Making The Go! Team’s New Album: Sonic Scope Via Internet Connection
How six female singers and a British alt-pop hero pushed back against misogyny through music
By Sarah Gooding
Ian Parton’s music production process has always been largely solitary.
As the mastermind of The Go! Team, a rambunctious pop project that marries meticulously spliced samples with vigorous live instrumentation and vocals, he conducts symphonies of avalanching sound.
Whether listening to one of the thousands of songs he hears each week, watching a documentary or taking in the radio, Parton’s constantly siphoning samples and stashing them in his colossal music bank. This formed the basis of The Go! Team’s ebullient debut LP, 2004’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike, which featured everything from old soul to double Dutch chants and fuzzy TV commercials.
These shambolic pop collages stood out amid a procession of indie rock boy bands — the album was nominated for a Mercury Prize and earned universal acclaim from critics. By 2007, The Go! Team had cemented its cult status with second album, Proof of Youth, and by the time the third, Rolling Blackouts, came around, Parton was able to pull in big names like Chuck D
of Public Enemy and Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast to front his frenetic songs.
So when he plucked six singers from relative obscurity to voice his fourth and latest album, The Scene Between, it felt like a revolution as well as a return to form. The group Parton had worked with since 2004 had virtually disbanded in 2011 due to its members’ burgeoning families and solo careers. In performing and sampling all of the instrumental parts himself and sourcing the rest — vocals — via email, Parton was returning to a solitary style he hadn’t utilized since he started the project 15 years ago.
Despite its longevity and success, The Go! Team has remained on the fringes of alternative pop, not quite fitting into any genre. But as music becomes increasingly genre-less, the band might now finally — ironically — be finding its niche.
Parton’s always filtered life’s minutiae into music with a skewed pop lens. Though his sound suggests a throw-it-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks style, it’s deeply considered. The same can be said of his own ideologies around equality. A staunch feminist, Parton employed an all-female cast of singers for The Scene Between, which is as plain a signal as one can send in a time when sexual discrimination continues to cause deep rifts in the music industry and beyond.
“When you grow up in Britain you have the NME and all those types
wanking off about the next band of four blokes with floppy hair.
I wanted to get away from that as much as possible.” –Ian Parton
The album isn’t just impressive for its sonic scope and inclusiveness; it’s impressive for how it has been put together by artists around the world, with different interpretations of Parton’s melodies and lyrics, isolated from one another but united by a common cause and an internet connection.
In order to do justice to the process and its participants, and to ground the album in the social context that it springs from, I reached out to all of the artists involved. Read on for insights from Ian Parton, as well as New York-based Emily Reo, French singer Annabelle Cazes, Doreen Kirchner of Jersey City, Chinese musician Shi Lu aka Atom, Casey Sowa of Minneapolis and LA-based Brazilian singer Samira Winter.
Cuepoint: When you announced The Scene Between you said you had approached making it with four rules — one being that the singers you’d work with would all be ones you hadn’t previously heard. Why was that?
Ian Parton: The last few Go! Team albums have been a bit guilty of name-droppiness. It overtakes the story of the album. It’s always “Hey, Best Coast is on the album!” or “Chuck D’s on it!” rather than just “Listen to the song!” Plus, I don’t like lots of people’s voices. For me, most people over-sing.
I’m looking for people that have a bedroom-y delivery.
Did you also want to give a platform to fairly unknown artists?
I’m glad that that happened, but it wasn’t a mission statement. I was just working backwards, trying to match the song to the voice. I like the idea of different nationalities rubbing shoulders, and that’s always been a theme. Particularly on Rolling Blackouts, I was having rappers from Florida alongside Satomi from Deerhoof.
How did you come to know of the artists that ended up singing on The Scene Between?
Listening to lots of new and unsigned bands on Bandcamp and YouTube and all the usual stuff like that. If someone’s voice stuck out my ears would prick up, and I’d fire them an email with the song and say, “Hey, do you want to do this?” Everyone I asked said yes, which was quite amazing.
The artists who sing on the album may not have much in common, aside from being active in music communities throughout the world, but one thing they share is enthusiasm for this collaboration.
Emily Reo, who sings on “Her Last Wave” and “Reason Left to Destroy,” says it was like a dream come true. “When Ian got in touch with me a couple of years ago I couldn’t believe it! I was a big fan. I never told Ian this, because I felt silly, but I even had a Go! Team poster up in my apartment.”
Brazilian-born, LA-based singer and musician Samira Winter was similarly excited. “I was always a big fan of The Go! Team and I also have
a lot of fun collaborating on new projects, so I didn’t have to think twice.”
