It’s been a decade since iconic dance/electronica/trip hop band Groove Armada released their last full-length album, White Light – but fans’ long wait for new material finally ended on October 2, when the duo released Edge of the Horizon (via BMG).
Calling from his home in London, Tom Findlay says that he and his bandmate Andy Cato were inspired to create Edge of the Horizon thanks to some memorable concerts they played toward the end of last year. “We did four UK shows: London, Bristol, Manchester, and Glasgow, which are some of our favorite music cities in this country. The crowd were really into it. I think it gave us the confidence to come back and make another record.” Also, he adds, “There was a bit of a sense of unfinished business, and just the enjoyment of being around each other again.”
As with their previous albums, this new release demonstrates Groove Armada’s ability to encompass a wide variety of styles, while still staying firmly within the electronic dance music tradition. As they created it, Findlay says, it was a “softer, easier vibe that we were going for. I think it’s quite a positive, uplifting sort of record. There’s some hope in there. It’s a record that we made mainly in my basement here, and we had a good time making it – and that comes through, I think.”
Findlay says that Groove Armada’s diversity “comes from the fact that we are music lovers first and foremost, so we find it really hard to settle on a style. Every record we’ve made has been influenced by the things that we were getting into at that time. So this record was quite influenced by where we were in the world and also the soundtrack that we were listening to on the tour bus. It was kind of a tribute to those sort of times.”
However diverse their material is, though, Findlay says there is always a through-line: “I think the core of it is, it’s something that connects with people emotionally – that’s the key for us, really.” They’ve been demonstrably successful at this: “I’ve lost count of the number of people that have texted or tweeted at me that they played “At the River” at their wedding,” he says, referring to the track that originally appeared on their 1998 debut album, Northern Star, but was since shifted onto their follow up release, 1999’s Vertigo. “That means that people associate our songs with some of the best moments of their lives, and that’s a lovely thing to be part of, really.”
Groove Armada are particularly known for creating a connection with fans through their live performances, even when they’re playing enormous concerts (such as headlining the legendary Glastonbury Festival in England). Findlay believes that the shows are memorable because, unlike many artists in their genre, Groove Armada incorporate musicians playing actual instruments. “It’s not like it’s just two guys standing in front of a sequencer sticking their hands in the air,” he says. “There’s a lot going on.”
Findlay admits he’s feeling frustrated that they’re unable to tour to support Edge of the Horizon, but he predicts concerts will resume in full force in 2022. “That is conveniently the 25th anniversary of the band, so that might be the next time we come back out,” he says.
Findlay admits it took the band some time to perfect their performances – “It was pretty chaotic and pretty disastrous in the early days, but we got there in the end!” – but he’s glad that they kept working at it because “People really respond to it. That’s the thing: when all this is over and I’m talking to my grandchildren about all the things I’ve done, the fact that we connected with people live is probably going to be the most interesting thing about us. And a thing that I’m so pleased that we made the effort to do. It’s probably why we’ve had the longevity that we’ve had.”
Some of Findlay and Cato’s ease onstage likely stems from the fact that they both were in various bands starting in their teenaged years, playing everything from jazz to funk. They met while they were in college, and quickly realized they had a good working relationship. That has not changed: even during their recent decade-long recording hiatus, they were still often working together, writing music or doing DJ sets in Ibiza.
Findlay says that he and Cato’s songwriting style has evolved during their two decades together. “We’re more adaptable than we used to be because we’re less reliant on samples than we used to be,” he says. “It’s probably only two or three samples on this [new] record.” But fans shouldn’t worry that they’re going to change too much: “Even now, the software is still at the heart of what we do. It’s still a dance music-related process.”
As for the way they actually set about writing their material, Findlay says, “There’s not a fixed way of doing things. Sometimes we might start with a set of chords. Increasingly, there’s more of that. When we first started writing, it was more loop-led so we’d find a groove and build layers on top of a sample. I think the stuff now is more like, we might start with a set of chords that we like. Sometimes we even start with the melodies first, or snippets of vocals that we had from the last record and try to build a new song around that. So it’s definitely changed over the years.”
Now, with Edge of the Horizon showing where Groove Armada are now artistically, Findlay says he’s happy to be back. “It just feels really nice to be making music again,” he says. “We don’t have the same set of expectations around us anymore. There’s no sense that we should be in the charts anymore so we can just do our thing and stay in our own lane. I quite like that.” And, he promises, “We’ve got some new bits bubbling – so don’t expect another ten year hiatus!”