Neon Neon

Gruff Rhys:  “10 years since Stainless Style? It almost feels like a dream. It was a record that was a joy and adventure to be involved with. It had an unreal momentum that upon release ushered us through a series of unforgettable highs and a mind-warping world tour.”

Stream Stainless Style

April 2018 marks the 10 year anniversary of Neon Neon a.k.a Boom Bip (Bryan Hollon) and Gruff Rhys’ debut Mercury Nominated album ‘Stainless Style’. Click on the links above to check out behind the scenes photos from the album recording and album tour with commentary from the duo.

A swashbuckling journey through vintage electronic pop and hip-hop, it loosely tells the tale of the trials and tribulations of John DeLorean, the founder of the DeLorean Motor Company.

The charismatic and highly ambitious DeLorean rose from humble beginnings in Detroit to become one of the youngest, most highly paid executives at car giant General Motors. Borrowing enormous sums of money, including £85 million from the British government, the ballsy businessman left General Motors to build his very own automotive empire, the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC).

His crowning achievement was the iconic DMC-12, better known as simply ‘The DeLorean’ and fittingly immortalised as Marty and Doc’s time machine in legendary 80s movie Back To The Future. However, DeLorean’s jet-setting lifestyle and seemingly unstoppable career trajectory all came crashing down. With costs spiralling out of control DMC faced financial ruin and to add to his ever-growing troubles, DeLorean was sensationally exposed as the subject of a huge $24 million cocaine bust by the FBI and faced 60 years in jail…

I Told Her On Alderaan

Music Video

Boom Bip’s euphoric, lush and pin-sharp dancefloor-pop chauffeurs us into a heady world of fast cars and shagpile carpets all tinged with the bitter taste of Martini as Gruff Rhys’s brilliantly maverick songwriting reimagines the colourful and chequered life of a man taking the American dream to the edge and beyond. The album unites pop, electro, rock, crunk, hip-hop and Italo disco, whilst exploring a range of subjects and events relevant to DeLorean’s life including his romance with international sex symbol Raquel Welch ‘Raquel’, the party orientated yet cold and superficial world of celebrity in ‘I Lust You’, ‘Trick for Treat’, his string of glamorous lovers with ‘Steel Your Girl’, and even references DeLorean’s latter-day born again Christian baptism ‘Luxury Pool’. Gruff and Bip are joined by a host of talented guests, including; Fab Moretti from The StrokesHot ChipYo MajestyHar Mar SuperstarThe Magic Numbers and Spank Rock.

I Lust U

Music Video

“A post-modern wonder”  BBC MUSIC ★★★★ 

“Like playing Grand Theft Auto on ecstasy” Vice ★★★★ 

“There’s heart behind all this silvery excess” Pitchfork ★★★★

“Neon Neon have poured love and attention into detail” Guardian ★★★★

“Surface and feeling, Neon Neon dream the life with boundless imagination.” MOJO ★★★★ 

“Imagine an electro-pop remake of Citizen Kane with time-travelling cameos from Fatlip and Spank Rock ” The Observer ★★★★

 

Boom Bip: Time is strange! ‘Stainless Style’ feels like it was another lifetime ago.

Gruff Rhys: Boom Bip is a genius producer, a genial host and was keen to experiment – and although we had worked and toured together in the past, we agreed we should avoid the ‘let’s mess around in the studio and see what happens’ dead end, at all costs – if there wasn’t a strong reason to make an album there was no point attempting to make one. We also avowed not to make a long-distance album over email. Instead we got together in London then Los Angeles to work into possible ideas.” The most exciting sounding material were the sleeker more synthetic sounding pieces – they sounded how sports cars looked, Boom Bip’s tones instantly evoked the Delorean scandal in my mind and before we knew it we were down a John Delorean YouTube rabbit hole…  Lots of laughter, amazement and bewilderment later, Delorean became the theme of a song, then another one and after a while, we realized we were making a concept record about John Z Delorean and his American dream turned nightmare. A biographical album. An obsession!

