10 ESSENTIAL BRITNEY SPEARS TRACKS YOU MAY NOT KNOW

Britney Spears isn’t just the princess of pop. She’s a pioneer of the genre who redefines its expectations and stretches its boundaries whenever she releases a new album.

And while her list of greatest hits is familiar to nearly anyone who grew up as part of the TRL generation (and beyond), some of Britney’s finest and most inspiring work was never packaged into singles. Instead, these songs live on the tracklistings of her albums somewhere in between the monster smashes we all know and love.

Far more than just a machine who churns out songs to dance to, Britney is an artist with an extensive catalog of work that is as versatile as it is influential. Below, check out my list of top 10 essential Britney tracks that—unless you’re a more-than-average fanatical fan—you may have largely overlooked. And don’t forget to share your picks for best Britney songs in the comments section below!

10. Can’t Make You Love Me
from Oops! … I Did It Again

By the time Britney released her sophomore album, Oops! … I Did It Again, she was already a global phenomenon. Gone was the cheeky girl-next-door that was introduced on her debut record, and in her place was an established sex symbol whose face could be seen at every newsstand.

While many of Britney’s songs acknowledge her fame (i.e. “My Prerogative,” “Piece of Me,” “Mona Lisa”), Oops! … I Did It Again provides an interesting character study of the pop star. On this album, the then 18-year-old Britney was only first discovering what it meant to be at the center of the public’s eye. Songs such as the hit “Lucky” juxtaposed the glitz and glamour of being America’s sweetheart with the emptiness and artificiality that label can come with.

On “Can’t Make You Love Me,” Britney yearns for her crush to care about her. She compares her life to what it was before she catapulted to superstardom and tries to reassure the song’s muse that, despite the changes in her life, she is still the same person she’s always been at heart.

“I have been through changes, but I’m still the girl you used to know,” she tries to convince. “It’s made me no different, so tell me why you had to go? Oh baby, I will trade the fancy cars for a chance today, it’s incomparable. I might be sitting with the movie stars, everybody says that I just have it all … but I can’t make you love me.”

While the song’s upbeat tempo (dance break included) and sugary bubblegum instrumentation may mask the vulnerability of the lyrics, the dangers of celebrity life are fully on display here: people begin to define you by your public persona rather than by your inner being.

And for Britney, this was just the beginning.

9. Breathe On Me
from In The Zone

One of the fundamental components of building up the brand that is Britney Spears is her raw sexuality. Whether it be a Rolling Stone photo shoot, a sultry music video or an eye-popping performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, Britney has never been one to shy away from the provocative. It’s safe to say that there have been just as many–if not more–headlines about Britney’s sexiness as there have been about her music.

But on her 2004 album, In The Zone, Britney stripped down the spectacle of her sexuality in favor of sensuality.

The primary example of this re-focus comes in the form of “Breathe On Me.” It’s nearly impossible to close one’s eyes and listen to the track without feeling teased by Britney’s deliciously suggestive invitations. Almost tantric, the song is about how the real drive behind good sex is not lust but passion.

“This is way beyond the physical,” Britney seductively coos. “Tonight, my senses don’t make sense at all. My imagination taking us to places we have never been before. Take me in, let it out, don’t even need to touch me, baby, just breathe on me.”

Do your pants feel tighter yet?

8. And Then We Kiss (Junkie XL Remix)
from B In The Mix: The Remixes, Vol. 1

Although the standard version of this song has still to see an official release, “And Then We Kiss” was first introduced to Britney fans in the form of the Junkie XL remix on the singer’s 2005 debut remix compilation, B In The Mix.

Two months prior to this song’s release, Britney celebrated her one-year anniversary with former husband Kevin Federline. She had also just given birth to the pair’s first child, Sean Preston. Therefore, it came as no surprise that the new music emerging from the singer was a declaration of love to this man who had so profoundly changed her life.

“And Then We Kiss” is a midtempo slice of sophisticated electropop that finds Britney needing to be fueled by her lover’s touch. It’s a sensual love letter that showcases how grounded she feels by the man in her life. Without him beside her, she feels lost and uncertain. His presence provides a sense of clarity that makes all the puzzle pieces fit. He focuses, excites and tantalizes her in ways that were foreign to her prior to knowing him.

Although Britney and Kevin’s relationship didn’t last (they finalized a divorce in the summer of 2007), “And Then We Kiss” will always serve as a reminder for the singer of the better days the couple had. It’s a gorgeous song about feeling completed by the love of another individual. And no matter what happened after, it’s worth remembering what that feels like.