It was the same for New York City-based French artist Annabelle Cazes (who appears on “Catch Me on the Rebound”). “I remember listening to Thunder, Lightning, Strike over and over while in college and playing it on my college’s radio station,” says the singer, who also has her own band, Glockabelle, in which she sings and plays glockenspiel. “A little over a year ago I got an email from Ian, asking if I wanted to sing a track on the new album. I was so excited. Also, the track was in English, and as I usually sing in French, I was up to try something new.”
Doreen Kirchner, a New Jersey-based musician and illustrator, was also familiar with the band and a fan of how it worked. “The project was intriguing, and I felt like I shared a similar DIY aesthetic,” she says. “But
the thing that interested me most was the creative scope of the project
and the chance to work with Ian.”
Chinese drummer and singer Shi Lu, who goes by the name Atom, expressed doubt about herself when she was invited
to join the project. “I felt weird at the beginning, ’cause he had enough girls in the band and there are so many girls that can sing much better than me. I thought, why does he want to cooperate with me? I asked him, and he said he had watched
a music video by my band Hedgehog, and said he loved
that song and my voice.
So that was great!”
When they finished and released the album in March, I, too, became excited. Not just because The Scene Between was made with an assemblage of lesser-known artists who were still breaking out of their own far-flung corners of the globe. But because the singers on the album are all women who are working tirelessly toward equality in a still-male-dominated music industry. That’s not just impressive; that’s important.
Cuepoint: Up until now you have always worked with one vocalist, Ninja, who is a woman, and for this album you worked with six other women plus an all-female choir. Is there a reason why you gravitate towards the female voice?
Ian Parton: When you grow up in Britain you have the NME and all those types wanking off about the next band of four blokes with floppy hair. You know, another generic landfill indie band thinking they’re really cool. I wanted to get away from that as much as possible. But it’s a lot to do with personal taste as well — give me Roxanne Shanté over Kanye West any day. I’ve also always liked the riot grrrl look and sound, and I’m obsessed with girl groups and the achy-ness of those 60s female pop songs. And Kim Gordon, Aretha Franklin, Sandy Shaw… I don’t know why! I like the cuteness vs. nastiness dynamic; distortion plus dreamy melody.
Those are hallmarks of The Go! Team sound. And it’s positive that you respond to the lack of female representation in music press in that way. Did you deliberately choose singers from all over the world?
I’ve always been a fan of accents. I think they give more of a technicolor feel. I love Brazilian, French… I like the delivery of American singing… I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been brought up on a diet of Mamas and Papas and stuff like that, but the primness of the English accent doesn’t suit me, for some reason. (Laughs) If you imagine a song like “Blowtorch” sung in an English accent (starts singing in an exaggerated accent), “Never really knew where to…” it just wouldn’t — it’s got to have that bubblegum-chewing kind of thing to it for it to work.
Misogyny in the Music Industry
Parton doesn’t just seek sassiness in the delivery of his lyrics — his punk attitude permeates all of his music in the way that he makes it.
When asked for her opinion on Parton’s comments about misogyny in music press, Cazes says she “can’t agree more.” The singer, who will be opening for the Go! Team in June across the U.K., and whose debut EP, Wolf BBQ, was released earlier this month, says, “As the frontwoman and composer of my own project, Glockabelle, I’ve often felt isolated in the NYC rock scene.
It’s definitely male-dominated, which has made it all the more motivating
to work hard.”
Kirchner agrees, saying, “I do think there is an imbalance when it comes
to the recognition of women in the music and art worlds.”
Of course, these experiences aren’t limited to the East Coast (or the U.S.). In L.A., Winter says. “Sometimes I think we’re at a point where it shouldn’t be a big deal for a woman to be playing music, and I would rather not have my gender as an emphasis. Yet people’s reactions in seeing, for instance,
a girl drummer, only proves that more girls have to be out there making music.”
“The lack of representation for women and people of color in music
is a serious wrong that needs to be addressed.” –Casey Sowa
Reo points out the importance of showcasing both female and lesser-known musicians. “[Ian’s] definitely a voice that people listen to, so hopefully this album can encourage bands looking to work with contributors to follow Ian’s lead and be more intentional with their choices. It’s unfortunate that sometimes it takes a male proponent for women to be noticed or respected, but using privileges to benefit others is the best thing you can do with them, and I have nothing but respect for Ian and his vision for this album.”
And while sometimes the inclusion of only female vocalists can be tokenistic, “like a commodification of the female voice,” Reo says Parton
did it respectfully. “I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with this if you have an intention for your exclusive use of the female voice,
but that doesn’t always come across clearly. However, I think Ian has been very vocal about his reasons for choosing the artists he did, and his choices contribute to The Scene Between on an aesthetic and sonic level, while managing to make a statement about exclusion within the music industry.”
