Exclusive: Presets Interview
From an outsider’s perspective The Presets seem to be a bit of a paradox. On one hand they are the ARIA award-winning, festival-headlining, electronic globetrotters. On the other hand, they’re classically-trained fathers in their mid 30s, content to avoid the social pages and fanfare. Either way, over the last decade they’ve managed to produce some this country’s most forward-thinking and interesting electronic music, which has been lapped up by the masses.
However, their latest album Pacifica - released September 2012 - marked the end of a 4-year break from recorded music. When first single ‘Youth In Trouble’ finally hit the airwaves many felt relief as The Presets were back, or were they?
Perhaps due to its darker, less commercial sensibilities and the shear weight of public expectation Pacifica hasn’t managed to reach the same lofty commercial heights set by its predecessors Apolcalypso and Beams.
Alex caught up with frontman Julian Hamilton, ahead of the band’s upcoming national tour, to find out what’s changed in the last four years.
UI: Much has been said about the stylistic change on Pacifica compared to Apocalypso. Was that a deliberate step away from the sound people have perhaps come to expect from The Presets?
JH: Not particularly, it’s more that we didn’t want to do the same thing again. There’s only so many times you can write a ‘My People’. We’re always looking to express new and different styles and sounds. I like to think we’re constantly evolving.
UI: What were you listening to when writing and recording Pacifica? Personally, I feel a bit of an early 90s electronica vibe (on Pacifica), say, bands like Massive Attack, Tricky, & Portishead.
JH: We love those bands, some of my favourite shows have been by those bands. We have our touchstones, I guess, Detroit techno, Chicago house, pop music, 80s bands like New Order and Pet Shop Boys. Beyond that we try to stay away from being directly influenced by other bands; we’ve always wanted to make our own sound.
UI: The vocals on Pacifica seem more front and centre with the vocal effects a bit more subtle. Are you more comfortable with your voice nowadays or was that purely for the sensibilities of the songs?
JH: I guess we’ve always made music with machines, which means making pretty much any sound we felt like. This time around we wanted a bit more of a natural performance, for instance, Kim is playing drums on this album, not drum machines. I think we tried to make it feel a bit more live, too. I’m playing more piano, as opposed to synths. I think the vocal effects just continues that; I wanted it to sound as natural as possible, as if I was singing in a room, not creating crazy characters with vocal effects.
UI: Now that you and Kim are both fathers, does that change any facets of the band?
JH: We haven’t changed songs as such. The Presets is our art; it’s quite separate to the rest of our lives. Although, obviously when you have a kid it changes everything, but we’re not about to spend every night in a nightclub or anything like that. We’ve managed to keep The Presets as separate compartment to our life, so it hasn’t really affected the band in my opinion.
UI: Does it change touring? Years ago it seemed like you guys were barely ever in the country.
JH: Yeah, well, the days of 4 months overseas touring or living in Berlin are over, which is good as they were full on. There’s a lot more planning and precision to our tours now; it’s more economical. I suppose there’s a few smaller places we’re unlikely to go back to any time soon.
UI: A big part of The Presets is the live show, how has that changed from 4 years ago?
JH: Well, we like to change everything. Obviously there’s new songs people haven’t heard live before, which is exciting for us. With the old songs we like to remix and rework them, as nowadays you can hear and see everything on Spotify and YouTube, so we like to make the way we play them a bit special for the shows. We’ve also got an amazing new light show and new video content to be screened behind us. We toured it in the States and it went down really well.
The Presets play Newcastle Panthers, Sunday February 10.
Supported by Parachute Youth & Light Year