7. Toy Soldier
from Blackout

It’s such an incredible shame that the dark days of Britney’s personal life overshadowed the musical genius of her critically acclaimed fifth album, Blackout. Originally released in October 2007, it was the only one of Britney’s seven studio albums that didn’t debut at #1 (although entering the charts at #2 isn’t too shabby either). Not surprisingly, however, it’s the album that keeps on giving.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the record had certified platinum status and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Music Library and Archives – the only Britney record to ever do so. These archives were created to serve as the “most comprehensive repository of materials relating to the history of rock and roll” and to highlight music that would “broaden awareness and understanding of rock and roll, its roots, and its impact on our society.” In other words, even industry experts and scholars admit that Blackout impacted the genre in unprecedented ways.

“Toy Soldier” is a prime example of Blackout’s brilliance. A stomping club banger with a heavy injection of attitude, the saucy track finds Britney raising the bar for her new potential lover. Tired of the weak and subpar men in her life, Britney’s next love interest needs to be a soldier: a strong, assertive guy with a fearless attitude and innate drive to protect and take care of her.

Vocally, Britney is extra peppy as the sprightly, fast-paced verses are accompanied by little yelps and carefully selected drawn out syllables. Set against a military drumroll, the song packs an extra punch as it displays Britney’s confidence and reveals a seldom seen playful side of her.

6. Before The Goodbye
from The Singles Collection (Deluxe Edition)

Originally intended as the lead single from Britney’s eponymous third album, “Before The Goodbye” was replaced prior to the LP’s release with “I’m A Slave 4 U” – and removed from the record’s tracklisting altogether (except as a bonus track in certain countries).

Musically, “Before The Goodbye” was way ahead of its time. Listening to it now, it’s interesting to note that the song shaped Britney’s sound today more than most of her chart-topping hits did. It has an intensely dark electronic feel that would later be fully explored on Blackout and would bleed into all her subsequent releases. Additionally, the quick whipped verses serve as a teaser to her exploration with hip-hop on future songs like her duet with Madonna, “Me Against The Music.”

While it’s a fantastic track, it’s no surprise that “Before The Goodbye” was scrapped in favor of “I’m A Slave 4 U.” At the time it would have been released, the song would have been far too dance-heavy to make an impact on mainstream radio. Going straight from sugary hits like “Oops! … I Did It Again” and “Lucky” to a thumping club anthem like “Before The Goodbye” would have been too abrupt a departure for Britney. While her third album was intended to herald in a new era for the singer, many of her fans, especially the youngest contingent, might have been alienated by such a departure from her original sound.

“I’m A Slave 4 U” was a much safer choice to go with. While it was certainly controversial, too, the song triumphed as a declaration of sexual liberation. It paved the path for an adult Britney while building off the foundation of her bubblegum roots. And although it did present a new and evolved sound for the pop star, it didn’t radically come from left field as “Before The Goodbye” would have.

Included as one of many b-sides and remixes on the deluxe edition of the 2009 compilation, The Singles Collection, “Before The Goodbye” is finally available for mass consumption. And it’s a career-shaping song that no true Britney fan should be without.

5. Inside Out
from Femme Fatale

With last year’s Femme Fatale, Britney introduced dubstep into mainstream pop. Following the success of smash single “Hold It Against Me,” it became standard practice for a pop song to include a dubstep breakdown as musicians like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Cheryl Cole all followed her lead.

But on the sultry ballad “Inside Out,” Britney proved that dubstep is not just an ingredient to bake dance floor anthems out of. Here, she utilized it as a tool to illustrate her insatiable need for one more memory to cling to before letting a relationship die.

In “Inside Out,” Britney knows she’s about to break up with her lover. But instead of trying to win him back, she makes herself look as desirable as possible to get one last thing out of him: sex.

“So come on, won’t you give me something to remember? Baby shut your mouth and turn me inside out,” she alluringly demands. Whatever else happened between them is irrelevant, as all she’s looking for at the moment is one last hoorah in the bedroom before they part ways entirely.

Britney thus seeks closure by detaching herself emotionally and immersing herself into one final physical act. It’s a rollercoaster for her that’s enhanced by the dramatic dubstep that continues to thrust its way to the song’s surface. Sexy, mature and self-aware, “Inside Out” is as unique as it is bold.

