the backbeat new artist profile: SP 96
sneaker pimps' American Soft Shoe by klare kleineder, 96
interview, Jjuly '96
Sneaker Pimps Rise And Fall In L.A. Debut, February 03, 1997
Hits Magazine: pimps up the volume by bruce britt, march '97
sneaker pimps too busy to breathe by richard john, april '97
Toronto Sun: pimping for electro by kieran grant, april '97
NME: Roger Morton interviews the Sneaker Pimps in DAYTON CONFUSED! 16-August-1997
Sneaker Pimps' Singer Gets Moody On Hit Aug 97
Q-Magazine: spawn - the album sept '97
March 03, 1998
"Trip hop is just the 90s version of goth"
And now... 3-sep-'99
Everything but the girl (Campus Circle Interview) feb-'02
Influences: Massive Attack, Portishead, Shirley Bassey and the B-52s
Origin of Name: Supposedly the nickname given to the guy the Beastie Boys hired to hunt down vintage sneakers
The Story So Far: Howe and Corner grew up together and were in a series of unsuccessful bands in the early 1990s. After seeing Dayton singing in a pub, they convinced her to join them and formed the Sneaker Pimps. Their first single, "Tesko Suicide," is an elliptical trip-hop number that has something to do with advocating the sale of suicide kits in a well-known UK grocery-store chain. Follow-up singles were remixed by Nellee Hooper of Soul II Soul. Their debut album, Becoming X, was released in the UK in August 1996 and was chosen as one of the best records of the year by Q magazine.
Analysis: The Pimps create haunting, smoky movie soundtrack music not unlike their influences, Portishead. The difference is this band's strange sense of humor and their tendency to occasionally drop all the stony-faced seriousness and travel off into the land of B-52s silliness. While they've easily gotten lost in the here today, gone tomorrow world of the British music scene, they may be able to make a much more lasting impression in the U.S. with the help of the newly reformatted and electronic pop-friendly MTV. If this is the year of electronica in America, then the highly accessible Pimps will help soften up the audience for the tougher stuff to come (see Atari Teenage Riot and Spring Heel Jack).
What's Next: Virgin Records will release Becoming X in the U.S. on Feb. 25. The Pimps also will tour the U.S. in the late spring.(back to top)
If it's all about timing, then the British
trio the Sneaker Pimps'll be huge.
Their first US tour came at a time when
Americans are ready to embrace new sounds.
Well, it's not just about timing.
Luckily, the Pimps have talent, too.
Trip-hop and ambient dance music has finally hit America's shores an entire year after the genre made a name for itself in the UK. Following in the footsteps of mellow-groovers Tricky and Massive Attack, the Sneaker Pimps are geared up and ready to make some waves here in the US.
It's a beautiful sunny afternoon in San Francisco, and the Pimps' (an affectionate abbreviation used by their fans) singer Kelli Dayton is basking in the warmth of the poolside rays at the infamous rock-star haunt, the Phoenix Hotel. Although her voice is a bit hoarse from the previous night's gig, Dayton is in good spirits. The tour the band is currently doing is their first stint in the States, and so far it has been an incredible success.
"It's been great. We really couldn't believe it," says the Tinkerbell-sized Dayton. "So many British bands that have come here have been turned away, but it seems that people are really happy that we're here. It really is unbelievable."
The Sneaker Pimps have come at just the right time. Sick of the generic pop styles that dominate the charts, Americans seem to be opening up to different genres, as is evident from the growing popularity of techno and ambient music.
"I think it's the time for this kind of music to happen in America," says Dayton. "Although I'm the first person to dive into the mosh pit for Sonic Youth, I think [people] have progressed into the appreciation of actual music and they're being a bit calmer about the whole thing and taking it easy."
Dayton and her cohorts, keyboardist Liam Howe and guitarist Chris Corner, have perfected the art of "taking things easy" with their debut album, Becoming X (Virgin Records). Co-produced by Flood (U2, Depeche Mode, PJ Harvey), the record is a mix of dream-like melodies and slow rhythms. Although a lot of similar trip-hop music has been labeled as "repetitive," Dayton's honey-glazed vocals give the tracks an uplift. "6 Underground," the first single, blends a surreal electronic melody with Dayton's strong vocals. "Low Place Like Home" stays very much in the trip-hop realm with synths and a steady drum beat, while "Post-Modern Sleeze" explores the straight-up blues guitar aspect of the band. The Pimps' heavy emphasis on clean piano chords also distinguishes their sound from many of their peers.
The bandmembers' varied musical tastes come through in the music. While Dayton cites The Cramps, Sonic Youth and the Pixies as influences, Corner and Howe would rather listen to artists such as Nick Drake, Scott Walker, Afrika Bambaata and Shirley Bassey. While their musical likes and dislikes is the topic of many arguments, they all agree it is the main source of inspiration behind the Sneaker Pimps' sound.
"We're always sort of fighting, so we come up with good results," says Corner.
So it doesn't come as a surprise that the Sneaker Pimps came together because each felt the need to "help each other improve," according to Howe. Back in the early '90s, Howe and Corner played together as F.R.I.S.K., pushing their musical concoctions on unsuspecting club-goers in London. F.R.I.S.K. eventually manifested into Line Of Flight, another DJ outfit that saw the release of one EP in September of 1993. Frustrated with the incognito lifestyle of being DJs, the two decided to embark on a different kind of project.
"We had started off in an almost hobby mentality because we didn't have any pretensions to become rock stars, and I suppose at some point we changed our minds," says Howe. "We thought, 'Enough of this anonymous dance music stuff! Let's make a band.' We wanted the longevity and poignancy of songwriting."
Dayton was busy gigging around London singing with her band, Lumieres. Howe and Corner happened to see one of her gigs, and after Dayton expressed admiration for their band, the three formed the Pimps. Shortly after, the trio were signed and in the studio laying down tracks for the debut.
According to Corner, the songwriting process remains "traditional" even for a band like theirs. The two start off with basic guitar chords and go from there. But the road from the bare-bones track to the finished product is an extremely complicated journey.
"We do things in quite a collaborative sense and the excitement of doing it is that everyone, by nature of being different, is pulling things in different directions," says Howe. "The excitement is getting a hybrid which is functional, or actually makes sense, even though it contains contradictions within it. With your average rock bands, it's like, 'Oh, let's write a ballad' or 'Let's write a song about poverty or something.' It seems like a very simple, one-dimensional affair. But we make it our business to be non-single faceted, to the point of confusion or irritation."
Confusion and irritation, according to Howe, is also influential to the lyrics.
"Bitterness is a main influence. It's like making a film or writing a book... most of it is social commentary. You have to be sufficiently motivated or upset with the world in order to want to make something about it. Discontent, anger or jealousy... there are a lot of emotions that promote that kind of social critique."
Trip-hop has been criticized for being "too dark" and "boring." Even though the UK initially embraced the genre, the term 'trip-hop' has become a dirty word, according to Howe. Although the band brush off the criticism, Dayton finds it a bit frustrating.
"If people think that it's boring, then that's their opinion. As long as they don't say 'that kind' of music when they talk about it. There is no 'kind' of record. That's when we stop listening... when people say things like, 'Well, I'm not into that kind of music so I won't listen to that band.'"
The feeling at tonight's gig at Bimbo's in San Francisco is not at all doom and gloom. The place is packed, and the atmosphere is the perfect setting for the Sneaker Pimps. The tables are glowing with the soft light of candles and the iridescent chandeliers reflect the maroon colors of the plush carpet below. The Pimps take the stage, and immediately the crowd quiet down and pay close attention. Dayton, wearing a short black wig and striking eye makeup, croons to the audience as she seductively slithers around the stage. The low thuds of the bass and eerie sounds of the keyboards seep out of the speakers that hang down from the ceiling, creating the quintessential Sneaker Pimps experience.
"People really seemed curious about us," says Dayton, elated over the success of the gig. "Everything just came together...that's when you get a really special gig, I think. Everyone is really excited." (back to top)
interview - July 1996
Weird beats, sultry vocals, and collision influences - Sneaker Pimps are all this and more.
Less than a year old but already tipped as a band to look out for in '96 the 'Pimps' formed from
the ashes of various campfires; firstly Line Of Flight (formerly known as F.R.I.S.K.) an experimental dance outfit steered by 'monkey hangers' Chris Corner and Liam Howe, and thriving on a shared love for Shirley Bassey, Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaata, then there's The Lumieres a Brummy punk band weaned on a diet of The Pixies, The Cramps, Sonic Youth and P.J. Harvey and featuring the extraordinary vocals and songwriting talents of Kelli Dayton.
Dave and Joe complete the line-up and the diverse influences to provide live drums and bass. Their debut single 'Tesko Suicide' successfully fused indie and jungle and brought acclaim from all sides, their follow-up 'Roll On' - the musical equivalent of a slow sweaty shag - is even better, providing a suitable taster for the release of the debut album 'Becoming X', out in August. Their recent date at the Middlesbrough Arena provided the ideal opportunity to corner Kelli for a quickie . . . I wish.
