With influences including HURTS, PET SHOP BOYS, HOT CHIP and FENECH-SOLER, London based REAL EXPERTS recently released their third album ‘Expertism For The Casual Voyeur’.
Utilising a variety of guest vocalists, this ambitious double album builds on their first two long playing records, ‘Benchmark’ and ‘The Trade Off’.
Coining the phrase “perfect pop” as an ethos for the varied palette of REAL EXPERTS, the collective’s Tame Genius Andrew Maley chatted to The Electricity Club about this latest opus.
What is the concept of REAL EXPERTS, is it an umbrella, a collective or a solo project with guest vocals?
I guess out of those options it would be an umbrella! The concept is primarily to record infectious electropop songs, regardless of collaborators. It’s certainly not meant to be a solo project, quite often the idea of it being a ‘proper’ band is appealing. But a combination of two things have really made it what it is.
Firstly logistics, like many artists now where you can collaborate easily with people online, it widens the net (no pun intended), and then in my personal case I get too tempted by asking so many amazing vocalists to guest with us.
It does sometimes feel like I’ve created a monster!
But the incentive is always that every song is a finished, polished, sparkling moment of pop music regardless of the combination of musicians on them. Well, in theory anyway.
Who are the biggest music influences on REAL EXPERTS?
Like many people of my age and generation, growing up with the glory of the 80s had an obvious impact. I think ahead of that in the late 70s, being exposed to disco and the funk side of soul was probably subconsciously imbedded in me.
But the whole package that surrounded pop music is the biggest factor, it’s more than just the music alone, I always need the memories and emotions attached, watching your favourite bands on TV as a child, discovering new music with school friends, begging your parents to let you go to places, taping the charts off the radio, reading Smash Hits and Number One magazine, all of that is what’s as much an influence.
WHAM! were my first big favourite band, I wanted to be George Michael I guess. Eventually come late 1985, PET SHOP BOYS took over and even though I already predominately preferred electronic music, it became the mainstay. DEPECHE MODE and NEW ORDER are always the other two I cite as the biggest influence of that era on me. By the time the band had become (The) REAL EXPERTS though it was THE BELOVED that probably had the biggest impact, and then RÖYKSOPP.
But things seemed to go full circle a bit in the past 10 years where that indie electro pop crossover had a bit of a golden generation, and I can never stress enough to people that I try and take more from fresh current bands, I never decide I’m going to make an 80s-sounding track. The biggest current influences are HURTS, CHROMEO, WHITE LIES, FENECH-SOLER, HOT CHIP, FRIENDLY FIRES, CUT COPY, that sort of thing.
Your previous album ‘The Trade Off’ was well received, particularly the single ‘Disco Tears’ featuring Daniel Angelus, so what have you done differently this time round with ‘Expertism For The Casual Voyeur’?
There’s nothing too different in terms of the songwriting and the general themes, in the main I try and take sometimes trivial aspects of life and make them into something more dramatic.
That’s the privilege and beauty with songwriting anyway, that unspoken creative licence.
I think I’m probably too close to it to notice if there’s any change in maturity in the way things are done, I just get on with it really. But I think the one noticeable difference looking back is with each album we do I think the production quality is better and this particular album coincided with new equipment, new synths, less of a wall of sound we sometimes have, I think it’s a more powerful fatter sound at times. But the general concept is the same before, trying to write catchy songs that people will remember.
This album has actually stayed more electronic than perhaps I thought it would at the start. Most of my songs begin life just at the piano, and in my mind I often imagine a more radical end-product in my head, but I think an out-and-out indie album for example will be reserved for yet even more side projects, and probably part of the grand masterplan to produce other acts.
He does indeed, probably the most versatile vocalist I’ve ever met. And on a technical level always faultless, never a bad take!
But to answer the question, it simply goes back to some of the other things we talked about, REAL EXPERTS from the start was always going to be featuring several artists, a bit of logistics thrown in too, and also for example some songs I write specifically for a female voice, every song is its own entity in our world.
But whenever we perform live, Daniel has been the most utilised and reliable, and actually the most proactive anyway, he lives for that time on the stage more than anyone else we have worked with.
How did ‘Expertism For The Casual Voyeur’ end up being a double CD?
Well essentially, it’s supposed to be a 12 track album like the previous two. Was just a set of circumstances that led to so many on the CD? We had a surplus of tracks anyway, and a couple I wrote very late in the day but wanted to get out there, so I decided on having 5 bonus tracks. So the digital release on all the platforms are those 17 tracks combined, the CD actually has the three B-sides from the singles from this album. Once I knew there would be two discs, I stuck them on there to add value, in my opinion!
I just felt that we had all these recordings done and available and I already know we have another whole batch of new songs beyond this album, so I didn’t need to hold them back.
There’s twenty songs, now that’s a lot of tracks made in a comparatively short time, how did you maintain quality control?