4. Born To Make You Happy (Bonus Remix)
from The Singles Collection (Deluxe Edition)

“Born To Make You Happy” was without a doubt one of the standout tracks on Britney’s debut album, …Baby One More Time. While it was in no way groundbreaking, its simple and cute puppy-love lyrics make it the best Taylor Swift song Taylor Swift never recorded.

On the bonus remix of the track, Britney re-recorded her original vocals to give the song a more acoustic feel. Reducing the original down to her bare vocals and organic instruments, this remix provides for a far more raw take on the song. It’s one of the few recordings where Britney’s vocals take center stage without any sort of enhancement (you even hear her clearing her throat). Listening to this version, it’s easy to picture Britney perched on a stool, holding a microphone and really committing herself to singing her heart out.

Recently re-released on the deluxe edition of The Singles Collection, the bonus remix of “Born To Make You Happy” is both a distinctive treat for Britney fans and a middle finger to those who have criticized her singing abilities over the years.

3. Unusual You
from Circus

One of the saddest tracks in Britney’s repertoire, “Unusual You” reveals just how jaded the pop princess is when it comes to men. In the song, Britney sings about her confusion that a relationship is actually going well for her instead of falling apart at the seams.

“Baby, you’re so unusual, didn’t anyone tell you you’re supposed to break my heart? I expect you to, so why haven’t you?” she tenderly asks her lover. Talk about trust issues, geez.

Accompanied by a haunting electronic backdrop, this Bloodshy & Avant produced track (the team behind B’s massive hit, “Toxic”) is sprinkled with flurries of piano and a throbbing bassline. It’s a midtempo song with music as ethereal as its lyrical content is melancholy. And what makes it that much more depressing is that to Britney, it’s a happy song about realizing what the true meaning of love is. But to listeners, it’s a song about how psychologically damaged the singer is from the relationships of her past.

One listen in and the song will make you want to buy a plane ticket to Kentwood, Louisiana. After you land, you’ll want to pick up ice cream, drive to Britney’s house for a girls’ night and reassure her that it really does get better.

2. Heaven On Earth
from Blackout

There are surely many reasons that Rolling Stone called Blackout “the most influential pop album of the past five years” (the magazine’s “Decade-End Readers’ Poll” also voted the record to be #7 on the list of best albums between 2000-2010). But one of these reasons has to be the album’s unapologetic determination to explore and conquer territory usually written off as too niche for wide, mainstream audiences.

The Euro-disco fortified “Heaven On Earth” is one such example. The glitzy electronic track is masterfully layered with three individual vocal lines in a way reminiscent of Donna Summer’s classic “I Feel Love.” Throughout the song, Britney interjects the melody with stolen whispers and husky alto decoration, giving “Heaven On Earth” a distinctively multi-textured and celestial aura.

A deeply romantic song, “Heaven On Earth” is about how every detail about her lover provides Britney with a sense of shelter. She’s in love with everything about him. His imperfections become perfections and as long as he’s around, nothing else matters. With him, Britney ascends to otherworldly levels of bliss. It’s a sentimental track that finds our beloved pop star high off of the connection she has with another human being – a feeling she so earnestly yearns for in many other tracks within her back catalog.

1. What It’s Like To Be Me
from Britney

Everyone remembers when Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake dated. How could you not? They were the golden couple of their time. But what fewer people remember is the incredible collaboration the two had on Britney’s third record.

Closing out the album, “What It’s Like To Be Me” is a punchy self-empowerment anthem. Full of sass and a “don’t fuck with me” attitude, the track is without a doubt one of the edgiest in Britney’s discography.

The song is also much rockier than a typical Britney track. Its dramatic use of strings and thrashing drums give the song sharper corners than most of her material. In turn, this sound also gives the track the courage to risk being a little more experimental.

During the song’s bridge, the music drops out and Britney sings acapella over Justin’s signature beatboxing. Layers of Justin’s background vocals are then looped in as Britney’s voice builds to welcome the explosive return of percussion. And as the song ends, it goes back into Britney and Justin’s acapella back-and-forth all the way through its chill-inducing finale.

Individually, these two artists were pivotal in defining the pop culture of their generation. But together, their work was catapulted to new heights. “What It’s Like To Be Me” not only showcased what Britney and Justin each do best, but it solidified that these two talents were unafraid to change the game and were destined to stay on top for a very long time.

Originally published on HardCandyMusic
Re-posted to Oh No They Didn’t!

