On “Dos Dedos Mis Amigos,” Pop Will Eat Itself once again gave their instantly recognizable sound yet another new twist. Without losing their pop edge, PWEI opted for a slightly noisier style, with fewer clean and polished guitar and synth lines. Along with the new sound came a new label, with the band signed to Trent Reznor’s Nothing Records in America. The following is an interview with frontman Clint Mansell prior to the release of the album.
What was the reason for the change in labels this time around?
We got unceremoniously booted out of RCA/BMG because they were kind of sick of what we were trying to do and no one was really into it at the label. It’s kind of like a bad relationship – you don’t realize how bad it is until you get out of it and take some air and think “oh, what was I doing, how the hell did we exist like that?”. The situation we’re in now is just so different to that, where people who are working with us now actually kind of like what we do. They’re enthusiastic for what we’re trying to do and say ‘carry on, do what you do.’ It’s such a different thing from like BMG when they’re going like ‘oh well, you’re doing this but we have Clint Black shifting five million units.’ Great, but so fucking what? Until we found ourselves in this situation we didn’t realize how bad it had been.
You’re on Nothing in America, but what label are you on now in England?
We’ve got kind of our own label and it’s a lot smaller and we can control it ourselves easily. We’re signed to Rough Trade for the rest of Europe, we just signed with in America.
Why did you choose to put out an EP before the full album?
The tracks on the EP compile two EPs that we had in England. It was just that we hadn’t had a record out here for like two years. Probably people who were interested before were not sure what we were doing or where we were at. So it’s just kind of a re-introduction to make people aware of the fact that we still existed and then we’ll get the album together and go on tour and talk about it and stuff like that. It was just sort of a re-introduction, really.
There’s a definite PWEI sound on all your albums, yet each still has a very different edge. Is there a conscious effort to alter the band’s sound from album to album, or does it just come naturally?
Obviously, there’s a strong feeling of not wanting to repeat yourself, but at the same time we make records two of three years apart so many other things have developed in that time. Other music you listen to. So you want to bring in other sounds or other ideas. It’s the feeling really, I suppose, you can’t possibly have the same outlook from one year to the next. We want to explore that, really, and go with how we feel at that time.
What was the reason for adding a drummer?
There was the four of us originally and we got the band together because we were friends and we wanted to be in a band. We didn’t so much advertise for people to be in a band with, we did it because we were together. So we had to learn things to play, and Graham who used to play the drums got bored with it. And especially when we got into hip hop, these bands weren’t using live kits, they were using samples and break beats, and I guess that’s the sound that we were into at the time so we went with that. It tended to be kind of flat in our overall sound live. With a live kit I think you can just bring in more power and more dynamics and I think that’s what brought us back to the idea of live drums.
What is the bands approach to song writing?
We all write individually to start with, we’ve got computer set ups at home and samplers. We were never good at jamming, that just never was where we were coming from. We always thought it was easier just to get your idea for a song down on a small demo and then play it for people and let it grow from there when everyone got involved. So that’s still the way we work.
Do you ever disagree with which demos to flesh out into finished songs?
To be honest, no because you can tend to tell the songs that you like the best and the ones that fit together. With this album we might have done upwards for 20 songs but you know there are certain ones that are not going to fit in. They might be OK but they’re not quite gelling together. We don’t really have any disagreements about it.
Have you ever had any problems getting clearance for the samples you use?
I must admit we don’t go hunting people whose samples we use because if you ask them they just tend to be awkward about it. If you don’t ask they hardly ever notice you’ve used them. It’s not like we’ve done something like “It’s a Good Day” by Ice Cube, which is a complete Isley Brothers lift and that’s the mainstay of the track. At that point, yeah, you’ve got to get clearance. But we tend to be just using sounds and fucking with them really. In the past we’ve done stuff like that, use “Funkytown”, those type of things you’re going to have more problems with but if you’re taking sounds and beats I think it’s a lot less obvious.
But has anyone complained?
It’s never been a major league problem. We had a bit of trouble on the one album where we had a preacher talking, he got kind off pissed of about it. He was kind of depressed that we’d used it in the context that we had.
Since electronics and computers play a big part in the song writing process, do you ever have any problems adapting the music for live shows?
A gig about 2 months ago we had to pull ten minutes after we were due to go on stage because we’d had to hire gear because ours was still in the studio while we were recording the album. They just sent us some dodgy stuff that wouldn’t load our hard disk drive so we wouldn’t get the samples up and there was no show to be done and people were extremely unpleased at that. The more stuff you use, you increase the fact that something might go wrong, what are you going to do? Not use it? We need it to make the sounds that we want to make. So yeah it causes problems but even your solo folk singer can break a string on their guitar.
How do you decide which parts to play and which to have programmed?
We try to play as much as we can, but if was actually played it all everyone would be just hunched over keyboards and it would be a dull show. We want to keep a lot of energy and excitement in it without miming. All the stuff we play in the studio was basically played live, we tend to arrange our stuff so that there is always something for everybody to do. It always seems to work out.
Since two of you do vocals, is there ever any disagreement as to who will sing what?
At the end of the day, it tends to work out that the songs we’ve written we sing and then we arrange various parts for each other in them. If I’ve done a song I tend to end up singing it, I suppose, but we work things out for each other. It depends on the song what ideas we’ve worked out for it
“99°F” featured guest vocals by Sylvia Tella on the “Cure For Sanity” LP but was then released with your own vocals. Why?
We had an idea for different arrangements of it, we did three versions of the song. The first one was a very noisy, sort of mutant disco version. Then we had the idea for funking it up and using a sort of soul type voice for it so we did that. And then we met these other guys who wanted to do a remix of it and they had a sort of an electro pop type of idea and we thought it would be interesting to do it with our vocals again.
Did you wait until the label situation to be worked out before starting work on the new album?
It was going on concurrently because when you’re sitting at home you’re just messing around anyway getting ideas together. It takes me quite a while to get started, because before I get the first song done I’ve probably worked on about six or seven others that have been discarded because they’re not happening or are just lame.