Music interview – The Go! Team: ‘I like the idea of capturing people that don’t particularly think of themselves as singers’

The Go! Team. Picture: Annick Wolfers
The Go! Team. Picture: Annick Wolfers
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Whether it’s hitching Sonic Youth-style distorted guitars to hip-hop beats or double Dutch chants to samples from Bollywood soundtracks, albums by The Go! Team have always been eclectic affairs.

Their newly-released fifth album, Semicircle, is a concept record of sorts, inspired by marching bands and US youth choirs.

“In my mind it’s a kind of psychedelic-type thing,” says the band’s founder and songwriter Ian Parton. “I’ve always thought there’s something quite psychedelic about marching bands – I don’t know if that’s a Sgt Pepper subconscious thing coming in. I’m imagining it to be quite roughly played, quite chaotic, because the force of it when you’re actually next to it is almost like a violent thing.

“As well as a wholesome, pageant-type thing, it’s also pretty tough, so I was trying to harness that side of it – the looseness of it, the slightly amateurish sound you get with high school bands.

“There’s also something that I love about the uniforms, they’re quite otherworldly, some of the colours – particularly the college bands in America – they’re quite psychedelic, purple and weird Technicolor.”

While the brass section was recorded by Parton with some friends in Brighton – “We got the sounds from lots of different takes, mic-ing it slightly far so it sounds almost like you’re in a gymnasium” – he travelled to Detroit, the home of Motown and 60s renegades The Stooges, to work on vocals with the city’s Youth Choir.

The Go! Team. Picture: Annick Wolfers

The Go! Team. Picture: Annick Wolfers

“On lots of my songs I was imagining gang vocals, whether that was a shout along type thing or a community choir kind of feel. I knew if I’d gone down the gospel route, if I’d gone for an adult choir, it wouldn’t have been right, it would have been too smooth and professional and possibly over-singing but I knew I didn’t want to go for young children either because that would’ve been sickly, so I figured that teenagers was the way to go.

“On lots of the Motown or Phil Spector stuff the voices you’re hearing are basically teenagers, they’re 16, 17, 18-year-olds. There’s a tone you get from singers that age. I like the idea of capturing people that don’t particularly think of themselves as singers. I think the minute you call yourself a singer you kind of adopt all the bull**** that comes with that, you’re over-emoting, you’re going through the motions of what you think that is. I much prefer that kind of pureness of it being slightly looser and a bit more ramshackle. I think you just get something a bit more genuine. I put the shout out to that particular choir and the choirmaster, Mr White, was really up for it, he was the most enthusiastic of people I approached.

“Also I’ve got to say the idea of recording in Detroit was quite an appealing one for me because it encapsulates the two sides of me – the noisy side and the soul side.”

As someone who likes juxtaposing musical cultures – “I’m a great fan of making things happen, that’s been a band mission statement from Day One, forcing things that normally wouldn’t have happened...I’m much more into world clashes, I suppose” – Parton found working with teenagers intriguing. “What did they make of me?” he ponders. “I was really interested in that first moment when I said ‘OK, this is the next song we’re going to sing’ and played it to them and I was looking around to clock their reactions. Often I’d say ‘We’re going to do a clap take now’ and I would roll it and it would just kick off and the live room would become like a carnival, with dance moves going down.”

My personality in real life doesn’t match the record in any way so it’s a funny thing how I keep doing this upbeat music.

Ian Parton

As well as familiar faces from The Go! Team’s live band, Semicircle also features guest spots by Dutch singer Annelotte de Graaf aka Amber Arcades and Texan Mod singer Darenda Weaver. Parton says he liked de Graaf’s “Euro-American voice, I do love when people are singing in English with an accent, the tone of her voice really suited the song”, while he found Weaver on the Bandcamp website, explaining: “I like the idea of there being the four-track [tape recorder] and the bedroom warrior, I like championing unknown people as well”.

Like previous Go! Team records, the ultimate impression left by Semicircle is life-affirming. “I’m the last person to speak about it in those terms,” Parson says. “It’s almost like a by-product, I hope. I’m imagining particular scenarios and particular feel but the minute you start using words like ‘happy’ or ‘joy’ it’s almost like you’re getting into John Denver territory. It’s a dangerous world where you start labelling things as happy because it almost degrades it or relegates it to ‘you’ll put it on when you’re feeling a bit down and it’ll cheer you up’. It cheapens it a little bit for me. For me, it’s much more of a sincere thing than ‘hey, why don’t we all get on’.

“My personality in real life doesn’t match the record in any way so it’s a funny thing how I keep doing this upbeat music.”

When The Go! Team tour the UK the regular sextet will be joined by a two-piece brass section (“two ladies, trombone and trumpet”).

“There’s going to be eight of us now so we’re not making any money,” Parton jokes. “But it would have been ridiculous because it’s such a brass-heavy record, to have not done that would have been a bit unusual, really. I could keep adding people forever. Two brass players isn’t enough, really, for the sound of the record. Maybe six would have been better but then it’s getting ridiculous. I could have easily had a choir as well – a lot of the songs need more voices, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.”

Semicircle is out now. The Go! Team play at The Wardrobe, Leeds on February 10.