THE VERONICAS’ “LOLITA” (SINGLE REVIEW)

It’s been nearly five full years since Australian pop duo The Veronicas released new music.

Twin sisters Lisa and Jess Origlassio toured their sophomore album, Hook Me Up, from the time of its release in 2007 all the way through 2010. But when it came time to start preparing their highly anticipated third record, the girls decided to part ways to grow as artists independent of one another for a short while.

“You do feel a sense of losing your own identity because you are just known as a band,” Lisa told Australian News Online. “We are so close to each other that when we did take that time off we went into songwriting separately for a while and it was a case of rediscovering ourselves.”

When the pair reunited, they each brought waves of new influences back with them. Lisa had dug into genres like soul and classic rock while Jess immersed herself in electronica and trip-hop. Together, they worked on how to best combine their newly discovered individual sounds to create the aesthetic of their upcoming album, Life On Mars.

To assist amalgamate this diverse palette of musical styles, the girls enlisted the help of various artists they revered – including Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, Nirvana producer and Garbage drummer Butch Vig, Silverchair’s Daniel Johns (Aussie pride!) and acclaimed producer Nellee Hooper (Madonna, Massive Attack, No Doubt).

But for Life On Mars’ lead single, “Lolita,” The Veronicas collaborated once more with Toby Gad (Kelly Clarkson, Beyonce, Fergie), the man who produced the band’s #1 multi-platinum single, “Untouched.”

Released today in Australia and New Zealand, “Lolita” is a dark electronic track interwoven with the duo’s soaring and signature chill-inducing harmonies. Laced with a grinding pulse, the song opens up the idea of a dance floor to be a place that’s both mystical and futuristic – not just somewhere to sweat under a strobe light.

Borrowing the title of Nabokov’s infamous 1955 novel about a professor who becomes obsessed and sexually involved with his 12-year-old student, “Lolita” paints a picture of dangerous lust. Can a haunting and twisted obsession be something worth giving into even when the consequences could be so dire?

“The addiction, friction, it burns you alive. So illegal, no evil is seen with these eyes. I won’t tell if you want it, I will if you want. Nothing’s a secret, don’t care if it’s wrong,” the girls sing before breaking out into the anthemic chorus. “I’m your Lolita, la femme Nikita. When we’re together, you’ll love me forever. You’re my possession, I’m your obsession. Don’t tell me never, I’ll love you forever.”

The song will no doubt raise speculation that it’s about Jess’ recently ended relationship with Corgan (who is nearly two decades older than her), but The Veronicas maintain that it’s about their experiences as young women looking to hold their ground in an industry largely run by men. Together, they had to reclaim their band’s identity from the stigmas associated with being young females navigating their ways through a predominantly male landscape.

It’s no coincidence, then, that “Lolita” opens with a lyrical reference to evolution (“From the mouths of apes to the power of men, I’ll make it all new again”). With this song, the band is not only signaling in an intensely mature new sound (both lyrically and musically), but they’re defining who they are as artists – while simultaneously raising the bar for their peers.

Although the first taste of Life On Mars suggests a grittier and grungier record than its lead single does, “Lolita” remains a master class in contemporary pop. It manages to not feel out of place for mainstream radio while simultaenously being completely unique and challenges the conventions of the genre. And although it’s a little bit of a late entry, it appears that the true song of the summer has finally arrived.

Welcome back, Lisa and Jess. We’ve missed and needed you for far too long.

Set to be released next month, the music video for “Lolita” is currently being shot with director Spencer Susser (‘Hesher’) in Los Angeles. American release dates for “Lolita” and ‘Life On Mars’ have not been announced yet.

Originally published on PopBytes

(Behind the scenes of the filming of the music video for “Lolita”)

And a very special thank you to The Veronicas for promoting this review on Twitter!

BIGGEST EMMY SNUB: SHOWTIME’S ‘EPISODES’

Last Thursday, the nominations for the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards were announced. Not surprisingly, the list of nominees was dominated by favorites and past-winners such as Mad Men and Modern Family. And while the list did include a variety of new shows (i.e. Girls, The New Girl, American Horror Story), glaringly absent was the hilariously brilliant Showtime series, Episodes.

Episodes follows Beverly and Sean Lincoln, a British screenwriting couple who are brought to Los Angeles to oversee an American remake of the show that made them stars in their homeland. Upon their arrival, however, they’re quickly overwhelmed by the extremities and politics of Hollywood. Suddenly, the duo find themselves creating a series completely unrecognizable from its predecessor – starting with its lead actor, Friends’ Matt LeBlanc (playing an asshole-enhanced version of himself).

