Rewriting his code
Sh*t Robot’s new album is darker and rougher than previous work, says Marcus Lambkin. Don’t expect to hear it live though, he tells Jim Carroll
The good news from Germany is that the shepherds are in fine fettle. These are Marcus Lambkin’s neighbours in the small village beyond Stuttgart that the Dublin native now calls home. It is far removed from the electronic music world that Lambkin knows from his day job as Shit Robot, but you get the feeling that the likeable, down-to-earth producer and DJ prefers it this way.
The other good news comes in the shape of Lambkin’s third album. What Follows may share similarities with From the Cra
dle to the Rave (2010) and We Got a Love (2014) in terms of a great roll-call of collaborators, but there are some strong, distinctive differences in the wash that make this record stand out.
This time, guests such as Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, LCD Soundsystem’s Nancy Whang, DFA luminaries Museum of Love and Juan MacLean, New Jackson and Jay Green work with Lambkin on tracks that are dark, edgy, substantial and engrossing.
Lambkin lists several reasons for the change in mood between albums. “Getting older, changing musically, getting into the darker end of things, getting away from the more disco and poppy side of things, getting back to my underground clubby roots.”
But the main reason for the change of gear was an unhappiness with his last record. “I was terrified with We Got a Love,” says Lambkin bluntly. “I was insecure because I didn’t know what I was doing and I was a bit lost. Half of it is banging and the other half has some poppy stuff and I didn’t have a clear direction. I was putting myself under a lot of pressure.” From the Cradle to the Rave had James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem producing, which Lambkin says was a “pretty sweet safety net to have”. We
Got a Love was the dreaded second record.
“I was caught halfway between the DFA disco-house world and a desire to make house and techno. I don’t think it’s a terrible record, but I wasn’t super-confident making it. I’d loads of doubts and questions. It’s a bunch of songs put together, as opposed to a cohesive record.”
Lambkin suffered a sort of identity crisis when he was DJing. “I found myself getting booked for lots of gigs because of the poppy stuff on the record, so I’d be sort of expected to be playing disco and Italo and 1980s and ironic hits and that’s not what I do. People would book me and they’d expect disco and I’d play tougher house.
“People would say ‘oh, he’s playing very hard’, and I got a few complaints. But I didn’t think what I was playing was too tough, though I have been guilty of doing that on occasion before. It wasn’t even banging techno.”
Between records, Lambkin rediscovered what first turned him on to dance music back in Dublin. “I found I wanted to get back to playing the music which I fell in love with when I initially heard dance music,” he says. “And that was drum machines and synths and locking into a groove.”
Once he had his mood music in place, Lambkin began filling in the gaps.
“I started out with nothing and gave myself a certain amount of time to hammer it out, and that’s the record. If it ended up a bit rough around the edges, that was fine. I didn’t mind if it was a little rough and ready because that’s what I wanted. I wanted it to feel like it all came from the one session. I was in a much different frame of mind.”
As always, the new Shit Robot record boasts guests and collaborations aplenty.
“I collaborate out of necessity because I can’t sing and can’t write lyrics to save my life”, he says. “I’ve enough trouble struggling to get a beat and a bassline together that I don’t have time to be coming up with great lyrics – never mind singing them.”
One of his first calls was to Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor.
“When I started to think about the album and having songs as opposed to tracks and started working on two of them, it was obvious to me that I had to have Alexis on board. I learned a long time ago about the difference when you work with the pros. I could have spent six months working on that song, playing around with it to get it right, or bring in some people not at a high enough level.
“With Alexis, he came back to me two days after hearing the music for the first time and he’d the song done. He’s working all the time. I’ve watched him in the studio and he goes to his phone and flicks through all these little
I collaborate out of necessity because I can’t sing and can’t write lyrics to save my life. I’ve enough trouble struggling to get a beat and a bassline together that I don’t have time to be coming up with great lyrics – never mind singing them
lyrics and phrases which he’d written down. He’s constantly writing and noting, which makes a huge difference compared to someone like me who comes along once in a while and thinks he can write a song.”
Still, there are times when collaborations do not gel and plans go awry. “It can make for uncom- fortable conversations in the studio,” Lambkin says. “I’ve been very lucky because I keep it to friends or friends of friends. It has been suggested that I reach out to a big pop star, but that’s not me. Even though my records may seem a little guest-heavy, I’m not into the guest-star album. That has never appealed to me.”
He admits that roping in collaborators can be hard.
“It’s not nice getting rejected, no matter how nice they are, because they’re rejecting your work. The only person I approached out of the blue was Lidell Townsell on the last record. He doesn’t normally do that kind of thing, but the name intrigued him and we Skyped for half an hour, and he was super-nice and we did it.
“But it’s not all like that. I’ve had occasions – even with friends of friends, even with people whose work I’m crazy about – where you don’t click with someone for any number of reasons and it just doesn’t work.”
What Follows is released today on DFA