Part 1: Musicians, Not Mixers / Sampling New Sounds
Is Groove Armada a DJ duo who double on trumpet and trombone, or jazz musicians with a disco obsession? Actually, they're both. You've probably heard Groove Armada's big hit, "I See You Baby" and its sexy tag line, "I see you baby, shaking that ass." But Groove Armada's US debut, Vertigo, goes further and gets weirder, than that. They sample '50s pop singer Patti Page over surreal trip hop on "At The River," get as lounge-mellow as Air on "Dusk You & Me," and offer big beat flavas in the cowbell funk madness of "If Everybody Looked The Same."
Formed by pianist and bass trombonist Andy Cato and trumpet and bassist Tom Findlay, Groove Armada spent their formative years as jazz musicians, but a few raves soon changed all that, leading to their debut album, Northen Star. The pair are currently the toast of the UK dance scene, and their new compilation CD, Back To Mine, shows the duo's eclectic taste at full force.
Though they recently toured the states with a nine-piece band, Groove Armada's first US visit was as special guest DJs at a party thrown by Elton John, who remains one of their most devoted tiny dancers. Wonder if their set turned Elton into a "Rocket Man"?
Musician.com: Vertigo is more song-oriented than much dance music. Is that a result of your jazz training?
Andy Cato: Yes. Until I was eighteen all I did was play jazz. It was traditional blues based stuff, I was in all the young jazz player's competitions. We played old New Orleans stuff like "At The River" and "You Wore A Tulip," all the old standards. In London I heard more modern stuff like Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. That is what I thought I wanted to do. Then I went to a couple of raves in Leeds and it all changed.
Musician.com: So is that jazz training what helps to make Groove Armada so varied and musical?
Cato: I think so. If you play instrumental music you view it differently than if your only experience is with a turntable and a sampler. We view songs in eight bar phrases, middle eights and chord sequences, all the traditional things that often get ignored. Not that it is a bad thing, there are a lot of people who wouldn't know middle C on a piano if you gave them all day to find it and they have made some brilliant songs. Dance music tends to be less repeatable when it is not based on any kind of background, but background has totally affected the Groove Armada sound, especially the album sound, the mellower tracks on the album where we get a chance to be more self indulgent..
Musician.com: GA also combine instrumental ability with sampling and programming, which is a fresh approach.
Cato: We use technology as the backbone of the music, but there is something about human performance which can't be replaced no matter how many patches you have on your synth. It is nice to get that human warmth in there over these sampler-based rhythm tracks. For the next album, we began writing by taking the live nine piece band off to a cottage in the countryside and just jamming and recording that. We are sampling from the jam sessions, so you still get the loops feel, but it is all our own loops and it is new and fresh. We are not trawling through all our own records one more time.
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