The Press usually pick up on certain aspects of a band, so what's
been said about you?
The press have been really nice to us, which is a bit dubious, but we've been called 'tortured', and 'too clever' (which I can't understand) :-), and 'very intelligent musically'.
So how did the recording deal come about?
Chris and Liam were already signed to Clean Up, which is an offshoot of One Little Indian, doing experimental dance music, and decided they wanted to start making more formula song, but they needed a singer. They'd been looking round for ages and by chance they were in Birmingham when I was playing with my band, and asked me if I was interested. My band weren't really doing anything so I was basically poached, and they were on the label anyway, but they started taking alot more interest when we started doing Sneaker Pimps.
Where does the name come from?
It's from a Beastie Boys interview. They very cleverly have all their friends on the payroll, and this one friend in particular couldn't do anything, so they'd make him go out and get all their
second hand trainers for them - so they called him the sneaker pimp. We liked that idea.
What makes you different from other bands around at the moment?
I think because we come from so many different musical backgrounds; from dance music, to hardcore and punk. So we all clashed and combined and thought we'd try something different.
What can we expect from the album 'Becoming X'?
It's a really mood inspiring debut, and so potent musically, and so full of different influences - it's just something special.
The music is quite slow, which must make you the centre of
attention - what's it like?
It's nice, but weird, especially in Europe. When we played there they just didn't know what the f**k was happening - I think they thought the singer from the real band had gone missing, and they just dragged me out the audience.
What sticks in your mind from playing Europe?
We were in Toulouse at this massive festival, and we were in this tent playing to 2,000 people when in the middle of the set they all started shouting out 'punk rock, punk rock' - and we were like wow, brilliant!
What will you be doing upto the release of the album?
Lots of things really. Playing live is the most important thing - I think once people see us live then they'll get the gist, but we don't concern ourselves with the selling.
What about promotional videos?
We've only done one video so far for 'Tesko Suicide', which was quite funny and basically involved freezing in Hartlepool - I'd seen nothing like it; snow, gales and us freezing on the beach. So I think we might be re-making that one because we all looked really terrible.
Sneaker Pimps Rise And Fall In L.A. Debut
Acclaimed U.K. Trip-Pop Band Shows Strengths And Weaknesses
from AllStar Magazine,February 03, 1997
It's often a little awkward for both band and audience when one of the U.K.'s most celebrated Next Big Things hits U.S. shores for a let's- see- what- they've- got type of gig. Such was the case with the Sneaker Pimps at L.A.'s Luna Park Saturday night (Feb. 1): like a first date, both parties wanted to like each other more than they expressed effectively-- for the band's part, their surface level of confidence belied an underlying uneasiness.
The Sneaker Pimps, whose debut album Becoming X will be released domestically on Virgin Records Feb. 25, have already received generous airplay on forward- thinking stations in the states with such potential hits as "6 Underground" and "Tesko Suicide": many believe the band's combination of trip- hop Massive Attack- style beats, moog samples and seductive hooks delivered by charismatic singer Kelli Dayton will hit this country as hard as it has England.
Although the band plowed through most of Becoming X's songs with a measured degree of aplomb and authority, the live setting exposed both Dayton's strengths and weaknesses: yes, she's cute and sultry; no, her voice is not strong enough to cut through the louder, aggressive choruses. The latter proved painfully obvious on what should have been a glorious performance of "Tesko Suicide"-- her thin, reedy voice carried little of the recorded version's dark assertiveness. Plus, after a while her favorite stage move became tiresome: on instrumental sections, she turned her back, swung her hips seductively, held up her arms, then hugged herself like an imaginary lover-- a little too much.
Such emphasis on showmanship over soul does not portend well for long- term success. Yes, the seasoning will come, but for the band to fulfill the promise of both their debut album and their hype they'll need to reveal more honest qualities-- as with any relationship that lasts past a first date.
- John Bitzer
PIMPS UP THE VOLUME
HITS magazine, March 10, 1997
by Bruce Britt
Time to trip through the jungle with Sneaker Pimps' Liam Howe and Kelli Dayton
The latest in what appears to be an inexhaustible supply of innovative alternative dance acts, Sneaker Pimps seem destined to take their place among Virgin Records' crowded staple of pioneering bands. The label that championed seminal techno/club acts like Human League, Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark, Soul II Soul and Massive Attack is now throwing its considerable promotional weight behind Sneaker Pimps, a British group whose creepy electronica recalls their Virgin predecessors, not to mention Tricky and the rest of the burgroning London club music scene.
The irony of this situation is not lost on Sneaker Pimps' three principal members. Eager and willing to uphold the Virgin tradition, the band admits they want to broaden techno music's horizons. If effusive critical response is any indication, Sneaker Pimps have accomplished their goal. The band's debut album, "Becoming X," combines eerie B-movie melodies with mesmerizing trip-hop rhythms. Liam Howe's horrowshow keyboards and Chris Corner's mad scientist guitars contrast perfectly with Kelli Dayton's cooing, come-hither vocals.
As if to underscore their devotion to these forebears, Sneaker Pimps recruited Soul II Soul co-conspirator Nellee Hooper to remix their "6 Underground." But will Sneaker Pimps surface and fade just as quickly as their dance-pop heroes? To get answers to these and other vexing questions, HITS' own two-left footed Bruce "Hail" Britt "Ania" recently visited Virgin Records' Beverly Hills offices to chat up Howe and Dayton.
THERE'S DEFINITELY A SEEDY SEXUALITY TO YOUR MUSIC.
LIAM HOWE: I'm actually glad you said that. Yes, it's quite macabre, sexy and even dirty in places, which has nothing to do with me. It's purposefully conecting to the darker side of sexuality and the difficulties of modern sexuality - the whole fear of sex in the '90s. Music needs to have raw sexuality.
THERE'S ALSO A SORT OF CREEPY ELEMENT.
HOWE: We've done a few mixes using real deep, John Carpenter-like string sounds, with the dramatic cellos grinding away in the background. The whole comedy/horror thing is appealing to me.
I like to think the album has a B-movie feel. The last tune on the albim, "How Do," is a cover tune from an old 1973 British horror film called "The Wicker Man." The song actually features a sample from the film with Britt Ekland. We had to ring her up to get permission to use her voice. I've actually got the piece of paper she signed giving us permission to use it.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE "BECOMING X"?
HOWE: We've been going for a year-and-a-half now and I haven't come up with a satisfactory definition. That should be one of the first things you think about when you start a band - what kind of music are we making? In a funny way it demonstrates how we actually survive as musicians. Our music relies totally upon antagonistic definiions. We're influenced by punk and folk. Now most people would say those two forms are fifty feet away from each other categorically, and we see no harm in throwing together diverse influences into one song. The problem with doing that is, when you attempt to define the music, you get into big trouble. You end up naming all the different departments in the records shop.
Hopefully, if everything goes as planned, we'll be defined posthumously. We're kind of living in a definition-obsessed culture and if we wait and see, maybe some decent terms will come out for this kind of music.
KELLI, COMING FROM A ROCK BACKGROUND, WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL IMPRESSION OF SNEAKER PIMPS?
KELLI DAYTON: I had never worked with samples and computers before. I'd always liked the live side of things. I had a fixed image of what computers were like. At first, I thought, this is too tame, too mellow for me. But Liam and Chris took it a bit further. They were writing really great songs. They weren't just making up faceless melodies. I started thinking what I would do with a sampler. Once I started thinking that way, all these possibilities came floating in. So at first I felt fear, followed by this confusion, which mutated into excitement.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE COMPARISIONS TO TRICKY?
DAYTON: We've been compared with so many people, so I guess it's the way people sort of relate. That's the way the wold is. What people say doesn't affect me. What we do is make music, and what other people think is kind of superficial.
HOWE: To be honest, we do have a certain shared heritage. I can't deny that [Massive Attack's] "Blue Lines" is one of my favorite albums, a huge influence. The Portishead album was a huge influence as well. So we've certainly paid our dues to those influences, but we've also made a distinct effort to be a pop group, where the others still tend to be more introspective, deprecating material.
Tricky captures that self-pity and absolute despair that comes with living in a modern world. But we steer in a different way. We look at despair in an almost cynical, comical way. We acknowledge that we come from the British Massive Attack/Tricky school, but at the same time we're just as excited about Sonic Youth and alternative pop.
WHAT DID YOU AND CHRIS LIKE ABOUT KELLI"S VOICE?
HOWE: Kelli's vey graphic when it comes to interpreting the lyrics. She's fantastic at making up her own images for the songs. She tends to interpret everything in this really strong sexual fashion.
DAYTON: When I sing, I've got a lot of visual imagery going on. It all intermingles with my voice. Since I started working with Sneaker Pimps I think a lot more about the way I sing, because a lot of times it's someone else's words. Being in this band gives mme the chance to sing seriously, I'm not expressing inner feelings.
IF TRIP-HOP BANDS LIKE YOURSELVES ARE TO SUCCEED THEY'LL NEED TO BE DRIVEN BY STRONG IMAGE AND PERSONALITIES.
