The Go! Team Interview

The debut album by The Go! Team, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, has made an impact on British music in a very short time. It was all started by leader Ian Parton five years ago. He had an old sampler and a four-track recording machine. Their sound, a combination of samples and live musicians, has been described as "Sonic Youth meets the Jackson 5." Better than that: various songs sound like Cop Shows, Blaxploitation movies, Charlie Brown cartoons, and Wild Kingdom reruns.

The Go! Team started in Brighton. Ian Parton was working as documentary filmmaker. When he started making the album there was a filmic soundtrack influence. Soon that side project became The Go! Team's original sound. Tracks like "Ladyflash" and "The Power Is On" became theme songs for the summer. There is a lot of cheerleading, rap music, and northern soul influences too. The more the merrier.

What was the beginning of an album that was finished some time in early 2004. At that time there was no real band. When they were offered to support Franz Ferdinand in Sweden they started getting a proper band together. The band consists of Ian Parton (guitar/drums/harmonica), and Sam Dook (guitar), and Jamie Bell (bass guitar). But most of the members play several other instruments, and change things around. Soon there were three girls in the band too, with Fukami Taylor (guitar) and Silke (drums), and Ninja (vocals).

The album was released in the UK in September 2004 and was really popular. It even almost won the Mercury Prize. They have played a lot of festivals and have become popular in America beforehand. Their album was sample heavy so it took a while for all the samples to be cleared. There is an illegal version of the album with all the original samples. They have blown away audiences worldwide with their electrifying stage show. I got to speak to Ninja right before they came back to California to play some shows with Smoosh, another recent favorite.

AL: When did the band come together?
Ninja: The band came together actually last May 2004. Ian Parton was bringing in people one by one. He wanted to bring the music to life. He wanted to make a live show. I was the last person to join in May. We did our first gig literally two weeks later in Sweden in front of three thousand people. We were thrown in together. We have been together about a year and half now. So we are really still a new band.

AL: Was that the tour with Franz Ferdinand?
Ninja: Um. We did play with Franz Ferdinand. I didn't know who they were at that time. We never got to meet them. We played some of the same festivals. The festival in Sweden was really good.

AL: By the time you joined the band was most of the album written?
Ninja: Ian actually made the whole album himself. He wrote all the music himself. He started writing in 2000 or 2001. It was an ongoing process and he kept on doing it. The album came together over many years. At that point he managed to get other people into it. He wrote everything and got us together to play onstage. We all bring our different elements to the band. We all bring something different to the live shows.

AL: Are you doing all the rapping on the record?
Ninja: There are two versions of the album that were released. The first version came out in the UK in September 2004. It is actually an illegal version of the album because none of the samples had been cleared. Ian didn't have any aspirations to make any money from the album. He didn't think anyone would be interested. It was like "We are not going to make any money, so there is no need to clear these samples." But when it came out there was quite a demand. People kept on asking us for it. This summer we got signed to Sony BMG. We were on a smaller label before, Memphis Industries. If people want to buy it, and so we can make a living out of it, all the samples had to be cleared. That took a few months to sort out.

AL: People don't do sample heavy albums anymore because it's too hard to clear all that stuff. What were some of the harder samples to get cleared? What was the most expensive samples on the record?
Ninja: I don't know anything off the top of my head. I know "Ladyflash" has been given away. We don't have any of that song. It has been given away 100% to the singer. Half of "Bottle Rocket" has been given away as well. I think that Ian cares more about the music than making money. He has always been fighting to keep the songs as close to the original version of the album. There have been a couple of changes. You wouldn't have noticed really unless you were a diehard fan of the first original version.

AL: What was your background? Were you in bands before The Go! Team?
Ninja: I wasn't in bands before. I was still in university. I just graduated a few weeks ago. I was studying finals exams at university and traveling around the world with The Go! Team at the same time. That was difficult for me. I have always been writing lyrics. I was doing that way back when I was 12 or 13 years old. I come from a hiphop background. Coming into the Go! Team like I did was quite a challenge for me. It's a different atmosphere and music. When we play at festivals we are playing with a lot of bands that I would not normally listen to. The rock and indie music scene is not really the scene that I come from. It's quite exciting to be involved in it.

