Shit Robot hits the fans
Marcus Lambkin’s second album as Shit Robot comes after he reluctantly became a live performer. He tells Jim Carroll about going from DJ guy to live act – and his new cast of collaborators
Marcus Lambkin is back in the building. In 2010, the Dubliner who is based in Germany and who comes with impeccable New York credentials and connections, released his debut album, From the Cradle to the Rave. It’s taken four years to put together a suitable follow-up to its all-star razzle-dazzle, but the job is finally done.
The delay, Lambkin says, is because he went out on tour for the first time, which “took a year of faffing around and kept me away from the studio”. And, of course, he had to wait for the right collaborators to drop into place.
We Got a Love is well worth the wait. From head to toe, the new album sounds fantastic. The grooves work in all the right ways, the songs are strong, the guest VIPs operate at the top of their game, and Lambkin marshals the whole shebang with panache. Above all, it’ll make you want to move.
That was a deliberate ploy. “It’s something I learned from DJ-ing years ago: get the girls up on the floor and you’ve got a party. The lads just stare at the DJ and scratch their chins and it’s not a lot of fun. I want to hear songs, I want to have an album my wife can listen to at home or that people can listen to before they go out or in the car. Something that’s more than just a dance album.”
As with From the Cradle to the Rave, Lambkin enlisted a formidable cast of collaborators. “The reason why there are so many of them is because I can’t sing to save my life and I’m not great at writing lyrics. I did write stuff for the first record and it’s not very good. I could have got away with it, but when you bring in someone, the difference is phenomenal.”
Comedian and musician Reggie Watts heads the cast of helpers with his contribution to the title track. “I met Reggie at the final LCD Soundsystem show at Madison Square Gardens. He performed with them and I DJ-ed from the spaceship, which was up in the rafters. I met him back stage and hung out and I fixed his bike. Later, when I was working and I’d demoed the song and was wracking my brains to think of someone, he came to mind.”
Others on board include Luke Jenner from The Rapture. “He was the very first person I called to do a song for the first record but he was too busy and it didn’t work out. Weirdly enough, it was the same song this time and he was ready and he did it”.
Lambkin also called on Nancy Whang, Australian singer Holly Backler, Museum of Love (the new project from Pat Mahoney and Dennis McNany), and old-school Chicago house producer Lidell Townsell. The latter “doesn’t sing on other people’s music anymore, but he was interested because of the name so, for once in my life, this stupid name worked for me.
“I have that Irish insecurity thing where I think everything I do sucks and is not good enough and so on. I find as soon as someone else works on it and their vocals are on it that I think it’s amazing. Because it’s not me, I’m able to say that. We Irish are not allowed to say that, but when someone else is involved, we can then say it.”
The biggest change since the first album is that Lambkin has become a seasoned live performer. “I was so resistant to doing a live show. When the album came out, I was ‘I’m not doing a live show’. But it was so well received and the demand was there from management and booking agents and promoters to do something. I kept hearing you have to do something, you can’t just do the DJ thing, the demand is there.
“But the problem is that my peers and label- mates are LCD Soundsystem, Holy Ghost and The Juan McLean, and I can’t do that. If it’s not going to be that good, I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to stand up onstage with a laptop. I couldn’t put a band together and get all those guest vocalists every night.”
Costs were also an obstacle. “I’ve seen so many friends do the full band-on-tour thing and lose their ass because it’s so expensive, so it’s not a sound business idea. When you’re at LCD’s level you can pull it off, but so many others have struggled financially. The key for me was to keep things small and simple and tight.”
Lambkin’s compromise was “something in-between, not a guy with a laptop but not a full band either. We came up with this kind of jokey concept about a robot head living in his version of Daft Punk’s pyramid.”
“I have a really small synth I use, a Dave Smith Mopho, which is about the size of a lunchbox, and we had this collapsing screen. We packed it all into a regular suitcase, a case on wheels, a backpack and a snowboard bag. I managed to get away with that because the airlines saw the snowboard bag and assumed there was a snowboard inside, so they didn’t check the weight, which is just as well because it weighed a ton. It’s great – I’ve been scamming the airlines for years.”
Despite his initial misgivings, Lambkin says the live show has increased his profile. “It does expand your audience and take things up a level. There was definitely a big step upwards after the album and live show and I went from ‘DJ guy’ to ‘act’. But it’s still really difficult. On a good day I’d come back with as much as I’d make from DJ-ing, but you do twice as much work.
“So on the one hand, it worked, it took me up a notch. On the other hand, do I plan on taking it bigger and bigger? No, I don’t want to do that. I’m fine with it where it is.”
We Got a Love is out now. Shit Robot DJs with The Juan MacClean at Dublin’s Button Factory on March 22nd