James Lavelle Shares His Inspiration Behind ‘The Road: Part 1,’ UNKLE’s First Album in 7 Years
After several years of hiatus, James Lavelle’s electronic outfit UNKLE is back with a new album. “The Road: Part 1,” much like Lavelle’s past albums, take its inspiration from all forms of art. UNKLE has been crafting otherworldly hip-hop beats with an alt-rock tinge for twenty-five years, and Lavelle, along with co-founding the record label Mo’ Wax, has been prolific in the creation of the underground world of experimental music in the U.K. and beyond. Alongside the new album, Lavelle has been hard at work creating exhibitions around the U.K. which incorporates his music, along with collaborations with fashion designers and visual artists of all kinds.
Ahead of the album release on Aug. 18, Lavelle talked with Entertainment Voice to give us the scoop on the long-awaited project and his plans to bring “The Road: Part 1” to the U.S.
You’ve said that your new album “The Road: Part 1” was born, in part, from the Meltdown Festival, an annual cultural event that you curated in 2014. What was it about this event that led to the creation of your first album in seven years?
It didn’t inspire me to make the record but it was definitely a catalyst for meeting people that helped become what this record became. It was just one of those moments… Meltdown was such an amazing event for me because it sort of put me right back in the world of music. It put me in touch with a bunch of people, some people who I already had known, a lot of new people that ended up contributing to the record.
In addition, you’ve said that modern-day London provided a lot of inspiration for the album. Tell us a little more about what that city brought to “The Road.”
I think London is like any great city but especially London is incredibly multi-cultural and it’s an amazing musical landscape. There’s certain periods where you’re doing things in America and you’re taking in that sort of environment around you (but) this time when I worked on the record it was very much (about) spending time in London and reacting to that environment that influenced it. Mainly just this multi-cultural canvas. The fact that I’m working with a lot of mixed-race artists, a lot of people that are culturally mixed-race people. They created this interesting musical landscape for me. I’ve been growing up around it a big part of my whole life, but I think particularly on this record I wanted to soak that up again and bring that into the record. Hence, why there’s people like ESKA and YSÉE and Elliot Power and people like that on the record.
Speaking of ESKA, she’s featured on the title track “The Road.” What lead to the creation of this song and your collaboration with her?
I met her at Meltdown. She did the UNKLE performance at Meltdown and I just fell in love with her when I met her. She’s just this amazingly talented and beautiful woman. So her and people like Keaton (Henson) that contributed to that show I wanted to work on the record. And the session was amazing. We worked on quite a lot of things. I actually worked with her on a show with Rick Owens where we did a live performance for one of his fashion shows, and from that I then presented her the idea for the track for “The Road.” She contributed on that and then she contributed on the (Mark) Lanegan track (“Looking for the Rain”) and a few of the tracks that aren’t released yet as well.
Much of your music in the past is said to have been inspired by cinema. The single you mentioned, “Looking for the Rain,” falls very much within that vein. What kind of film would you imagine this track would fit within?
First thing that springs to mind is a sort of Cormack McCarthy type of scenario. “No Country for Old Men” type of thing… “Hell of High Water, a movie like that (laughs), in many ways. Sort of Americana, deep south or Midwest Americana. That’s what initially springs to mind.
The album cover is fantastic. Any art critic worth their salt would have a thousand questions about its meaning. What can you tell us about the cover art?
It’s with Jonas Burgert. I’ve known Jonas for about seven or eight years. I met him just before, he has now kind of erupted and is one of the biggest contemporary painters around at the moment. For me, the art and design is incredibly important. I sort of built a relationship over the past several years working with him on art projects, and that painting that you see on the front cover is the first painting that I ever saw of his when I first met him in his studio. Also, within the artwork there’s a lot of other artists I’ve worked with. Two of the other artists I worked with are a part of his studio complex.
You recently helped produce a series of a multi-sensory exhibitions in the U.K. to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of UNKLE. What did these exhibitions entail?
I’ve done two (so far), one in London at Lazarides Gallery, which is where Banksy came out of, and I did another one in Leeds and I’m doing more. I’m doing something in Camden in September. It’s a collection, depending on the space, of video work, artworks and merchandise that I’ve made over the past 25 years. Leeds, for instance, had a massive collection of t-shirts and sneakers and toys as well as paintings. So, that ranged from artists like Futura through contemporary artists that I work with now and then things like collaborations that I’ve done with Supreme, Bathing Ape, Nike, Converse, over the last 25 years.
You’re currently doing shows in the U.K. Do you have any plans to bring “The Road” to The States.
Yea, we’ve been touring this summer. You can see it on our Facebook. We’ve done a load of shows. We’ve got a show coming up in September 26 [in London]. I just did a very cool audio-visual show last week which was pretty sick. Trying to work out American plans at the moment. Trying to get out as much as possible.
“The Road: Part 1” is available Aug. 18 on Apple Music.