BB: One aspect of the album, that many people may not know about, was the huge effort of the engineers and people working in the studios behind the record. Here are a few stories about working with them and inside the many studios that made the album possible;

Camden, London – Forming the ideas.

BB: Gruff was living in Camden at the time so it was the most convenient place to start the album process.  We sat around our friend Will’s flat and came up with the albums concept and some basic melodies on Casio keyboards. I came with a handful of demos to help write but not much to work from initially.  We only had a few days of writing before we were supposed to go into Olympic, not a cheap studio, so my anxiety was through the roof. I wasn’t sleeping at night due to stress and jet lag so Will recommended melatonin tablets…  I had the craziest nightmares over that week and still remember most of them. We took black cabs from Camden to South London and back daily.

Gruff, Will & Bryan in LA.

Olympic Studios, London – Initial tracking.

BB: The pressure was on and we were struggling a bit to find a sound. The pressure was good on us and forced us to work quickly and not look back.  Apparently, we were tracking Gruff’s vocals in Hugh Paghdam’s personal space at Olympic (!). Hugh is responsible for coming up with the drum sound in Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”.  We brought in Wills father to track the strings at the end of “Trick for Treat”. Not sure what instrument he played in the end but he brought several very rare and incredible stringed instruments.

GR: Boom Bip was militant in keeping to the synthetic palette which was an education and revelation for me as someone with a tendency to be all over the place in the studio – previously I’d usually tried to fit as many sonic ideas as possible into everything, but Boom Bip had a full conceptual overview of the record at the forefront of his mind at all times.

 

undertheradar-neon-neon

Gruff and Bip by Wendy Lynch Redfern for Under The Radar magazine

 Bips Bedroom studio, Los Angeles –  Collabs & Guests  

BB: I had just moved into my place in Echo Park and barely had time to set up before I was tracking with Naeem of Spank Rock and Fatlip. Both sessions were extremely DIY, no special mics or sound booth.  An SM58 Beta into a Daking compressor in an open room with mirrored closet doors. The night we recorded with Naeem was a full-blown party with Har Mar and several friends.  We didn’t record until the end of the night when we were all blasted and off our tits on god knows what.  It was a struggle to get it tracked but at least the song theme was genuinely explored with that night. True method recording.   

Fatlip and I had communicated via email a few times before meeting up Barnes and Noble in Hollywood to discuss money, his choice.  It was a rather bizarre place to meet and was anything but warm. However, I really wanted it to happen so we set up a time at my house to record and followed through.  He came in a taxi and wanted to record immediately, no chill. He pulled out some crumpled up papers out of his jacket and told me to start recording. He absolutely started slaying from the beginning.  What you hear is mostly his first take, which was also the first time I heard any of it. Very few overdubs were needed. I was shocked at how prepared and knowledgeable he was on DeLorean. I gave him some cash, we hugged and he was on his way. The whole session maybe took two hours. Truly legendary and professional.

Bips Bedroom

Sessions in Boom Bips Bedroom

Danger Mouse’s Studio, Eagle Rock: Style taking shape.

BB: Here is where the record really started taking shape and most of the instrumentation was tracked.  The synths, percussion, Har Mar vocals, redo’s of Gruff and backing vocals were all done here. Todd was Danger Mouse’s main engineer and he had some really fun new toys to play with.  These sessions were really light hearted and fun times because at this point the record was coming together nicely and we could finally hear the album’s vibe. Our dear friend Evan, may you rest in peace, recorded these sessions on some nice cameras.  She has sadly passed away since and we aren’t sure where the footage is these days.

Gruff & Har Mar at Danger Mouse's studio, LA.

Gruff & Har Mar at Danger Mouse’s studio, LA.

