Interview: James Lavelle (of UNKLE)

This past summer, James Lavelle and Tim Goldsworthy, otherwise known as the extraordinary electronic duo, UNKLE, released End Titles…Stories for A Film. While Lavelle called the release an extension on 2007’s War Stories, and not a new album, the heavy visual elements that the music inspired had our curiosity sparked here at CoS. I had the chance to chat with Lavelle (one half of the group) recently over the phone as he relaxed on the other side of the Atlantic about the latest record, and other projects he had been working on this past year.

CoS: Listening to End Titles…Stories for Film, I could hear the heavy influences that you must have picked up from film. In particular, “Cut Me Loose (String Reprise),” “Trouble in Paradise (Variation on a Theme),” stood out. Can you explain how “moving images” inspired the music on the album and, in particular, what images/films had the most impact?

Lavelle: Moving images had a lot to do with the record. “Cut Me Loose” was written for various screen projects, in particular a documentary we are working on right now. “Trouble in Paradise” was written for a BMW commercial, and was originally just 30 seconds until we expanded it for the record. Many movies such as Blade Runner had wonderful scores that were a big inspiration for this record as well.

CoS: Is there a visual element to this new album? Will there be anything on the consumer level besides your normal music videos, which tend to be more like short films?

Lavelle: Yes, there will be. Right now we are working on videos for “Heaven” and “Ghosts” that will be more abstract versions of the songs than just normal videos.

CoS: Regarding the visuals that you use in the live show and the music videos, how closely do you work with the directors/artists who create them?

Lavelle: Pretty close. We try to have creative involvement with those artists without being too overbearing. We give them the initial ideas and then let them roll off of those. Like right now we are working on a classical project with electronic elements that will be performed here in London in December with some help from Warren. We are very excited about that.

CoS: You have produced songs for films, such Sexy Beast and Odyssey in Rome. Did you find a difference producing music for a film versus your own personal projects?

Lavelle: Yes, there is a difference, mainly in the motivations. With movies there’s already the visual element there in front of you. The inspiration has already been created. With my own projects, the visual element is much more broad. It is what you make of it based on your own experiences.

CoS: End Titles is not the first time that UNKLE has released an album closely tied to the film industry. How does this album compare to the mix album Edit Music for a Film: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Reconstruction?

Lavelle: Edit Music for a Film was more of a bootleg for a film festival that was put out. It was more of a remixing and editing project than original material. We put our own spin on something that had already been created so it wasn’t really ours to begin with.

CoS: This summer you remixed the theme song for the The X-Files: I Want To Believe. This is a much bigger movie soundtrack than you have worked on in the past. Do you find that the size of the film has any affect on the music?

Lavelle: No, not at all. I loved the TV show back when I was younger, and so it was a great experience working with [Chris] Carter on the movie score. We wanted to make an original piece of music rather than a remix, and so I had that youthful experience of watching the show as a great inspiration. What made things interesting however was that the movie was shrouded in a lot of secrecy so I was not able to actually view any of it.

CoS: Did that make your job any harder?

Lavelle: No, not really. The secrecy didn’t have any effect on the project. I was able to use my past with watching the show as an influence, but it was a very interesting experience nonetheless. A lot of fun.

CoS: UNKLE albums generally contain samples from a wide range of sources and tons of original music. Do you have some sort of formula for how you go about creating the music? Or is it more like, you are watching a movie and hear something cool and think that it would be fun to play around with?

Lavelle: Everything comes from weird places, and they all depend on who has the idea at that time. You draw on what you know and love, whether it’s experiences or a certain movie score that sets in.

CoS: UNKLE always has amazing collaborators on the albums – from Mike D, Thom Yorke, Ian Astbury, Richard Ashcroft, Jason Newsted, Ian Brown, Robert Del Naja (3D), Josh Homme – the list goes on and on. Who were some of your favorite artists to work with over the years and why?

Lavelle: Everyone’s moment was unique and special so it is hard to pick out favorites. I have had a long time relationship with Josh Homme and 3D over the years, and those have always been fun to go back to.

CoS: End Titles…Stories for Film clearly has elements of many genres of music from all over the world. First, what type of music (and which artists) would you consider your inspiration for this new album (if any)? Second, with a history of putting out such diverse music, I think we would all be interested in learning who some of your favorite musicians have been through the years, since the first formation of UNKLE.

Lavelle: Oh geeze, there are so many. They definitely range from the classics, like The Beatles, and Zeppelin. More contemporary artists come into play as well though, like Radiohead and Massive Attack, Carl Craig, and James Holden. Early hip-hop records as well like Grand Master Flash. I also really love the hip-hop from the 80’s and 90’s like The Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, DJ Premier. A lot of Motown too, working with Charles Peterson. Music is endless. Films have been very influential as well. Serious movies like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and Apocalypto, and silly things like Tron.

CoS: Before you go, any chance that you will be doing an extensive North American tour to promote the album?

Lavelle: I would like too, but it would have to be after we mix the next record. But I would love to again.

Check Out:

“Burn My Shadow”


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