HOWE: That's one of the reasons we stopped playing dance music - it became increasing irritating being anonymous and faceless. We wanted to be in a pop band with a profile, to be on the cover of magazines, and all those childish things everyone dreams of. To be honest, that was one of our motivations.
If people can link a product to an image, then the music becomes stronger. In this post-modern era, it does come down to clothes and haircuts, and to ignore that is being foolish and naive. It's all part of the gambit in pop music to be visual.
Sneaker Pimps too busy to breathe
Thursday, April 24, 1997
By RICHARD JOHN
Jam! Showbiz! Watch out for an explosion of Sneaker Pimp activity in the near future.
Currently making the rounds promoting their debut album, "Becoming X", guitarist Chris Corner admits that the future's so bright, they've got to turn down requests.
"Kelli (Dayton, the band's vocalist) is doing a couple of tracks with Bryan Ferry," he says. "We were asked to do some drum programming or something like that - which we turned down - we don't have time to do our stuff."
The band - named from a term coined by the Beastie Boys to describe an individual they hire to seek out vintage running shows - are so busy, they've barely got time to breathe. "I need a vacation", offers Corner early into the telephone interview.
Corner and fellow Pimp Liam Howe, also known as the production crew Line of Flight, are equally inundated with activity. Work in the pipe line includes a collaboration with Neneh Cherry, "something for the new Star Wars film....", and maybe even a Bjork remix.
"It's a little hush hush ... it may not even happen," Corner explains. "I think they're going to give us some parts and we'll just mess around with them and try to produce something interesting."
The Pimps are currently touring North America in support of "Becoming X", and will be coming to Canada late April. It will be Corner's first visit to our home and native land.
"I hear it's very big," he says. "I'm looking forward to it, more so, I think than a lot of places in America. We've been to a few places here that we really haven't enjoyed. Kelli's boyfriend is Canadian, so she's really excited, she can't wait."
They're also riding high in the charts both home and abroad. And looking for their own Sneaker Pimp - "there's still a vacancy for that, so if anyone wants a job, start applying." The band also appeared on THE soundtrack of the year, "The Saint".
"It's brilliant ... we're really excited about (the soundtrack)," Corner says. "We couldn't quite see why they wanted to use that particular track (6 Underground) and how it fit into the script or whatever, but the exposure was brilliant, slap bang in the middle of the film, it's love scene... we got the longest play in it. We played at the premiere in LA. The album's a lot better than the actual film."
With so much on their plate, Corner admits that the second Pimp record is on the backburner until the end of the year. "Doing our own stuff is not in the near future. Touring takes up so much time. Hopefully by the end of the year, we'll get to work on the second album." The album "Becoming X" and singles Spin Spin Sugar, 6 Underground and Tesko Suicide are all available on Clean Up/Virgin Records.
Pimping for Electro
Tuesday, April 29, 1997
By KIERAN GRANT, Toronto Sun
The Sneaker Pimps are just part of the procession of British bands carrying electronic beats to North America. The trip-hop-pop trio are experienced at winning over nonbelievers. The group's founders, keyboardist Liam Howe and guitarist Chris Corner, even had to convert
singer Kelli Dayton to "electronica" before embarking on their mission.
"I wasn't very thrilled about working with samplers when I joined up with them," a cheerful Dayton admits recently from a tour-stop in Hoboken, N.J. Sneaker Pimps play a free show at the Horseshoe tonight along with Junior Relaxer -- a.k.a. King Cobb Steelie -- and The Album Review Shannon Lyon Pop Explosion.
"I came from a kind of punk and indie rock background and I didn't know very much about electronic music," Dayton adds. "But Chris is a very good guitarist and Liam can play piano. That broke down a lot of barriers that I'd put up myself, really. Now we've all sort of overlapped in our tastes."
It's come in handy for the Sneaker Pimps' current North American tour.
"America's idea of electro and dance is so very different from the English hold on it," says Dayton.
"It's quite refreshing to be in America as electro stuff starts to catch on, but at the same time, we see
ourselves as a permanent thing made up of many elements and we know that when the fuss dies down a bit we won't just be making retro music."
According to Dayton, her first collaboration with Howe and Corner two years ago was meant to be a one-off experiment. "We weren't even a band as such," the 22-year-old singer says. "We just met each other through other bands and decided to work together. It was very, very easy. I would just go up on weekends to their bedroom studio. We were under very little pressure." The band were "amazed" when Virgin Records took interest in their demos. They even had to scramble for a
name, settling on Sneaker Pimps when they learned that that was what the Beastie Boys used to call a team of lackeys they paid to locate rare shoes for them. Virgin liked what they heard and recently picked up the band's debut album, Becoming X, after it first saw the light of day last year on the British indie label One Little Indian -- once home to Bjork.
The album is highlighted by the ethereal soul of 6 Underground and the infectious Tesko Suicide -- which sounds a bit like the B-52's being shoved through the techno-rock grinder. Dayton adds a bright pop dimension to the songs and provides Sneaker Pimps with a voice. She regrets the fact that she didn't write the lyrics, though they seem custom fit for her.
"I couldn't have sung them if I'd known I'd be doing it for the next two-and-a-half years," she says, laughing. "I wouldn't have agreed to do that. I'd never actually sung anyone else's lyrics but my own before. But, because it was an experiment, I invested a lot of emotion. I was quite happy to put myself through that in the hope that I'd become a better singer.
"I've been writing stuff, and we all collaborate together now. But sometimes it's nice to be able to just concentrate on singing without worrying about personal expression."
Roger Morton interviews the Sneaker Pimps in DAYTON CONFUSED!
NME Interview - 16 August 1997
Wet and wild, she's a typical '90s child. At least, if you were drawing your inferences from the lyrics to the new Sneaker Pimps single `Post Modern Sleaze', that's what you might presume Kelli Dayton was. Some kind o' tattooed wild child X girl, chemical gen, artificial sweetheart thug of a late-20th century archetype.
Her photos have just the right amount of pouty exotic amalgamated hip style.
Her backing beats are slow and lo enough to imply the requisite rejection of the old indie ghetto. The words she sings, dangling amidst the limber, alien, gothfolk-trip-pop of the Sneaker Pimp sound web, are all wistful, spun out, dysfunctional sensuality. "She's wet and wild, a typical '90s child... " Well, not really folks. The only wet things round here are the terrapins swimming chaotically in an overcrowded tank trying to communicate telepathically with the petite, sensible, matter-of-fact, Birmingham girl
who has her nose pressed up against their glass cage.
"Aren't they weird?" says Kelli. "I used co have terrapins myself, but they grow a lot bigger than this if there's more room."
A bit like pop bands really. We are in a multiplex photo studio in London. Just down the corridor, Jake from My Life Story is being nagged into taking his shirt off. Further along, some unknown wannabes are getting press shots done. A framed Bryan Ferry stares moodily down from the wall. It's a busy day in the tank, and if you think that Kelli and her boy Pimp cohorts are in any way typical, then maybe that's down to the overcrowding.
"There's something bad about the music business," says Kelli, pausing to ponder the downside of her current situation. "A lot of the people who are in the music business, especially in America, they seem to lose whatever got them to this point. A lot of them seem to lose their soul. Lose their
So are you saying you're different, that you've got principles and integrity?
"I wouldn't call it integrity. I'd just call it taste."
PUSH your face up close to the Pimps and what can seem like an easy-to-file hybrid of trendiness, styling, kitten-clawing vocals and contemporary syncopation starts to separate out. Step up closer and they're not just types out of the stereo. They are real, striving, confused, arguing, individual specimens. If you've heard 'Six Underground' and 'Spin Spin Sugar and decided that they are a mere dry twig on the same tree that's given us Garbage, Portishead, Moloko, Lamb, Republica, Tricky and, erm, Dubstar, then
you've done them an injustice.
"Our only similarity with Dubstar is that we use the same vocal microphone," says Liam Howe.
Sneaker Pimps, see, are as kooky as free-range terrapins. As a coherent pop entity they are a mess. In the photographer's studio, founder members Liam and Chris Corner peep awkwardly in the mirror. Liam is tall and masculine. Chris is slight and feminine. The former gets his musical thrills listening to avantgarde composer John Cage. The latter gets his make-up tips from Nick Rhodes. Chris had his first shag to The Sugarcubes' 'Birthday'. Liam's first shag music was Landscape's 'Einstein A Go- Go'.
And that's only the start of it. Two supplementary Pimps (drummer Dave Westlake and bassist Joe Wilson) have already legged it after being told (not entirely inaccurately) by the photographer that Dave has the look of a psycho in his eyes. There is, in fact, a haunted look in the eyes of all of them.
"I remember talking to this reporter in America," says Chris blearily. "And I was at a particularly low point and it turned into this ridiculous therapy session not talking about the music at all, almost crying on this woman's shoulder. I fell in love with her because she was helping me on a really bad day."
The Pimps, see, have been in America big-time, and it has accentuated their various oddities. Where once there was a fully functional pair of Hartlepool buddies who got together because Liam started going out with Chris' sister and ended up doing smoky beats dance tracks as FRISK/Line Of Flight, there now slumps a pair chewed-up remnants.
