GoGo Penguin: “This is finally the right combination of people”

Ahead of their arrival at The Leadmill this month, Emily Leonard catches up Chris Illingworth of avant-garde Manchester jazz trio Go-Go Penguin.

You’re currently country-hopping on a worldwide tour. How’s the experience treating you?
Yeah, we started a few days ago with a short run in Tokyo, came home, and now we’re in Germany at the moment. We’ve got another ten gigs here then we’re off to Spain, Switzerland and Holland before returning to the UK. As you can imagine, we’re pretty tired and a bit jet-lagged at the moment but we’re really enjoying it, and the trip to Tokyo was just fantastic.

From Tokyo to Sheffield, and The Leadmill in particular…
Absolutely. Nick and I are both originally from Yorkshire and it’s always nice to play gigs a little closer to home. I remember going to the Leadmill to see Lamb when I was about 18-years-old and thinking how cool it’d be to play that venue. It should be loads of fun there.

Your latest album, A Humdrum Star, has been your best-received record to date, building nicely on the momentum set by Man Made Object and the Mercury-Prize nominated V2.0. How did you approach this one differently?
We started in a similar way to how we did with the other albums, in that we didn’t build too much of a structure around it. We didn’t have any overall concepts; we just wanted to make the music we were feeling like making right in that moment of time. We started from scratch with a load of different ideas, but we soon realised that a big influence on it was the fact that we’ve done so much touring over the last couple of years. It’s been a very busy couple of years, and all the experiences from that are the main things we’ve gone through as individuals and a band. It was all those kind of experiences that we’ve collected from touring which we ended up putting into the music really. I think this album felt like we were able to properly express what we wanted to say and everyone had space to contribute and bring their own ideas to the table. This is finally the right combination of people; everything just clicked and as we were playing we all kept looking at each other and were just grinning throughout. I think it’s something that will always stick with me right ‘til the end.

How far did the success of V2.0 go in terms of setting you up for larger opportunities and the ability to experiment further?
It definitely gave us that opportunity. Around that time we had support from people like Gilles Peterson and Jamie Cullen and others on some pretty big radio shows on different stations so we were getting to different audiences. In the same way that the Mercury Prize attracts so many people from different backgrounds and genres, it was the same with these DJs that were supporting us. I think a lot of people who wouldn’t have otherwise heard of us got to hear about us in a very short space of time. We definitely saw a big change, a shift in the numbers of people who were following us online and the number of people who came to gigs, and in turn that boosted record sales a bit. We were always steadily building a bit of a fanbase but that period really shifted it up a gear. I think that’s why we’ve ended up being so busy over the past couple of years!

This is finally the right combination of people; everything just clicked and as we were playing we all kept looking at each other and were just grinning throughout.

You’ve always been a band which enjoy testing boundaries, none more so than with your portrayal of Godfrey Reggio’s cult documentary Koyaanisqatsi. How was that experience and would putting your own spin on any other film be something you’d consider doing again in the future?
Oh yeah, definitely. We absolutely loved it because, similar to what we were saying with the last album, we started from a clean slate. We’ll have ideas and things going on in our minds, but we don’t have anything rigid that we must work to. It was the other way round with the film. It was great because it’s a different way for us to work. We start from that prospect of here’s a film that’s already got a lot of ideas and a lot of emotional content and underlying themes, so we had to start from that and do something around it. Then performing it live is different again. We worked with certain sections done to a click track so we could keep things synced to the film, and we wanted to make sure that we kept that improvised edge to it. We haven’t had any more film work come through yet but we’re always up for that idea. I think if the time comes down the line we’d definitely look at doing some more projects like that.

Speaking of projects, is there anything else on the Go-Go calendar as it stands?
We’ve got a completely full calendar for ages but we are looking at other projects. Most importantly, we really want to make sure that we’re putting in all the effort that we can into making another good album next year. We’re going to get back in the studio in January and start trying out new things, and I don’t know when it will be out but that’s the main thing we’ve got our focus on.

GoGo Penguin play The Leadmill on 6 Nov. Tickets available from leadmill.co.uk

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