“Down To Earth” is the much anticipated full-length of Aussie electro-pop producing duo Hugo Gruzman and James Lyell who go by the rather fetching moniker, Flight Facilities. The duo are one of the highlights of Noise Pop 2015 and have a sold out show at The Regency Ballroom tonight, Feb 24. On tour in the US for another month several dates have already sold out.
They’ve been the buzz since 2010 when their first single, “Crave You” featuring Giselle Roselli hit the airwaves in their native Australia, landing Number 19 of Triple J’s Hottest 100. The following year, they released the nu-disco sounds of “Foreign Language” featuring Jess Higgs. In 2012 came the classically-inspired, Claire Du Lune which shared a musical structure with its Debussy original – looped to a sullen, slow-burn, it was an about turn from Flight Facilities’ previously jaunty singles. It’s also been their highest-charting single since.
By this stage, Flight Facilities were also touring the US, Europe and Japan – confidently perfecting the art of the single. However, the clamor for an album was overwhelming and last October they finally relented and released “Down To Earth” on influential Aussie imprint, Future Classic.
Flight Facilities was taken from the aviation company that Gruzman’s grandfather started in the 1970s – a figure who appears to have loomed large on Gruzman’s childhood in the New South Wales coastal town of Merimbula. The town also has a track named after it on the album – a Cibo-Matto-like syncopated dance groove with hypnotic polyrhythms.
It’s hard not to get carried away with the aviation puns but the duo seem to revel in it. They go the full nine yards wearing the original Flight Facilities airline ties on stage. On their DJ decks – Gruzman often spots aviator goggles and helmet, while Lyell dons a FF branded pilot’s hat, looking wild and weirdly appropriate.
The debut title’s obvious aviation theme is an also fitting metaphor for the duo themselves who are nothing like the now irksome notion of the Superstar DJ. Taking the time to chat to zoomdune.com ahead of their San Francisco show, they come across as cheeky schoolboys but this belies an integrity that informs their production ethos. In this day and age when the humble brag is cool and artists thrive on blowing their own trumpet, Flight Facilities eschews that for good-humor and letting their music speak for itself.
They have Kylie Minogue one of the most bankable female voices sing on the album but they sent their preview album out with the non-credited reprise. Perhaps, she was their secret weapon to use when they needed to big up their status as hot shot producing DJ-duo. But thankfully, like a superfluous gadget in a secret agent’s arsenal, they never really need to use it. Though schedules permitting and they could get Minogue in a studio for long enough, they would relish a proper collaboration with the Pop Princess. For now, they have also put the unreleased version of Minogue’s “Crave You” in the vault, choosing to only release the a cappella version.
Their career trajectory has always been about small steps to take them to the next level while letting the music shine, even if it means claiming they are from Trinidad and Tobago to throw punters off the scent. This mastery in stealth has meant that they have indeed won many international fans over, purely from their smooth grooves. Yet now that they have succeeded, what’s next?
They have hinted at something big to happen at the end of this year – ‘an evolution in their musicianship’. Will they both play instruments like a regular band? Or they will write and perform in a rock musical?
Well, ladies and gentlemen Flight Facilities have taken off now so we’ll all have to sit back and enjoy the grooves till the seat-bell sign is off.
You seem to be living up to the Flight Facilities name – criss-crossing the globe, what’s it been like? Are you jet-lag constantly?
Hugo: At the moment we are. We’re just dealing with it but we all went to bed early last night. Feels like in the last year we’ve gotten better at handling the jet-lag. Brooke (vocalist) unfortunately, was up from 2am and couldn’t get back to sleep till 4am. But we’re in Vancouver now and it’s just nice and chill.
In your heads – does it feel like a slow, gradual ascent or a pretty much overnight success?
Hugo: Initially, it felt slow then after “Crave You” it felt like an overnight thing. In terms of how musical careers usually go, I guess it is overnight – we’ve only been in it for 5 years so it all feels like such a privilege to us. We are always so grateful that we got this opportunity.
“Down To Earth” what a fab album – it’s very diverse, let’s talk about some of these collabs? How did the Reggie Watts collaboration happen?
Hugo: We were definitely interested in working with Reggie Watts, our management then contacted his management …
James: We recorded it in a basement in New York. I was there and Hugo was in Bondi. This is how things happen now – it’s a new age way to record. And Reggie, he is so funny and just made the whole thing into a comedy routine – he does a couple of takes in the booth, stuffs it up, comes out laughs and then goes back in. We then worked on the lyrics and the melody together.
Hugo: We had a version of his appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and we took his voice on that and started sort of using syllabus and from there making the rest of the track – if you can understand that? And it took us about 8hours, then we were done.
And that’s pretty fast for you guys right?
Hugo: Yes (laughs), it is I guess. We usually take a year to make a single.
And the Bishop Nehru track, “Why Do You Feel” – I really love it, it’s got a laid back ‘90s Tupac meets Fresh Prince vibe but the lyrics are a bit sad. Bishop Nehru’s like 18 right, how did that come about?
Hugo: We’ve always wanted to do a hip hop track and capture that West Coast sound. We’ve tried to work with a few other hip hop artists in the past and it’s not happened. But he’s was the last one and we did it really quickly. We always wanted to show diversity with our work. And also in context of those Decade Mixes that we do, we wanted to show that we are influenced by these various decades but we can also do a modern track from that.
Apart from your mystery guest singing the reprise for “Crave You” and perhaps Reggie Watt – a lot of the other vocalists are Australians and not very well-known – Micky Green, Giselle Roselli, and Christine Hoberg though she’s from NY…why is that?
