Orbital's Paul Hartnoll on their reunion, new album and Belfast Biggest Weekend gig
Dance legends Orbital are gearing up to play BBC Music's The Biggest Weekend in Belfast next Friday. David Roy quizzed Paul Hartnoll about making up with brother Phil after the duo's acrimonious split in 2014 and the joy of making their first new album for six years, Monsters Exist
WHAT are you up to today, Paul?
Well, we've finished the new album so now we're focusing firmly on coming to play in Belfast. Phil is currently sorting out all the hardware we need in the studio now – or he's supposed to be, anyway. He's probably off making a cup of tea instead.
So Monsters Exist is 100 per cent done?
Absolutely, it is. I'm currently tinkering with various tracks for the singles, which is always good fun. The real hard, creative part is done – now is the fun bit where you're seeing what you can edit down into something that might sound good on the radio.
The first single from the album, Tiny Foldable Cities, was released last week. What can you tell us about it?
Occasionally, writing music is a real pleasure. Tiny Foldable Cities was one of those, it was a real easy track to write. It just kind of 'happened' without any worrying or thinking about it.
With those ones, you're sort of like "oh – look at that". And then you listen to it and think, "that's quite an odd track" or "that's quite a nice track". It's good when you're not second guessing or rethinking things, like "I wonder if people will like this? or "is this something people can dance to?"
You just do it, it happens and you go "oh, look what I've done".
Is there a trap artists can fall into where they become too influenced by previous successes?
Totally – I think everyone falls victim to that, whether they're Greyson Perry making pots or Orbital making music. And that's the time to stop and go and have a cup of tea.
The thing about creativity is that, when it's good and it's working, you're in the moment – you're not thinking, you're just kind of acting instinctively.
As soon as any kind of doubts come in, like "ooh, is that too slow?" or "Hmm, is that a bit moody, or jolly, or a bit naff or a bit cheesy?" – as soon as you start thinking that, walk away, because you're going to spoil it.
You've got to stop having doubts and kind of let the song write itself, as it were. Like novelists do, were they say "oh, the book wrote itself". You don't really hear that in relation to music.
Making formulaic pop for the radio is a different skill altogether, I suppose.
Where did the title Tiny Foldable Cities come from?
It's a bit weird, that. I've got a constant list of potential titles on my phone – if I think of something, I put it on the list.
Sometimes, tracks and titles come together. Like, you might look at a title and think, "oh yeah, I was going to do something like that". But with Tiny Foldable Cities, I already had the track. I was scanning through my list of titles and it just seemed to fit it perfectly.
I think one of my children said it about something one time. They were like, "oh yeah, it's like a tiny foldable city". I thought, "wow, that's amazing!" and wrote it down. But I cannot remember the circumstances now.
You must have developed a keen ear for catching useful random phrases and sounds over the years?
Oh, definitely. I've been doing it ever since I first owned a sampler, over 30 years ago. Once you've been sampling sound for a bit, your ears just tune into so many different things – someone drops a cup on the floor and you think "oh s***, I wish I was recording that".
The single is quite laid-back but I've heard that Monsters Exist also features some more aggressive tracks fuelled by the existential angst of troubled times. What's your take on the overall sound of the new record?
It's funny, part of me wanted to write a really angry, aggressive Crass-type anarcho punk album going "look at these f*****s, what are they doing?! Arrrrggggh!", kind of 'sticking it to the man'.
But then another part of me was thinking, "no, the best way to 'stick it to the man' is do what people did in the original rave movement, where they went, 'do you know what, we don't like what you're doing so we're just going to turn around and go and do our own thing over there'".
It really frightens authority when you don't recognise them as such, d' you know what I mean?
So I was torn between those two worlds. The title 'Monsters Exist' is not us saying "go and kick the monster", it's more like "yeah, they do exist – so let's f****** go and do something nice instead to show them how to behave".
I think maybe Tiny Foldable Cities draws a median line through the album, which is quite nice actually, as it happened so naturally.
This is the second Orbital reunion after your previous split in 2004. Do you two just need a few years off every so often to recharge/upgrade?
Exactly. It's brothers, you know? You've got to leave each other alone for a bit sometimes before you can go, "hang on, that was good fun. Let's do that again."
I'm about to turn 50 and what I've got good at as I've got older is learning to enjoy things. I can really enjoy [Orbital] now – what the f*** would I want to be doing something different for?
It's going to be 30 years of Orbital next year and people still seem to want us. They're still enjoying it and we're still enjoying it. The only problem I had was that I had to make friends with my brother again – and that was actually very easy to do.
I just phoned him up: "Do you want to do that again? Shall we meet for a coffee?" and he was like, "Yeah, all right".
We were like little kids:
"Do you remember what happened?"
"Shall we just get on with it then?"
Clearly the Gallagher brothers could learn a thing or two from Orbital.
Oh I know! I did actually have a chat with Noel about that one time. It's a curse and a joy at the same time, but yeah – we're definitely doing better than them.
:: Orbital play BBC Music's The Biggest Weekend on Friday May 25. Tickets and full line-up via BBC.co.uk/biggestweekend. Monsters Exist is released on September 14.