The Boat, Silver Lake: Final tracking

BB: The Boat is a legendary studio in the heart of Silver Lake. I was excited to record here knowing how many heroes had worked here. It belonged to The Dust Brothers during this time but was in the process of being sold.  It was an in between period for the studio so I got a great rate. Beck had just wrapped up some sessions and his engineer Danny Kalb, who was a friend of mine from Cincinnati, had some spare days that he was available. Fab Moretti and Sia lived together a few houses down the street from me in Echo Park and we were playing board games together on the weekends.  I asked Fab to come in and track some drums for “Dream Cars” and he obliged. Fab was great and brought some really straight ahead and perfect drums for that track. Danny and I worked hard the next few days making those drums massive. Josh Klinghhoffer came in and tracked guitar on “Steel Your Girl” at the boat as well. This was the mixing stage of the record, so we had a nearly complete project at this point.

Josh Klinghoffer at Boat Studios

Josh Klinghoffer at Boat Studios

GR: As the record fully developed and new guests joined in we were picked up by Madonna and Bjork’s booking agent David Levy and soon enough we were on some kind of 1980’s style laser powered global magic carpet ride…

Cardiff, Wales: Down in Cardiff

GR: Cate Le Bon was a close friend from Cardiff, so we just went down to pal Kris Jenkins’ studio, Wings for Jesus –  in the old Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales and recorded her vocals. It was across the road to the White Heart pub where Shirley Bassey used to sing when she started out. Me and Bryan had been looking out for a singer during the LA recording sessions that I suppose would have an understanding of understatement – for the song I Lust U. We didn’t really know anyone suitable over there and I knew that it would make more sense to ask Cate to sing on the record as she had exactly the voice that we needed. She had released a few excellent Welsh language records already. Kris Jenkins is a recording legend that we would both trust with our lives so it was a very easy session. Cate’s a fantastic musician and spirit so it was great when she joined the live band. She can play all known instruments. Some elements of the record were mixed by Chris Shaw who was another Super Furry Animals connection. We mastered it with Guy at The Exchange in London – which I remember as another joyous day.

Cate Lebon

Cate Le Bon

 

GR: I remember being hungover watching Kanye eating his Bran Flakes in a São Paulo hotel. A line of Delorean cars outside the Viper room (it had to be) launch in Hollywood. Singing amongst conceptual art at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Toy shopping in Harajuku. Mediterranean rooftop pool after-shows at 5am, Australian zoo excursions with Soulwax. A dawn walk around the original Bauhaus in East Germany. Playing our song ‘Belfast’ twice in a row in Belfast. Up all night watching the Obama election results in Dublin. Plenty of the usual bone shaking van travel, burst eardrums and accounting disasters too for good measure.

The band

As the tour progressed I started a habit of making audience cue cards ‘Applause!’, ‘Louder!’ Etc. As I didn’t have the same gift of gab as the incredible Har Mar or some of our charismatic guests MC’s like Yo Majesty (they always dished out tequila shots to the whole front row at shows) on the communication front. My audience motivation skills were pretty low, to non existent and I soon realized that between song banter about Delorean’s biographical details would be lost on a gurning open-air, enormo dance-event audience on MDMA. So touring Australia for example we just played bangers and held up signs and hoped for the best. Har Mar and Cate Le Bon saved the day and joined the live band and a pre Chilli Peppers Josh Klinghoffer played some metallic muscle-car guitar.

Har Mar Superstar!

Right in the middle of the tour my first child was born. She and my partner Cat were pretty much straight out of hospital and onto the tour bus. By six weeks old she’d been to Amsterdam twice and was now at Montreux Jazz festival. Everyone stopped smoking on the tour bus, huge thanks. Wherever we went Neon Neon were showered with gifts, brightly coloured free clothes, angular Italian sunglasses and a collection of beach towels from a Belgian beer company. There’s an Euros Childs song called Holiday From Myself. Maybe it was a holiday from ourselves. An unforgettable out of body experience. I think for about a year or so Boom Bip and I became two weird zygotic John Deloreans and our world became almost as strange as his. Did you know Delorean had chin implants?