Toughen Up

30 March 2012 | 12:32 pm | Troy Mutton

It's funny to think that the current clubbing generation who are chanting along to Tonite Only's We Run The Nite and, more recently, Haters Gonna Hate, probably aren't aware that the duo of Sam Littlemore (aka Sam La More) and Simon Lewicki (Groove Terminator) already had a couple of massive collab singles in the mid-2000s. In 2006 Danger (The Bomb) and Where The Party's At were all the rage in club land, which the duo then backed up with some huge remixes for the likes of Sneaky Sound System (Pictures) and The Similou (All This Love). After that Tonite Only went a little quiet before the recent aforementioned tracks, with their anthemic, child-chanting vocals and banging four-four beat once again capturing dancefloors around the country.

Drum catches Littlemore on a studio break in Sydney, working on his own productions while waiting for Lewicki to return from Los Angeles (his home away from Sydney) to get cracking on Tonite Only's next single. On how the unholy union began in the first place, Littlemore says, “We were just party boys in Sydney before moving to LA. And we had a couple of weekends where we thought we might wanna get in the studio and make a record, and out of those two weekends came the first two Tonite Only singles.

“So it was pretty instantaneous and then we both moved to LA, not together, but at the same time, and that's where we did our remixes...which ended up being quite big remixes. And they established us as maybe more of a band than just an excuse to put out some records; we thought it could be a long term thing off the back of that.”

It's an interesting combination of sheer production class. Groove Terminator is responsible for a string of Australia's biggest clubbing hits, while Littlemore has added his golden touch to such artists as brother Nick's band Pnau (the siblings co-wrote and produced Pnau's breakout self-titled 2007 LP), Gwen Stefani (What You Waiting For), Empire Of The Sun, TV Rock, and The Potbelleez's mega single Don't Hold Back. How it all comes together in the studio for the duo is quite simple, although maybe more intensive for Littlemore. “I tend to come up with the ideas, and then present them to Simon and say 'What are you feeling?', and he'll jump onto one or another. And then we'll get into the studio together and finesse them, generally make them a bit tougher, and then co-write a vocal for them and finish them off. Most of the time we're in the studio together but I tend to write the chords from scratch myself.”

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It's a theme throughout the chat that crops up quite a bit – while it's unfair to say Littlemore is the brains behind the operation, he appears to be largely in control from the ground up, with Lewicki adding that senior head to finished product. “Well, his skill is more in the… He's more hands off, back of the room, just making sure I don't make any stupid choices, either too musical or too decorative. He more steers the ship, he tries to keep it from being cheesy or too self indulgent, too deep or anything where I might become too self-indulgent. Which, you know, may only be 10 percent of the effort sometimes, but it's that 10 percent that makes the records. It's just the way it is; I've gotta put in the vast majority of the time and the effort, but without his input I'm likely just to make flowery crap that no one wants to hear,” he laughs.

This ethos extends into Tonite Only's live shows and DJ sets, where the relatively greener Littlemore is spent hovering over the decks, making sure musically everything is perfect, while Lewicki jumps around behind, making sure the crowd is perfect. “We're doing lots up there. I'm doing the visuals as well as making sure the sound is right. Simon's more the vibe guy, making sure everyone in the crowd feels engaged with us, and he'll use the t-shirt guns and streamer guns and so forth to make sure there's a bit of theatre while I'm just stressing up there,” he jokes again, self-deprecation another running theme. So Lewicki is the party man? “Yeah, basically because that's how I am when I DJ as well, I always look like I'm angry,” Littlemore chuckles.

“And he's always the guy who's no sweat, having a good time, fist pumping the air. It's just our different approach to the gig. Plus he's an expert DJ, he's been DJing for 20 years and I've only been doing it for about five. Maybe he's just that comfortable in the DJing and I'm still freaking out if anything is going to go wrong or if I push the wrong button.”

It's an interesting dynamic, and while throughout the interview Littlemore never bemoans how Tonite Only works, one definitely gets the sense it's just how he works, whether it's with Tonite Only or his solo work as Sam La More. “Well [doing Sam La More] is quite stressful because I don't get to play music that I wanna, you know I'd be playing deep house if I played my favourite stuff. So I end up being quite stressed because I've gotta try and read what the 19-year-olds want, and that's not easy. Whereas with Tonite Only, it's just such an intense show people don't have time to get bored or question what we're doing, you know? It's very arrogant. We just sort of go out and blast people and don't even consider the possibility that they're not going to enjoy it.”

And to be fair, by and large they're struggling to find a crowd that doesn't enjoy it. Their last two shows here – Sets On The Beach last year and Big Day Out a few weeks ago – had thousands in raptures with a fist-pumping set of bangers inducing plenty of sing-alongs. And if their track record is anything to go by, it looks set to continue with their next single. “The new track is a solo vocalist, I can probably reveal that it's a solo female but I don't wanna give away too much… We don't wanna make records just for the clubs. We don't make generic club fodder, we try to make records that are a bit more anthemic; you know, when they come on people pay attention because it does sound different. We're just trying to continue toughening up the sound but at the same time making it more accessible.”

He's also refreshingly frank when it comes to their follow-up to We Run The Nite. “I'm just starting to come to terms with Haters [Gonna Hate],” he laughs. “That took me a while; that was a bit of a rushed record. It wasn't a mistake but I'm sure we could have done better with it. Hopefully the next one does that.”