The Go! Team
n conjunction with Stylus’ belated Intonation Music Festival coverage, I talked to The Go! Team’s rapper/MC Ninja and drummer Chi at a downtown Chicago hotel a few hours before their Saturday, July 16 performance. The tony Hotel 71 was host to many of the celebrity competitors in Challenge for the Children, ��NSync’s annual charity basketball game, and I was only allowed entry after explaining to two security guards that I wasn’t there to catch a glimpse of Joey or Chris. I did anyway. They’re fatter in real life and wear terrible clothes.
The Brighton six-piece was higher on the Pitchfork Media-curated bill than a batch of respectable indie favorites, among them AC Newman, Four Tet, and Broken Social Scene, whose You Forgot It In People has sold 75 thousand copies in America. But The Go! Team, who have been together just over a year, haven’t released anything here yet, and before Intonation hadn’t played an American show since South by Southwest and a few-city tour in March.
We spent much of the interview picking apart the band’s dense musical lineage, but what comes across in the music isn’t so complicated. Bandleader Ian Parton made the music himself and grabbed five others to play the album out in gigs; that’s why Ninja continually referred to the songs as “Ian’s music.” And the music’s meant to sound like the group looks. They’re equal parts boys and girls, on the left a trio of gangly indie rockers, and a German, Asian, and black rapper on the right.
While Thunder Lightning Strike, their debut album, goes far beyond vox/gtr/bass/drums, it boils down to a fun pastiche of a few recurring motifs—TV jingles and precious schoolyard chants meet the big beat and a few “angular guitars”—that doesn’t quite deserve far-out praise. But despite the minimal technical and musical achievement in the album’s layered production, The Go! Team are, at their best, a successfully groovy band. In Ed Oculicz’s October review, Stylus hit the nail on the head, recognizing the virtues of the album’s straight-ahead throwback dance music, courtesy of the “pre-fab cut-and-paste jobs Saint Etienne used to be so fond of.”
I sat awkwardly with Chi, self-described as quiet and shy, as I waited for Ninja to come back from the bathroom. When she came back, I stared in awe at her giant, shining “N” belt buckle.
Is breaking America important to you?
Ninja: For me, doing well in America is really important. Tons of really big bands in England have come to America and failed. … So even though we’re not anywhere yet, for people to know who we are, that’s a really big thing. If you break America, you can go worldwide, but if you’re big in England, you’re just big in England.
You just got signed to an American major label.
We’re signed to Sony/BMG, and their US extension is Columbia. It’s all Sony, really. I don’t think Ian [likes the idea of] being signed to a major label. He doesn’t want the band to be commercial, but the larger labels do make commercial music. … But it’s something that we have to do. The smaller labels don’t have the finances to take you where you need to go. Hopefully, we’ll still have more creative control over what we’re doing than Sony will, and we’ll still be able to keep it quite a special thing. We won’t be the band you see everywhere, on every poster, on every TV show. It’s not Ian’s ambition, and being in this band, we understand where he wants to take the music, so we also understand not trying to become a band like that.
So the whole band agrees with Ian? It’s not just him, and some of you saying, “well, it will be nice to be on this big label.”
I don’t know. Ian would rather have a few fans that are really passionate than loads of people. But we’re all different people. Me, personally, I wouldn’t mind being worldwide. But I understand what he’s trying to do, and I respect that as well.
Chi: I think I’m quite like Ian. I just … go with things.
I heard Ian was approached to put The Go! Team in a McDonalds ad.
Ninja: Yeah. There’s been loads of stuff we’ve turned down. Loads of different beers, Sky, phones, clothes, I can’t even imagine. But Ian’s got his reasons. There are certain things he doesn’t support … and he doesn’t want to be a band where people say to each other, “have you heard The Go! Team?” “Yeah, aren’t they on that McDonald’s advert?”
So do you mind that sort of thing?
Ninja: I wouldn’t mind! But it would depend what the ad is for.
Chi: There are some really cool adverts.
Ninja: He turned down Grolsch, I remember. Maybe even Budweiser.
Chi: The McDonald’s thing just wasn’t for Ian. He’s a vegetarian.
Ninja: Loads of little stuff, too. I think iPod.
Chi: [Forlornly] Oh. Did he? I didn’t know that.
Ninja: I quite like iPod adverts. I like the Gap ones, too, but he’d definitely say no to them. They’ve got their problems with sweatshops and things like that. Gap adverts are just the best.
