Rewriting History

8 August 2012 | 6:45 am | Matt O'Neill

"You know, I never like to analyse our connection with Elton too much. I mean, why does anyone meet anyone in this life? I just don’t like to look at it too closely – because the whole thing has kind of changed my life."


It's a work of staggering ambition. Ostensibly a remix album, Good Morning To The Night actually inhabits a much more impressive spectrum of accomplishment. Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes haven't simply grafted a handful of popular Elton John tunes to house rhythms – Pnau have genuinely deconstructed John's original recordings (specifically, from 1970 to 1976); assembling entire new productions from the fragments.

Take lead single and title track, Good Morning To The Night. A shimmering, cerebral slice of funk-heavy house, Good Morning To The Night clocks in at just over three minutes – but is sewn together from eight different songs. Late-album highlight Phoenix actually packs nine into the same period. Even accounting for the similar experimentation of The Beatles' Love collage for Cirque Du Soleil; it really is a record of unprecedented ambition.

“I feel good. I feel good about it. I'm quite proud of the work. It's hard to say what we did exactly – but I like the record. You know, I listen to it and I enjoy it,” Littlemore says. “Initially, there was just so much material to learn – to be schooled on. We ended up just trying to find the best grooves we could; the best feeling, in pieces. And looking at pieces that weren't popular ones. Just those magical loopable moments of a track.

“There was a lot of trepidation on our part. For the first six months, we were just listening to his music. Six months of just trying to get to know his material,” he elaborates. “I mean, it's really touchy stuff to work on. For the first six months, we just couldn't think about it. I mean, how do you make this stuff better? Of course, eventually, we realised that wasn't what we were trying to do, anyway. We just tried to make something that we liked.”

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Somewhat surprisingly, it was John's idea. The singer/songwriter sought out the band five years ago after hearing their eponymous breakthrough 2007 album. Impressed, he signed the pair to his management company and has been acting as a friend and mentor to the band ever since – even collaborating with Littlemore for the pair's 2011 album Soft Universe. John initially suggested the remix album some three years ago.

“It was Elton's idea. He called us a couple of months after we moved to London and had signed with his manager – told us he wanted us to make this record,” Littlemore says. “The music industry is so surreal. Things just happen like that. It's not always down to the individual but there are those artists who glide through the world who can just reach out and pick someone – and Elton is one of those artists.

“You know, I never like to analyse our connection with Elton too much. I mean, why does anyone meet anyone in this life? I just don't like to look at it too closely – because the whole thing has kind of changed my life, and me, for the better,” the producer reflects. “When we first moved to London, we didn't really have much of an international footing and there was a lot of logistical stuff. We couldn't have done that without Elton.”

The whole project is really a testament to Pnau's remarkable career. The Sydney duo have, through both their own output as Pnau and that of internationally-acclaimed side project Empire Of The Sun, achieved more than any Australian dance act in history. Locally, their debut album Sambanova took out 2000's ARIA award for Best Dance Release. Empire Of The Sun can boast 11 ARIA awards. Internationally, they're heavyweights.

Aside from Elton John's patronage (which began with the declaration that Pnau was the greatest record he'd heard in ten years), Littlemore has worked with Robbie Williams, Groove Armada and, most recently, Cirque Du Soleil (as musical director and composer for 2011 arena show Zarkana). Peter Mayes' curriculum vitae encompasses work with Karen O, Mika and The Killers.

“I don't think any artist is ever really conscious of their success while it's happening – even on the comparatively minor scale that mine has been compared with, you know, actual stars,” Littlemore reflects (without irony). “I don't know. You take every day as it comes and, as opportunities come, you and try and say 'yes'. We've always tried to say 'yes' to everything in Pnau.

“You know, Peter and I currently live on opposite sides of the US – one in New York, one in Los Angeles – so we don't see each other as much, but we're always working. It's kind of hustling, in a way. You're always hustling for more work,” he continues. “Even if you have a big management team and record labels and all the rest, it takes a lot of random chances to get into things and find more work.”

Somewhat amusingly, Littlemore doesn't seem to think of Good Morning To The Night in such terms – or any aspect of his career, for that matter. Consistently returning to the subject of luck, Littlemore comes across not as a hard-working musician who has graduated to the global arena, but rather as a kid playing grown-ups who is certain he's going to be caught out soon and put back in the nursery.

“Oh, that's not a fear. That's a reality,” he laughs. “You know, that's the way this industry works. I see it happen around me all the time. At the moment, we have a lot of friends – but it can get very lonely very quickly in this industry and I'm sure that will happen eventually. I'm very conscious of the fact that I have a shelf-life. All you can really do is just keep working at things and hope for the best.

“That's one of the good things about working with someone like Elton. You know, he's been at it such a long time – but he's delivered different songs, different eras, different shows that have all broken through to people over the years. I think that kind of longevity is really what we're looking for as musicians. Pnau's been a part of my life since I was a kid. Really, I just hope we can make a few more records… You know, get more esoteric and be true to ourselves; not make music that isn't representative of who we are, so to speak,” Littlemore adds, cryptically. “In a lot of ways, Good Morning To The Night feels like a Pnau record. Rather than an Elton John record, it's a Pnau record where we just happened to exclusively sample Elton's music. It actually feels a lot like our first record, you know?”