"It seems like we are clinging on to sanity," says Liam. "Unless you're Status Quo, some hardened gigster, the boredom and excess is very odd. We were kind of put in the deep end when we started to do live music, we always knew we wanted to do live, it's an integral part. But we didn't expect it to
be like this. We didn't expect to be Japanese salesmen."
Where once there was a fresh faced fusion of Shirley Bassey-loving James Lavelle fans and a ex-punk singer from Birmingh: with psychobilly leanings, then now quivers three dollops of post-tour micro-psychosis squeezed from the giant toothpaste tube of Electronica in America. In the new digital rock climate, the Pimps have been shifting US units. They've schmoozed at the LA premiere of The Saint ('Six Underground' figured on the soundtrack). They've been 'checked out' by REM in New York. And they've stumbled back home via Euro gigging to wonder what-the-tripped- out-terrapin happened.
"Chris did a Reginald Perrin-style run into the sea in San Diego and gave himself to the waves," says Liam. "He was in his suit and tie and everything, in he went and I had to fish him out. It was a humbling moment, we walked back in the moonlight hand in hand."
" I got back and rang me mum and cried for about an hour," sniffs Chris.
Pop, see, has got them by the scruff. Starting off with the idea that it'd be a laugh to dive deep into the absurdity of it all, they're now feeling the damage. Chris keeps asking for interview therapy. Liam blabbers endless conceptual tautologies. Kelli mutters about her cold and breaking-down
Dayton should, in fact, be the best equipped to cope. Her half Irish-Indian background in Bartley Green was stable and suburban, yet she was hanging out with the city-centre scuzz kids and singing in bands from the age of 16. She carries none of the hyper-analytical introspection that ensnares her
Do you reckon you're a typical '90s girl?
"No, I don't know, I've never known a typical person, so I don't know. I don't think I could really describe myself."
Do you like the idea of being an icon in a pop band?
"I just don't really think about that. If you knew what shambles we are as people I'm sure people wouldn't even follow us."
Do you feel exotic
"Sometimes. But not today."
Within the Pimps circuitry, Dayton is the enabling factor. She's what makes their selfconscious `now' styling lovable. The Prozac-flavoured ennui of the lyrics to their'Becoming X' debut album are written by lan Pickering - a journalist from Birmingham. The listless beats and magpie'd tinctures of the tunes are constructed by Liam and Chris with half an eye on cultural theory ('Post Modern Sleaze' is digital folk). Then Kelli comes along and sings the sensuality into it.
"If you get a sensual person singing sensual songs then it all becomes a bit obvious, like an angry person singing angry songs," she says. "So I like that combination. Because as a singer you couldn't be as numb as the music suggested. The music is about the middle ground, the grey area of not even thinking consciously but even that grey area to me is pretty strange and sensual."
That sounds very '90s. Very end-of-the-century.
"Yeah, I guess without really knowing it I suppose we are. We have no interest in repeating the past. And we have no interest in pretending to be pioneers of the future, so I think we are best placed in the now.
"But I think that we are different in that we are not about blabbering on about things that people have been blabbering on about forever. It's not just about love. There are a lot of real seething numbers, real anger. And I think when you really take those emotions out and look at them they are so much more interesting and humorous to sing about.
"I find love very hard to write and sing about without sounding like an absolute prat. It's a shame, but I think it's true. I do believe in monogamy and I'm very much in love with the person I'm with, I've written songs about him in the past but I can't understand people who write about love in its
birthday card form.
"I think if you look at the people who do write about that sort of thing, usually they're screwing 14-year-olds and taking cocaine up their ass. They're certainly not the puppy dogs they make themselves out to be in their songs. It's a way of making money. So at least you can try and be honest in what you do."
Kelli is not Celine Dion. She is a vocaliser of the grey truths about our lives. Roll-on roll-off sex ('Roll On'), drug hangovers ('Wasted Early Sunday Morning') and muddled emotions (everything else on the bleeding album). Not a frosty-style chick poseur then, but a real human being, with a real cold, shuffling off towards her "nervous breakdown in two months time".
That's Kelli, then. Rock tattoos. Backing vocals on Brian Ferry's next album. Sensible enough to talk about terrapins. Gets drunk in Marco Pierre White's poncey West End restaurant, and tells the visiting american music biz bigwigs to "Fuck off, you American cunts!"
"She's Jekyll and Hyde when she drinks," says Liam.
She was telling the waiter to 'suck his cock' and pointing to me," says Chris.
Kelli might be responsible for the odd drunken outburst but the mangled behavioural contradictions which make the Pimps kind of charming are substantially down to Liam and Chris. We are, after all, dealing with a man (Liam) who confesses late into the interview that his greatest fear in life is of turning into Bill 'KLF' Drummond "because it would be the obvious thing to do," he trembles.
Liam, see, did art at Reading Uni. Having decided that all painters were traditional farts, him and a mate once cemented speakers playing a looped sample of Boney M's 'Painter Man' in the rafters of the uni painting area.Then they went away for a week.
From messing with the heads of the oil daubers it's a short absurdist hop to collaborating with Marilyn Manson on a track for the Spawn soundtrack album even though "generally speaking goths can burn in hell for all I care... it was a typical Sneaker idea of playing with fire and getting burned."
The Liam'n'Chris section of today's discussion comprises two hours of Liam accelerating into a hyperlinguistic gonzo cultural dissection. Meanwhile, Chris holds his head in his hands asking for help, struggling to keep his ex-Astrophysics student-from Hartlepool brain from melting down.
It's part of the wonder of the Pimps, and it's another thing that separates them from Dubstar, that they've just released a single which clearly displays full-on postmodern musical attributes while touting a lyric which slags off people who get into a bit of mix 'n' match lifestyle postmodernism - "She must be a Thelma or Louise / She must be a postmodern sleaze."
"I think it's self-critical , only last night we were saying that we were characters in our songs. Our songs are about middle-class people who buy into problems and think it's really chic to be fucked up," says Chris.
So you're sleazy too?
"Yeah. We've bought into it, we've bought into sleaze. That's all part of the fashion label thing. We know it's shit, we know we're stupid, we know we are being had by corporate powers, but it's fun! That's what it comes down to: basic hedonism! "In a song like 'Six Underground' we can be arrogant but we can be totally humble. It goes, 'Don't think because I'm talking we're friends' which is a bit of a nasty line, but then it's saying, 'Jesus Christ! There is nothing, nothing at all that I'm interested in in my head! My head is just a pile of shite! There's not a single thought which entertains me!' It's just a struggle between confidence and total self-deprecation."
An hour later Liam is getting to the end of one long rant, taking in Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, street-chic furniture designer Tom Dixon's chairs, the chilling art school horror of Gene, and irony, sludge and the death of postmodernism, rounding off with a look at what it's like to be turning into willing- victim cliche magnets and selling your soul to 'the pop devil'.
It's been a stunning impersonation of Bill Drummond hijacking the rhetoric of the early Manic Street Preachers after a week in a cupboard with the texts of Jacques Derrida. And it's all cool stuff, but the pop photo factory around us has not spontaneously burst into flames and Jake from My Life
Story has not been saved from taking off his shirt.
The achievements of the hour are, however, twofold: a) Liam has made an incontrovertible case for the Sneaker Pimps not being just another brainlessly platitudinous style bauble that you can lump in willy-nilly with Dubstar and b) Chris has nearly scratched off the Nike symbol hand tattoo which he had done on a last afternoon in Arizona.
"So there is this absolute eclectic approach to commodity," continues Liam. "There's something extraordinarily important about following the discourse of the moment. And if that means you don't seem to have any innate pleasures or likes, then I think that's just the way forward! Confusion is our staple diet."
Taraaa! Chris looks up for the first time in 20 minutes. "You are talking bollocks. He could stitch us up so badly with this rubbish."
Liam pauses to reassess.
"Yeah, but it's just today's talk," he concludes. "Some days we talk about drugs and fucking people. We just change and flip. It's not as if we sit around after a gig and discuss tonality. It's more a case of trying to get the birds."
In the crowded terrapin tank of post-postmodern (sic) pop, there is definitely room for a fusion as brilliantly confused as the Sneaker Pimps.
Sneaker Pimps' Singer Gets Moody On Hit
Aug. 28, 1997
Kelli Dayton (middle) gives voice to her bandmates
chart-climbing tune '6 Underground.'
Addicted To Noise Staff Writer Chris Nelson reports : Watching the Sneaker Pimps single rise steadily up the charts has been nothing short of "fucking amazing" for the band's singer Kelli Dayton.
"We thought it would be way out (of the charts) by now, but instead it just climbed really, really slowly," said the 22-year-old Briton, speaking of the trip-hoppy cut "6 Underground," from the band's Becoming X debut album.
Any avid chart watcher knows that some of the most intriguing songs to track aren't the ones that debut near the register's upper reaches, but rather those that make a slow steady climb. That's just what "6 Underground" has done. The song debuted on Billboard's Top 100 four and a half months ago and began an incremental rise. For the past two weeks it has hung steady at #49.
