In one corner sits a drum kit. On the walls the psychedelic faces of the late 60’s Beatles gaze down, stoned immaculate, Jim Morrison looms over another wall, crucifix pose intact, radiating the nonchalant cool of the rock star. Blasting from the speakers is a bootleg of an old punk tune, housed up and twisted into new electro shapes, one part French house to another part electro breaks. The newest piece of music from the inhabitants. The Roland piano sits in another corner. A book of photos of house era football hoolies turned peaceful E heads is open on the coffee table. The walls are lined with DVDs from The Sopranos to Yellow Submarine. A skateboard is propped up against the shelves. This is the Audio Bullys house, welcome back, it’s been a while.
In the centre of the room, animated by the completion of their third album sit Simon Franks and Tom Dinsdale. The album, ‘Higher Than The Eiffel’, put together in a six month full on recording frenzy at a small facility in Hornsey, North London, is a record of which the pair are justifiably proud. It is their most complete record yet, the most true to what they want to create from their music, it is redemption following a four year hiatus in which the friends worked through the problems that being feted and then massively successful can bring to musicians who simply want to make music and keep getting that feeling of connecting with people, of ‘being respected by the people you want to respect you’ as Tom puts it. To reconnect with the fans, the clubbers, the gig goers, the people who hear this music and make it part of their lives.
Make no mistake, ‘Higher Than The Eiffel’ will surprise more than a few. Those who see Audio Bullys as dancefloor fodder only will have to readjust their thinking when they hear the psychedelic post weekend comedown of ‘Daisy Chains’, channelling those stoned immaculate Beatles vibes into a new place. Those who think of the Audio Bullys as music for the lads, will have to explain the open confessional of ‘Only Man’, the lead single and a pulsing disco titan that pushes and pulls you with hook after hook. Those who remember the pair as one of the break and beats UK dance acts will have to readjust their genres when they come to the ska grooves of ‘Goodbye’. And that’s before they get to the shape shifting ‘Shotgun’ or the Chic funk of ‘Dynamite’. Which still leaves room for plenty of bangers and a whole host of other surprises.
In many ways, it had to be like this or there would be no third album from the pair. To recap briefly, seven or so years ago Audio Bullys shot across the horizon with a series of tracks that saw them feted as one of the most important UK dance acts, debut album ‘Ego War’ garnering positive reviews aplenty and putting Si and Tom in the all conquering UK dance royalty. Follow up ‘Generation’ spawned the mega hit ‘Shot You Down’ and propelled Audio Bullys firmly into the mainstream but, in doing so, also put the pair in a world where the point of their band as it tried to start a third album got lost as Si freely admits, ‘We weren’t in the best place, we had a few singles, loads of music that we made because we’re always making music but there wasn’t an album there basically’.
For a duo that had always had music going on, were always working on tracks, the long, drawn out process of trying to make that third album was proving more than difficult, it was verging on fatal.
A clean break was required and a change of everyone around them and a realisation that, to move forward, despite the announcement of a title for that third album, a release date and even the odd cd floating around with some of the tracks, they had to scrap it all and start again. In Tom’s words, ‘it just felt spiritually right to get rid of it’.
Clean break achieved but with no masterplan for what happened next, the pair booked the studio time and exiled themselves to start all over again but this time with the benefit of what had gone before. This time around they would do what felt right and stop thinking about anything beyond the tunes.
‘We let go of any sort of formula we were trying to do before, we were just doing what we really wanted to do. I was getting back into my melodies’ says Si. There was no masterplan, this would be an album that came as it came, genres would be ignored in favour of tunes. As Tom rightly notes, ‘I think most bands have tunes that are different but the tendency is to put together a load of things that are the same for the album but we didn’t want to do that. The first album has feeling and meaning and that was something we felt we needed to get back’.
Whilst both admit that the early weeks in Hornsey were still stuttering, a sense of release and a reminder of the fun that making music brings began to come back into the frame. ‘London Dreamer’ was finished first, the vocal and melody laid down by a bleary eyed Si following a massive weekend on a Monday morning, another departure from the norm that worked perfectly, ‘I’d had a massive one on the Sunday and I got into bed Monday morning and I thought ‘I can’t sleep’ and I had this tune and I thought I’m coming down to the studio to get it on tape. Tom had built these tracks over the weekend and I was a bit high and we laid the track down. We never used to make music like that. We were always a bit stoned but to be a bit under the influence gave us a different angle. Something went in my mind from being up for so many days. It was like that little lock that I needed to break.’
Lock duly broken the tunes flowed. The approaches changed according to the songs. So, ‘Twist Me Up’ was a live jam bursting to life with images of ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ podium dancers, incorporating guitar from Si’s brother Jimmy, drums from Terry and a piano top line from Madness’ Mike Barson. More Madness came courtesy of Suggs harmonica on album closer ‘Goodbye’, a ska house tune that is the perfect send off to an album of such diverse but harmonious tunes. ‘Daisy Chains’ was Si and a piano with live drums added. As these friends visited the studio the album came to life fully, a cast of musicians adding to the tracks. Charlie Creed Miles came in with the bass line for ‘Dragging Me Down’, the track that contains the album title and a dub skank that sits imperiously towards the end of the record. Live strings courtesy of Tina punctuated that fluid guitar on ‘Dynamite’, flowed through ‘Daisy Chains’ and live horns from Jessie added to the Trenchtown vibe on ‘Goodbye’.
After two years of stuttering, Audio Bullys had sprung back to life, the fourteen tracks of ‘Higher Than The Eiffel’ laid down in that six month period. Album three, the album that had seemed so impossible previously, was duly finished and ready for action. More than a collection of like-minded tunes, more than a selection of beats to be played intermittently in DJ sets, this was the real deal, an album of highs and lows, a collation of influences from those classic songwriters through the myriad dance musics of funk, house and techno with a good dose of punk attitude and electro beats where electronics or live instrumentation took their place when it felt right rather than because that was how things had been done before.
Album now complete, the pair cannot wait to unleash it on the public and are looking forward to getting back in front of people live. Whilst there have been DJ sets in the meantime and a rare live showing in London, March sees Tom and Si take ‘Higher Than The Eiffel’ on the road in the UK and they can’t wait.
‘We want to get back to that live thing and the buzz that goes around a live gig is a lot more fun than Djing where, no matter what you’ve done, there isn’t a focus. we really want this album to be presented live’.
Not long to wait but for now, welcome back Audio Bullies, stronger and wiser than before and back doing what they do best, making music for the joy of making music and sharing it with others. Let’s leave the last word to Si, with what pretty much is the Audio Bullys new manifesto, from ‘We Don’t Care’ to ‘We Do Care’ if you will. It’s been a long wait but Si and Tom are back
‘I love making tunes and that’s what keeps me alive, if we’ve made something that gives me a buzz that’s why you do it. We almost had to make a few things that didn’t work to remind us what it is that drives us. At times you start to think it’s easy to make music but it isn’t and it’s about capturing a moment and we’ve done that on this album’.