Artificial Pleasure

By
Photography Robert Bellamy

Published December 7, 2016

ARTIFICIAL PLEASURE IN LONDON, NOVEMBER 2016. TOP ROW: PHIL MCDONNELL. SECOND ROW FROM LEFT: LEE JORDAN AND DOM BRENNAN. PHOTOS: ROBERT BELLAMY. STYLING: KELLY-ANN HUGHES. HAIR: MICHAEL HARDING FOR BUMBLE AND BUMBLE. MAKEUP: ROBERTA KEARSEY FOR MAC COSMETICS. PHOTO ASSISTANT: JAKE MCFADDEN. SPECIAL THANKS: F4F STUDIOS. 

“Let me out, I really wanna dance!” These are the cries—half mantra, half plea—that echo throughout Artificial Pleasure’s latest track, “I’ll Make It Worth Your While.” We can relate; it’s difficult to resist the song’s infectious groove and teeming energy, which is anything but artificial.

The British trio’s foray into an electro-funk-rock landscape—inspired by the sounds of Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft, LCD Soundsystem, and both Davids (Bowie and Byrne)—has been, for the most part, organic. Artificial Pleasure is barely a year old with two singles to their name thus far, and most of their material is mixed and produced by the band’s members; the London-based group consists of Phil McDonnell (vocals and guitar), Dom Brennan (synths), and Lee Jordan (drums), all of whom were previously part of the band Night Engine.

The music video for “I’ll Make It Worth Your While,” which we are pleased to premiere below, is as delightfully disorienting as the track. Prior to filming, McDonnell told Interview, “What I liked about the idea for the video is that it has a bit of a sense of humor.” It’s the type of humor—half amusing, half bemusing—that’s likely to elicit more questions than laughs and leave the viewer pleasantly perplexed.

We caught up with McDonnell over the phone to talk about Artificial Pleasure and the band’s plans for the future.

PIMPLOY PHONGSIRIVECH: I’m curious about the name Artificial Pleasure. Where did that come from?

PHIL MCDONNELL: Well for us it’s a term to express the enjoyment of any sort of art form. I think it first came [from] Cromwell Tower, this really brutalist building in Central London. It just looks like nothing natural at all—very manmade. It got me thinking about how most art forms and the many things we take pleasure from don’t resemble anything natural. All art forms are artificial in that someone’s had to create it.

PHONGSIRIVECH: I just looked up Cromwell Tower. You’re right. It’s a little—

MCDONNELL: Do you see what I mean? It’s absolutely manmade. Sheer concrete. It’s quite stunning. Some people think it’s utterly hideous.

PHONGSIRIVECH: You and Dom are childhood friends, right?

MCDONNELL: I went to primary school with Dom. I’ve known him since I can remember.

PHONGSIRIVECH: Did you have the same taste in music growing up?

MCDONNELL: Yeah. I mean, Dom has the most encyclopedic music knowledge that I’ve known of anyone. The stuff he liked was far more out there. We’re both Bowie, Talking Heads [fans], but he got me into DAF [Deustsch Amerikanishce Freundschaft] and he got me into Can. If I’m honest, I think Dom expanded my musical knowledge and horizons, for want of a better word.

PHONGSIRIVECH: So did Bowie, Talking Heads, and DAF all influence “I’ll Make It Worth Your While”?

MCDONNELL: You know what, it’s strange because some people pick up on certain influences, and a lot of people name [ones] that I can hear in the track but weren’t actually part of the track. Anyway, I remember watching Gang of Four at Glastonbury and there was something about a bass line that they did—the feel of a bass line—where it was just so simple that I thought, “Well, I can do that.” A riff can be that simple.

We do a lot of gang vocals too. DAF has an song called “Kebab Timer” [“Kebab-Traüme”] that has these amazing group vocals, and there’s just something about a huge amount of people doing it at the same time … If you listen to Funkadelic records, it all sounds like a bunch of people in a room having an amazing time. So a bit of that group stuff from Funkadelic came in.

And then I suppose there’s Talking Heads, with very simple grooves that go on and on for a whole song, and the rest of the instruments move around them. You know the chorus [of] “Once In A Lifetime”? That’s the same bass line, but the vocals are going in different directions, and the guitars are going in different directions. That’s what Talking Heads taught me: You can keep a groove for five, six minutes and it doesn’t have to change. Other things are just going to happen around it.

PHONGSIRIVECH: And your first live show is next Monday. Will the performance or choreography also be inspired by Bowie and Byrne?

MCDONNELL: I suppose there is a hint of some of the David Byrne stuff. The main thing is when we play live, we acknowledge that there’s an audience there. Everything’s built around the fact that someone’s had to listen to this and that someone’s come to see us live. There are a lot of bands that will look at their feet or close their eyes for most of it, and that works for them, but we’re going to go as crazy as the audience wants to. That makes it more of a reciprocal relationship, because the music is really written with the audience almost being part of the track.

PHONGSIRIVECH: Speaking of writing, how did the lyrics for this one come about?

MCDONNELL: The bass line came first, then the lyrics to the chorus was just an improvised thing that I was doing. It’s about how sometimes you want to let go, sometimes you want to do something uncharacteristic. Some people want to go out and get destroyed, some want to do something that makes them feel different—it’s an escapism in whatever way you want it to be.

PHONGSIRIVECH: I’ve read a lot about how you guys are very DIY. Do you? “Do it yourselves,” I mean. And has that always been the case?

MCDONNELL: Yeah. As a band you’ve got to be able to do a lot of it yourself. You can’t rely on record companies or anyone to come on-board. Being DIY means that from writing the song, recording it to mixing it—everything is under our control. There are moments when you relinquish that control to other people who are more talented, but it means that hopefully what we’re producing is closer to what we want it to be.

PHONGSIRIVECH: The band formed at the start of this year, right? So you’re almost a year old now.

MCDONNELL: That’s right, yeah.

PHONGSIRIVECH: How’s that going—the dynamics and everything. No drama so far?

MCDONNELL: You’re trying to get gossip here! [laughs] No, no. In a boring way we’ve never had a punch up, and we’ve rarely had arguments. If we have a disagreement, a couple minutes later we’ve forgotten about it. I suppose the focus has always been [that] we’re really happy with the music. We could argue, but then we’d play the songs and we’re like, “Okay. Yeah. We’re fine now.”

It works because we all have slightly different attributes. Dom has a huge technical knowledge. He does the producing and the mixing, so that’s why we can record our own stuff exactly how we want. And Lee has this amazing honesty; if something’s not right he doesn’t care necessarily if we like it. He’ll speak up if he doesn’t and pretty much every time he’s right. He’s very calm, always honest, and always sees the big picture. And then I bring the material in. As a relationship it works really well. We’re very, very close. It’s nice to find two people that you’re very much on the same page as.

PHONGSIRIVECH: And what else are you working on apart from the video?

MCDONNELL: After the video we’re going to go back into studio and are recording as much as we can. We’ve got four or five [songs that] we want to put down. Come the New Year, we’re going to start with releasing a new single and, building into that, a UK tour.

PHONGSIRIVECH: And then one in North America?

MCDONNELL: That’d be great, yeah. We’ll see. It’s baby steps. But America is a great place to tour, because you can keep on going for months and months and months, and that’s what we want to keep doing, really. We just wanna keep playing.

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