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Rob Swire & Gareth McGrillen On the Return And Lasting Legacy Of Pendulum

Jack Rogers
Jack Rogers 28 September 2020 at 15.31

"You know what Pendulum sounds like? It sounds exactly like whatever we get out of bed and decide we want to do’."

In case you somehow missed it, Pendulum are well and truly back. 

With the release of their first new music in ten years, in the form of the inspiring 'Nothing For Free' and brilliantly frenzied' Driver', the band have kicked off a new era in some style. But how exactly did we get here?

We jumped on the phone with Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen to chat about their return, what their time in the EDM scene with Knife Party taught them and how exactly they went about bringing Pendulum crashing into 2020...

First off, how did you first set about returning to playing music as Pendulum?
Gareth: “Basically we were coerced into coming back. We had always wanted to come back but the thing was that the right situation hadn’t really popped up and we were deep into Knife Party. We just did have chance to properly consider it. Then it was Adam [Russakoff] from Ultra, the big cheese that runs the Ultra Music Festivals, who approached us. We were sitting backstage at one of his shows in Mexico, doing some prep and waiting to go onstage, and the door burst open and he came in, closed the door, locked it and said, ‘Right motherfuckers, what do I need to do for you to bring Pendulum back?’”

Rob: “I didn’t really want to do it because we were obviously touring with Knife Party. Doing that is quite easy and it’s also less fucking expensive. No freights, no guitar cases, no nothing. I don’t know what guitarists have in their cases but they weigh a fucking tonne. It was also going to be this whole process where we hadn’t played in years either. When we played with Pendulum, technologically it was fucking hard. We had 15 computers and all these machines on stage doing fuck knows what and they would crash all the time.

“So Adam was saying all of this stuff, trying to get us to bring Pendulum back to play in Miami. So I said that I wanted to headline the festival, on the main stage, with Pendulum and Knife Party back to back and a helicopter and all this stuff. I just kept on listing all this stuff. ‘And a jade egg’ kind of thing. And he said, ‘Done’. I didn’t expect him to say yes so quickly though. So from there we had to made it happen.”

Gareth: “Then when we started looking into it, thank fuck technology had moved forwards since the last time we did it. It’s still difficult but it’s an awful lot easier than it was.”

How did you then go about approaching making new music? What was the thought process like for that?
Rob: “I think we twisted ourselves in knots a little bit initially. We have been gone for ten years, so what the fuck does that sound like now? First of all, what does Pendulum actually sound like, because we can’t remember? And we’re ten years older and drum and bass has always been a little bit of a love/hate thing for us. Pendulum is from that scene and we still listen to some of that stuff, but after three or four tracks even we are like, ‘Oh god, shut up’. It all boiled down to actually figuring out what it sounds like and then completely ignoring that and doing whatever the fuck we actually wanted. At some point I just thought, ‘You know what Pendulum sounds like? It sounds exactly like whatever we get out of bed and decide we want to do’. If we do that, it will sound like Pendulum. And luckily it did.”

How did you time being out there in the world with Knife Party affect this when it came to putting together new music then? What did being in that world teach you?
Rob: “The house music and the dance music is a lot more chilled than the drum and bass scene, I’ll tell you that. Everyone is just really pleasant. There’s no scene beef or aggro or anything. Everyone is just so nice to each other, even if you’re competing with them. It was a really nice change of pace. None of that was really much of an issue when we were getting to the end of Pendulum because we were playing more of the rock line-ups but it was much nicer.”

On the subject of ten years ago, what do you remember about that jump from the drum and bass scene into the rock scene? What was it like from your end?
Rob: “[As I said] there was this whole love and hate thing with drum and bass for us at the time. Around [Debut album] ‘Hold Your Colour’, Pendulum was a darling of the drum and bass scene as this brand new thing. But we just said, Fuck off, we’re going to go and do this thing’. Typically drum and bass vocals were more like soul and RnB and diva style. We were saying, ‘Nah fuck that. We like Tool and Muse and want to do something like that’. Then drum and bass fans were like, ‘How the fuck is Andy C supposed to play that?’”

