Paul Epworth is about to make one giant leap with his debut solo record ‘Voyager’. The Grammy-winning producer – who’s worked with the likes of Adele, Coldplay, Bloc Party, Florence + The Machine and Lana Del Rey – has delved into deep space for the project, fusing influences from classic sci-fi movies, spiritual jazz and hip-hop to create a high-concept album bursting with nostalgia.
Epworth told NME that completing the LP had been a case of “timing and the stars aligning”, with it being a total of five years in the making. “Case in point: I managed to deliver my record on International Star Wars day (May 4),” he laughs. “It was very fitting, it was meant to be.”
Arriving today (May 7), new single ‘Love Galaxy’ (featuring Jay Electronica, Lil Silva and Glass Animals’ Dave Bayley) presents Epworth’s solo mission statement to the world. He spoke to NME about the song, his ideas for a virtual reality live tour, who he’s listening to during lockdown and looked back on the halcyon days of ’00s indie.
Why was now the right time to go solo?
“I really finished [the album] a year ago; I started on it about five years ago. I’ve just been trying to find time to fit it in here and there and wait for the right features, and wait ’til I knew what I was wanting to do with the tracks. It’s just one of those things where you start a journey to make a solo album. I can do a lot of it but I’m not the greatest musician and I’m not a vocalist; I can do a bit of backing vocals here and there. But I think the main thing was it just took me that amount of time for the record to be what it is. Sometimes you haven’t got control over those factors.”
What can you tell us about ‘Love Galaxy’?
“The title was meant to be a little bit ironic, but I guess I was trying find this kind of weird Meters, Steve Miller Band sort of cosmic-funk. The whole album is like a space concept album. So this really feels like a key track. I guess I had this image in my head of it feeling like a Coen Brothers movie in space. I was very lucky to some amazing vocal performances on it from Lil Silva and the legend that is Jay Electronica.”
Why do you think people are so drawn to nostalgia at the moment?
“We’re just in a meta-modern era where you’re kind of past post-modernism, and you can go back and collage older references and put it together in a different way to make it new. With ‘Love Galaxy’ and where it sits on the record, I had this idea that the rest of the album itself was being conscious of time. As the record goes, it moves further forward. I was going back to some of those ’70s space concept albums which is some of the stuff I grew up on, like my parents’ record collection. The idea was to do something like that for today’s generation.”
What were some of those records?
“I guess the obvious one is ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ [Pink Floyd] and probably any movie soundtrack; things like Planet Of The Apes and War Of The Worlds, which was an inspiration for this album. There’s a sort of pastiche and narrative over the top like they had to do with movie soundtracks. I wanted to make a record that allows you to explore all these different influences, touching on everything from Tomita to OutKast. You start finding these cosmological references.”
Have you ever thought about writing the score for a film in that genre?
“To be honest, we did end up with a projector on in the studio just running various sci-fi films, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar and Silent Running. There’s this sort of retro-futurism about it that I was inspired by. But I’d love to do a sci-fi film – I’ve never done a film score. It’s something I’m planning to do soon, but whether it’s sci-fi or something else… we’ll have to wait and see .”
Have you thought about taking the album on the road?
“It’s hard to say under the circumstances whether we’re gonna be doing VR shows, but maybe that would suit it. How do you find a futuristic way to represent something that’s supposed to be a future-looking record? Maybe something in an immersive dome. It’d be great and I would love to do it, with a sort of George Clinton-style UFO surrounded by modular synthesisers or with a 10-piece band with two drummers. Or both!”
You worked on a lot of notable records at a pivotal time for indie in the ’00s – how does it feel looking back on that period?
“I almost feel like the 20-year cycle is about to come around again. But I’ve always had a really broad taste in music and I think I’ve always brought different elements into the bands. I’ve always found a connection to the artist I’m working with. Maybe now I’ve got the jazz-funk thing out of my system, I’ll go back and make some more indie records.”
Florence + The Machine in particular have evolved massively from those early days and that debut album. Did you see something special in Florence early on?
“Oh yeah – she’s amazing, man. I’ve always felt like she’s plugged into this sort of supernatural force, that when she really connects with something as a vocalist it will go straight through you. There are very few singers who – in my experience – have ever done that to me, who really make your hairs stand on end. And she’s never lost that.”
There’s been a lot of bands touring their records from that era and playing them in full. Why do you think that period is still important to people?
“I dunno, I’ve never really thought about that. I think there was something so unique and individual about those bands. I feel like The Futureheads, Maximo Park and Bloc Party all had their very unique identities – and in some cases accents – and I think that as British bands they represented very, very honestly their regional roots. There’s a certain theme to those bands and an attitude that gets under people’s skin. In some ways, that’s a testament to the artists I’ve been lucky enough to work with.”
What do you think about the state of guitar music in 2020?
“I think there are some wicked bands around. There’s still this very strong and independent ethos, it’s just that musicians now would probably make records on Ableton, like Glass Animals. It’s just the nature of it has changed. Those debut albums I was lucky to work on in the early ’00s were looking forward but there was also something that was harking back to post-punk records.”
Which artists excite you at the moment?
“You know what, I think just to try and keep the household sane through lockdown I’ve just been listening to Khruangbin on a loop. For me, they’re just like sort of The Metres crossed with E.S.G. They’re just impeccable musicians.”
What have you learned from going solo?
“I’ve learned that I can’t do it on my own. I’ve learned way more about music than I have before – and I’ve delved into the depths of spiritual jazz. There’s something very punk, free and wild in the spirit of those records. It was when I started digging through that stuff that I realised that’s actually where the spirit of bands like the Pop Group came from.”
Paul Epworth’s debut album ‘Voyager’ will arrive later this summer.