Hugo: We wanted to showcase a voice that sounded unique. With the male vocalists that we have worked with – Grosvenor, Reggie Watts and Stee Downes – they have such unique vocals like an instrument you can’t be blinded by. With girls we are after a vocal idiosyncrasy, something that you can maybe pick up on.
They have very Australian accents to me.
Hugo: We just smile about that because to us it’s not particularly Australian. Or we don’t hear it cause we’re so close to the project. We actually think we choose voices that aren’t typically ‘Australian’. Giselle she sounds like she could be French. And Micky Green has lived in Paris for the last 10 years. She’s got a bit of an unusual mixed accent too.
What was it like meeting Kylie Minogue?
Hugo: We both had the biggest crush on her before and after. Don’t print that she might think we’re weird.
Surely not, she featured you guys on her Spotify first?
Hugo: OK, or maybe in an endearing way… you know to have your parents talk about Kylie Minogue your whole life then to get this opportunity. And when we were going into the studio with her, Kylie just made everyone feel so comfortable – like she was an old friend. It was amazingly beautiful. And she has this energy that was just disarming. She just was this true blue Australian girl and we were just hanging out with her. And that allowed us to work really efficiently with her. Giving her direction then became easy – as you might be worried about how you’re going to give Kylie Minogue directions? But we did and it was like giving directions to Giselle or Micky. I imagine she’s like dynamite in tough situations.
Did you guys agree with management about her being left off the original preview album stream?
Hugo: That was our idea initially. We didn’t want to use Kylie to boost the album or overshadow the other work. It wasn’t so much undermining it but we didn’t want it to be like the knock out punch. We were also being careful. She’s got such a great reputation we didn’t want to abuse it. If we did put her upfront that it would be a mark of us not showing our confidence. And we are very confident about our music and what we do.
In the early days you just wanted to make music, and weren’t particularly interested in being famous or even risk people knowing your true identities – the cat is out of the bag now so where do you stand on the fame game today because you have achieved some amount of celebrity – how do you avoid the trappings of being famous, or celebrity or as you once put it ‘not being dicks’?
James: Probably helps that in Australia you have the tall poppy syndrome – if you get too big for your boots there’s always some one there ready to cut you down. Be it anonymously, on the internet or straight to your face.
Hugo: I also have a brother and sister and they will not have a bar of it from me. And if I did act even remotely like I was a celebrity, I would be brought back to earth so I’m very careful with what I say. I treat everyone like they were my brother and sister.
So one of you has moved to New York and the other remains in Bondi – how does that work? And why the move?
James: I did move to New York but I realized that this year I’m not going to be really in any one place so I am not living there anymore. I still have my stuff in New York. Over this Summer in Sydney, I’ve just been renting a friend’s house. I don’t want to rent anywhere while we’re on tour – I really want to experience life on the road fully. Well, I know you can’t completely because you’re always going to miss home, your parents, girlfriend, friends, dog but I don’t want to pay rent and for the moment it seems to be working.
In interviews you’ve said several times that when you finally make a full-length album it’s also about making something to show your kids – do you feel like perhaps this business is fickle and fleeting, rather than someone like Kylie or even The Church who are playing NoisePop in SF – they are in it for the long haul?
James: Sure. We just want to have all our bases checked. We’re always going ‘oh cool, wow – we’re going on a world tour in a bus!’ But you’re only as popular as people let you be. You’re only as good as your last single or last record. If people stop buying tickets and coming to our shows then we can’t do this anymore and we’ll go and do something else.
Hugo: We also don’t want to be a time and place band, a ‘70s, ‘80’s or ‘90s act. We don’t want to be transported into a certain time and place, we want to make timeless songs. A good pop song is a good song any day, any decade.
I know Hugo you were a pizza boy and James was a barista before things took off – but you have a solid understanding of song structure and you write instrumentals for your songs, what are your musical backgrounds – it has to be more than just going out clubbing to Mylo from 2004 to 2007?
James: That’s pretty much it. You’ve got all of Hugo’s inspirations right there.
Hugo: I played bagpipes at school. And my parents had a very good record collection from the ‘50s onwards. So I’ve been just listening, adapting and replicating.
So you’re completely self-taught?
Hugo: Yes. Self-taught. Big time. Entirely. I’ve just listened and learn.
James: My dad was a pianist but I never took lessons. I did learn it on my own. He use to also jam with the guys from Men at Work – and he was pretty good. I picked up a bit of bass and guitar but the first instrument I learnt was the drums. I never knew how to read music or musical theory. I think I studied it a little bit at school but never got good marks. But growing up I use to play in bands so music has always been a big part of my life. But Hugo could have been anything. I would have maybe gone into advertising or something if this hadn’t worked out.
Hugo: I think I would have been fired, turning up anywhere else at mid-day.(laughs)
So what’s the next step for you guys?
James: We actually have a project for the end of the year. It will be an evolution for us. And a different way of working in terms of our musicianship. But as far as the album is concerned – we will be touring and growing the band in as many continents as possible.
World domination basically?
James: Well in relation to what Hugo was saying before maybe … humble world domination.
Is the last time you guys played San Francisco in 2012 when we still thought you were from Trinidad and Tobago?
Hugo: (Laughs) Actually, we played SF last year. It was after Coachella.
So what can we expect at your sold out show at The Regency Ballroom?
James: We will be playing tracks from the album that we haven’t played live yet. And expect a bit of a spectacle.
Noise Pop 2015 features more than 150 acts in more than a dozen venues around the Bay Area till March 1. The Opening Night Party kicked off last night with Rogue Wave and last minute mystery guest, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard at the Noise Pop headquarters – the newly re-opened Swedish American Music Hall. Click here for the schedule with acts such as Craft Spells, The One and Only PPLMR and Eleanor Friedberger which still have tickets available.
Please visit flightfacilities.com for further tour dates.