In Beverly and Sean’s original show, LeBlanc’s character was played by an elderly British headmaster at a private school. But in the American incarnation, he is a dumbed-down middle-aged high school hockey coach with “Joey”-esque goofiness largely defined by his libido and sarcastic quips. And it’s all downhill from there.

While it is a comedy, Episodes is a remarkably dark show that closely scrutinizes Hollywood by brutally depicting the inevitable casualties it inflicts. Serving as the show’s antagonist, Hollywood desecrates its players by stripping them of their principles, integrity and relationships.

When Beverly and Sean first arrive, they’re wowed by the luxuries of Tinseltown. But as they become more accustomed to their new setting, they feel increasingly detached from its egotistical values as they lose more and more control of their show – and subsequently, their marriage.

What starts out as a seemingly harmless bromance between Sean and LeBlanc transforms into the catalyst for a vicious cycle of betrayal and moral corruption. All of a sudden, Beverly and Sean fall victim to the Hollywood lifestyles they so adamantly rejected.

After LeBlanc hints to Sean that he may have caught the eye of their series’ lead actress, Morning Randolph, Beverly becomes increasingly paranoid about the pair’s relationship. As a result, she starts to distrust her previously infallible husband. Her paranoia (not aided by the fact that she walks in on him “wanking it” to Morning’s infamous sex tape) causes her to lose sight of their relationship and as an act of revenge, she does the unthinkable. She sleeps with the man she detests the most: LeBlanc.

But relationships are not the only checkmarks on the show’s hit list. What distinguishes Episodes from so much of its competition is its unapologetic spotlight on the dark side of the Hollywood mirror. And what better spokesperson is there to really drive this biting message home than the star of one of the most beloved shows in American television history?

LeBlanc is a perfect representation of Episodes’ thesis. A total sleaze, he’s a product of the fame and success of his former sitcom glory (i.e. his garage full of “Joey” branded cologne or the Friends cast bobblehead dolls in his dressing room). The luxuries and lifestyle afforded to him by being Joey have completely skewed his perspective of the world. LeBlanc doesn’t understand what it means to be a friend (pun intended), feels entitled to whatever he pleases (including multiple peoples’ wives), and uses sex as a form of self-validation. All of his actions are completely self-serving, making him a totally unredeemable character. And yet, despite the fact that he does not have the ability to empathize, the audience of Episodes can’t help but empathize with him. Because as the prey of Hollywood, LeBlanc doesn’t realize his flaws. He doesn’t act in the deplorable ways he does because he’s malicious. His behavior is simply a result of him genuinely not knowing any better.

In addition to dissecting the impact Hollywood life has on its cast, Episodes also serves as a commentary on what we value in contemporary pop culture. It makes the argument that America would rather use art as a mindless form of escapism than as a tool to challenge and better ourselves (i.e. the depiction of a sitcom about a talking dog who makes butt-sniffing jokes as the biggest hit standing in the way of making Beverly and Sean’s show a success).

Episodes stresses the idea that once an art form defies its social expectations, it becomes shocking and in turn, audiences become uncomfortable. Thus, the mainstream product we see keep getting churned out on our television screens is largely safe, shallow and often repetitious – hence all of the radical changes made to Beverly and Sean’s original show to make it more commercially viable this side of the Atlantic.

If this idea is true, it’s no surprise that Episodes was left off the Emmy nominations list this year. Its stance against Hollywood and parody of the slapstick, lowbrow humor we choose to indulge in would make the show stick out like a sore thumb amongst competitors like Two And A Half Men or Mike & Molly. Recognizing it would mean Emmy voters would be indirectly acknowledging the show’s message – a move that would do far more harm than good from a business standpoint. This ironically only strengthens Episodes’ idea that quality is not the dominant priority in Hollywood.

Let’s hope that next year, the Emmy’s will be willing to give credit to more original, thought-provoking content rather than just playing it safe with predictable favorites. But then again, what better way do the award voters have of supporting Episodes than by snubbing it entirely?

Episodes airs on Showtime on Sundays at 10:30 PM (ET/PT).

This article was co-written with Gina Zelko
Originally published on PopBytes

 

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ANIMAL KINGDOM

After the 2009 release of Animal Kingdom’s album, Signs and Wonders, they were named by iTunes as the “Best New Alternative Act.”

