One if the bands to emerge in the New York post Strokes boom at the start of the 2000s, The Rapture carved a post-punk, disco niche for themselves producing a debut album, Echoes, that made you think and dance. Having left their initial label, James Murphy's DFA, for a stint on Universal, the band stalled with 2006's Pieces Of People We Love and though stand-alone song, Timbaland-produced No Sex For Ben - which was initially hidden within video game Grand Theft Auto - was acclaimed, the band entered a lengthy hiatus which saw the departure of founding member Matt Safer. However having since resigned to DFA, the band's third album In The Grace Of Your Love has proved to be a bit of grower since its release in September last year. Frontman Luke Jenner tells Q about the break, the new record and why he's "proud to still be here". How the devil are you? "I'm fighting through the jetlag. It's like living a strange salesmen's life."
How has it been touring properly for the first time in five years? "The hardest part is the three month tour when the record comes out. We've been touring in a big metal bus, which is like camping and working at the same time. Besides writing the songs, the thrill for me is seeing them come alive. Halfway through the tour there's a couple of people who know the songs but by the end people start to know all the songs. It happens every time, but part of me is always like Maybe they won't learn the songs!"
When you played in London as part of your label DFA's tenth birthday celebrations late last year, you played the new songs last which seemed to work better than the traditional practice of playing only new songs at the beginning.... "When we first played [single] How Deep Is Your Love people started reacting to it right out of the gate so we put it at the end of the set, but that's uncommon, a lot of my friends have commented on it. I think to have a song that people connect with so quickly when you're an old band like us is a bit of a rarity."
It felt quite smart as rather play your new songs while everyone was standing there with their hands crossed, everyone was partying by the time you got round to them... "Bands don't think about crowds. Well I guess they do, but I guess it's just the safest thing to do. People won't move around first couple of songs regardless of what you play. You could play your best song and people will stand there. If you're DJing and you're trying to get people to dance you don't put on your first record and everyone goes mental. That never happens."
Has DJing influenced your setlist construction? "Yeah. We toured with The Cure for a long time and Robert Smith would write out the setlist just before going onstage. For us it's about blocks of songs, influenced by dance culture and having the job of DJing. If people are dancing then you're doing a good job. It would help a lot of people in bands to understand what their job is if they did a bit of DJing for a while."
Evidently there was quite a gap between your second album and your latest, last year's In The Grace Of Your Love, a lot of bands wouldn't have survived such a hiatus. "[laughs] I think it helps we're American, you don't get any chances in Britain. Straight out of the gate you're written off in a good way or a bad way, it's an accelerated career. It's funny coming back this time, people in America are just getting to hear our name on a big scale, whereas here we're called The Disco Strokes, or whatever. The metabolism is different here."
'Older' American bands - for want of a better word - do seems to last longer than their British equivalents, they get to make mistakes and learn from them... "Mistakes are what being an artist is all about. If the goal is to be more yourself how do you know if you're just a kid? British people aren't allowed to get old, at least not artists, it's not allowed here! I remember hearing some inspiring stories about being an American indie rocker. The guitarist from Butthole Surfers started out as a lawyer and hated, so aged 40 joined the band! It's a different deal over there. There's no mainstream - it's changing a bit with Arcade Fire winning a Grammy - American bands have no shot at the charts or selling lots of records. And now no one sells records, so I think my training as a young indie rocker serves me well for the time I live in."
Also it probably helped that you missed the internet by a whisker when you first started, you got to established yourselves in people's minds a bit more because you did it the old fashioned way... "Yeah we got all these interesting questions this time out, How did you feel to be the first internet band? We were the last band to live that big ridiculous major label post grunge thing, but we were also on the edge of that big paradigm shift in a good way. Getting a good signing bonus and having massive tour support helped us not worry about it too much and make our mistakes!"
Also you there's none of your old, pre Rapture stuff out there. "Yeah, you're not doomed to marry your old high school girlfriend! [laughs] You can find a girl who's not mental or be less mental yourself, whatever it is. It was a good deal with hindsight. I couldn't see it at the time."
You made No Sex For Ben with Timbaland during that time, which was released inside video game Grand Theft Auto, was there was some real corporate excess going on there? "It was really fun because they gave us a truck load of money. It was as extreme into the pop world as we got. We did it in London with Timbaland. Justin Timberlake was upstairs recording with Duran Duran so he came down and sang vocals on it, then Duran Duran came down with their supermodel wives. It was good fun, I learned a lot from it but it was also the genesis of the massive breakdown that our band had. Mattie [Saffer] decided he really wanted to be a popstar and didn't need us any more. He wanted to make Timbaland-esque music and got really weird and Said things like, I want to make a record you guys don't play on. We were like, How's that going to work? That's not good! At the time it felt like a death, but it was just time for us to grow up really. Luckily we've been able to make it through and survive. What I'm proudest of is that we're still here."
And it's a decent song... "That song kept us alive for five years. In the interim we played Australia once a year for five years because that song was a big hit there. Ordinary people know it. Australia is where I lived out all my 14 year-old rock star dreams."
Getting up to date, with the gap between albums does In The Grace Of Your Love represent a rebirth for The Rapture? "Well we should never left DFA! I mean I'm glad we went down the dark side of the street and did the major label thing, but really we lost touch with who we were. It was like going on a trip to the other side of the world and getting shipwrecked there - Who am I and what the hell am I doing? For me the real pivotal moment was leaving DFA. I didn't want to as we were annexed from a love of music and were surrounded by people who kept saying, Well you guys are arty and weird you should be more marketable! Even if no one sits you down and says you're competing with pop music that's the culture of your label. We were in this bubble of people who really liked music [at DFA] and it's nice to be back in that culture. This album was about cleaning off the crap and the crud of the major label. Major labels kill bands of our type: record store employees who are always searching for music. It's like living in a house that's way too nice for you. The sink works, that's great, but there's no character to it. It's a weird trade off and it kills bands. LCD broke up in a way because they didn't want to be on EMI any more. We've been playing this game recently of looking at bands on major label from our time and how it slowly neutered them or killed them out right."
This album seems a bit more organic as a result. "It's a happy accident to be honest. Philippe (Zdar, proudcer) was about to have a baby so he was like, We have to record this really fast! Except he didn't say that, he said, We're going to record this like a jazz record. Like a Thelonious Monk record where you go in, put the microphones up and everyone is in the same room. It's hard to tell with producers, they're a strange bunch, but he's a dreamer. Also another idea that was expressed to us was there's a warmth to the band that never got captured. Yes there is this sound to the band which is this scratchy, anxiety riddled, overly smart kids with too many records for their own good, but people said we also had a warmth that never came through and I think Philippe focused on that. Also we played to our strengths. We've been a band for 15 years we can play our instruments a bit now so you don't have to chop everything up. We've paid our dues."
It's great that as the band that brought back cowbells, you have an accordion on this one. "We're trying to go through all the unpopular instruments! Penny whistle next time."
What have you got planned for this year, will you be doing festivals? "I'd like to. For us it's like summer camp. When we first went to festivals we didn't know anybody, now we've done millions of them it's an opportunity to see old friends. Also we've been around ages now and I'm into this elder statesmen thing. Younger bands come up and ask us questions. It's the most enjoyable thing that's happened to me recently. I've got old, but in a good way. People actually think I know what I'm talking about now which is really enjoyable."
So the band wondering around the festivals this summer in tweeds, leather elbow patches and smoking pipes this summer will be The Rapture? "Absolutely." Paul Stokes @stokesie
Head to Therapturemusic.com for more on the band.