“The lack of representation for women and people of color in music is a serious wrong that needs to be addressed,” says Minnesota-based Sowa. “It’s rather easy to miss or ignore
how big of an issue it is until
the summer festival charts roll out, and suddenly there are all these very visual representations of who is headlining and who
But that’s only one part of the problem, she adds. “The real
issue manifests in so many little ways every day in how women musicians are covered in the press, the expectations placed on them, and the micro aggressions that often take place at shows that make those spaces less inviting or even unsafe for women performers and audience members.
“To have a big international project like this geared around inviting up-and-coming women from around the world to contribute to a bold new pop album is a really cool way to push back and mix things up. Politically, it makes a strong statement of community and support; aesthetically, it makes for a very cool take on a pop album, as all of the songs take on their own personality while still communicating very directly to one another.”
Cuepoint: How did the logistics of organizing all of these people
all around the world work? How did you get the recordings?
Ian Parton: Well, the only ones I was actually present for were by the London African Gospel Choir, who were on “The Scene Between” and “The Art of Getting By.” I just turned up at their church with a laptop and a load of mics and did it that way. But for the other ones it was just done remotely. I’d write the lyrics and do a guide vocal and a few words about delivery.
In the case of “Blowtorch,” I’d say, “Make it badass.” Some people went to studios; some people did it at home. Because I was generally working with home-recorders — people that were similar to me — most of the time they could do it pretty easily.
How did they respond when you reached out to them?
It was varied. But for the London African Gospel Choir, it was like nothing they’d ever done. It was completely alien to them.
How did you find out about them?
I’d used them on the Rolling Blackouts record, on a song called “The Rolling Range.” I’ve got a thing about vibrato and over-emoting. I think there’s something about African singing that doesn’t do that, it’s very direct, so
I think that’s why it worked.
Did you feel that, in working with all of these different people, your
role with the band changed to that of a director?
No, it’s always been like that. I’ve always written the music all the way down the line. We’ve never been a jam band. I’ve got a lot of patience, so I’m the one that can be asked to sit in front of the computer all day, listening to
a thousand songs. (Laughs) Most people probably wouldn’t do that.
On albums two and three, Proof of Youth and Rolling Blackouts, the band were a lot more involved in the recording and I’d use their skills. They’re better guitarists and bass players than me. But in some ways it was quite refreshing not to feel like, Oh, is Ninja going to like this? Is so-and-so going to like this? I could just do what I wanted.
Go back to your roots. How did you organize trawling through all that music? Did you have any sort of process?
I did have a list with a description of their voice, you know, “good for this song” or whatever. But that was about it, really.
I suppose you’ve always been organized with all of your samples, cataloguing everything?
If you looked at my room, you wouldn’t say I was organized! There are leads all over the floor and instruments everywhere!
Do you remember how you came to know of the artists on your list?
Just lots of listening to new music on the interweb, and spending a lot of time on it, weeks, probably. That’s why the record’s taken so long. Every phase of it hasn’t been straightforward. (Laughs) It’s been work-intensive every single step of the way.
How much did you let each person color the song they appeared on?
The melodies are pretty locked down. I’m quite a believer in melodies being just one way, you know what I mean? I get annoyed when you’d see, like, Lou Reed singing a Velvet Underground song, and he’d completely sing the wrong melody. It’s like, no, it was that for a reason! You know?
I think most of the job was just letting their natural voices come through. You know, their accents and everything. So it’s my melodies and their style.
Collaborating over the Internet
The idea of making an album over the internet might sound challenging, but all of the artists who appeared on The Scene Between were very positive about collaborating remotely.
“I think that it makes sense for [Parton] to reach out to people overseas, since he’s already so used to masterminding the tracks on his own and then bringing on collaborators towards the end to execute his vision,” says Sowa, who sang on “Waking the Jetstream.” “I’m grateful to him for making me more comfortable with that remote style of collaboration. Because art is so personal, it seems strange to ask a total stranger to work with you. I’ve still never even had a phone conversation with him! We communicated strictly through email. But it worked! As long as the artist is comfortable with it, I think it opens a whole new world of possibilities for collaboration.”
Sowa went into a studio in Minneapolis to record her part, and knocked
out the vocal takes one afternoon with the producer she had been working with on her own album. Parton had a clear vision for how he wanted her vocals, which Sowa says she respects. “It’s important to balance being true to your artistic vision while still being open to the input from the people you’re working with, since it’s always going to be a little different than you originally had in mind by virtue of being someone else’s voice. I think
that’s exactly where we ended up.”
“The amazing part of working in this way is the excitement of getting tracks back, listening for the first time and being blown away.” –Doreen Kirchner
Kirchner describes this kind of collaboration as “inviting a certain type of spontaneity, or chance, for something really unique to happen.” She speaks from experience: “I had worked remotely as an illustrator with Neil Hagerty of Royal Trux on the Adventures of Royal Trux comic book… free to create whatever it was that I saw visually fit for the scene.” She’s also collaborated remotely with musicians based in Italy and Sweden, for her former band Sudden Ensemble.
