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Groove Armada: Country Grammar.

24 February 2003 | 1:00 am | Paul Rankin
Originally Appeared In

Groove Is In The Ass.

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Groove Armada play Festival Hall on February 28.

Tom Findlay and Andy Cato are two men on a mission. Their mission, which they have gladly chosen to accept, is to create a truly 'great' album. If the criteria for a great album is one that is critically praised, or one that the artists are happy with, or even one that millions of people have bought, their mission would have been accomplished years ago. Many times over. "You can't put your finger on what a truly great record is," says Tom Findlay, one half of Groove Armada. "But when we make it, we'll know."

Groove Armada have moved one step closer to their aim with the release late last year of Lovebox, a sweltering album that packs a dramatic punch to the eardrums. Four albums and five years after forming, the London lads are still searching for their elusive goal.

"We are yet to make our really great record. I think we might be able to make one of those and each new album is bringing us closer and closer to it. We'll hang around till we make our truly great record, and then we can retire."

Groove Armada need little introduction. As one of the biggest names in dance music, their seminal sounds, like At The River, Superstylin' and I See You Baby have gyrated out of their studio and into the hearts and minds of millions. While many fans would disagree that they have not yet made any great albums, it is their constant striving to improve their sound that is perhaps their most enduring quality. Despite selling millions of albums, featuring on hundreds of compilations and having their current UK tour selling out within a matter of days, Tom Findlay gives the distinct impression that they are nowhere near accomplished in the studio.

"The whole process of making an album is a process of learning constantly and getting better at what we do," explains Findlay. "We're both still relatively young, and I think we are both quite ambitious in terms of becoming better producers. If you just keep your ears open and keep watching people, like we have during this album, you will get better at it."

Their previous album, Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub) was a huge success, going platinum and spawning a couple of hit singles, yet when he listened to it recently after a prolonged break, the always-perfectionist Findlay still managed to find faults with it. "There were aspects of Goodbye Country that we were proud of, and other bits that we felt where maybe things had been a bit misunderstood, or we could have done things better. We were on our own for nine months and we learned a lot from our own mistakes - how to do things and how not to do things."

The changing sound of Groove Armada is only too evident on Lovebox. With a little help from their friends, Neneh Cherry, Red Rat and Richie Havens, the outcome is a lot more in-your-face than previous efforts. "We really wanted to make a record that was a bit more visceral and exciting. I think Goodbye Country was maybe us growing old a bit too quickly. This is a more of a raucous club album. Just getting back to the spirit of playing places where there is a bit of mayhem and madness. We want to make a few more records like that before we put our pipes and slippers on."

The release of Lovebox came less than a year after the previous album, and follows a lengthy world tour promoting the album. Normally notoriously guarded, Tom hints at in-fighting that occurred within the band over the past six months, rumoured to be over money. "We weren't experiencing problems that any artists hasn't experienced in the past. The pressures of trying to maintain a good relationship with your record company and trying to keep everybody happy. We got to a weird stage where we were doing quite well, but not necessarily that well. And everyone who's working with you thinks you're doing a lot better than you are. So we were just trying to keep everybody happy, the band, the crew, and at the same time keep ourselves motivated to keep making music. But I think we came through that. I think the band as a unit are stronger now than we have ever been.”

When Groove Armada toured Australia early last year, their live performance was universally hailed as one of their finest hours, a view that is fondly shared by Findlay when he recalls their Australian shows. Understandably Findlay is proud of their live performances, but if there is such a thing as hubris in dance music, no one can accuse the production side of Groove Armada of having it. "When it comes down to putting stuff on record, I still think we haven't made a great record yet, but we're getting there. But I do think as a live band we're the best there is in the UK."

Findlay's statement is not made lightly and is one that he is prepared to back up.

"I've got enormous respect for Underworld, Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx. As producers, I think they're all brilliant, but I don't think their live shows are up to much. That's just because they're not live, you know? They've taken that traditional approach to dance music and they have not had enough ambition for it. We've been working at it for a long time and take a lot of pride in it. We are a great live band."

And no one is arguing with that.