We last caught up with GOGO PENGUIN early in 2015, they had just played a jazz festival in Paris and were riding high after their 2014 album V2.0 was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize. Fast forward 3 years and they are about to launch their fourth studio album A Humdrum Star and perform at the legendary Roundhouse in Camden on February 8th as part of 'In The Round', we caught up with pianist Chris Illingworth to talk about the recording process and their genre defying sound....
I heard Maryanne Hobbs playing 'Raven' the other night which was inspired by a recurring dream Chris had about losing a chess game against a raven, has he looked into this to see what it might mean?
No, weird dreams are a regular occurrence and usually I have no idea where they come from. Around the time this one started I was reading a book called Corvus by Esther Woolfson about a family who live with birds so I’m sure that had something to do with it. It’s amazing what places your brain can go to when you sleep and whilst my dreams are usually just ridiculous and pretty entertaining, every now and again one ends up being a cool idea for a new track.
Your 4th long player ‘A Humdrum Star is released on 9th February, does the recording process get easier the more albums you record?
In some ways it does, you learn as you practice so after making a couple of records there are things we knew to watch out for or avoid, but we’re always pushing ourselves and trying new methods and techniques so anything can happen. We all really enjoyed making this latest album but it was still really tough and took a huge amount of effort and energy from everyone involved.
Did you find yourselves becoming more involved in the recording of the new album?
On each album we’ve made we have always been completely involved in the entire process from start to finish but it’s important to know when to step back a bit. Everyone has their role to play and having a solid team really helps. We all know each other really well and have worked together long enough to know where strengths and weakness lie so the combination of everyone’s contributions make for the best results.
Do you find that audiences react differently to your music depending on WHERE you play around the world? If so, where would you say you are best received and why?
There’s often a difference between the reactions in various countries - for example the audiences in Japan are typically more reserved than those in the UK or Germany - but I think this is more a feature of the different cultures in general rather than a direct reaction to the music. The thing that does really affect the reaction is the type of venue we’re playing in. When we play in a club or festival there’ll be people up on their feet dancing and really going for it then the next day we might be in a concert hall or theatre where everyone’s sat down and the atmosphere keeps things a bit more reserved and intimate. It’s great as it means we can play to the room and tweak the tracks to suit the atmosphere, each gig is different to the the last one, each one unique.
On one hand, you’re jazz, then you drop in some amazing breakbeat and even some quite heavy drum ‘n bass sections within your music, do you find you attract a mixed age range at your live shows?
Definitely. At pretty much every gig there are people of all ages and there’s a really wide range of musical tastes too. We don’t want to exclude anyone with our music so it’s great to see such a diverse crowd at all of our gigs.
For your Mercury nominated album V2.0, you had Matthew Halsall, Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams recording and co-producing on it, who did you enlist the assistance of for ‘A Humdrum Star’?
After V2.0 we signed with Blue Note Records and haven’t been working with Matt or Gondwana Records on the last 2 albums but we have continued to work with Joe and Brendan. Joe is basically the ‘fourth member’ of GoGo Penguin, he’s our live engineer so he knows the music as well as we do and, as well as being an excellent studio engineer too, he is a great extra pair of ears to have during the writing and recording process. Joe and Brendan have known each other and collaborated for many years, they each have their own individual approaches and work great as a team. They both co-produced V2.0 and Man Made Object and there was no doubt that we would stick with the same team for A Humdrum Star.
You’re playing ‘In The Round’ at Camden’s Roundhouse in February, I guess this would be an opportune moment to road test some of the new material?
Absolutely. There’ll be a few of the older tracks in there too but we’ll definitely be playing the new material on this next run of dates. We’ve already tested out the odd track here and there over the last few months of touring, the response has been great and we’re looking forward to getting on the road again.
Lastly, you’re all amazing musicians, what would happen if you were to switch instruments for just one show?
It’d be even better... just kidding. It would probably sound like a bunch of kids who have just started learning to play their instruments trying to play GoGo Penguin tunes. We might give it a try though one day... we’ll see if anyone notices.
Catch GoGo Penguin performing live at The Roundhouse in Camden as part of their 'In The Round' music event, click HERE for more information and tickets.