Of course, the Sneaker Pimps are fortunate to have not only a steady climber on the Top 100 "6 Underground" has also been sitting pretty in the top 10 on the modern rock charts for the past several weeks. All of which is, in the words of Dayton, "fucking amazing."
Along with a mysterious slice of harp sampled from spy movie composer John Barry, it's Dayton's voice that effectively establishes the poison mood of the song. On first listen, "6 Underground" (shorthand for six-feet underground) actually sounds pleasant, propelled by head-nodding drums and full of airy acoustic guitar.
Then Dayton's bare-faced declaration in the song's spare refrain knocks away any hint of playfulness: "I'm open to falling from grace," she declares with dead seriousness. As if that weren't blunt enough, she hammers her disdain home with invective observations such as "Don't think 'cause I understand, I care" and "Don't think 'cause I'm talking, we're friends."
Back before Dayton joined the band, Sneaker Pimps' musical creators Liam Howe, 26, and Chris Corner, 22, had been collaborating for several years on trip-hop singles sans vocals. Dayton was fronting a Birmingham punk band when they asked her to join the group. She said that the relative peacefulness of "6 Underground" captivated her and challenged her to develop her voice in subtle ways.
"I didn't know Chris and Liam when we started recording the album. It was very off the cuff, 'Do you want to come track some stuff with us?' I wanted to inject a slow burner, an aggression into the song, but not my usual style of aggressive singing. I wanted to make it an angry, intense, sensual song."
Howe, who penned the lyrics for "6 Underground" with Corner, said that Dayton's vocal interpretation is paramount to the song's success. "We were hoping that if something was written by somebody else, Kelli would be able to distort it in her reading of it," the songwriter said. "That she would encourage a claustrophobic sort of cynicism about it. The song is really
about the death of a relationship in the most crass kind of terms."
Dayton follows in a tradition of singers from Elvis on down who make significant contributions to songs that they may not have written, Howe said. "By singing the song, she's dealing with any questions that may be raised by it," Howe said. "It gives her own criticism of the song within her own singing of it."
Q Music Magazine
Spawn, the album (Q132 - Sept '97)
Contrived but right on the ball, the soundtrack to mutant, comic-inspired movie Spawn is a lesson in good fortune and sharp timing. Spawn's musical director Happy Walters (Cypress Hill and Korn manager, Immortal MD) was also the brains behind the hip-hop/rock hybrid soundtrack to the straight-to-video movie, Judgement Night. Here, the irresistible culture shock of Teenage Fanclub & De La Soul alongside Slayer & Ice-T. has overshadowed the celluloid catalyst.
Heighteen months ago Walters embarked on Spawn's collision of rock and dance acts,a move which on the surface offers little in the way of innovation, since dance and rock cultures have been swapping ideas for a decade in UK. However, in the wake of Prodigy's Number 1 success in America with The Fat Of The Land, Walters decision to roll up his sleeves and bang heads together is certainly opportune.
Americans accept The Prodigy as a rock act filling the void until the next Trent Reznor album turns up. Accordingly, Spawn isn't a dance/rock crossover album, it's the latest phase of industrial-strenght rock, built around slamming rhythms, chugging rock riffs and howling, treated vocals.
Liam Howlett's outfit feature on One Man Army, an uncompromising partnership with Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello. The two bands didn't meet until a few weeks after the track was completed, but other songs on the album are genuine face-to-face collaborations. Pick of the bunch is Marilyn Manson and vampy trip-hoppers Sneaker Pimps who worked side-by-side to flesh out the Goth-noire of the album's UK single, It's A Long Hard Road Out Of Hell.
Meanwhile, since ditching his unsuccessful year-long trash-rock career, New York techno pioneer Moby hints he's finaly ready to step up and take his place at the commercial forefront of his own country's music scene by pouring dark electronics all over long-toothed experimentalists Butthole Surfers on another highlight, Tiny Ruber Band.
Metallica's transitional period continues as they hook up with DJ Spooky on the white noise drum'n'bass of the cumbersomely titled, For Whom The Bell Tolls (The Irony OF It All), while conservative, disciplined torso Henry Rollings gains a much-needed push into the late-'90s with Goldie's breakbeats. Korn & The Dust Brothers, Filter & The Crystal Method, Orbital & Metallica's Kirk Hammett, plus Soul Coughing's bizzarre head-to-head with Roni Size also feature, the latter directly inspired by the Spawn comic and closing the album eith its only non-axe-wieldling moment.
Spawn's relentless Industrial battering ram is likely to face resistance in the UK where Radio One agonises over its formats, giving Prodigy regular spins but ruling out tuneful rock stompers Travis as "too heavy". However, in America, this movie soundtrack succesfully plugs into a late '90s alternative, non-grunge rock scene which will no doubt spawn more meaty, headache-inducing collaborations over the next year or so. (Steve Malins)
Rating: excellent, definitely worth investigation.
(from AllStar Magazine,March 03, 1998)
One by-product of 1997's not- quite "electronica" explosion was the corollary success of artists who fit the category only tangentially: Portishead, Morcheeba, Hooverphonic, and other fairly straightforward -- read: radio- friendly -- pop bands, whose only connections to the genre are fewer guitars, ambient textures, and the occasional sample. And British trio the Sneaker Pimps were able to make the most of this phenomenon, with their sultry, accessible "6 Underground" a huge club and radio hit that propelled sales of their debut album, Becoming X.
Now Virgin has assembled a collection of the hippest remixers to rework tracks from that album. And while they appeared to have had free reign, most of them chose to make the tunes more "electronica"- friendly anyway - probably to Virgin's delight, since there's always '98. Some mixers take things in unexpected directions, like the Stonesy slide guitar Paul Oakenfold adds under "6 Underground." Salt City Orchestra turn singer Kelli Dayton into a to- die- for Donna Summer/ Giorgio Moroder- type disco diva. Roni Size's mix will be immediately recognizable to anyone with a copy of New Forms, and, in a particularly inspired choice, Girls Against Boys give "Tesko Suicide" a heavy- machinery clank.
Though most of the atmosphere on the original X is provided by the two talented producers within the group, Chris Corner and Liam Howe, Dayton's new- wave-peppy voice always stands out strongly as a distinctive touch. Yet with everything stripped away but her vocals, many of the mixers still choose to downplay her, like Armand Van Helden, who distorts her singing into a popping- bubble bloop on his "Spin Spin Sugar."
With many contributions jumping pretty far from the original mixes, Becoming Re-mi-X-ed ends up standing strong on its own merits -- not as an addition to the Sneaker Pimps' discography, though, but as a remixer compilation, or a solid declaration of who Virgin wants to affiliate their hot band with.
"Trip hop is just the 90s version of goth"
"You've caught her on the right night. We'll all be covered in vomit by the morning."
"At one point we were violently anti-guitars. It got to the stage where I was hiding my indie records. It took a little while to pull them out of the cupboard."
"There are two different approaches. One's making an album with a folk ethic of song structure, melody and lyric. The other is making it as sonically contemporary as possible. Which means embracing the entire discourse of dance music."
"Trip hop is just the 90s version of goth"
You might think the Sneaker Pimps are an indie band, but their spectral brand of guitar-laden beats would never have existed without dance music. Founders Liam and Chris started out making trip hop, and a score of dance remixes have even put on speed garage pirates. Now on to the Nike tattoo, the dreams of vomiting fish and how Chris gets all the girls that Joe falls in love with. Writer: Rob Fearn; Photographer: Eitan
"WHERE'S the tuba?" Sneaker Pimps' guitarist Chris Corner launches into Teutonic mode, as five foaming beers are plonked on the Bierkeller table around which the group are huddled. Today's a rest day in the German town of Freiburg, on what drummer Dave Westlake calls "the sobriety leg" of the band's European tour. But not that you'd notice. The Sneakers might be carving a niche at the head of the post-Portishead breed with the spectral trip hop of '6 Underground' and the Garbage-style electro-pop of 'Spin Spin Sugar', but right now they're intent on just one thing. Getting royally moosed. Chris points at the Swoosh design tattooed on his wrist. "I went a bit mad in the States and that was the result. They were giving away free merchandise. I was going, 'Give me Nike!' I think I was after an endorsement." On the same US visit Dave fell in love, while Liam (Howe - keyboards) injured his knees jumping out of windows in the home of techno ("I was shouting, 'I sacrifice myself to the streets of Carl Craig!'").
"You feel a million miles from anything you know, so you lose it a bit," confesses singer Kelli Dayton. "But I remained rather calm and very sober throughout. I'm through my madness phase. I was the first to crack, and I'm fine now." Even so, the tiny 23 year old, whose Brummie accent sounds completely at odds with her svelte appearance and smooth vocals, is already on her third shot of schnapps. According to Chris, Kelli only gets drunk once a year, an event that's usually marked by the destruction of plate-glass windows and the snogging of complete strangers. "You've caught her on the right night," he says. "We'll all be covered in vomit by the morning." Luckily, the only ill-effects of Kelli's binge turn out to be strange, schnapps-induced dreams. For any amateur psychologists, the Sneakers' singer dream consisted of finding a body, which looked like it had been dragged out of the water, in the bunks of the tour bus. Liam pumped its stomach, causing the corpse to spew wriggling sea-creatures, which Kelli was forced to eat. "The thing is, I don't like sea food at the best of times," she says afterwards. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kelli soon professes herself cured of the urge to drink.
