Above & Beyond are undoubtedly the highest ranking dance music trio today. Year after year, their sound keeps redefining trance. The trio – Tony McGuinness, Jono Grant and Paavo Siljamamaki – have won our hearts by staying true to theirs, best exemplified in their latest album Group Theraphy, which sees them continuing the tradition of churning out uplifting and melodic sounds. Singles ‘Thing Called Love‘ and ‘Sun & Moon‘ are monster hits that have been making the rounds on airwaves worldwide. In line with the release of the new album, the group is set to introduce their new concept show to fans worldwide – including us! Called the Group Therapy Tour, the concert is an orgasmic audio-visual DJ set that is as innovative as it gets. Despite not being able to join Paavo and Jono on their upcoming trip to KL this 26 October, Tony spared some time with JUICE to let us in on what Group Therapy is all about and the advantages of being a dance trio…
Text Marlina Azmi
Images + Interview Livescape Asia
How did you guys come up with the Group Therapy concept?
The thought process for Group Therapy came about from the idea that we are a group and making music for us is very therapeutic. We write our music based on our lives and the trials and tribulations we experience. It’s presented through our music and is taken in by people who relate it to their own lives and sometimes feel our music speaks to them. When they come to our gigs, most of them will be singing along to some of the songs. It brings a lot of different meaning to everyone; some will relate it to their wives, brother, father or even themselves. So that is practically the perfect description on how we operate; being a medium where people turn to for comfort. That’s why we think Group Therapy is an appropriate title.
Which songs on the album are deemed as personal to you?
Speaking for myself, its ‘Sun & Moon’ and ‘Thing Called Love’. They were originally written for the Oceanlab album but for many reasons, Justine didn’t feel comfortable about singing them so we thought, rather than compromise the message we would keep it for the Above & Beyond album instead. Both tracks turned out to be the biggest hits we’ve ever had. But I think the album has a lot of extraordinary moments. ‘Alchemy’ is a beautiful and features a traditional Above & Beyond arrangement; ‘Love Is Not Enough’ is almost a classical thing and it has so many twists and turns and ‘Only A Few Things’ is a tender closing for the album. ‘On My Way To Heaven’ is one of my favourites because it’s a rant that I wrote about the frustrating things in my life and it’s something I like to put on sometimes when I’m driving with the windows rolled down and me singing my heart out. It’s very therapeutic in my point of view.
You sing in ‘Black Room Boy’ with Richard Bedford, is this your first vocal feature on an Above & Beyond album?
I did sing on ‘For All I Care’ on the Tri State album and I sing in all the demos we produce too. The thing about ‘Black Room Boy’ is that there two voices; one is a third person voice talking about the character and then there’s this other voice which is kind of relaying his sad thoughts. So there’s one person, with the accusing voice describing the character and the other person who is more compassionate and is saying how complicated his mind is. So it felt right to have two different voices. When I sung the original demo, it really felt right to get Richard to sing the chorus bit. Singing is something I do anyway outside of Above & Beyond but I don’t really want to be the front person, that’s not how I see the group working.
Group Therapy features just two vocalists, what makes you comfortable working with Richard Bedford and Zoe Johnston?
We’ve had so much success with Richard in the past on ‘Liquid Love’, ‘Stealing Time’, ‘Alone Tonight’ and in Zoe’s case, ‘No One On Earth’ and ‘Good For Me’, so we thought we’d just work with them again. Zoe has a unique voice; very beautiful, sensitive and haunting at the same time. We discovered Richard a few years ago. He’s a friend of a guy who was working for us and listening to his voice blew us away. His voice is richer than mine and it has so much more power and presence. He adds a certain level of professionalism and beauty to our songs and he’s great to work with. I think if you listened to ‘Black Room Boy’, you can listen to the difference between my gruff and pointy voice compared to his beautiful and angel like voice and that’s the reason why we use him in our records. They both have a close sense of what Above & Beyond is all about.
Are Jono and Paavo vocally talented as well?
Paavo sang ‘Sun In Your Eyes’ on the album; it’s something he likes to do from time to time but I don’t think it’s something he likes to do a lot. Jono did some singing on the Oceanlab album but I think it was a backing vocal though. They’re much happier with their hands on the keyboard than their mouth in front of the microphone.
Above & Beyond and Oceanlab both have artist albums out, are there any plans for an album release for Tranquillity Base?
Tranquillity Base is that part of us that produces club tunes, more of instrumental dance tracks and they don’t feel like they can fit in an album. So there are absolutely no plans to record an album unless we do a retrospective Tranquillity Base thing rather than an album because it’s basically club singles so it’s not about songs and not about that kind of narrative ark, it’s more about ‘hands in the air’ vibes so it doesn’t really feel like album material to us.
There are obviously great advantages of working as trio, what are some of them for Above & Beyond?
Undoubtedly but we didn’t plan it like this. You can’t get anywhere in this world on your own; you need a team of people behind your backs. There are more people working at the front as a group compared to people like Tiesto and Ferry Corsten. They have people helping them out but they’re just not visible. The thing about Above & Beyond is that we are three people with three different skill sets so at one time two of us can go touring and one stays back to run the radio show. It would be harder to manage if there was just one person working.
Do you guys have any special pre-gig ritual? A secret handshake or group huddle perhaps?
Normally we try to have a good dinner and a glass of wine to kind of chill and relax and to sort of touch base with each other. Usually before a gig, you’ve been travelling for some time so your head is always filled with all sorts of things so it is kind of like a ritual handshake really.
What can your legions of Malaysian fans expect from this new concept show?
We’ve spent a lot of money on some visual material; it’s very filmic, very narrative and it’s not abstract with some images we think that are very provocative that will help people to connect with the songs. What we also do is live text messaging on the screen depending on the time to see what the audience feels and it also enhances our interaction with the crowd and to me it’s one of the most important things we can do. That’s the advantage of being a group, one person can concentrate on the mix and the other can concentrate where the audience are; physically and spiritually and we will see how we can respond. J