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Interview: Aeroplane

For most, the news came out of the blue: Aeroplane had split up. Announced just a couple of months before the release of the Belgian duo’s debut album, the timing was interesting to say the least. Vito De Luca and Stephen Fasano had met almost a decade ago in Brussels, and went on to release three singles on Eskimo Records before remixing the who’s who of the disco and synth pop world: Cut Copy, Lindstrom, MGMT and most memorably Friendly Fires all received the Aeroplane treatment, securing them ubiquity in the blog world. With underground success achieved, the pair looked set to take things to the next level with We Can’t Fly, due out in September on Wall Of Sound. But with just one pilot remaining, what does the future hold for Aeroplane? With so much to discuss, Juno Plus editor Aaron Coultate caught up with Vito to find out more.

Let’s talk a bit about the Aeroplane split – it seems to have been pretty amicable. How and why did it come about?

Well, I wrote all the songs on the album and I played all the instruments….so I’m the studio guy. Steph was taking care of a lot of other things – important things – but it came to the stage I was alone in the studio and I realised, this is not ‘our’ band as it’s supposed to be. We could have done it (split up) now, or after the album was released, but we did it now for the future of Aeroplane. It wasn’t a normal relationship in that respect, and it got to the stage where one of us had to leave and we decided it would be better if it was Steph. I can play the record live, I composed the music in front of the piano. It started to click when I did the Breakbot remix alone – it was becoming weird, I mean what’s the point of making a song and sending him the mp3s for approval? That’s not normal. I mean, it’s not his fault either, it’s just the way things worked out. And the relationship between us is fine, we still keep in touch. He’s working on some solo stuff now.

“I was alone in the studio and I realised, this is not ‘our’ band as it’s supposed to be. We knew we could split up now, or after the album was released, but we did it now for the future of Aeroplane.”

The album is due for release in September – what were your goals going in and do you feel you have achieved them?

It’s been finished for the last two months. It’s been two and a half years in the making – I’ve never been through something like that before, it was very different. It was a hard process. The songs are the same as I wrote two and a half years ago, but after the Friendly Fires remix (of “Paris”) came out and it all exploded, the label said, ‘OK do whatever you want’. So we had the opportunity to go into a real studio and record everything properly. We got Bertrand Burgalat in as our producer, because we really liked the work he did producing Robert Wyatt’s “This Summer Night”. He has helped us a lot – I was so lost at first, it was like driving a Ferrari, you always want to do it but then you get in and it’s like, ‘how do I turn it on’? ‘Where’s the fucking engine’?

Aeroplane is known for its remixes, due to both your great work in that field and also the paucity of original material – do you think this album will change how you are perceived?

I love playing instruments, composing and writing songs, arranging, things like this. But dance music is less about this, and more about beats and programming. I find this harder to do, and when I was trying to make something sound dancey I juts followed my ears, I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I think that’s why our remixes ended up sounding so much different. What I enjoyed about making the album, was that there was no dancefloor pressure: no need for a breakdown or a snare fill, no need to apply a recipe. I mean, the MGMT remix we did was so different, I loved it, and it got rejected because it wasn’t dancefloor orientated enough. So is there any point wasting time on things like that when I could be writing my own songs? I mean I’ll still be doing remixes. The Breakbot one was energetic, very 80s sounding, but in the mastering they tried to turn the bass up and make it this club banger. It’s just that side of things I don’t like, and with making an album you get freedom. With remixes you are also limited by the original – with your own music you start with complete silence. So you have to have a good idea of what you want to do, otherwise you could spend years sitting in front of a computer.

The album has quite a poppy feel. There’s lots of lush instrumentation, and a range of tempos and styles. I wanted to pick out some songs to discuss with you. First up, let’s talk about the album’s first single, “We Can’t Fly”…

I’m really happy with how this came out. I remember playing the keys on the demo for this and saying, “this needs a Gospel choir”. It took two years to happen and finally we found one and it was a case of, let’s see if I’ve been annoying everyone for two years and I’m actually right. I wrote the song in about two hours, but I ended up mixing it for 20 days, so I am really happy with it now (laughs). I really noticed it on a good soundsystem, there is space between the instruments, and I like that. When we were getting it mastered, the guy played the MSTRKRFT record he had just mastered, and asked if I wanted it to be as loud as that! I said ‘if you do that I’m gonna leave’ (laughs). But he was fine, very professional about it, and he knew what I was looking for.

OK next up is “Fish In The Sky”. This one has a totally 80s, Depeche Mode feel to it.

There is definitely that. There’s also a bit of a Weezer, early 90s feel to it. And The Cars too, it’s all mixed in there. I wanted it to sound like rock n roll made by the new wave guys. At first I wanted to use Mark Hollis from Talk Talk, but we couldn’t find him at all. But then I heard Poni Hoax’s “Antibodies” and their lead singer sounded exactly like Mark. So I contacted Joakim (the boss of Tiger Sushi, Poni Hoax’s label) and it all happened from there. I still have no idea what he’s saying in those lyrics. Fish, sky, birds, sea…he’s crazy. But I love what he has done, he brought this weird intensity to the track. The vocals changed the song totally, I wrote it with no vocal line, but I took the strings back and made the instruments quieter so they don’t compete with his voice. I think it may be one of the less understood tracks on the album, and I think it might take people a while to get used to.

