Tom Findlay, the normal sized half of Groove Armada, is making a nice cup of tea in his home in London, England. “You have to make it in the teapot, and you have to make sure the pot is hot,” he explains painstakingly. “The way you do that is you swish some boiling water around the pot first, pour it out, then you put the teabag in and pour water over that. Best cup of tea ever.”
Findlay’s exceedingly lengthy other half, Andy Cato, is rummaging around in the fridge in his house to see if he can find anything to eat as he is playing football later and, “could do with some energy. But I can’t see anything apart from fried egg.”
Playing football is Cato’s way of avoiding “complete decay” as well as a way for him to prepare for Groove Armada’s grueling tour schedule of live dates around Europe. “If I could just go into the tour having had a bit of fruit and played a couple of games the week before, that can keep me going for a while,” he says.
Groove Armada have become very proficient in translating their primarily studio-generated music into the live format. Coming from traditional music backgrounds (Cato is an accomplished trombone, keyboard and bass player, Findlay is very handy on the trumpet as well as the keys and bass), the duo’s goal has always been playing live. Starting their live show at the time of their second album, Vertigo, they refined and perfected it for their next album, Goodbye Country, (Hello Nightclub). For their latest full-length, Lovebox (named after their monthly club night), they have it down to an art form.
But it is still from club gigs that Groove Armada glean many influences. It is also in the clubs that they develop the musical direction they go in. On Lovebox, the duo play host to some notable guests such as Neneh Cherry, Richie Havens, Nappy Roots, Sunshine Anderson, Red Rat and MC M.A.D. (the voice on their highly successful single, “Superstylin’”). Partially due to the varied and numerous collaborations and partially due to the speed in which they recorded Lovebox (three months), the album has a compilation feel to it. Individually, the tracks on Lovebox work extremely well. It’s when they’re lined up next to each other that they sound more like a Back To Mine collection, reflecting their makers’ diverse taste rather than any semblance of consistency. Kicking off with the Hendrix-titled but Status Quo sampled “Purple Haze,” the heavy raps shock you into attention. “Madder”’s singular ragga sound propels that number with a genuine blast from the speakers. The gears are switched abruptly to a much lower tone with the spine-tingling, sublime vocal drippings on “Think Twice.” Jerking unceremoniously out of that mood into dirty ragga once again with “The Final Shakedown,” you careen from blue-eyed soul on “Hands Of Time” to Primal Scream-esque guitar-crunching on “Tuning In” to the superclub-geared, hands in the air stormer “Easy,” landing with a thump on the bouncy, ska-driven, horn-blowing “But I Feel Good.” Groove Armada manage to slot funk, rock, an edgy urban vibe, psychedelia and reggae into their monster grooves and low-slung basslines making at odds factors merge together nicely.
“That the whole chill-out sofa thing has long gone,” states Cato. “It’s rocking. The live things are sweaty, there’s a mosh pit, it’s deeper stylistically. You get big peaks and troughs. There were so many ideas we left the last tour with and so much good will and excitement amongst the people that had been playing those gigs that we thought we’ve got to get this excitement down and see where we stand. It was just us two doing our thing. We weren’t doing it in the context of anything else.”
“We wanted to do styles of songs and do them properly,” concurs Findlay. “So you end up with things like old soul and then you’ve got some bumping house and they are poles apart. There are crossovers amongst that. [But] there’s a strength in an album that all sounds the same, you know where you are with it. If there’s a sound to ours it’s raucous and rambling and a bit wild. We’ve been talking about doing two separate albums at the same time. One where we’re going to write and record the whole thing as a band. Another which will be more considered, contemporary and more electronic. That will be Groove and Armada.”
Groove Armada's Lovebox is out January 21, 2003 on Jive Records.