Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – James Ellis Ford

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: the Simian Mobile Disco maverick, super-producer and solo artist takes the ultimate test

Which Swedish rock group covered your band Simian Mobile Disco’s track ‘I Believe’ for their ‘Popestar’ EP?



“It was interesting excursion. It’s not my kind of music, but it’s always nice to hear something you’ve been involved in spun in a different way.”

SMD have been on hiatus since 2018 when your bandmate Jas Shaw was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow condition, AL amyloidosis. Will there ever be another SMD album?

“It’s dependent on Jas’s health. His condition is unfortunately a long-term situation, so at the moment he can’t tour around little techno clubs in Hamburg which he’d love to do. The pandemic meant we couldn’t be in a room together to make a record, and I fell out of love with the travelling aspect of DJ-ing, so it’s a natural pause. That said, I’m planning on making more music with Jas this year for fun. Whether that will be a SMD record, I don’t know.”

Justice vs. Simian’s ‘We Are Your Friends’ won the 2006 MTV Europe award for Best Video. Who was presenting the accolade to Justice when they were famously interrupted by a losing Kanye West?

“Pop trivia! Kanye had a couple of those stage invasion moments. I’m going to say Taylor Swift but I don’t think it was?”

WRONG. It was Timbaland.

“There you go! [Laughs] I’ve got a funny relationship with that song. I remember not particularly loving it when I first heard it and then it became all-conquering and I’ve ended up really liking it. I remember going to the premiere of that awful Zac Efron film We Are Your Friends [in 2015] and seeing the phrase ‘We Are Your Friends’ in lights on Hollywood Boulevard. It flashed me back to being in Simian’s Hackney studio, struggling to find inspiration for songs for our second album [2002’s ‘We Are Your Friends’]. I’d taken The Langley Schools Music Project [a compilation of children singing hits by the likes of David Bowie] in for everybody to listen to, and the CD has a picture of the whole school and across the top it says ‘We Are Your Friends’. Simon [William Lord, Simian vocalist] said ‘That’s a great lyric!’ and we put it in a song that day. It felt like the Butterfly effect: if I hadn’t taken that CD in, Simon wouldn’t have used that phrase, it wouldn’t have got remixed by Justice and then ended up in some Hollywood film.”

You produced (and drummed on) Klaxons’ debut album ‘Myths of the Near Future’, which won the 2007 Mercury Music Prize. But which other nominated album that you produced did it beat?

“Was it ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ by the Arctic Monkeys?”


“I wasn’t expecting them to win. With Klaxons, it felt like we were inviting chaos into the mainstream. It was carnage. We tried to make the second failed Klaxons record in France with lots of heavy psychedelic drugs, and it got fucking weird! There was talking to aliens, burying stuff in fields… Jamie [Reynolds, Klaxons bassist] had the A&R guys bring over a glass display case that you’d put a stuffed-crow or something in to preserve ‘Mr Tabernacle’. When they turned up and asked ‘Where’s Mr Tabernacle?’, it turned out Mr Tabernacle was an apple that had been rotting outside the studio for two weeks! That was the last time I went as deep with a band like that into the wonky side of recording. It was incredible and a disaster at the same time.”


What number did the Arctic Monkeys’ 2022 album ‘The Car’ (which you produced) reach on the Hungarian album charts?

“[Laughs] I have no clue but I’ll aim high with Number One!”

WRONG. 16.

“Oh well! [Laughs] That album had a long gestation. There was an original attempt at making a record that was going to be bigger and more outward-facing, but the pandemic happened, and Al [Alex Turner, Arctics frontman] went into his own bubble, returning with these beautiful, intimate, sad songs. We recorded in this country house in Suffolk. With the backdrop of the pandemic, it was nice to be together in a group and have that boozy camaraderie.”

Since their sophomore effort ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, you’ve produced every one of the Arctics albums…

“I nearly made their first record [2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not‘], but I was an unknown quantity, so it got taken away from me which was upsetting. But we had an instant connection, and they came back for the second record – and we just carried on. When I first saw them, they were in the thick of this crazy hype rollercoaster. Jamie [Cook, guitarist/keyboardist] didn’t even have a passport! They were smalltown boys and it was a lot for them to deal with. They’re still decompressing from that first period; some of the lyrics on ‘The Car’ are Al looking back on those crazy moments.”

Does ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ feel like the ‘album that got away’?

“I’ve made my peace with it. If I’d done it, possibly I wouldn’t have maintained this relationship with them, so I’m not mad about it – I was for a little period! [Laughs] I feel like my versions [of ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’] were slightly rougher-around-the-edges, punkier and faster. That’s just from memory, because I don’t have copies [of the demos] and I’m not sure they exist.”

Would you like to work with them again?

“Yes. I’ve told Al he probably should go off and work with other people at this point, because having a different perspective can push you in different directions, so I wouldn’t be mad if he did that – I’d actively encourage it. But by the same token, we’ve built up this language over a long period of time, our music tastes have evolved together, and he’s a big part of my life.”

In 2018, you held your stag weekend at Sea Power’s Sing Ye From The Hillsides festival. Sea Power had fun by telling the local press that which musician had arrived there by submarine?

“[Laughs] It must have been Al, right?”

WRONG. They lied that Noel Gallagher had adopted that method of transport.

“[Laughs] Noel wasn’t there though; the Arctic Monkeys were, along with some of the Klaxons. It a great, pretty heavily psychedelic experience! I associate stag-dos with getting gaffer-taped to a pole, but it was nothing like that!”

