done their final live shows, and the recently released “Blue Album” is their last planned recording as Orbital. Chaos Control has featured Orbital many, many times in the past. But since it’s the end of an era, we felt that we had to talk to them one more time. The following is a phone interview with Paul.
Going into the making of the album, did you know that it was to be your last?
Paul : “We did actually, we’d had enough of working together. My brother’s wife is expecting twins, so his life is going to change a lot. It felt right. We were just going to do an EP or something to sort of say ‘by[e]’ and then my brother was going to go traveling. He kept changing his mind about when he was going to go away traveling, so we got more and more time in the studio. And so it turned into an LP. But we knew it was going to be our last. Making it was very enjoyable, pretty good fun.”
So many bands end up re-uniting – do you REALLY think this is it? Or do you see yourselves working together again in 5 or 10 years?
Paul : “Well possibly. But I think Orbital … that chapter is finished. I think that if were to work together again, we should call ourselves something else, really. I don’t know. That’s how I feel at the moment. I’m looking forward to working with other people and on my own.”
Have you done your final live shows?
Paul : “Yea[h?], we have. It felt fantastic. They were really, really good. The crowds were fantastic. We couldn’t have wished for more. You know, going out with a bang.”
Looking back, how does the way Orbital turned out compare to what you were expecting when you started the project?
Paul : “I didn’t really expect anything out of it. At the beginning I thought maybe we were getting some lucky breaks with ‘Chime’ and I thought, ‘right, let’s cling on to this lucky break and see how long it lasts.’ In the back of my mind, I thought about a year. So, it’s been hard work keeping the machine going, but I’m not complaining at all! It’s been great, and has gone further than I’d ever imagined.”
At what point did you realize that it was going to be a long-term project?
“Well I never really did. It always seemed that we were still clinging on to a lucky break.”
Did the fact that this is your last album have much of an impact in how it turned out?
Paul : “Maybe subconsciously. The last track we did, with Lisa Gerrard, that seemed to be the perfect thing to finish on. But that was a thing that came from a film we’d worked on. We didn’t write it specifically to be the track on the album, but it worked well. We were just working with bits and pieces that we had been working on throughout but never actually turned into tracks. So it was kind of like tidying up all the loose ends that we had, and it all fit very well. Which is not that surprising, as you do a body of work within a certain time period and everything is reflected within that. A lot of things seemed very fitting for a last lp.”
How did the collaboration with Sparks come about?
Paul : “We’ve got 2 tracks, one called ‘Pants’ and one called “Acid Pants.” We felt that it had a bit of an 80’s feel to it, and that we could hear someone like Sparks singing on it. That’s where it started. We sent them ‘Pants’ and they sent back all their vocals for it. But when we got the vocals, we decided not to use it with ‘Pants,’ but instead make a new track around it. So that’s where we got ‘Acid Pants,’ we wrote the track around the vocals.”
Did the fact that you were not tied to a record label this time around have any impact on the making of this album?
Paul : “Yeah, I think that had a positive effect in some ways. It felt different. Not that we were ever pressured by labels, but they were there, looming over. It’s like when we did the first one, it’s gone full circle. Without having the record label, it’s very similar to when you write your first lp, because you’re writing tunes but you haven’t got a deal. If you’re lucky enough to get a deal, your first album is often what you’d been writing before getting that deal. It’s similar in that way, really.”
How much involvement did labels have? Did they request to hear tracks as an album was being made?
Paul : “No, they had none, really. Mostly just using their machine … radio, marketing people. The live stuff was generally funded by us, using what we made ourselves. I think we had a bit of tour support once. We didn’t really fit as well with them, really [laughs], as well as we shoud have done. But I’m really not complaining.”
Were there any additionals to your studio that had a impact on the making of “The Blue Album”?
Paul : “Yea, Native Instruments soft synths. Kontact and Reacktor are both software things that had an influence on it with beats and things like that.”
Are there any current tools that would have been helpful to you in your early days (that weren’t available then)?
Paul : “Only real-time sampling and pitch manipulation. You can change the tempo, and the pitch stays the same, which is pretty incredible. So it’s only the sample, really. With synthesizers, you do have the soft synths that are really good. They are very easy to use, but essentially are all sort of the basic format, really. So that pitch time sampling, that’s the only thing that was a bit frustrating then that things do easily now. That’s the major thing, I would say.”
So what is in the future for you?
Paul : Well I don’t know what my brother is doing. I’m looking for anything really; film soundtracks … I’m going out Djing a lot and working on tracks. Lots of things in lots of little pies, really, is that [what] I’m doing. Or what I’m trying to do.”