That’s an interesting point about adjusting your sound to suit vocalists.

The thing is you can’t have everything in a track at the front. Everything has to come back to one stereo track. And for vocals to work, you need space, you can’t having everything going at the same time (makes frantic movements to articulate the point). You just put in what is necessary. I gave everyone who sang on the album total freedom. The vocals are not a gimmick.

Well next on my list is a track with no vocals – “Caramellas” – the first Aeroplane tune. Why did you include it on the album?

Ha, that’s a simple one. Stephen and I were talking about including one of our old songs on the album, and we couldn’t choose. When we first recorded “Caramellas”, it was with a PC and no studio. And one night when we were recording the album, I was alone in the studio and I thought, you know what, let’s re-record “Caramellas”. So I went from the piano to the bass and the Hammond organ and recorded it all in about four hours.

And finally, “I Don’t Feel”. It has a bit of a Tina Turner vibe to it, who is the vocalist?

Ha, it’s Merry Clayton! I’m a big Rolling Stones fan, and my favourite track is “Gimme Shelter”, like lots of people I guess. And at the end of the track this woman’s backing vocals come in, and then Mick Jagger stops singing and this woman’s voice just booms out. I remember thinking, ‘who the hell is that’? And at the same time I had a load of old funk and soul records at home, and I had a few 12”s by Merry Clayton. And then I was listening to a radio show and they were doing an in-depth look at “Gimme Shelter” and they mentioned that a woman called Merry Clayton did the backing vocals … so I went home and checked if it was the same woman, and it was. It turns out she did the backing vocals on” Sweet Home Alabama” and a load of other classics. I lost the plot when I found out, I wanted to know where she was, if she was still alive (laughs). Well it turns out she lives in LA and it only took three days to get her on the phone. Then we found Nicole Morrier – who has written songs for Britney Spears – and got her to write the lyrics because I am very bad at that. I love this song, because it’s so simple – drum, bass, guitar and one synth.

Do you think the album will have crossover appeal?

That’s what I want. First people called us nu-disco, but the nu-disco thing was in 2004, I mean when did “I Feel Space” come out? Then people started calling us Balearic, which I could understand a bit more, because it’s not a genre of music but more a mix of stuff, and that makes more sense for Aeroplane. I want this album to bring singles, videos, everything. I’m too far in to say I want to be underground. “We Cant Fly” has had plays on BBC1, the reaction has been good, and that’s where I want to go with the record. That’s why we made it only two and a half minutes long.

You played at the Sonar festival recently, which was one of the first gigs with Aeroplane flying solo, so to speak. How did it go?

Yeah it was great, except when I threw up all over Air’s gear…basically I get really bad neck pains, and I had to do loads of interviews at Sonar, so I took some tablets to get me through. Then I went to go and DJ, and when you’re in front of 10,000 people you need some vodka to feel at home. So I’m drinking this vodka, and I haven’t eaten in ages, and once I finish my set I go backstage and faint. I remember waking up and I was totally dazed, then out of nowhere I threw up, all over Air’s gear. I just got out of there before anyone saw!

“Sonar was great, except when I threw up all over Air’s gear…”

So not a total success then…what do you think the future holds for Aeroplane?

Where they are two ways I can go…I can stay in the shadows a bit, and focus on writing and composition, and maybe try to do something like Mark Ronson did with Amy Winehouse. Or I could keep doing albums as Aeroplane, I could sing on them, play live on my own…I am trying to keep the Aeroplane album and the DJing kind of separate. Because what is Aeroplane? It’s slow BPM, melodic music…and when I’m DJing people don’t really want to hear that, I have to up the tempo. So I need these kind of uptempo tracks that still suit the Aeroplane feel, and it’s so hard to find suitable records. I spoke to Erol (Alkan) recently, and he said ‘why don’t you just make your own’, which is a good idea – I will probably make some music just for DJ sets which is slightly different form Aeroplane as you know it. In that respect, I have a couple of concepts ready, but I can’t say too much else just yet.

Anything else we should know about?

Well I really want to keep it going. It’s always said that a band’s first album is their best because they have their whole lifetime to prepare for it, and it’s true, so I have to work even harder on the follow-up. But I’m here now, and I don’t want to lose it. I have something to prove – it’s now or never for me. I can’t wait to start working on new material for the second album. I’m also working on a side project with my girlfriend. I love her voice, it’s a bit broken and it sounds amazing. We have three songs written, I’d say eventually we’ll release an EP. It’s just something I enjoy working on while I’m on planes and trains. With Aeroplane, there is a certain standard, a certain sound that is expected, but with this I can just relax and have fun with what I’m doing.

Interview: Aaron Coultate