Gareth: “And we said, ‘He won’t. We will and we will play it live.’”

And what was it like when the rock world actually started accepting you?
Rob: “It was a little bit unreal because we didn’t expect it to work and we expected a little bit more backlash. I think we were always pretty negative so when it did work it was like, ‘Holy fuck!’ Because we were actually listening to rock and indie at the time rather than drum and bass, to be accepted by that world was really special.”

Gareth: “There was a feeling of ‘These are our people’ more and more as time went on. It was less about pills and more about Jägerbombs.”

Rob: “This could have gone either way. We could have done what we want and try and appeal to that scene and it didn’t work and they didn’t care and then the drum and bass scene was against us as well and then we would have been going back to Perth because nobody cared. It was very cool when that didn’t happen.”

Gareth: “I really wasn’t expecting the metal and rock scenes to be so accepting. In my head and after our experiences in the metal band we were in whilst in Australia we figured it would have been quite the insular scene. It really wasn’t. It was anything and everything.”

And did you expect the reaction this time around to be what it was?
Gareth: “Nope.”

Rob: “There seems to be a theme with me and Gareth that when we’re in the studio that the more negative we are about something, the better it does. With ‘Hold Your Colour’, and at the time DJ vinyl was still selling pretty well and a good release was about 200,000, I said, ‘If we come out with this album and it sells 2000 copies and no-one cares then I’m just going back to Australia’. It was the same case working on these tracks. I was saying ‘Ten years down and we bring this back and no-one cares, then what's next?’”

Gareth: “There was some backlash that we got with the remix we did as well. So tentatively the only other Pendulum release that had come out was a last minute remix of a Pendulum song ['Blood Sugar'] that Knife Party did, which obviously sound convoluted, but there was some stinking hate that came from that. So that stuck with us as well a bit. We could never have really predicted how incredibly thew reaction to this shit would have been.”

Has seeing the effect changed your feelings towards coming back to it at all?
Rob: “Yeah definitely. It’s such a weird one because at the core of things you either don’t or you don’t want to give a fuck what people think about something. If you don’t, then be happy with an audience of three sitting in your basement all your life. That’s obviously not enough. At some point you have to care what people think and it’s been really good to have reinforcement.”

Gareth: “It’s all about walking the tightrope between giving a fuck and not giving a fuck. It’s all about that balance.”

It’s something that the dance world had down, in that you could release a song, gauge the reaction and then move onto something else depending on how people felt about it. The rock world is only just coming round to that way of thinking after being so album driven for so many years….
Gareth: “And that’s another lesson we learned from Knife Party. To maintain a connection with any sort of music scene, we realised a long time ago that you can’t just drop 14 tracks and have all of those tracks get equal attention. Dropping them in sparser numbers means that more tracks get more of that attention. With a full-length album, maybe two tracks will get big and maybe ‘Nothing For Free’ and ‘Driver’ would have been those two if we had done it that way round now, with the rest being buried in the ether.”

Rob: “We also typically agonise over every track and every detail when it comes to albums. We didn’t ever want fillers or tracks where people said, ‘They’ve put fucking zero effort into that’. Even the last track or second to last track on our albums we would be agonising over. The benefit of this is that doesn’t exist and it’s over a longer timeframe, so it’s less stress for us and if it works better on Spotify then everybody wins.”

So what sort of message did you want Pendulum to be delivering with these new songs?
Rob: “I don’t know if there’s just the one message really. It’s always been this aura. We don’t know what it is exactly, but when we hear it we know what it is. It’s difficult to explain really.”

And now that you’ve taken these first few steps, what does the path before you look like now? Have you got a plan in mind?
Rob: “In terms of touring, we’re just playing it by ear and we’re weighing up all of our options. In terms of music, we’re going to keep on doing this two-track EP thing for a while and then bundling that into an album hopefully. That way, you get the best of both worlds really. You’ve got to make sure that each EP has enough impact on its own so when you bundle it together it doesn’t sound weird. But we will see.”

Pendulum will be releasing a special livestream, direct from Spitbank Fort, this Friday at 12pm BST on the band's YouTube channel. 

Check out the trailer below:

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