FROM Freiburg, the Sneaker Pimps travel over the border to Thun, a small lakeside town in Switzerland, and home of the infamous Café Mokka (slogan: 'Fuck This Town'). Backstage Liam is attempting to explain how he and Chris, friends since their teens, went from peddling what they call "bedroom-bound beats" as F.R.I.S.K. and Line Of Flight to the Sneaker Pimps' 21st Century rock n' roll. "At one point we were violently anti-guitars," says Liam. "It got to the stage where I was hiding my indie records. It took a little while to pull them out of the cupboard."
Now the guitars are back, but their debut album 'Becoming X' remains a record that could never have existed without dance music. Sink into the moody, Nellee Hooper-mixed waters of '6 Underground' and the Massive Attack squelch of the title track. Cue up the widescreen beats of 'Post-Modern Sleaze', the rolling, trip hop rush of 'Low Place Like Home'. It's easy to see why both dance and indie camps are trying to claim the Sneaker Pimps as their own. If the Sneakers are a dance band, they're one that's overcome its blind hatred of guitars and re-discovered the song-writing traditions that were vapourised by acid's big bang. If they're an indie band, then - like Garbage - they're one that actually sounds 'modern', state-of-the-art, the way a rock band ought to sound in the late 90s. Either way, they're at least a thousand times more exciting than Oasis... or the average techno purist. "I don't think it can ever be bad to be in more than one area," says Kelli. "I think we're desperately anti-purist and, as people, incredibly indecisive..." Liam says. "...and scared of being just one thing," Kelli adds. Liam, 26, and Chris, 23, both grew up in Hartlepool in the North East of England ("He was poppin' my sister for eight years," Chris explains. "I couldn't avoid him. He was coming around all the time.") Drummer Dave, 26, and bassist Joe Wilson, 24, are two more of the five piece Sneakers' DAT-free live incarnation, although it was Liam and Chris who wrote the music and lyrics on 'Becoming X' along with unseen 'sixth member' Ian Pickering. "A lot of the lyrics are quite tongue-in-cheek," says Liam, a former art-school student. "I suppose they're critical or satirical or disposable in various ways. But I don't think they're weighty. Just quirky, cultural anti-statements." Anti-statements like 'Tesko Suicide', inspired by a drunken argument Liam and Kelli had about the glamourisation of suicide, where Liam suggested that suicide kits might as well be available in supermarkets. 'Post-Modern Sleaze', meanwhile, dissects the 'Thelma & Louise' syndrome, whereby seemingly happily married women ditch their partners for a trashier lifestyle straight out of a magazine. Kelli prefers the words to 'How Do', based on traditional folk songs from cult 70s black magic film The Wicker Man. Liam and Chris spotted Kelli singing with her band The Lumieres in a pub's backroom in 1993. Back then, the two were making music as Line Of Flight. Having no pretentions to soulfulness, the feisty, punk-reared Kelli fitted their needs exactly - someone to drag their productions kicking and screaming out of the studio. "Soul music is something we feel unqualified to involve ourselves in," admits Liam. "We're more interested in English music. The new wave. That's a lot more what we're about." "I don't think it's an agenda," says Joe. "It's just purely about honesty." In a way, Sneaker Pimps' darkside fusion of widescreen breakbeats, PJ Harvey and feline punk is just a logical extension of what's been happening in trip hop for some time - in the millennial blues of Portishead or Tricky's howling noisefests. "Trip hop is just the 90s version of goth," agrees Liam. "The Sisters Of Mercy was a kind of slowed-down breakbeat. They (the goth scene) really embraced machinery, even someone as desperately goth as Alien Sex Fiend - they didn't have a bass player, they had a keyboard player." Direct and friendly, a golden-skinned lover of 90s nouveau punk outfits Sonic Youth and the Pixies, Kelli grew up in Birmingham's Bartley Green area. She left school at 14 and started playing in punk bands. The singer met her boyfriend, Bill - a 36-year-old Canadian - in the mosh pit of a Cramps gig. She thinks the other Sneaker Pimps are jealous of him. They certainly seem to enjoy calling him 'Billy Tiny Willy' (he's six foot two). Kelli, though, gives as good as she gets when it comes to the 'on-tour banter'.
Liam: "I mean, when me and Chris grew up, which was..."
Kelli: "[quick as a flash] ...last week!"
"I was watching Nirvana on the telly the other day," says bassist Joe at one point, "thinking, how the hell did anyone fall for that shite?" "It's not shite, though, Joe," says Kelli. "That's just your opinion. It's not like you know about music. You know what you like, that's all. It's not like everyone else has got these blinkers over their eyes and you're the enlightened one..." "Yeah, but Nirvana are shit, though, aren't they?" says Liam.
THE Sneaker Pimps are the first to admit that they enjoy taking the piss out of each other. Liam claims that most of the arguments centre on women. "What usually happens is that Joe brushes past some girl and falls in love," he explains. "Chris then swoops in, gets off with her. Joe's pissed off for about a week. At this point Chris forgets entirely. 'Eh? Who was that?' Meanwhile, Joe's still reverberating from luuurrve!" Sneaker Pimps take their name from a posse employed by The Beastie Boys to make trainer-buying runs to New York. The Beasties' Mike Diamond turned up at one of the Sneakers' LA gigs, although, according to Liam, he doesn't remember coining the term. ("He did say it though - on The Word.") Mike D wasn't the only hero they met in the US. The band recorded with goth shock rocker Marilyn Manson for the film Spawn, which features several other rock-dance collaborations. Elsewhere on the soundtrack, Rage Against The Machine team up with The Prodigy, Metallica with Goldie and - in an inspired piece of casting - Def Leppard with Alex Reece ("He cut his arm off in tribute," jokes Dave). On top of the link-up with Manson came the Bjork 'incident', a late-night meeting between Chris and the Icelandic chanteuse, the mention of which prompts the other Pimps to delight in a hilarious rant about both her and her current love interest, Howie B. "You should have seen Chris's face the next day," says Liam. "He came back to the studio at 11am having not slept, going, 'I want her babies!'"
"That's enough about Bjork!" says Chris sharply.
CAFÉ Mokka is a grotto-like building, the only decent venue in Thun, with an open-air stage in the beer garden. A wild-eyed longhair called Peter books bands from all round the world, much to the displeasure of the local authorities, who later that night threaten to close him down. "All they're interested in is ringing their fucking bells!" he growls. Kelli spends the 45 minutes before the show running through vocal exercises. Dave, now with spiky punk hairstyle, concentrates on consuming as much alcohol as possible (the Swiss hosts having laid on absurd amounts of free drink). Chris, meanwhile, goes hunting for women. Miraculously, by 9.30pm the Sneakers are ready. The several hundred fans are standing in the darkness smoking spliffs and drinking beer. When Peter Longhair introduces them ("Great Modern Indie Rock From The UK" say the posters), there's a polite cheer of approval.
Bathed in red light, the Sneakers provide a faultless run-through of the album. Kelli beams throughout, sounding even better than on record. Chris, meanwhile, seems to have attracted a gaggle of female admirers, who are gazing up at him. When the last song has finished, the Pimps scuttle off under the fairy lights and back into the Café Mokka. At which point the kids go mental, stamping their feet and hollering for more. After about five minutes, Peter has to come out and calm them down. "There are two different approaches," Liam had said before the show. "One's making an album with a folk ethic of song structure, melody and lyric. The other is making it as sonically contemporary as possible. Which means embracing the entire discourse of dance music. Those two things are conflicts, but that's what we're trying to do. Make disposable sounds for timeless songs. A bit like alchemy." And tonight, Sneaker Pimps made their alchemy look effortless.
The album 'Becoming X' is out now. The single 'Post Modern Sleaze', with remixes from DJ Sneak, Salt City Orchestra, Reprazent and The Underdog is out August 18th. Both on Clean Up
WHO'S YOUR FAVOURITE SNEAKER PIMP?
"AT first everyone kept going on about how different we were to one another," says Sneakers bass-player, Joe. "A bit like the Spice Girls." It's true that, despite the angst-ridden nature of their songs and their unparalleled knowledge of 'the ways of the breakbeat', the Sneaker Pimps can be reduced to the same 'something-for-everyone' formula as the nation's favourite girl group. Which brings us to the burning question of the hour - who's your favourite Sneaker Pimp?
BIRMINGHAM'S answer to Siouxsie Sioux. Not best disposed to bright light, from which she hides behind a pair of space-age shades. Ardent admirer of 'Anti-Christ superstar' Marilyn Manson. Favoured by those with a predilection for pointy boots and black eyeliner. Kelli: [in disbelief] "Oh God!"
