James Righton on putting together ABBA’s new live band: “They had to be as good as the originals”

The multi-instrumentalist tells us about the honour of working with the legends, and how it has inspired his own music but not a Klaxons reunion

Former Klaxons member James Righton has spoken to NME about the process of finding the members of ABBA‘s new live band, as well as revealing how it has helped shape his own new music.

The Swedish pop legends returned earlier this month, announcing details of a “revolutionary” and immersive new live show called ‘Voyage’ along with a new 10-track album of the same name and the first two singles from it.

The ‘Voyage’ live show will see a “digital” version of ABBA performing alongside a 10-piece live band (put together with the help of former Klaxons member James Righton and featuring Little Boots) at the new purpose-built 3,000-capacity ABBA Arena at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in a run of shows from May 27, 2022.

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Speaking to NME, Righton explained how “trying not to say anything to anyone is quite hard when you’re working with such a legendary act like ABBA”. The multi-instrumentalist explained how he’d been part of the “amazingly well-kept secret” for two years ever since Johan Renck (who directed David Bowie’s videos for ‘Blackstar’ and ‘Lazarus’) got in touch and asked him to help out with the project.

“He gave me a call and said, ‘I’ve got this project that I’m working on’,” said Righton. “He said the word ‘ABBA’ and my jaw dropped. Whenever you hear an ABBA reunion rumour it just feels so unbelievable.”

Former Klaxon James Righton has been working with ABBA. Credit: Supplied by James Righton
Former Klaxon James Righton has been working with ABBA. Credit: Supplied by James Righton

From there, Righton was put in touch with producer Svana Gisla (who produced JAY-Z and Beyoncé’s On The Run Tour) and ABBA’s Benny Andersson before being tasked with helping to put together the live band for the project.

“I had to go through my mental memory bank of musicians that I’d played with or that I’d known,” Righton told NME. “I’ve been making music and involved in it for quite some time now, so I know a lot of musicians who’d be able to play this music. I had to put the feelers out very tentatively and confidentially for people who’d be up for the task of being in ABBA’s band.”

Asked about what it took to make the cut, Righton replied: “You not only have to be an incredible musician and professional, but you also need feel, character and groove. It’s really important to find a band of personalities and people with style. When you look back at ABBA footage from the ‘70s, they were always brilliant and had amazing players – like if you go see LCD Soundsystem now, for example.”

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He continued: “It was a challenge, but a fun one. I care as a fan of their band. If I was going to be a part of it, I wanted to get it right. This band had to step up as being as good as the original line-up.”

ABBA are back with new album and "revolutionary" live experience, 'ABBA: VOYAGE'. CREDIT: Press
ABBA are back with new album and “revolutionary” live experience, ‘ABBA: VOYAGE’. CREDIT: Baillie Walsh

While remaining tight-lipped about who else was part of the band, Righton explained how Little Boots (real name Victoria Hesketh) was “perfect” for the role.

“I’ve known Vick since the start of Klaxons, and I’ve always known how much of a huge fan she is of ABBA’s music – but she can also play,” he said. “She’s a brilliant piano player and vocalist. When I put it to her, it was a no-brainer. She did amazingly at the audition, and the standard was really high. Benny and Bjorn were really impressed by the standard of the musicians.

He went on: “It was incredible to hear this band play for the first time and do these songs justice. To see Benny jump on synth and piano and play along – it was so moving. We did a rendition of ‘Eagle’ that went on for 30 minutes because it was so much fun and we didn’t want to stop.”

Would he be appearing on stage with the band at all?

“No, I don’t think I’m a good enough musician – to be honest!” Righton replied. “You have to be really good to play these songs, and that’s not the level I’m at. Maybe I’ll strum a few chords to something one night, but the band we’ve got are amazing.

Righton also explained how his love of ABBA ran deep, and only got deeper as his music career unfolded when the Mercury-winning Klaxons emerged in 2005.

“I remember when Klaxons had a MySpace, among our ‘likes’ were KLF, ABBA and some random choices,” he said. “I don’t know who hasn’t grown up listening to ABBA. You don’t have to have gone out and bought their records to know their songbook – it’s just part of our shared culture.

He continued: “Even the most muso or alternative-minded person probably has a soft spot for ABBA. Everyone knows the classics, but you can dig deep into their catalogue and find so many gems and interesting pieces of music with so much detail. If you like groove you’ve got disco, if like melody you’ve got tonnes of it, if you’re a geeky person who’s into production then you’ve got some of the most interesting sounds and different elements at work.

“You’ve got such a rich body of work to delve into. You get older, go deeper, find more gems, and get more into their songwriting process and production. Before I met the band, I was very much into their music and had gone into it.”

Describing the live production and stage show as “tasteful”, “ambitious” and “something that’s never been seen before”, Righton said it all added up to something that’s “about much more than a band getting back together” – but it hadn’t inspired him to reunite Klaxons.

“I’m really busy at the moment,” said Righton. “Every few years there’s a question about a reunion, and it’s never crossed my mind. I don’t know how I’d find the time. I also struggle to find the point right now, apart from some kind of memory lane thing?

“Going back to the ABBA reunion, it’s so amazing that they’ve come back with new material. It’s not like they’re trying to just flog nostalgia. There’s a relevance to what they’re doing. I have so much love and respect for the Klaxons guys and what we did as a band, but we did it. I don’t know how pleasing it would be.”

While making soundtracks for movies (including Simon Amstell’s Benjamin in 2019), Righton has also spent recent years working under the moniker of Shock Machine as well as releasing debut solo album ‘The Performer‘ last year and working with Soulwax members David and Stephen Dewaele for his recent dance single ‘Release Party‘ – which he described as a taste of things to come.

“I’ve made an album over the past year through lockdown, which actually started at the ABBA studio,” Righton revealed. “There are a couple of tracks from my forthcoming record that were made there. After our sessions, I asked Benny if I could mess around on his rare GX-1 synth and some songs came out of it.

“I made an album over the internet and Zoom with Dave and Stef the Soulwax guys. It was all made using interesting and weird analog synths and drums. It’s very strange electronic and references Japan and David Sylvain.”

He added: “I got into a good spot, creatively. I had a lot to say and the songs came very easily. It’ll be out on DEEWEE Records early next year, but I’m sure there will be more new music soon. ”

Check out NME‘s interview with the producers and directors on what to expect from the ABBA live show here, along with details on how long it might run for.

ABBA’s ‘Voyage’ concerts will run from May 27, 2022, following the accompanying album which will be released on November 5, 2021, on Universal Music. Visit here for tickets and more information.

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