Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip of Neon Neon
interview by Eric Mahollitz
Many of you are probably familiar with Boom Bip, aka Bryan Hollon, either as a producer or a remixer. Many of you are probably familiar with Gruff Rhys, either through Super Furry Animals or his solo work. Some of you may even be familiar with John Delorean, the auto executive responsible for the DMC-12, the car made famous in the Back to the Future series. But nobody could have guessed that these three individuals would converge on a rampant musical joyride going by the name Neon Neon. The resulting album from the collaboration of Hollon and Rhys, the heavily 80’s influenced Stainless Style, grows from Delorean’s exploits — his successes, failures, and sexual liaisons… lots of them. Regarding this intriguing and unusual project, Bryan Hollon graciously and safely spoke to me from his car.
KEXP: It seems like the relationship between you and Gruff Rhys goes further back than most people realize. Can you tell me when and how that relationship got started?
Bryan: Yeah, I met Gruff on the Rings Around the World Tour. The Super Furry Animals had asked me to open up for them on some Canadian and East Coast US dates. So, the first time we met was me going in to sound check in Detroit. I remember not knowing too much about Super Furry Animals at the time other than seeing them in magazines and what not. I was sort of shocked at the size of production they had. They were doing that tour in 5.1 surround sound. As I walked into the room they were testing out the surround sound. I mean, for me at that time, it was the biggest thing I had ever done. So we met there and continued to be friends. The video guys I was touring with along with myself were able to join the band on the tour bus instead of having our own van, which allowed us to get to know each other pretty well.
Looking forward now, is Neon Neon a one-off project or do you and Rhys intend to work together in the future?
Yeah, we have plans to work together in the future. In fact, we’ve discussed how we’re going to approach the next album. I think we have another biographical album up our sleeves at the moment. Whether it will be called Neon Neon or not we don’t know. This was all very themed around the Delorean story with the name of the band and the aesthetic of the band. So I think the idea is to do another biographical record, but it will be completely different with an entirely different sound and inspiration — you know, a whole different era to explore.
To follow up on that, why John Delorean and where did the idea come from?
We don’t know really. It’s all kind of a haze. Well, I guess I had some tracks that were very Italian disco inspired and other more psychedelic disco stuff with really simple structures and kind of dance-y rhythms, and I wanted to have a vocalist on those tracks so I sent ‘em to Gruff to see what he thought of the demos. Gruff loved them and had some ideas for what he wanted to do vocally with those tracks. So when we got together in London to start recording this thing, the Delorean concept was not there yet. It wasn’t until we sat down and were writing and referencing these things from the late ’70s/early ’80s. In Gruff’s words, all creative paths sort of led to John Delorean. We were looking at a book of conceptual cars of the ’80s and we came across the Delorean, and then we started reading about the story of Delorean. Initially Gruff was just going to write one song about the guy and then he came back days later with pages upon pages about the Delorean story. There were just so many stories within the story and Gruff thought it kind of read like a Greek tragedy and that it would be great to base an entire record on this man’s life. And I really couldn’t agree more. Once we got into it, it was really fascinating. So, it was all more influenced by these demos that I had initially done and that sort of put us in an era and a sound.
OK, now I’d like to touch on your broader influences. Due to technology in modern music and the pool of ’80s youth making music right now, there’s a serious reintroduction of that era going on (in music) right now. Do you consider trends like this when you create your music or is everything more of the moment?
It’s hard to say because we’re so surrounded by media. You know, it’s hard to say which comes first. I think everything moves in cycles, and I know for the past five years I’ve been revisiting and have been entertained by a lot of things that were in my childhood — things that are kind of resurfacing, things that you kind of forget about. And I think a lot of kids, a lot of teenagers are fascinated by that era as well — you know early arcade games and the early electro and the style, everything. This is all stuff that, when I was a kid, was going on so it takes you back to a place, and it reminds you of a record so you dig out that one record, which starts influencing you again. So, it’s really hard to say, but it’s definitely due in part to a resurgence of post punk/disco stuff.
What I find amazing is how many people rip on the ’80s for its styles and music, but it is definitely coming back.
You know, it’s hard to generalize an entire era. And part of what’s horrendous is what makes it great. The fact that is was sort of a ridiculous era, and one thing that we focused on, on this record was that idea and obsession with the future that people seemed to have in the ’80s. I mean, a lot of television programs, cars, music, everything was designed and themed around the idea of the future. And I think that might have been in anticipation of the year 2000. There was just this very futuristic theme that got swept through the media at that time. And that served as a huge inspiration for us — we focused on that idea of the future.
In addition to the ’80s tracks on the album, you’ve got the more modern numbers featuring artists like Fatlip, Spankrock and Yo Majesty. What prompted the inclusion of those tracks on the record?
I think it’s important for people to realize that when we were making this record, we didn’t set out to make an ’80s record. We didn’t want it to be an ’80s-themed record. We didn’t want it to just be some throwback piece of work. So, when you listen to the record, it’s sort of looking at 30 years of music for the most part. We start off with a late ’70s nod to the early Italian stuff that we were influenced by and then there’s some big pop stuff that’s referencing mid-’80s stuff and then there’s more modern stuff like the Spankrock track. We wanted it to sound modern, but have all sorts of references to like ’80s synth-pop. So it’s essentially 30 years of music that we drew inspiration from, and we wanted the balance of those grimy hip-hop tracks to act as a palette cleanser for the overly synth-pop stuff we had going on.
Did you guys have to do any digging to come up with the references you make on the record?
We did quite a bit of research on Delorean, and every single song ties into the Delorean theme in some way. So, the Raquel Welch song for example — he was supposedly dating Raquel Welch for a while, and he was obsessed with Raquel before he was dating her. It was kind of like his ultimate trophy. There’s a lyric that goes
Raquel, you fill me with intertia, and Inertia was a film that Raquel was in. So there are a lot of references, and we did a lot of research in that three-week period that we were in London. There’s a lot to be picked up lyrically. You’ll find little things that bring you back to the Delorean story, if people actually cared to do the research. I don’t know why anyone would want to but maybe they will.
I must say it’s been a very informative record for me. Now you guys have a European tour coming up, correct?
Is there any plan to come back through the states in support of this record?
Yes, we’re discussing that now. Ideally, we’d love to be on tour right now, but as life would have it, Gruff is having a child right now. So, for the next couple months, he’s pretty consumed by that. We’re going to be doing European dates, UK festivals and a festival in Japan. I believe we’re doing Australia and then we’re going to make our way back to the states a little bit later this year, but definitely, definitely making it back to the states at some point. And I think we’re planning some singles and some remixes to come out around that time to support the tours.
You’ve had a number of folks remix songs off the Neon Neon record. Was all of that coordinated by you and Gruff?
It’s all friends. We wanted to involve the Hot Chip guys, and a New York DJ, Eli Escobar, just did a remix. Richard X is doing one now. Yeah, it’s all friends and we’re big fans of their music, so it’s a really lazy way of collaborating with someone — to just throw some stems and have them do a remix. But it’s really nice to include these people and to work with them in some capacity.
Well, Bryan, that’s all the questions I have for you. Thank you for your time, and I can’t wait to hear what you and Gruff come up with next.
“I Lust You”