It’s been 10 years since Aussie drum and bass giants Pendulum last record ‘Immersion’, before they split soon after in 2012. They returned in 2016 to reclaim their title as mash-up festival kings, but fans have still been eagerly awaiting new material. Today, the wait ends with the spoils of two new singles – ‘Driver’ and ‘Nothing For Free’.
“It’s not an easy thing to go away for 10 years and then say, ‘Here’s what we sound like now!’,” frontman Rob Swire tells NME. “People assume that we’ve been working on stuff for 10 years. It’s hard for people to imagine what the progression might be, but we’re happy with it.”
To mark their return, NME hopped on a quick Zoom chat with Swire and bandmate Gareth McGrillen to talk about time away, modern times and what’s to come.
When you sat down to write after all this time, did you think about Pendulum differently?
Rob: “To be honest, it’s hard to think that way. What the fuck is Pendulum? What does it sound like? How much of a song is too much of a song?’ You don’t want to come back full-pop and have everyone like, ‘What the fuck happened?’ It’s just about remembering what your own sound is.”
Gareth: “What’s been difficult as well is that the bulk of this finishing process has been done without the ability to play a show. In the past, we might have been able to at least test the waters with some of the tracks.”
Do you feel as if your reasons for making music have changed?
Rob: “I don’t think we ever had any commercial concerns. We had people telling us, ‘We need a single for Radio One or such and such won’t happen’. When you’re in the studio, that sort of information isn’t very helpful. It can paralyse you in terms of what the fuck a hit sounds like. It’s worth ignoring, then accidentally stuff works out. I feel that our reasons are very much the same.”
Let’s start with the new song ‘Driver’. What can you tell us about how that came together?
Rob: “Sometimes I think we’re in our best element when there’s something slightly stressful coming up. The Trinity shows were about to launch and we were kicking it off with a big SW4 gig. We were like, ‘What shall we play?’ The point of the whole thing is to open with a new statement. It was originally a lot more drum n’ bass than I would have wanted, but as the shows were creeping up we were like ‘We need a belter’.”
So is ‘Nothing For Free’ a bit more considered?
Rob: “Yes, definitely. The lyrics have more of a concept, which ties into the artwork. It changed from some weird EDM-sounding trap thing, which was awful, then it turned into some other shit before we finally ended up with it on the way it is.”
Gareth: “It definitely found its home with Pendulum.”
What are the lyrics dealing with?
Rob: “It’s very prescient, but entirely by accident. Kudos to our managers for realising that. It is strange how that happens. It was written before 2020 happened. For the video we focused instead on rabbits in a similar pandemic situation to see how it might play out”.
What was it like making a video in these dark, COVID times?
Rob: “Making it in a pandemic was surreal. I hadn’t really been out of my house in four months and hadn’t seen anyone apart from my girlfriend and maybe the odd Deliveroo guy. It was fairly unnerving to be in a room with 20 people after all that time, but my startledness kind of works in the video. It wasn’t intentional. They were saying, ‘Just go with the flow man, feel the vibe’. I said, ‘I have been at home for four fucking months during a pandemic, there is no vibe!’ It kind of worked out.”
Would you say that these two tracks are representative of other stuff you’ve been working on?
Gareth: “It’s all quite different.”
Rob: “It’s representative of what we’re happy to show to people. There’s a lot of different shit, and some stuff where we thought, ‘If we liked Pendulum, that would be shit’ so we scrapped it. The next EP coming out after this sounds pretty different to this stuff too.”
What’s coming next? Is there an album on the horizon?
Rob: “We’re planning to come up with another EP after this one, then maybe try to come up with some Knife Party music or do an onslaught of tracks. It’s pretty open right now, which is one of the benefits of the pandemic.”
Being such a beloved festival band, it must hurt to not be touring right now?
Rob: “Yeah, it’s odd. I’ve always found touring kind of stressful. I was actually looking forward to taking a year off at one point, then it happened and I hated it. You need that so that you can be excited to go and do it.”
You famously played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2011, just before Beyonce headlined. Will be returning to storm the main stage again next year?
Gareth: “It depends on the weather. We don’t like that mud. Last time, warming up for Beyonce was just so surreal.”
Rob: “Beyonce is quite a bit bigger than Pendulum, you won’t be shocked to hear. It was quite spooky to be playing to that many Beyonce fans.”
Gareth: “Having our monitor engineer telling Jay-Z to get out of the way was a bit of a palm-face moment – this skinny Kiwi guy saying, ‘Excuse me, Jay-Z, can you fuck off?’”
You’ve also been touring as Trinity. What can you tell us about that project?
Gareth: “It’s us DJing with Paul, and it’s been 1,000 years since we’ve done that so we wanted to bring it back. When we did ‘Immersion’, we did a really good mini tour where we played all the new music in various states of completion, and it was a really good way of testing which direction these songs needed to go. That’s what we had in mind for Trinity, to give new songs those touches that only come from being in front of an audience.”
Do you have any other plans to blow up your live show when you hit the road again?
Rob: “Ideally, it won’t be social distancing. That’s fucking lame. We’ve got a bunch of ideas to bring a live band back after the pandemic so that we can do it properly.”
‘Driver’ and ‘Nothing For Free’ by Pendulum are out now.