For “Blowtorch,” Parton sent Kirchner guide vocals for every part, including the harmonies, which she says gave her pause to think, “These are great,
he should just sing this himself!” She laid down her parts at home with her own equipment. “Ian had no requirements or requests as far as recording was concerned, so I felt at home, literally, while working on my parts,” she says. “I’d lay down a few tracks then send them to him for feedback. His comments were minimal but helpful. He’d say something like, ‘I really like the energy here,’ or ‘Can you soften it there?’ Also, he’d point out phrasing details that I may have missed.”
While there may not have been much room for experimentation, a sense of discovery came later. “The amazing part of working in this way with other artists is the excitement of getting tracks back, listening for the first time and being blown away by what it is they had to contribute. It usually turns out to be something you never would have conceived of yourself.”
This sense of ease and joy is palpable in Winter’s bubbly vocals for “What D’You Say?,” which she recorded in her hometown of Curitiba, Brazil. “I was on my summer college break and I got an email from Ian asking if I wanted to sing on one of his tracks,” she explains. “I was really excited and luckily had my good vocal mic and interface with me, from working on other recordings during that break. So I listened and danced to the song on
repeat until I finally learned it, and recorded it myself in my bedroom.”
Having worked remotely before with her band Winter, she agrees that it’s
a “pretty easy” way of recording and working with other artists, “especially when it’s just recording vocals. It’s very personal to be able to record by yourself, and a lot of times you end up getting better results.”
As a busy musician both with her own project and as a touring member of bands that have included Foxes in Fiction and Sharpless, Reo often finds herself on the road. But this worked fine with The Scene Between, she says. “When I was living in LA in the fall of 2013 I recorded the vocals for ‘Her Last Wave’ with my friend Andrew Sardinha…. [and] we recorded ‘Reason Left to Destroy’ in the spring of 2014. Both times just by setting up a little home studio in the living room or closet.
“For ‘Her Last Wave’ he advised me on how to say certain words, the attitude I should embody, the tone I should use, how breathy I should sing, etc. It actually made things a lot easier to know exactly what he wanted and it probably saved us both a lot of trial-and-error time.”
Cazes was one of the few who hadn’t worked remotely before. “Recording over here in NYC and sending the tracks over to the U.K. — the power of the internet!” she exclaims. Her part for “Catch Me on the Rebound” was captured at home, by herself. “It was a little tricky getting the vocals down, as I usually sing in French, but it came out great.”
Atom also initially found the process to be a lesson in trial and error, but followed her intuition after Parton emailed her a vocal demo for “Did You Know?”. “At first I recorded it at a friend’s home, because I wanted to send Ian a demo that I could adjust later, and write some harmonies. But I wasn’t satisfied with that, so I went into the studio and sang it again.”
She’s very proud of being involved, calling it her “great honor.” The others don’t shy away from expressing similar sentiments.
Kirchner calls The Scene Between “a beautifully crafted conceptual piece of work. There are moments that couple high intensity with dark gravity, and somehow it all operates on the same frequency. Moods swing, just as if you were surfing channels on the TV, watching the content for a few moments, absorbing the dynamic, then moving on.”
She cites the trailer for the release as a “brilliant idea” for showcasing that. “Every sound snippet matched with an affecting image to tell the story of
an album to come. Of course, we see that in cinema all the time, but Ian extracts something from another medium and incorporates it into what
he’s doing. It’s like a movie posing as an album. Vocalists act out narratives against an ever-changing scene. It’s inspired and inspiring!”
Cuepoint: You started the first track with the sound of a can opening, but the whole album sounds so celebratory — why not a champagne cork popping?
Ian Parton: I think of it as a bottle, but yeah! People say it’s beer and it’s not supposed to be beer at all. I’m thinking of more like Cherry Aid. Non-brand, obviously. I just love that sound, it’s quite cheeky.
Did you record it yourself? Or was it something you found?
It’s a sample I found. I’m a big fan of sound effects, actually. I think they’re underused.
I really like it, it sets the tone for the whole album.
Yeah, exactly. I think sound effects can really get in your subconscious.
I like the idea of creating an image in someone’s head.
The Scene Between does a remarkable job of creating not only an image, but
a feeling of life-affirming exuberance. This sound of overjoyed abandon has resulted from a band of outsiders being brought together by a common cause. Final track “Reason Left to Destroy” is archetypal of this: a chorus of people who have never met IRL, but who are serendipitously united on record. The song symbolises a time when we are more connected than ever, but have also never been more isolated.
Like the cult it refers to, penultimate track “The Art of Getting By (Song for Heaven’s Gate)” also centers around a chorus of individuals — the London African Gospel Choir — who are reveling in their unity, both with each other and their higher order. For them, that’s God, but for Parton, that’s music.
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