Tom Rowlands on superstition, sounding different, the state of dance music
Alexandra Pollard

13:52 30th July 2015

"Don't jinx it! Now you've said that, it's inevitable that it won't be." Tom Rowlands is feeling anxious. Born In The Echoes, Chemical Brothers' eighth album and first in five years, has just been unleashed upon the world, and is currently sitting comfortably at the top of the midweek charts.

When we speak to him over the phone in San Francisco though, and suggest its place at No.1 is all-but guaranteed, his superstition gets the better of him. "I'll be in touch if it all goes completely wrong, OK? I feel terrible to even talk about it."

One suspects Rowlands would never dream of saying so, but Chemical Brothers have not exactly set a precedent for missing the No.1 spot. Every album they've released since 1997's Dig Your Own Hole - aside from a technicality that rendered 2010's Further ineligible - has reached the top spot in the UK. Theirs is a career as consistent as it is eclectic, and Born In The Echoes has no intentions of letting down its predecessors.

"If it does happen," he eventually concedes, placing an inordinate amount of emphasis on the word 'if', "I would be obviously happy... but I also am prepared for it not to be. There's plenty of amazing records that have never been to No.1 and are still amazing, even though they didn't get there." As we conjure up cartoonish images of Rowlands, on the other end of the phone line, pulling anxiously at his collar and sweating profusely, we decide to move on to a less stressful topic.

Somehow though, that plan is derailed when we land upon the subject of reviews. Rowlands, clearly, is not one to avoid reading them - quite the opposite in fact. "It's so weird, the reviews of this record, because they've been really divided - I read one in The Guardian saying it was really good, and I also read one in The Guardian saying it was really... not good. Someone sent it to me, very kindly."

Watch the video for The Chemical Brothers' 'Go' below

Regardless of the reviews though, Born In The Echoes was an enjoyable record to make. "It felt exciting, it felt like we had to make it," he says. "That was the main feeling of it, we had that sort of drive to make it. It wasn't just a case of like, 'Oh what do we do, we've got a contract here that says we have to make another album', it didn't feel like that. For us to make a record, we have to really feel like we've got something that's worth doing. We love all the records we've made, and we wanted to make another record that we can love as much as those records."

And Born In The Echoes is more than worthy of Rowlands' love. Ranging from the pulsing, futuristic funk of 'Go' to the subtle, cinematic odyssey 'Wide Open', it's an album that seems helmed by the supreme confidence of a band who've always danced a few steps to the left of the zeitgeist. "It has a spirit to it," explains Rowlands. "It's got a kind of looseness and a kind of wildness. Our music is always a bit... not exactly what the big sound is - and we like that little space that we've carved out for ourselves really."

"Even when we started, our records didn't sound like the other records that were being played in clubs, and that's what we liked about them. The DJ could still play them in a set made of the 'big tunes of the day', but our records would still sound odd, and would hopefully be the one that people would remember."

Judging by recent quotes, Rowlands' contempt for those "big tunes of the day" has only been amplified in recent years. "At the moment, it feels like a lot of the groove has gone from dance music, like James Brown has been removed," he says in a recent press release. "Everything can sound pumped-up and awesome and strong - it's like an arms race now." When we bring this up with him though, he seems to regrets how negative these quotes sounded.

"I'm not critical of it, I think it's a bit bor..." he stops, and then edits himself. "You know, it's not for me - but if people are going out and having an awesome time listening to it, that's brilliant. It just doesn't do it for me, but I don't mind it, it's music. I remember coming to America and people would say, 'Oh man, electronica is gonna kill the guitar', and it's like, I don't think it really works like... It's not an opposition, it's not a team sport where one kind of music will destroy another kind of music. It will live together and all spins around and you take what you want from it."

Listen to Chemical Brothers feat. St. Vincent 'Under Neon Lights' below

"It's the same with EDM," he continues. "Most of it is one-dimensional, and set on one kind of feeling - triumphalist massiveness - which is good, you know. One moment in your life you probably want maximal triumphalist kind of music, for one moment of your day, but it's just when it's relentlessly everything all night, it's too much for me... But then, if you're 19 and you're going out and you're having a brilliant time with your friends to it, and it's fun and it's great, then like, that's good."

This, aside from his cautious pessimism over the possibility of reaching No.1, is about as negative as Rowlands gets. He's relentlessly positive - about the album, its collaborators (working with St. Vincent, he says, felt like being "in the presence of something... beyond the normal"), about playing live. So much so that it's hard to imagine that the pair considered splitting up a few years ago.

"I don't think it would be as dramatic as splitting up," he assures us, "but it was more like, Don't Think [the band's video album] felt like a good culmination of what we'd been doing for twenty years. But I'm really glad we didn't. This summer already, the idea of not having played that Sunday night slot at Glastonbury, and to not have made this record, would have been mad. We still have that excitement of doing it."

"I'm sure there will come a day," he muses, "when it doesn't feel exciting, or other people don't feel excited by it, and then it'll be quite clear that it's time to... throw it in. But yeah, for now, it still feels like there's a thrill in doing it."

- Born In The Echos by The Chemical Brothers is out now. Win a copy of the album here

Order the album from:
Official Store

Photo: Press