Three years later, the British trio has released their eagerly anticipated sophomore record, The Looking Away. And later this month, they’re bringing their live act to this side of the Atlantic for the first time.

In anticipation of Animal Kingdom’s first ever U.S. headlining tour, I caught up with band members Richard Sauberlich, Hamish Crombie and Geoff Lea to talk about the new album, their upcoming shows, The Wizard of Oz, deep fried donut burgers, and more.

AN: How do you feel your music has evolved from the release of Signs and Wonders to The Looking Away?

RS: I think the songwriting’s stronger and the record feels a lot more cohesive than our first one. Sonically we also got much closer to the sound we imagined this time round – we learned a lot more about how to create the kind of sounds we were hearing in our heads during the writing stage of this record and spent a lot of time making sure we had the atmospheres and textures in the demos down along with the songs themselves before heading into record. It’s the first thing we’ve recorded that I’m really happy with; normally I find it really hard to listen back to our own ‘proper’ recordings.  So yeah, lots of credit due to our producer, David Kosten.

HC: Working with David Kosten (who made the Bat For Lashes records) made a big difference. He was very good at taking our demos, which were pretty developed already, and getting the best out of them.

GL: A lot of songs on Signs and Wonders were written over quite a long period of time and rehearsed over and over again just with the basic ingredients of two guitars, bass and drums. We also recorded with that traditional style band set up, which is what we wanted at the time but when we came to writing and recording The Looking Away, we all started to branch out a bit from our comfort zone instruments. We messed around with old sampler keyboards and laptops to create some interesting textures, which inevitably gave the music more depth. Also, when we were looking at producers, it was important to us that they were a firm believer in creating a more hybrid sound.

AN: Your sound has often been compared to bands like Coldplay and The Shins. How would you best describe your music to someone who has never heard an Animal Kingdom song before?

RS: Ha! We’ve also been compared to The Cure and Sigur Ros in the space of a few days so I’m not sure how good a gauge these kinds of comparisons are. I’d describe our music as euphoric and melancholic at the same time. There are a lot of different colors on the record, though. It’s a bit kaleidoscopic.

HC: People have said everything from Death Cab For Cutie to Radiohead. Hopefully we sound like us.

GL: It’s essentially song-based indie but with a hazy splash of electronica and killer drum grooves! (P.S. I’m the drummer).

AN: In a few weeks, you’ll be embarking on your first ever U.S. tour. What about playing for American audiences excites you the most?

RS: We’ve heard from friends in other bands that the American audiences are much less reserved than English crowds. Also, we’ve not really played these new songs out live yet to people so that’s going to be exciting. Aside from that, just getting on the road in America has this kind of mythic quality to it if you are three guys from England that play music. It’s what you dream of doing when you’re first getting blisters on your fingers learning the guitar. I’m sure it’s the same for American bands coming to Europe for the first time.

HC: Because “Strange Attractor” has only been released in US and Canada so far, it’s gonna be special connecting with people live, who up until now we’ve only really met on Twitter and Facebook.

GL: From the reaction we’ve had from “Strange Attractor,” it feels like a lot of peeps over there are really getting what we do, so playing the new record and traveling from state to state will be a blast.

AN: You’ll also be playing some big music festivals this summer like Lollapalooza in Chicago and the Outsidelands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco. What other bands are you most looking forward to seeing at these events?

RS: There are so many I wanted to see but we have to leave for the next city pretty much as soon as we finish. Both of the lineups are amazing.

HC: Jack White, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, SBTKT, White Denim.

GL: Both festivals look amazing. I’m gutted we can’t spend the whole weekend there as there’s the heavyweights such as Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica, all of which I’d play along to for hours when I was young, and also the likes of Amadou and Mariiam, our neighbors Bombay Bicycle Club, Justice, Twin Shadow, etc. To be honest, festivals are always about finding new acts for me so just wandering around and checking out stuff I’ve never heard like The Growlers would be great – I love that band name!

AN: Speaking of touring, you’ve previously hit the road with bands like Snow Patrol, Vampire Weekend, Band of Horses and Silversun Pickups. What do you find to be the biggest differences between playing headlining shows versus being the opening act?

HC: Often opening for a band you’re kind of the wallpaper while people buy their drinks! Headlining is always more pressure but more rewarding, as people have come specifically to see you.

