First published on 19 Jul 2012. Updated on 6 Aug 2012.
At first blush Good Morning To The Night, credited to Elton vs Pnau, may seem pretty straightforward – yet looks can be deceiving. It’s not Pnau covering songs by their champion and mentor, nor is it the Sydney-born duo remixing old Elton John tracks.
It’s something far more interesting: Peter Mayes and Nick Littlemore were given access to the multitracks of Elton’s extraordinary early '70s catalogue (the ten albums from 1970’s Elton John through to 1976’s Blue Moves), from which they took different elements – a vocal take here, a brass lick there, one song’s piano and another’s drum patterns – and built them into entirely new songs. It’s the same sort of meticulous patchwork approach that echoes the Avalanches’ 2000 game-changer Since I Left You.
“That was a pretty big reference for us,” Littlemore confirms. “That, and also our first record, Sambanova , which was a sample-based record. We had the multitrack for most things so we could take different elements and the choices were kind of endless in what we could possibly do.”
The result is a mix of John’s intricate arrangements and Pnau’s breezy keys and ear for the dancefloor. However, Littlemore’s quick to point that “it was a very slow process – we’d do most of the work on paper. It became about 50 per cent inspiration and 50 per cent just slow, mind-numbing editing."
“Initially we listened to the records a lot, for three or four, maybe five months, and we made notes about the keys of songs and the rough tempos, but then when we put them together, we never pitch-shifted a note – we’d just find the right one on a different track. It was really like sculpting.”
It was clearly a labour of love, though. “These records were incredibly made: there were a lot of songs [we used] that weren’t hits but the songs and the instrumentation and the use of harmony is just amazing. We really tried to find the grooviest little moments and bring it back to a Pnau kind of simplicity and dancability, and give it that kind of hypnotic groove.”
There are also a few little possible musical jokes in there: for example, is the slow drum pattern and heavy delay on Elton’s resigned “hello” at the beginning of ‘Telegraph to the Afterlife’ an attempt to create their own version of Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’?
“Well, it wasn’t a conscious rip,” he laughs, “and I know in hindsight it totally looks like that – I’m fine with that because it’s a great thing to have a homage to, and it’s a similar era and all that.”
So how long did it take?
“About two years – well, over the course of three, I guess, but obviously we were doing other things at the same time [including Pnau’s Soft Universe, released earlier this year]. We like to work on multiple things anyway, because you get inspired and you learn different techniques – you can feed one project back to another so easily.”
Did this influence Soft Universe?
“Not really, but definitely with the new Empire stuff that we’re writing there is a more 70s approach to songwriting.”
Yes, Empire of the Sun has reactivated – and Littlemore’s 100 per cent back, having vanished before Luke Steele took the band on the road sans Littlemore for the 2009 Parklife tour.
“Yeah, well, I went to the circus,” he laughs (he’d taken a commission to do the music for Cirque du Soliel). “But I’m back, and we’ve been making a record for about eight months. Luke and I are about to work on it for another two months and hopefully that’ll get it done, but you never know with these things. You can’t rush art, you know.
Good Morning to the Night is out Fri Jul 27 Etc Etc/Universal.