Well yes, that’s true. I always joke that I could record a song a day, but it’s actually not an exaggeration, as ridiculous as it sounds! I guess I do the quality control as I go along. Ever since I was young when I record something, as I go through that process and stop and listen back over and over and ask myself in the capacity of a punter if someone else had played me this or if I heard it randomly somewhere would I like it? Would I get bored by it? Would I remember it? I’ve just got into the mindset of being able to detach myself from it, so I sort of become a fan of my own music. Sounds a bit pretentious, but I can listen to our tracks for pure pleasure quite easily.
I know lots of artists don’t like listening to their own music, but that’s alien to me. So essentially by the time I’ve finished a demo of a new track, I know it’s going to end up being out there is some capacity for people to hear. And I’m writing songs all day every day in my head, so the volume is high. I know again, for some artists, writing an album for some can take a long time, but to me 20 songs in an 18-month period since the last album is nothing!
I also have a very nice setup now with Daryn Brown who mixes and masters everything I do, and I gauge his reaction every time I send him something as I value his opinion on the non-technical side of it too. I think I surprise even him sometimes with the relentlessness of it.
That’s a very fair question, and an obvious one for us in particular. Personally I embrace the variety, although the number of featured artists probably does escalate more than originally planned at times. But what I will say is I think the way the internet has changed what music has become, particularly independent music, has had an effect too. Everyone has shorter attention spans, people flick through music, they don’t listen through as much.
Well obviously some do, but I would suspect if someone is presented with a new album to listen to digitally they will play the start of each song, maybe click into the middle, then do the same thing with every other song.
So the life of modern music seems to be a quick-fire mish-mash anyway, that’s the point I’m trying to make, and also quite often I think artists struggle to be able to record an album that’s good from start to finish, plus in my personal case I can get bored with hearing the same voice for 12 songs, particularly if the music is too samey too.
So the upshot of all that is yes, maybe our albums verge on it sounding like a ‘Now’ album, but if each song is fresh sounding and vibrant and catchy I don’t worry about it. Everyone’s different, I know it may confuse some, but I get more positive comments about the variety being a nice thing. And I guess it’s what makes us US.
‘How About No?’ featuring Strobegirl has polarised some listeners both lyrically and musically? What are your thoughts on that?
Well, I will always accept anyone’s opinion about anything we do, as you know the main task for all of us is getting the unassuming public to hear the music, so the law of averages will dictate that you have to accept all kinds of reaction.
Funnily enough of all the songs I’ve ever written, ‘How About No?’ is the most intentionally disposable. Some songs can be deep and meaningful, but that’s not what necessarily makes them stick in people’s head. What a song is about to the listener is often not the same as what it means to the artist.
It is unashamedly a blatant pop song with a bit of humour thrown in, it’s not trying to be something it isn’t, it’s probably aimed at a younger audience, but on this album it’s been the most popular song along with ‘Yet’, two very different songs, so it just shows that sometimes you never know what will happen.
It’s a song about observing what happens when drunk idiots start fighting in pubs and how they somehow find time to impress women in the attempt that the primitive male will still conquer. And I think it’s one of the best produced Expert tracks so far. As an artist when you release something you’re publicly documenting something you put your name to, and I’m very pleased with that song, and very comfortable with any comments. Ha!
Ha! Actually no, I didn’t discover that until afterwards, although over 40 million YouTube views is not to be sniffed at! Like with some of the other collaborators, I discovered Neil on the synth radio shows and then we became online friends. He’s one of the friendliest guys I’ve ever met actually, and like myself he doesn’t just like electronic music for the sake of it being electronic, he loves a good song and melody.
So he just asked me if I would write a song for him to sing on, it was that straight forward really, but I knew with his voice it would have to be something epic. Funnily enough ‘Yet’ is the kind of track I would have recorded years ago, the whole driving bass with piano and sweeping strings etc. The whole track just felt right from the start really.
I think people’s first reaction to hearing a song is quite telling, especially with the things I mentioned earlier about how less of a chance is given for the casual listener online, so when we started consistently getting a good response to it, we just knew it had gone down well. It’s one of the songs I’m most proud of writing actually, in terms of a classic hook, verse, bridge, chorus template that just flows perfectly.
You sing on a few tracks yourself, but also sing on your solo project TAME GENIUS. How do you decide what is sung by you and what requires a different vocal timbre? When is it REAL EXPERTS or TAME GENIUS?
I get asked this a lot actually. Usually the TAME GENIUS solo tracks have more of a light-hearted edge to them, and I decide quite early on when an idea comes to me whether it will be saved for that or used for REAL EXPERTS.
Most of the REAL EXPERTS songs are earmarked for others to sing, but what sometimes happens is during the demo process I can tell if my vocals suit it, and then they stay really. There’s quite a bit of flexibility involved. Occasionally there are some REAL EXPERTS songs which I feel only I can do justice in terms of the emotive attachment.
Quite often the TAME GENIUS tracks becomes easier and more enjoyable, because I haven’t got to think about any else, and whether it should have bass guitar, lead guitar etc. One day I may concentrate on TAME GENIUS more, haven’t really decided yet, at the moment it works quite nicely in between REAL EXPERTS as an outlet.