AL: What kind of music did you listen to?
Ninja: I listened to everything. I was into classic music and jazz. I am mainly into hiphop. I like the real hiphop with loads of swearing. I like those CDs with stickers that say "Parental Advisory" and "Explicit Lyrics." The proper hiphop is all about people getting shot in the neighborhood. It is all violence. I like that kind of hiphop. Because It was real and they were rapping about what they know. It's gone all bling with girls in bikinis and flash cars. It's not real anymore. It's putting me off. I have been listening to older hiphop. I like Ghostface Killa and DMX. I like artists who laugh at themselves and have a good energy onstage.

AL: Do you like NWA?
Ninja: I used to love NWA and Dr. Dre's early stuff. I also like Gravediggaz and Cypress Hill. I like the raw hiphop. I don't like that stuff that is like R&B.

AL: Have your been to some of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Los Angeles were a lot of hiphop comes from?
Ninja: I would really love to check out the neighborhoods and check out the scene but I haven't had any time on these tours. I am not inspired by any rappers in the charts at the moment. There is nothing really original at the moment. I think the British hiphop scene is coming out at the moment. There is a little bit more punch to it. It's not about cars and the money.

AL: What do you think of people like Dizzee Rascal and Lady Sovereign?
Ninja: I am proud of them. They are young. They are doing their own thing. They have attitude. They are doing really well at the moment. But personally, it's not my kind of music. I am glad that Dizzee did things his way. He paid for records to get done. He did it on his own. They call that Grime and Garage. I am more into hiphop, which is different. Some people get those two mixed up.

AL: How did you meet Ian?
Ninja: I was just surfing the net. I was looking for singing and acting auditions. I saw an advert for "Old school hiphop rapper wanted." I sent him an email. He sent me a CD. I listened it for two weeks. It took me a while to get my head around it. It was so unique that I didn't say, "Hey, I want to play." It was dizzy, different, chaotic, rocking, happy. It was so much. I was figuring what I was going to do. Ian wanted me to write lyrics for the live show. I was wondering how I was going to fit in. People think of rapping as being a certain way. The Go! Team really pushes the boundaries. There can be rapping, singing, and shouting. There is so many possibilities. It is not as restrictive as modern rap is at the moment.

AL: How has the live show evolved over the past year and how is it different from the record?
Ninja: It's two different entities. To know what The Go! Team is about you need to see the live show and hear the album. The live show is so hectic. So much is happening onstage. People are running around and changing instruments. Sometimes it is two people and sometimes it's all six of us. People can expect the unexpected. It might be a rocking fast tune followed by a slow tune. We have a lot of visuals going on as well now. The visuals encompass the spirit of the Go! Team. We make very visual music. It's like a party on stage. We have a lot of fun. When someone smiles you want to smile back. If we are having a good time onstage we hope that the audience is having a good time as well.

AL: What is the song "Ladyflash" about?
Ninja: That song has so many influences. It has a 1960s girl group feel, a soul feel, some flutes and strings. It's all wrapped up together in one song. It's a laid-back sunshine type of song. It has so many genres. It is one of our favorites to play.

AL: "The Power Is On" is very popular.
Ninja: It's quite different from the album to the live show. On the album it is quite cheerleader-y, and thrash, and in your face. In the live show it is different. It is more aggressive and political. It's more angry and powerful. It sounds quite different. It has a military theme about it as well. I love that song.

AL: "We Won't Be Defeated" is another cheerleader type song.
Ninja: Yeah. We do a few songs with dancers. They are like 18 year old. They sing and do freestyle dancing. They have a girl gang vibe. They will be at most of the shows. It's a powerful hiphop songs. We have three or four dancers with us for the bigger shows and the TV shows. We were nominated for the Mercury Prize. We had all the girl dancers there. That was a big deal for us.

AL: Getting back to the Mercury Prize, did you get depressed that they gave it to some American guy this year?
Ninja: You can say that because you are American. But if I say something like that I sound bitter. I wasn't sad at all. We were glad that we didn't win because there is a Mercury Prize curse. People win it and then you don't hear about them anymore. If we won there would have been so much pressure on us. We would have had to tour for six months straight. We are used to maybe four weeks of touring and then going back to our regular lives. I think we should have won because we are so different. All those people in England watched this guy win the award and then go back to America. They are not going to know what the new bands are in England.

By alexander laurence