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Pivot vs. Richard Ayoade

Warp Records' avant-rock trio in conversation with the Mighty Boosh's shaman DJ.

photo by Gabriel Green

"Sweet Memory" from Pivot's O Soundtrack My Heart

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Pivot and Richard Ayoade in conversation

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Last month, British comedian Richard Ayoade (The Mighty Boosh, The IT Crowd, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace) met Australian avant-rock trio Pivot (O Soundtrack My Heart, out now on Warp Records) for a chat in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum. Click above to hear their conversation, download the MP3 here, or read an edited transcript below.

Pivot: We’re big fans of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and we especially love the use of music and audio - has music always played a big part in your humor and do you think about the music and sound when you’re writing it?

Richard Ayoade: The person who did the music for Darkplace is called Andrew Hewitt, he’s really good, and there were quite a few things that were written specifically to the music.  We had the music before we did it, and knew how it would be, and certain things like ‘One Track Lover’ came out of him doing this demo, this trumpet, synth sound, it sounded like Phil Collins. He’s not someone who’s up with popular music, like he’d go ‘Phil Collins? Who is that?’ He knows Michael Jackson.

P: Was it my dad that did the music? It sounds like my dad did the music.

RA: Yeah, he’s your dad, except he’s been remaking music for several years, so that came out of that sound and the whole of that episode was based around trying to get that song in there.

P: Was the editing his role as well?

RA: The sound we did at this place called Hack’n’Backer and the mix was called Nigel Heath who’s just brilliant, and he did The Day Today with Chris Morris, who’s used to making things sound like they’re from America or old or any of those things. We took the put the whole soundtrack on quarter inch tape and stretched bits and just cut stuff up and made sure that the left field was in the right field and the foot steps were going in the wrong direction.

The show we wanted to feel like T. J. Hooker or The Incredible Hulk, because in the 80's English shows were all influenced by American shows like Howards Way - so they would try to be really glamorous, but it was always drizzling and the lights were really bad. There was this one English show set on a cruise ship, but it was in the North Sea so everything was slate gray. But that’s what I really liked about your album because it sounded like Goblin and we really like things like Argento Soundtracks.

P: We also thought a lot about making things sound older. We used old keyboards and we tried to keep it analogue to try and maintain some sort of warp. Obviously digital gear it great because it’s so easy to use and it’s so consistent, but in some ways that can be detrimental - inconsistencies are great. mistakes are good, to have rough edges is kind of important. That was hard for me at first in making this record because you get used to being able to do a couple of guitar takes and taking the best one and then chopping in bits and pieces, but some of my favorite moments now are the mistakes on the record. I think we wanted it still to feel like there were people playing in a room at the same time.

Pivot live

RA: Tell me about the place you were recording with the big industrial screws.

P: We have a rehearsal studio and we affectionately call it Danger Mountain, we even had a song about it: 'Danger, Danger Mountain, it’s the mountain that lives in our dreams.' It was supposed to be like an afternoon kids show where the kids always solve a crime at this mountain. It was sort of a cross between Scooby Doo and some Australian show like Skippy or something.  It’s like Skippy but with guitars and keyboards.

RA: But let’s get on to the important subject: the screws.

P: OK, well, it wasn’t actually on a mountain, it was in a dusty room in the back of a warehouse that stored industrial sized screws that were used for foundation screws for buildings.

RA: Talk us through what a foundation screw is.

P: They vary in size but they basically if you can imagine a normal screw and then enlarge it to the size of a car, that’s what they look like.

RA: I’m fascinated by these massive screws in a warehouse.

P: I can arrange one to be sent to you if you like. Would you like one for your living room?

R: I just lack the storage otherwise I’d be on the hotline now.  What was the tag line?

P: ‘The best screw you’ll ever have.’

RA: You're wasted, you're in the wrong industry. You should have been writing for Bob Hope.

Richard Ayoade in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace

P: Now, from what I read, Dark Place was not amazingly popular in ratings when it first came out and then it developed some internet popularity after then.

RA: Yeah, I think, we thought it had quite bad ratings until we saw the ratings on Man to Man With Dean Learner, and realised, maybe it’s not so bad! I think because it wasn’t available for a long time, it’s a bit like eBay - when you can’t get something there’s a sort of feeding frenzy about it.

P: Do you think the show’s popularity on the internet has helped your own popularity?

RA: I don’t know, I don’t think I’m very popular. It’s really hard to tell because, when you do a show live, out of the 200 people there maybe 20 people aren’t in abject fury, whereas you do a series and it just kind of drizzles out into the world, you have no idea whether anyone’s watching it. I think the idea that people will stay in for six Fridays in a row: people don’t really do that, although I did have a really bleak moment when I realised I had videoed an entire series of Friends, which basically meant that I’d been in for 22 Fridays in a row like Travis Bickle. Not cool.

P: You were president of Footlights at Cambridge University, and you had some very prestigious predecessors - Douglas Adams and Peter Cook.

RA: Well, yeah, there was no interest in Footlights when I was there which is how I managed to become president.  It was seen as the most un-cool thing in the world to be in Footlights. But that was how I got into comedy.

P: Stand up comedy?

RA: I did do some stand up, that was pretty horrific though.

P: It must be hard.

RA: It’s sort of amazingly easy to be pretty average at, which I think was the height I reached.

stills from Richard Ayoade's video for The Last Shadow Puppets

P: You’re doing a feature with Warp Films right now?

R: We’re adapting this book by a writer called Joe Dunthorne who I think is great. It’s called Submarine and it’s about a 15-year-old boy who thinks his mother’s having an affair around the same time he has his own first relationship.

P: So there’s never really been a direct path that you’ve followed?

R: It’s just been sort of staggering from incompetence to incompetence really, and just trying to abandon the last thing before people notice. You’re touring now, how long are you touring for?

P: We’ve come over here not to relocate but to live here indefinitely and just keep playing until the record comes out, so we’re homeless troubadours for the time being.

R: And you say when you’re playing live it’s developing a lot from the record?

P: We did the record a number of ways; layering things, multi-tracking, trying out guitar overdubs, keyboard overdubs, sending files back and forth to each other by FTP because Dave was in London and we were still in Sydney a lot of the time. So now that we’re really playing the record together a bit more, there are a lot of new things coming from it. Still, the songs are totally rehearsed; it’s not a totally chaotic, improvised, free jazz mess.

R: Seeing you live, I felt really sucked into the song.

P: I think we’ve seen a lot of live electronic music and been very bored, so that’s something we wanted to avoid – we didn’t want it to be cold and faceless.

Pivot tour the UK from October 1.