Pnau are almost certainly the most unknown album chart topper of 2012, as Peter Mayes and Nick Littlemore shared the No.1 spot in July with Elton John on their 'Good Morning To The Night' album. The Australian duo have a huge following in their homeland and, as two thirds of Empire Of The Sun, experienced huge international success alongside singer Luke Steele with their 2008 album, Walking On A Dream.
Now working on new material for Empire Of The Sun, Pnau, and planning further Elton John collaborations, we caught up with Peter Mayes in his Los Angeles apartment to discuss the success of Empire, why Pnau's last album 'didn't work', famous neighbours and why Barnes is as cool as living in LA...
So, with the success of 'Good Morning To The Night', are we right in thinking 2012 has been a good year for Pnau?
Yes. It's been really good actually. Especially in the UK. We've been flat out working, but we did a lot of work on the Mika record that's just come out, but the real highlight was the No.1 we had with Elton John, that was amazing. It was an incredible thing. It was just nice to finally have 'something' in the UK, something to hang your hat on I guess. We haven't haven't really had a lot of Pnau success there.
You had a No.1 UK album with Elton John earlier this year but little success with your own stuff. Why do you think we're so resistant to Pnau?
I don't know. It's not so much the British audience, I think our last record, Soft Universe, which wasn't really well received anywhere, even in Australia. It was probably something we felt we wanted to do - but it didn't really work. In the eyes of the public it wasn't really that exciting for them. It was worth a try for us to do, something more melodic with Nick Littlemore singing a lot, trying to do something we hadn't done before. We used the songwriting skills we'd built up over the years, but I guess it wasn't really Pnau in a way. I like a lot of the record, but it seems like too much of a departure from what we'd done before.
Watch Pnau's new single 'Solid Ground' below
Well, we're big fans of the album.
Well, you're the only ones! It was an experiment. It didn't really work but whatever. The Elton one worked, even though it was his music and the sources came from him, it wasn't like we were just doing straight up dance remixes - putting a beat under 'Tiny Dancer' or rapping over a loop - it was a very intricate, in depth process. It took a really long time. It may not sound like it took a long time, but it did. It's like an oil painting. Obviously we wanted to give something back to him - what do you give the guy who has everything? You give him the gift of music and that's all we had to give anyway. It's all we can do.
Are there any other artists you'd like to attempt a similar project with - or was one album of that scale enough for you?
We're actually doing another record with Elton. In fact, we're doing a couple of them but with a different era. We'll always be drawing from the seventies because that was such a good time for his music, but in the early eighties obviously the sound changed an awful lot and he went a lot more electronic. But in terms of other artists I would love to do it with other artists, like Bowie. Without making it sound like a greatest hits remix record, it would have to be with someone who had made a lot of music. That also made it harder with Elton because he had so many songs, but we had a lot to draw from and a lot to absorb.
What plans do you have for the next Pnau project?
Most of this year we've spent doing Elton and Mika, but we've been working on the new Empire Of The Sun record since last November and I am so excited about that right now. We're getting towards the end of that now. It is sounding amazing. It's really big. The last record is such a lot to follow up because it did so well all over the world and I guess our expectations are really high of ourselves, kind of like they were when we did the Elton record. There's a few of us involved in the project, so there's a lot of us to please, all very opinionated. But that's doing really well.
With Pnau, we plan to do a record over the winter, we'll be in Australia playing some gigs so we'll try and do something then. It will sound different again from Soft Universe. It won't be like that, it will be anything goes. On the last record, Nick was very emotional lyrically and it was speaking about a very difficult period for him. But now that he's over all that I think we can do something more fun and more crazy rather than so serious. Make more of a party record. We're not trying to make the anti-Soft Universe, we just won't be so strict with ourselves. With Soft Universe we wanted to write something quite cohesive and connected. It was cool but I think it's better to be more varied on a record. It's one of the things that people do like about us, that we do venture off into weird areas. I could be wrong.
Will the second Empire Of The Sun album pick up where the first left off?
It's a development of Walking On A Dream. It's certainly not forgetting what made the first record great. One of the tricks with Empire is to have a certain sense of timelessness. Not nostalgia for the sake of it, but a certain musicality. Those sort of feelings go beautifully with Nick's voice. It can be really futuristic, it can be anything. It's not just a dubstep record that's going to be cool for three months, it will have life. The last record is still going after being out for five years. It's stood up pretty well and the songwriting on a lot of it is really great - and that's what we've been working on for so long - writing and writing and writing. There's so many great songs, but there's a lot of people to please. So many songs we want on the record but everyone has to be happy and obviously Luke has to be happy, because at the end of the day, Empire is really about him and his voice.
Watch Empire Of The Sun's 'We Are The People' below
Was there any truth in tales of fallings out in the band?
People love talking about that stuff and Empire. I always hear the funniest things. We're just really so focused right now, we have only a few weeks left and we're on tour in Australial and stuff. So no...
Are there any plans for UK dates?
No. I wish there were! I'm surprised that we're not doing something. Actually, our record recently got re-released and it was put out to radio - AGAIN. I don't know how that's going. I was told there was even a single played on Radio... Maybe we'll play something next year when it's not so cold. Oh who am I trying to kid - it's cold in the UK at any time of the year. I lived in London for five years. I lived in West London. It was really cool. We had a studio in Barnes. It's like another world down there.
However cool you found Barnes, surely LA is cooler?
LA is very different. LA is the polar opposite of London. It's never cold. You drive everywhere - you don't catch the tube or walk. It's so different. It's not intensively cultural like London.
Who is your most famous neighbour?
In terms of people I see, do you know that girl from Mad Men? Sally Draper. The young girl. Donald Draper's daughter. I have no idea what her name is. I see her around my neighbourhood all the time. That's only exciting if you watch the show. I'm sure there are millions actually, but my life here is the same as it was in London, I'm in the studio every day for 16 hours and then I go to bed. I'm building a studio downtown in a huge block. It's amazing actually. It's one of the few cities in the world where you can still find a massive warehouse and don't have to pay crazy money. Forget doing that in New York, Sydney or Paris.
Thank you very much, Peter Mayes of Pnau. 'Solid Ground' and album Soft Universe are out now.