When you talk about the band, it’s basically in deference to Ian. Is that the way it is with everything? You are The Go! Team, right?
Ninja: He doesn’t dominate everything, but he did make the music. So to be part of The Go! Team, you have to understand him. … But we’re all different people, and we all add a little something different. Everything that happens is a group decision, and it goes through all of us and Ian.
Chi: He always asks us for our opinions. Whenever he has any ideas, he asks us what we think.
Every time I read about the music, it’s compared to a bunch of discordant bands. I think your official bio mentions Shellac and The Jackson 5. So what are your influences?
Ninja: [Guitarist] Sam [Dook] and [bassist] Jamie [Bell], they’re English guys who like the guitar, sometimes folk music. You’ve got Silke, and she’s a multi-intrumentalist. You’ve got Chi, you’ve got me, I’m from a hip-hop background, and then you’ve got Ian, who’s from a noisy guitar background. We’ve got Northern soul, rock, rap. … It’s a melting pot.
Chi: Basically, I like rock music, pop. I’m also into anything weird. Recently, so many bands sound the same. I love seeing anything different. I really, really like The Divine Comedy. It’s just so well-crafted and beautiful. But also, I like something quite rocky. I like Queen.
What music doesn’t influence The Go! Team?
Ninja: I think we all hate acid house. You know, like unts! unts! unts! unts! We all hate Keane. Chi likes them.
Chi: I do not!
Ninja: They’re really just a … cup of tea band. Just like bleh. It’s just nothing.
Chi: We don’t like the ballad pop. Like Celine Dion.
Ninja: You can’t really diss Coldplay, because they’re big at the moment. So no comment on Coldplay.
Chi: I don’t really mind them, but … [Ninja pretends to look disgusted] I don’t hate them.
Ninja: I’m very wary of what I say. In the position that they’re in, it’s not smart to say anything negative.
Chi: Those bands, to me, they’ve got a few really good songs. But after a while, it just gets boring.
Ninja: When we played Glastonbury, we were on at the same time as Coldplay. We were playing the tent, and they were headlining at the main stage. We thought no one was going to see us—“they have the new album out, yeah, yeah, everyone’s going to see them”—but our tent was packed with loads of people. There were about two thousand people there—
Chi: Four thousand.
Ninja: We started to realize that people maybe wanted to see something different. With Coldplay … and [some of] these guitar bands, you know what you’re going to get. … But with The Go! Team, you’ll want to stay to the end of the show, because you don’t know what we’re going to do. We’ve got running around, dancing, a banjo here, someone’s pulled out a harmonica, someone’s at another set of drums, I even play the jingle bells on one song!
Because there’s so much going on in the music, I wonder what you’re thinking when you play live—are you part of this “team,” or are you trying to stand out?
Ninja: I don’t want to be totally behind the mic. I’d like to be someone people say is a great performer. … It’s hard because I want people to remember everything about The Go! Team, [but] for it to be memorable, I do realize that I have to stand out. So I’m always thinking, what new dance moves do I have, what new chants do I have, what kind of outfits do I wear, that sort of thing.
Chi: I’m just so happy to be involved in the band. Every single gig is such great fun for me, and everybody in the band is so nice to work with. So I do feel like I’m part of a team, even though Ian made the music.
You know, you mentioned that there were four thousand people at Glastonbury, but I think there’s supposed to be 15 thousand here today.
Chi: Oh, really? Yeah. Wow.
Are you guys nervous about that sort of thing?
Ninja: I don’t know what seeing that many people looks like.
Chi: I can’t even imagine it!
Ninja: I’m not nervous … yet. Maybe when I get there and see the size of everything.
Chi: The number of people doesn’t really matter to me. I’m just concerned about the people who are so far in back. I mean, can they even really see us?
You two seem so bewildered by this whole experience—“we’re in America, we’re playing to huge audiences.” So what happens when you come home? Do you have day jobs?
Ninja: I’ve just finished uni a few weeks ago.
Ninja: University. Sorry. What do you call it here? College. Cah-lege.
Chi: One by one, we all stopped what we were doing for the band. I was just doing office work. Once I found out we were going to be playing all these gigs in July, I realized there was no way I could keep working. … I just hoped that, by then, we’d be all settled with all of our contracts and [financial matters].
Ninja: Everything was being sorted out by the record company. It was very busy.
So just now, it’s all coming together?
Ninja: Yeah. [Both laugh]
By: Sam Bloch
Published on: 2005-07-25