TWIDDLER of knobs and addict of rare 12" vinyl. Techno Sneaker's fuzzy, tennis-ball haircut belies his previous incarnation as an Acid Jazz-style 'beathead'. Listens to Kraftwerk on the tour bus and memorises catalogue numbers to obscure Carl Craig records. Liam: "Can I change mine from Techno to Electro, please?"
SELF-confessed critic of Romo's laughable 'new wave'. Claims to have only ever liked one New Romantic icon, David Sylvian, yet is forever tagged a wedge-barnetted 'woofty'. Fails miserably, however, to provide satisfactory explanation for his nail polish and eye make-up. Chris: "Musically I'm not that interested. Visually, er, now and again..."
A 'MAN mountain' of considerable girth, baggy trousered and rolling of gait. Constantly demands to know whether fellow Sneakers are down with 'the programme'. Bitterly regrets suggesting Spice Girls analogy to 'honky' journalist from Mixmag. Joe: [quietly] "I don't think mine's very accurate..."
DRUM-stick wielder. Often sweaty. Dresses exclusively in nylon sportswear and has big bass-speakers built into his stool to keep him in time. Dogged by terrible inferiority complex, not helped by Romo Sneaker's superior strike rate with 'the laydeez'. Dave: [to Chris] "I'm not Sporty, you fucker! Have I got to be fucking Sporty Sneaker, the unpopular one?"
"I FUCKING hate Van Helden's mix. It's absolutely algorithmic, formulaic, dull, anthemic house cack!" Looking through their press cuttings, you'd be forgiven for thinking Sneaker Pimps were none too happy about the remix mayhem their tracks have inspired. But no. The above outburst, Liam explains, was made before he'd heard the track! Why did he say it, then? "Cause he's a cock!" says Dave. "There was a strong possibility that it would be a piece of shit," Liam says. "As a rule, I think house music is a spent force..." "That's why I liked the Van Helden mix, because I was expecting so little from it." adds Chris. "It actually re-established my faith in dance music." Just as well, as it's meant Kelli's "spin spin sugar" refrain has been dominating London's speed garage pirates ever since. So, from 'anthemic house cack' to 'faceless techno bollocks', here are those Sneakers knob-twiddlers in full...
Out-of-body drum n' bass spiralling heavenwards with liquid synths and 'so-so' samples. See you at the check-out...
TWO LONE SWORDSMEN
Messrs Weatherall and Tenniswood evoke piss-streaked concrete tunnels with loads of wibbly-wobbly noises.
The Soul II Soul man gives his dub a dose of the jitters. Like space transmissions from some very paranoid aliens.
Souped-up breaks beneath a pitched-up Kelli. Warm and gooey and worth its weight in, um, Pork.
ARMAND VAN HELDEN
('Spin Spin Sugar')
Gothic oddness, mutant basslines, cyber-vocals. Armand's mix is dark enough for London speed garage station Freek FM.
FARLEY AND HELLER
('Spin Spin Sugar')
A fist full of Sneakers! The deep house maestros draft in some spaghetti western vibes for this dubby work-out.
('Spin Spin Sugar')
Kelli and Co are spooked by darkside techno and rogue sub-bass. Er, who is Phluide, anyway? (It's their sound man, actually.)
Trainerspotting with the MoWax beatheadz. Angelic vocals, queasy breaks and wicked scratching.
The Umbrellas Of Ladywell equals full-scale orchestral action and 1960s spy film vibes. Beautiful.
Chicago's finest goes for a thumping house injection with a hint of disco loopery. Relentless but groovy.
The Brit-house merchants send arms aloft with this pumped-up trainer bender. Get funky!
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Exclusive LAUNCH Online Interview by Mara Schwartz
"The symbol 'X' is one of the most abused symbols in 20th-century culture," muses the Sneaker Pimps' Liam Howe. He's pondering the title of his band's debut release on Virgin, enigmatically titled Becoming X, and what exactly it would mean for someone to do so. It doesn't sound like the most clear-cut course of action. "'X' is a variable in mathematics," he notes, "meaning that it's a substitute for whatever you like. So there's that instant ambiguity. And when we were in America, someone said that it could be a cross. Then someone else said it was a kiss. Plus there's Generation X, and Malcolm X, and on goes the list..."
It's quite understandable if the members of this British trio plug in a few unknown quantifiers when discussing the future. The young group are just getting used to their present, having put out their first album and begun the grueling whirlwind of international touring. The band members, all of whom are age 25 or under, grew up in small towns in Britain and hadn't really traveled much before Becoming X put them on the musical map. That's all about to change, as the group's first American single, "6 Underground" (with its dense remix by Soul II Soul's Nellee Hooper), is rapidly becoming a club and video-channel hit.
All three Sneaker Pimps had been raised in the suburban shadow of the big city; keyboardist Howe and guitarist Chris Corner came of age together near the then-hot Manchester music scene, and decided to collaborate on home-made basement tapes around 1992. They met up with sultry vocalist Kelli Dayton a few years later, who had been gigging around with various Birmingham bands since she was a teen. The three soon began developing the Pimps' signature sound: a smooth, languorous groove with Dayton's almost-torchy, almost-new-wave vocals floating atop. It's tough music to categorize: danceable yet not techno, catchy but not pop, and soulful but not soul.
It's easy to try to lump the band in with the happening trip-hop/electronica scene, but Howe notes that the Sneaker Pimps always emphasize the song amidst the keyboards and beat --something that's not usually foregrounded in dance music, but is necessary with Dayton's crisp, strong voice in the mix. "You would be foolish," Howe insists, "to indulge [in electronics] to the extent of forgetting about the whole songwriting aspect. Even if we have really complicated electronic production, or if we've interpreted things in a very electronic way, the songs can still work in the simplest of scenarios: with acoustic guitar. But it has to work as a song, and, if it does, then you can progress to the electronic domain."
Fairly typically for such a synth-based, musically sculpted unit, the Sneaker Pimps had honed their skills sharply in the studio but had only played a few live gigs at the time of their signing to Virgin. One of their biggest adjustments was having to perform music in front of an expectant, judgmental crowd, instead of comfortably noodling at home in the privacy of their bedrooms. "I like to have things under control," admits Howe. "When you're playing live, you have to give up a lot of responsibility to other people, and to the moment as well." He acknowledges, though, that he's since "warmed up to it," and now he's enjoying touring, especially when it means he gets to experience new cities and people.
But, even with their recently-acquired big-city outlook (all three have relocated to London), that stifling suburban influence still lingers in their lyrics, such as those to "6 Underground": "I've got a head full of drought down here/So far off losing out 'round here." Like the disaffected kids who invented late-'70s punk, creative types raised in a repressed environment often make that the topic of their art once they manage to burst out, and the Sneaker Pimps felt this impulse strongly.
"'6 Underground' is about the claustrophobia," says Howe, "of not being able to creatively express yourself in a very small town. It's enormously difficult to have your say, or any effect from what you say. We compared it to existing in a coffin, or being restricted to the point of being buried. So it's a reference to being 6 foot underground."
Many of the songs on Becoming X reflect similar yearnings; the trio of lyricists like to stand back and take a hard look at youth culture's role at the end of the millennium. "It's not about criticizing," says Howe, "but about having a laugh or a cry or a kind of smile about it. It's a wry excursion through the various opinions of the '90s."
And one they have strong feelings about is what Howe terms a "fashionable" angst and depression among well-to-do young people, which he feels is encouraged by pop culture. One of Becoming X's more controversial tunes, "Tesko Suicide," is about how the media tends to glamorize self-inflicted death. Howe lists off examples: James Dean's cliff-hanging finale, Kurt Cobain's shotgun blast, and the David Bowie tune, "Rock And Roll Suicide."
"Tesko in England is a very popular nationwide supermarket," explains Howe. "Me and Kelli were having an argument one night in the local pub, and I was suggesting, in my drunken state, that everyone who thinks suicide's dead cool should have the choice of going down to their local superstore and buying a suicide kit that would cost two pounds fifty. And then they could go home and kill themselves. It was kind of a flippant remark, but it was about these people I know and the whole designed rot which affects youth culture."
But the three band members themselves, while they may not be completely free from unwarranted moroseness, probably don't have much time to drum up extra worries. They're too busy enjoying the unexpected attention that Becoming X's release is bringing them. "We didn't anticipate any of this at all," marvels Howe. "We wanted it, but we never expected it or demanded it. It could have easily been a very underground studio project, but luckily things have gone well."
Sneaker Pimps have made a brave, brilliant new record. It's not the record anyone expected. It is, however, pretty damn close to the record they always wanted to make. It's not likely to sit comfortably on anyone's coffee table; much of it is not pretty, but most of it is very beautiful. What does it sound like? You want reference points? Try: soundscapes as inventive as Tricky's Maxinquaye, the self-examination and widescreen vision of Radiohead's OK Computer, the prickly atmospherics of David Sylvian's Secrets of the Beehive, the unexpected spiky sweetness of My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything. All at once, and nothing like that. Really, it's a huge, intimate, vicious, passionate collection of songs. It's a surprise.
