Pianist Chris Illingworth talks to Charlie Anderson about GoGo Penguin and their recently announced album deal with Blue Note Records.
You’ve recently signed to Blue Note Records. How did that come about and what does it mean for the band?
“It all kind of happened last year around the summer. We were playing at a festival called Uber Jazz in Hamburg. We’d played that festival before, a couple of years before and it was one of our favourite gigs – it was absolutely amazing. Well we got there and heard that Don Was, the boss of Blue Note, was going to be there, along with a couple of other guys who had come along because they wanted to see us. It was a bit of a scary experience, hearing that those guys were there. He asked if he could meet up with us afterwards and we got chatting and got on really well. And the next thing we know they’d put in the offer and said that they’d like to sign us. It’s just been absolutely mind-blowing. We’re all big fans of the label and it’s done incredible things for jazz, including the more experimental side of jazz with people like Saint-Germain and those guys. It’s been amazing.”
So you’ll be recording a new album for Blue Note?
“Yes, we’re working on a new album at the moment, writing material for it and we’ll be recording it in June. We hope it’s going to be released early next year but we’re not completely sure yet.”
Are you still working on the new material or has some of it been written already?
“Well, we’re still working on it and quite a lot of it’s come together already. I’m not quite sure how many tracks off the top of my head but we’ve been gigging quite a few of the new tracks on the last run of gigs, cos we’ve had a UK tour and then we’ve done some dates in France and Switzerland recently as well. We've been gigging the odd tune here and there just to try and test it out and see what the response has been from the crowd, and also so we can get some practice before we go in the studio. When we did v2.0 we literally rehearsed for three months and then went in the studio. This time we’re quite lucky that we’re able to rehearse the tracks and do a bit of gigging because obviously that changes the way that the tunes play out. And then hopefully we’ll be able to take that in to the studio. It’s one of those things where we’ll get into the studio and things will keep developing, even in the days that we have there. It’s always an ongoing process until the point where you have to let go and say ‘right, we’ve done it now’ and it’s recorded.”
What are we likely to hear at your gig at the Brighton Festival?
“I’m pretty sure there will be some new stuff in there. We’re trying to play it as much as we can and we’re obviously not going to play too much of it cos we want to make sure that a lot of people, who have only recently gotten into us through hearing v2.0 or even Fanfares, want it to be that we’re still playing that music for people. There are a lot of tracks on v2.0 in particular that people tend to be looking forward to hearing at gigs. I think it will definitely be a mixture. There will be a few new tracks in there.”
Tell us a bit about the band. Why does it work so well?
“It’s a tricky one. I guess the main thing is that we’re definitely a band. We’re not three individuals. We want to be about the sound that we make together. Obviously we are three people playing together at the same time but the idea that we’re trying to go for is what we can do together as a whole rather than what we do as individuals so the whole writing process is really kind of shared. We write all the music together, we develop it together and then when we’re performing it’s all about…not necessarily focussing on soloing and things like that. It’s more about improvisation. I’m playing piano, there are a lot of sections where you might look at it and call it ‘a solo’ but the other guys will be improvising with that. It’s a very collaborative thing, which hopefully comes across in a performance and makes it quite exciting to listen to. But it also makes it about this entire sound and if you take one of those parts away…like with a lot of different music, if you take a part away you’ll still be able to hear quite a full tune. Whereas I think that with what we’re doing, if you strip one of the parts away then you lose quite a lot of the energy and what they’re contributing to the overall sound. I think it’s that that makes the band sound as strong as it does.”
“In terms of the music, I’m not really sure. We’ve had a lot of people chat to us after gigs or send us messages afterwards saying that they can hear other things in our music, they can hear references to other bands or influences. They imagine different things when they’re listening and people say that it’s quite cinematic music. I think it’s nice and hopefully if the people find what they want in the music and it doesn’t imply anything too strongly. It’s not that it’s jazz, electronic or acoustic – it’s just the music that we want to play. Hopefully that means that people can kind of enjoy it for whatever they want it to be and take whatever they want from it.”
You’re from a classical background. What about the other guys in the band?
“Well, Nick studied at Leeds College of Music and Rob and I were both at RNCM in Manchester. But we all met whilst in Manchester, we all played together in different bands and at jam sessions and things like that. Rob obviously did some classical and orchestral work whilst he was at RNCM studying. He’s very much into jazz and world music and he writes a lot of electronica as well. He’s very much into sequencing and things like that. And Nick definitely comes from a jazz background. I’ve worked in classical mostly but I did quite a bit of jazz playing for a while. I’ve done a bit of playing in rock bands. I used to play bass guitar quite a lot. So basically we all met just by playing in the music scene in Manchester, playing in different bands.”
Photo by Arlen Connelly
For more information on GoGo Penguin visit www.gogopenguin.co.uk
GoGo Penguin perform at Brighton Dome Corn Exchange on Friday 8th May as part of the Brighton Festival.