I think I do probably sing them in a slightly different style for TAME GENIUS, I always have loads of layers anyway, but maybe I use a lower range more often. I’m quite proud of some of them though actually… ‘Synthpop Changed My Life’, ‘Ha!’, ‘Intergalactic Princess’ etc.
What inspired the new video for ‘London/Luck’? How did it come together?
Well, even though ‘London/Luck’ is technically a bonus track, I wanted to do something that encapsulates being in London, visually. And I’ve probably had more compliments about that song than any other recently, people seem to like piano! And obviously it’s quite an uplifting heart-warming tribute to the city, and most of our fans live outside of UK and never tire of telling me they wish they could come to London.
There’s a small anti-Brexit aspect to it too, although usually we are the last band to ever have any political messages behind songs. I just felt that it’s one of the most emotional tracks we have done so it felt like a good choice.
And of course, more video content is important. YouTube seems to be king anyway these days, for all the dedicated music sites, new listeners tend to ask if something is on YouTube. It’s a bit crazy but the culture seems to be that it’s acceptable listen to music to a blank video file on that platform. Certainly for the younger generation, and ultimately youth culture is what dictates most things.
Yes indeed, this is probably our biggest topic of debate. Apart from anything else, electronic music performed live is often a case of trying to make it more of a spectacle than the musicianship actually is.
But of course our biggest challenge is trying to incorporate as many of the guests as possible. In actual fact we’ve never done the same set twice, not only for that reason, but also I like making every performance different anyway. So yes, the whole thing becomes a logistical exercise as much as anything else.
It is a learning curve yes; I think the biggest aspect we’ve tried to address is once we know the songs and who’s performing that particular set is to make it flow well enough, even with people coming on and off stage, which of course is not ideal.
I think it can work both ways for an audience, I accept maybe if they don’t know much about us it can be confusing, but… most of the feedback I get is they like the variety and it adds to the spectacle. But we’ve never tried to pretend it’s something other than what it is, there are some songs I really want people to hear live, and I think that’s the most important thing. If people hear us performing a song and they like it the complexity of the whole setlist doesn’t seem as important.
I think to also help the transition on stage in the future we will introduce more visuals and projections, which a lot of fellow artists do anyway, but I think in our case it would make even more sense. One of the key things I’ve learned is you have to put on some kind of show, it’s a whole package.
The percussive crate that was used in some shows confused some observers?
Ah, you are referring to the ‘cajon’ to give it its proper name! There were different factors that led to that being utilised. We do perform a fair few acoustic unplugged sets, which we all enjoy actually, so for those sets obviously having live percussion was very apt, and vital.
But the driving factor behind it is I love the feeling of us all being a collective band on stage, regardless of the genre, you can’t beat that feeling sometimes of a group of friends being as one performing live music. So maybe I’ve allowed the comradery to override other things on occasions, but… we have made the decision now that the ‘crate’ will only be used for acoustic shows.
I can only apologise to the electro purists for past misdemeanours!
You’re also presenting ‘Perfect Pop’ on Artefaktor Radio. Is that potentially a creative distraction to your own music?
Yes indeed, it’s been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done actually. I always wanted to present a radio show, I always felt I would be good at it, but also with the vast collection of music I have combined with my anorak brain with song details I feel it’s a perfect platform for me.
Obviously I feel very privileged to be in the position I now am, receiving so much new music and being able to network with so many people. Of course it can hard sometimes when you have to be selective, but Artefaktor is a great place for me to be, I feel very lucky, I owe them a lot.
The show has almost accidentally become a nice vehicle to tap into a form of escape for a lot of people, I try and present it in a down to earth honest way and offer just an enjoyable two hours of exciting and fresh pop music. Plus it seems having a British accent goes down well with listeners outside of the UK!
So what’s next for you?
Well, pretty much more of the same, I have never had to go a long period to take or break or discover myself, or get writers block or anything, there are always loads of songs that are waiting to be recorded.
That said, will work at a fairly casual pace on the next REAL EXPERTS album even though I know what most of the tracks will be already, and some exciting new collaborations lined up for it too. I have quite a few remixes to do for artists too, which is very flattering and fulfilling, following on from the remixes I did for NATURE OF WIRES, DAMSEL IN THE DOLLHOUSE and VOI VANG which went down well in particular.
And following on from one of your questions, I will probably work on a new TAME GENIUS EP soon too. And of course with future live shows and events to arrange alongside the radio show, even if I wanted to have a break I couldn’t anyway! I get too much of a buzz from the recording process to be honest, I’ll never stop, you’d have to shoot me or something. Ha!
I might write a book too, been meaning to do that for years…
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Andrew Maley
‘Expertism For The Casual Voyeur’ is available in CD and download formats via
Catch up with ‘Perfect Pop’ on Artefaktor Radio at: https://www.mixcloud.com/andrew-maley/
Text by Chi Ming Lai
23rd March 2017