"It's been a long time really, it's taken a year," explains Liam. "We'd toured really more than we could mentally sustain: Becoming X was a studio album and we were hoodwinked into the touring circus lifestyle. You need to have sawdust in your blood to enjoy touring. The year before last we spent eight of the twelve months in America and... it was a strange thing to do." "It just drove us a bit loony," offers Chris, drily. So loony, in fact, that Liam flew home in the middle of the final tour, a plot-losing crisis-point the band had seen coming for a while. "We'd got to this place in Tennessee, a filthy, Deliverance-style place," Liam recounts. "A truck went past and they shouted, ' Fags! We're gonna kill yer! ' I was walking round the town, I couldn't sleep. I had headphones on and I was listening to my favourite Scott Walker LP, Scott 3, and I just thought, I'm desperately unhappy here. So I called a cab and said, Take me to the nearest airport, which happened to be Nashville. Luckily the bag I had had my passport in it and I got a ticket home. I was feeling very, very fragile. We'd played the game and agreed to so many things and sold our assets along the way and even if we could have gone double platinum it wasn't going to be worth it. It was doing us harm: we weren't very exciting on stage. We had to get back to what was most important, which was writing and recording music. We came back at Christmas and had a week off and then we started the new material. Kelli was still involved but it was becoming distant... It was drawing a line on the tarmac saying, we have completed the Becoming X experience. But I love that record and still feel it's very important."
Chris: "I find it difficult to listen to."
Liam: "We still have the recordings of the Becoming X demos with Chris singing on them and there's something amazingly precious about those songs."
Chris: "I'm so confident about what's happening now. It was fighting againsta corporate concept that if you've gone gold in America and the UK, why thefuck are you changing? But we want to,we're not chugging down that road.It's a bit David and Goliath... sort of. There were a thousand doubters..."How does he feel about stepping into the singer's spotlight? "It's natural,that's the thing, I'm absolutely full of conviction for the writing. Icouldn't think of any other way of doing it. In a way, I don't want to bepushed to the front, because I want it to be the whole band. I never wantedKelli to be pushed either, I want people to know what it was all about inthe first place."
Liam : "There is the theory that the more you pass on your ideas the morediluted they become. There was a thinness before, a lack of confidence. Itcame across the way it did because of the gap between concept andinterpretation. When Chris sings it's genuine. He's not singing this foranyone else. This is a record we like listening to. It's a different band,bar the name." And so it is, in a way. Not only is their guitarist, Chris,now their singer, but everyone's position in the band has changed.
Dave: "We weren't a band before, really. We weren't designed to performsongs live, we made the best of a bad lot. Now it sounds like a band playingsongs together. Joe played the drums as much as I have and I've played asmuch keyboards as Liam, so it's all swapped around."Joe: "It's a more emotional record, less considered in a way."
Dave: "More Cagney or more Lacey?"Joe: "Definitely more Lacey."Dave: "We're all very proud of it."In many ways, they're unlikely pop stars which is partly why they're so good at it. They are four funny, gentle, driven,too-smart-for-their-own-good people who stumbled into something they didn'tquite expect and turned themselves inside out to survive and understand it.They love music as much as you do. And they have done what very few bandsmanage to do successfully: they have confounded expectations.
Dave: "I have the idea that Sneaker Pimps is a brand new thing."
Everything but the girl
(Campus Circle Interview)
issue date: Vol 12, issue 6 (27 march - 09 april 2002)
posted by Mansie Ares
With two sonic masterminds fronted by one sweetly vampish female vocalist, the Sneaker Pimps were doomed for electro-pop success. The London-based trio comprised of Chris Corner, Liam Howe and Kelli Dayton, broke out in the UK in 1996 and in the states no more than a year later with singles Tesko Suicide and 6 Underground. Before they knew it, they were pigeon-holed as just another one of those formulated synth trip hop bands following the likes of Portishead, Moloko, Morcheeba and even Garbage. Despite all the fame and acclaim reaped from their gothically organic debut Becoming X, they eventually pulled the plug.
Virgin Records flipped out, unable to comprehend their reasons for getting rid of the starlet and consequently let go of the chick-less Sneaker Pimps altogether after failing to convince them to find a female replacement. It was time for the remaining two under-credited members to regroup, adding drummer David Westlake and bassist Joe Wilson to the line up, and redeem themselves with their second full-length titled Splinter released in 1999 in only parts of the UK. Stepping out of the shadow of the enticing former frontwoman (currently working on a solo career), a dainty and withdrawn Chris Corner took over the spotlight with his lissome voice and melancholic guitar gestures. Tis a shame Splinter, a beautifully dreary and self-indulgent reaction to their unwanted commercial success, was held back from its U.S. release in the midst of their imbroglio with Virgin.
The band is now on Tommy Boy Entertainment, a label which formed as a result of the recent separation of Tommy Boy Records and Warner Music Group. Due to internal political changes, the release date of their third album Bloodsport has been pushed back several times since last October but is now officially set for an April release. Liam Howe, co-producer, co-songwriter and keyboardist, takes a break in his London studio to do some catching up. I think we have a lot to prove with this record, Howe states. It took a year to make and we really went overboard and eventually fell into the world of perfectionism but nevertheless the intention was to be simple.
The album is intricately simple. The sound is crisp with meticulous stylings and less obscure lyrics through what Howe calls their "kitchen sink" method. Sophisticated song-writing was always first priority for Howe, Corner and Ian Pickering (the secret 5th member and co-song writer), synthesizing second, but they attempted to de-sophisticate it as much as possible. "But even then being theatrical about being simple proves that it's not simple, so you're just being theoretically simple," Howe ponders at the irony.
Though Howe believes that Bloodsport was made to serve their own amusement and has nothing to do with either their first or second record, Corner, co-songwriter, singer and guitarist thinks otherwise. This one is more of a combination of Becoming X and Splinter, Corner notes but agrees that theres a lot of dark humor in it. Transgressing the post-modern cynicism imbued in their debut, the Sneaker Pimps biting dark humor is sonically manifested into new wave, Brit-pop and alternative dance combined with spurious folk elements and a residue of trip-hop. There are no hidden messages or precious anecdotes in their lyrics and the songs themselves are constructed in a way that if taken too seriously, you'll only be laughed at behind your back by their precocious makers who feine to bring out the fool in all of us.
Songs like the retro-brandied Kiro TV and the lush Loretta Young Silks jab at the absurdity of stardom, referencing major all-American tragic figures such as Kurt Cobain and Hollywoods Loretta Young. Tragedy is far more interesting than success. Tragedy resolving into happiness is very Hollywood but the European way is wallowing in tragedy. Thats the way art is. A happy ending is not really the truth, Howe affirms. I think in that way we are quite obsessed with tragic forms like Loretta Young; she was someone opposite of the character she portrayed. But Howe is cautious with his words on the grunge rock god as he says, We made the track [Kiro TV] about peoples reaction to stardom. It doesnt actually make any particular comment about Cobain but just referencing it. I wouldnt want to put the back-stop to the Nirvana world - theres too many out there!
Bloodsport is in itself the Sneaker Pimps declaration that theyre embracing dance and pop music entirely on their own terms. According to Howe, the band always referenced dance music but never really done it and adds, but our take on dance music is never going to be normal. Were trying to do something which uses the language of dance music but somehow twisting it into a different beast. They never intended to dabble in unadulterated pop until now as well. Sick, the first single to be released, is a dulcet Brit-pop tease held together by a sassy acoustic hook, a gyrating bass line and a lounge-laden vibe. Corner notes, I think thats our idea of pop. There just doesnt seem to be anything like that in pop music and it really confuses me why because people would seem to like it. And people surely will fancy this one.
Though the UK audience has long ago forgived them for their unexpected switch to Corner as vocalist, the American crowd may linger in puzzlement before it all sinks in. They wont understand that Corner was the bands original vocalist on the demos for their debut long before Dayton came on board and that their involvement with her was just a project that Corner recalls "took on a life of its own and ran with itself." Plus, her live performance was a hindrance and though they toured for an arduous 18 months in support for Becoming X, Howe reveals that their live shows were not the standard that we believe we could achieve. That alone should justify her good riddance but it doesnt. Corner reinstalling himself as frontman is perhaps the best move the band made. The once timid goth torch singer has now fully ensconced himself as the voice of the Sneaker Pimps in their latest with a much more confident, flirty and vindictive attitude. In contrast to Dayton's detached and one-dimensional quality, Corner's effeminate vocals are actually felt, projecting the right dose of sexuality and cynicism. "I got used to singing live and projecting more and just adding a bit more character I suppose," Corner shrugs at his own development. "It does tend to change quite quickly, it's weird."
They've removed their bad seeds and endured suspicious transformations, simultaneously losing and gaining all of what made the Sneaker Pimps the Sneaker Pimps. So the next time you hear someone ask, What ever happened to the Sneaker Pimps? you can simply say that theyre back, theyve changed and have still got everything but the girl.