GL: The back stage catering …

AN: On your last album, you had a song called “Tin Man.” On this new one, you have a song called “Straw Man.” I have to ask –- do you have a track centered around the cowardly lion in the works? 

RS: Ah! Straight to the top of the class, Alex! Been waiting for that question for a while but you’re the first ones to get there! Naw, it’s entirely coincidental. “Tin Man” was originally called “Computer Love,” but we changed the title because of the Kraftwerk song with the same name. “Straw Man” is just about someone melting away in the wind and how fragile we are. I was always vaguely freaked out by the The Wizard Of Oz, though; I did not like that green witch one bit. “I’m mellllllting…. melllltttttting ….”

HC: We were working on a track called “Jell-O Man” for the longest time but it came out a bit shaky.

GL: No, but we have one called “Toto.”

AN: The Looking Away’s lead single, “Strange Attractor,” became your first song to chart on American Modern Rock radio. Can we expect a new single/music video in the near future?

R: Yeah, we’re not sure which track it’ll be yet or exactly when it’ll be out. Definitely got some good ideas for the videos, though.

HC: We have a couple of options and are thinking up video ideas right now. It’s going to be hard, video-wise, to top a slow motion Jell-O puking supermodel.

AN: The album gets its name from a phrase that is scattered throughout various lyrics on it. Can you tell me a little bit what the term “the looking away” signifies to you and why you thought it best represented the theme of the record as a whole?

RS: It’s about a kind of selective inattention, about deliberately tuning things out. The simplest way to describe it I guess could be that when I looked at the paper this morning I saw a headline about a massacre in Syria, but I clicked on an article about the ‘10 best toasters’ instead. Its about disassociation and disengagement.  Allowing yourself to be distracted, or choosing not to let something uncomfortable into your field of view.

It was a phrase I saw while I was writing “The Art of Tuning Out”  – I think it was in a John Pilger, or Medialens book – and it started out as the title of that song originally, and then the rest of the record started to grow around it – or maybe it started to throw a bit of a shadow across the record instead.

HC: It’s that modern guilt associated with distracting yourself with bullshit on a day-to-day basis. It’s always easier to check your Twitter than it is to really take a look at the dark stuff happening all around the world.

AN: Can you tell me a little bit about the story of the music video for “Strange Attractor”? It’s not every day you watch a beautiful girl projectile-vomit chunks of rainbows.

RS: Well we’re having a lot of fun reading different people’s interpretations of it, so we don’t want to really say what it means to us and pop that bubble! Besides, do you really need a reason to watch a model eject a rainbow of Jell-O and milk in glorious high definition 2500 frames per second!?  No! You just hit the play button again … and again. On The Wizard of Oz theme you brought up earlier, though – if you want to peer behind the curtain then you can see day one of when we first came up with the concept and filmed Geoff on our phones puking up different mixtures of milk and colored things. I think the one on there is colored feathers and yogurt. It’s not pretty. You can see it below at 3.40 in.

HC: It was a hard day for the poor model: 12 hours of milk and blue Jell-O! She had to make a disgusting thing somehow beautiful and pulled it off. She deserves an Oscar in a category that has yet to be invented.

AN: While we’re on the topic of throwing up, what’s been the most bizarre or culturally shocking American food you’ve seen on a menu in your time here thus far?

RS: We’re actually massive fans of that show Man Vs Food, which you get over here in the UK too. I have gotten in touch with the host, Adam Richman, on Twitter. He’s going to give us some tips for places to go when we’re touring. I’ve spent a lot of time getting very hungry watching that show, and now it’s payback time. The plan is to try some of the challenges and call it “Band Vs Food.” Maybe film some and stick it up on our website.

HC: I always loved the deep fried burger between two donuts. Clean, simple and nutritious.

GL: The Chicago Pizza Pie took some serious eating…

AN: I suspect that the three of you are very close. Who’s the biggest troublemaker and who’s the voice of the reason in the group?

HC: I think we all veer between personality types. If Geoff has been drinking too much, though, we’ll get him his pills and try and get him to sleep. It usually takes both Rich and I to restrain him.

GL: Hamish, after a few sherbets, is known to go a bit AWOL but lets just say Rich and I are reasonably good at clearing up the mess.

AN: Anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t talk about?

RS: We going to try and do some impromptu acoustic things while we’re on tour, so if you want to come along we’ll be putting them up last minute on Twitter!

HC: In which state can I purchase the deep fried doughnut burgers?


Originally published on PopBytes