Which four tracks did you produce on Florence + the Machine’s 2009 debut album ‘Lungs’?

“Whoa! Obviously there’s ‘Day Days Are Over’ and…. I think that’s all I’ve got! [Laughs] Was one called ‘Drumming Song’? ‘Between Two Lungs?’”

WRONG. Apart from those three, you missed ‘I’m Not Calling You a Liar’.

“I wouldn’t have got that! I knew her manager Mairead [Nash] from party times, and she told me about this girl she’d found singing in the bog. We got a knock at the studio door and Florence came in this like a whirlwind, singing at me and banging her head [Laughs] as I  thought: ‘Fucking hell, who’s this?’ My main memory of recording was Florence coming in late after being out all night. She’s teetotal now, but she definitely wasn’t at that point. She went to shower before we carried on recording, and suddenly there was an almighty crash and she’d fallen through the glass shower door! She’d cut her arm open, there was a blood everywhere and she had to go to hospital. It was really dramatic!”

You co-produced the recent Jessie Ware’s disco opus ‘That! Feels Good!’. Name any two celebrities who cameo on its title track.

“Jessie brought in lots of different notes on her phone from actors and singers. I know Róisín Murphy, Kylie and Aisling Bea were on there.”


“Before [2020’s] ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’, Jessie had been having a bad time. Her previous ballad-y album hadn’t done well, her podcast was growing, and she was almost going to give up on music – which is always a good place to make music from. She said: ‘Fuck it! I’m going to make a fun dance record for myself – regardless of what my label say’. Which was great because I got to make wedding-jam hits and lean into classic disco and funk. She’s embraced the fun, camp side of her personality – nobody does that better!”


Complete the following lyrics: ‘Say that other people are a special kind of hell’…?

“Um…. ‘But everybody needs a little moment to themselves’?

CORRECT. From ‘I Never Wanted Anything’ – a track off your lush new solo album ‘The Hum’.

“Starting to do live shows, the hardest thing is just remembering the fucking words! [Laughs] When I started writing these songs, my intention was to send them out to artists I know and see if they wanted to sing on them, but then I thought: ‘Why am I not singing them? It’s only in my own head that I’ve boxed myself in as a producer’. I enjoyed the process of writing lyrics and would wake up at 4am and think: ‘That word would fit there….’ It was like a puzzle. Musically, it was me going back to my default settings of growing up with my dad’s record collection, which contains a lot of weird, wonderful, wonky proggy stuff with personal lyrics.”

You produced Gorillaz 2018 album ‘The Now Now’, and co-produced some tracks from ‘The Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez’. Can you name all four members of the cartoon band?

“[Laughs] Can I name any member more like?! Nope, I can’t do it!”

WRONG. Murdoc Niccals, 2-D, Noodle, and Russell Hobbs.

“I knew 2-D! Working with Damon Albarn is brilliant. He’s a hero of mine from back in the day and doesn’t disappoint. He’s chaotic to work with – a fountain of ideas and sometimes it’s overwhelming – but he’s brilliant and conjures melodies out of thin air easily.”

You’ve teamed up with Damon again by producing Blur’s upcoming album ‘The Ballad of Darren’…

“Working with Blur was a dream come true for me. I’d already worked on Gorillaz with Damon and the Waeve with Graham [Coxon, Blur guitarist], but working with Blur was a whole different beast. As a longtime fan, they didn’t disappoint. The process was as chaotic, hilarious, and beautiful as I hoped it would be. I’m very proud of the record we made. It was fascinating to see how the individual parts come together to make something that is uniquely them.”

Talking of icons, you’ve worked with Depeche Mode

“My favourite memory was working on the last record [2023’s ‘Memento Mori’] which was weird to make because we’d all signed on and heard the demos and unfortunately, Andy Fletcher [keyboardist] passed away unexpectedly which was a big shock for everyone involved. I wasn’t expecting the record to happen, but Martin [Gore] and Dave [Gahan] thought the best thing to do was to carry on making the record. It was a very bittersweet, interesting experience. In the light of a brush with mortality, Martin and Dave were repairing their often-fractious relationship and it felt like long lost brothers. They were catching up and reminiscing and talking directly to each other – they even wrote a song together.”

Which album that you’ve worked on have you found the hardest to produce and which are you proudest of?

“Well, the one I wish I’d never done was that fucking Mumford record [2015’s ‘Wilder Mind’]! I don’t know why I did that. It paid for my house [Laughs] but it’s the record I regret doing. The hardest was probably the [2017] Depeche Mode album ‘Spirit’ because everyone was in a horrible place, the mood was strange, people weren’t getting on, and a lot of it felt like marriage guidance counselling to stop the whole thing falling off the rails and the band splitting up. It was pretty grim. And the record I’m most proud of was my own, ‘The Hum’, because it was a challenge to finish something that made me realise how difficult it is when I’m asking other artists to be vulnerable and put themselves out there.”

How many spoons are used to spell out  SMD’s ‘Attack Decay Sustain Release’ album title in its artwork?

“[Laughs] That was a wacky idea. 5,000? I haven’t a clue!”

WRONG. 2,500.

“The more ludicrous the idea, the more excited Jas and I got by it! So when it was suggested we spell out the album title in spoons on the grass, we thought it sounded brilliant. Why not?!”

The verdict: 4/10

“My memory’s always been bad. If it hadn’t always been this bad, I’d be worried I was heading down the road for Alzheimer’s or something!”

James Ellis Ford’s ‘The Hum’ is available now via Warp