Castles, Shepherds & Rave: Shit Robot Interviewed
, November 11th, 2010 08:19
Ben Hewitt talks to Marcus Lambkin, the alter-ego of Shit Robot, about his debut album Cradle To The Rave, studio nerves and why James Murphy thought he was an idiot
"My family think it's hilarious. My wife's parents are German Counts and Countesses and they're not quite so crazy about it," confides Marcus Lambkin, aka Shit Robot, sipping on a drink in a hotel just off Old Street tube station. He's reflecting on his faecal-matter-crossed-with-android moniker; the same pseudonym under which he released his debut album Cradle To The Rave earlier this year, a brilliantly schizophrenically record that serves as a map marking his own treasured musical obsessions including house, techno, rave and electro and which features contributions from fellow DFA residents such as James Murphy, Juan Maclean and Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor. He pauses momentarily - throughout our forty-minute conversation, Lambkin scarcely draws breath for longer than nanoseconds at a time - before laughingly adding: "But my wife's mum loves the music. She even has her friends over to listen to it - sitting there in a castle with her 80-year-old friends listening to 'Wrong Galaxy'."
For someone who now lives in an ancient Schloss belonging to his wife's ancestors and rubs shoulders with the shepherds of his remote village outside Stuttgart ("They have the crooks and everything," he insists), Lambkin's history is fittingly haphazard. There are certain plotting points along the way; markers which take you from A to B, perhaps, but without ever fully explaining the terrain in between. He grew up in Ireland, which is where he first started to discover the music that would form the kernel of Cradle To The Rave, but didn't start to DJ until he applied for a Green Card advertisement he saw in a newspaper, quit his cabinet making apprenticeship and moved to New York at the age of 21. Some years later, after blagging sets in clubs and bars in East Village, he met James Murphy through a mutual friend and the two hit it off by playing each other their favourite records; fast-forward another indistinct period of time, and he'd be in the studio with the LCD Soundsystem frontman working on his debut album, before moving to Germany to apply the finishing touches.
"He was this strictly rock dude, and I was this strictly rave guy," recalls Lambkin of his and Murphy's first meeting. "He thought we [Lambkin and his friend, who ran a record label in the same building as Murphy's studio] were fucking idiots. Our friend was saying 'I'm putting a studio in the basement, you guys can use it.' And I was saying 'Does this guy [Murphy] know how to use a sampler?' We were totally sceptical, and he was the same as us.
"But then me and James sort of hit it off, and we started hanging out and talking about music. I was playing him some of my favourite records and he was like, 'Well, this is actually really good. He'd never heard a lot of that music before. Dance music to him was C & C Music Factory and MTV, and he fucking hated it. But what I was playing he hadn't heard before, so he kind of got into it. And I was going to his place and playing my favourite records - 'Ah, check this out, this is the best' - and then he was playing me the records that they sampled… he was breaking my heart every day. All my heroes who I thought were making these great songs were just ripping off all these other records."
Murphy, it's clear, was a big influence on Cradle To The Rave - a near-constant presence in the studio who even managed to cajole a vocal out of Lambkin, initially reluctant to sing, on opening track 'Tuff Enuff', which was written when he was living in constant fear that his wife was about to give birth in Germany while he was in the studio. Despite having worked in the same building which housed the DFA studio, he never had the inclination to make a record. "I always regret that years ago, when I started hanging out with James and DFA, I was very much into my Djing," he says. "And there was this the studio - this big, huge room full of knobs and buttons and switches - and I was like, 'Ah, fuck it, there's no way I'm ever going to learn how to use all that. Forget it. I don't even want to try'. James pushed me to learn how to do it."
Yet for all the talk of Murphy, there's an argument that Cradle To The Rave is as every bit a vital release as LCD's 'swansong' This Is Happening. In fact, leaving half-statements aside, there's an argument that Cradle To The Rave sounds more vital than This Is Happening. There's something fresher about it; it seems more vibrant, more lively. More fun, perhaps, but without ever veering off into the smug exercise of self-satisfaction that it could have been. What easily could have become a DFA karaoke album never feels anything less than coherent, despite the myriad of styles it draws upon. After all, even if Cradle To The Rave took just over three years to record, it's been suggested that it's an album over 20 years in the making: an autobiography of Lambkin's musical past.
"Well, that's what the press and the reviews have been saying," agrees Lambkin. " '20 years in the making'. It actually took three or four years to make, but I never really sat down to make an album. It was more like, 'I think I have enough tracks to make an album now'. But it's definitely an amalgamation of all the stuff I've been listening to for 20 years. I first started going to raves in the late 80s, and that stuff is what's stuck with me to today, and that's where the main influences of the record are all from."
How did you find the actual writing and recording process?
"I found it very difficult at first. I'm not a natural musician; I can't play anything very well, so I found it really difficult to get stuff done. It doesn't come that naturally to me. It takes me a long tome to finish a track. I can get it started pretty quickly, but the finishing touches take me quite a while. I did struggle with it for quite a bit, and still do to this day."
And how about the singing process? Did you enjoy that?
He laughs. "It's awful. Terrifying. I wouldn't do it… it's only because I trust James totally, so I know he wouldn't make me do it if it sounded bad. And it's more of a talky song on 'Tuff Enuff'; if you listen to it carefully there's notes underneath it with the lyrics. There's notes on the keyboard so I had something to sing along to. He kicked everyone out of the studio - even James doesn't let anyone else in the studio when he's singing."
At one point, you'd have been forgiven for thinking that Lambkin shared Murphy's reluctance to embrace the spotlight, whether it was by recording under a pseudonym or releasing early faceless pictures with his head obscured by a large green and white box. He insists, though, that neither decision was motivated by a desire to avoid fame. "The name DJ Marcus Lambkin - I sound like some lame fucking German techno guy," he says. "I'm stoked that anyone gives a shit so I'm happy to do any interviews and photo shoots because I really appreciate that anyone gives a rats ass." So flipping that premise on its head: did he ever worry that recording an album with such varied and vaunted collaborators would overshadow him?
"I wasn't worried about it overshadowing me, but I was worried about it looking like one of those cheesy fucking guest star albums," he says. "I was very nervous of that - not about me taking all the glory. They make the songs as great as they are. It's not about 'it has to be a Shit Robot song'; it was more about wanting the album to be a cohesive thing and not a load of guest spots and different singles. It gives a weird impression of things, you know?"
It's going to be a busy end to 2010 for Shit Robot. Cradle To The Rave is picking up steam, and new single 'Take Em Up' featuring Nancy Whang on December 6. He's in the midst of a tour with LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip, too, which started last night with the first of two shows at London's Alexandra Palace. And then after that, Lambkin will go back to splitting his time between working in his studio, travelling the globe and then returning to the Schloss and hanging out with the shepherds. "He [one of the shepherds] slaughtered some sheep and we bought two full legs of lamb off him literally two weeks ago," he recalls, laughing, as we get up to leave. "And we said, 'Whenever you're doing this, let us now and we'll buy from you'… Much better than buying it from fucking Tesco."
Shit Robot's debut album Cradle To The Rave is out now, while the single 'Take Em Up' is released on December 6. Shit Robot will also play the following live dates with LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip.
November 11 Alexandra Palace, London
November 12 Cardiff Arena, Cardiff
November 13 Magna Arena, Sheffield
November 15 Apollo, Manchester