Faze Action, one of England’s most promising new dance collectives, just wrapped up a monthlong U.S. tour with Groove Armada. Bassist Robin Lee, who leads the seven-member group with brother Simon, admits having a few jitters about their first U.S. appearances.
“Sure, I was nervous, because it’s America,” Lee said hours before the group’s final show June 19 at New York’s Irving Plaza. “This is where all the best in music comes from. But we’ve sort of settled into it now, because it’s gone so well. We’ve relaxed a bit now.”
Lee calls it their “Hello, America, we’re Faze Action” tour.
“I think now awareness is slowly rising,” he said. “We’re getting a little foothold in there. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but the first mission has been accomplished, and accomplished well. We’re all really pleased.”
He is disappointed, though, that the group’s debut American album, “Moving Cities” (F-111/Warner), didn’t go beyond the clubland crowd and into the mainstream. The album, released in November, is an electrifying conglomeration of sounds, from disco and Latin beats to classical and funk.
“It has been a bit slow, yeah,” Lee said, “but it’s a long road. And this is the first step. It’s a big learning curve. With any luck, we’ll be back in the States as often as possible. We all like it here.
“What’s happening at the moment is, we haven’t really sold many copies yet of the CD. Pretty much this album is going to be done with. We’re going to start the next one, and hopefully that’ll be out next year.”
It took Lee several years to find his musical calling. While his brother was recording and producing his own music in suburban Amersham, Robin studied Asian folk, classical and composition at Goldsmith College. After graduation, he took a job as an English teacher in Osaka, Japan.
“I decided I’d wanted to go to Japan for ages, since I was 8 years old, and I had this strong connection with Japan, and I spoke Japanese before I went to Japan,” Lee said. “The reason why I left England was because I was all music-ed out, and I had a lot of stuff written that I hadn’t put to any of the bands, because the bands I was in weren’t the right kind of music for my music to come through.
“I decided to move to Japan, and my brother Simon, who is a DJ, was hassling me, ‘Oh, we’ve got to make a tune, we’ve got to make a tune.’ And I really didn’t want to do it. But I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to Japan, I’ll give him a goodbye present,’ and came up with an arrangement.”
That gift turned into their first U.K. dance hit, “Original Disco Motion,” in 1995.
“The day I got on the plane to go to Japan,” Lee said, “we got signed by Nuphonic in the U.K. Too late – I was already on the plane. We wrote the first U.K. album (‘Plans & Designs’) while I was in Japan. Simon would send me all the beats and drums on tape, and I’d write down all the music on manuscript paper and send it back to him by mail.”
Lee quickly discovered that he wasn’t cut out to be an English teacher. In fact, he says his teaching skills were “appalling.”
If anything, the overseas experience confirmed that he was a musician at heart.
For “Moving Cities,” they applied vocals to tracks for the first time, enlisting singers Zeke Manyika (The Style Council, Orange Juice) and Vanessa Freeman.
“As soon as we get back to England, we’re going to start the next album, which we’re really excited about,” Lee said. “The next album’s going to be a lot more vocal stuff. We’ve got pretty much all the songs written, actually. We just haven’t gone into the studio with them yet. I can’t wait.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Blimey, that takes me right back. I can tell you the first record I sat down and listened to, when I was 2 years old. I was sitting there next to this old record player all day listening to ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ by the Beatles. That, and Prokofiev, and stuff. … I was 8 when I bought my first record. It was a Village People record, called ‘I Love You to Death’ (from the ‘Can’t Stop the Music’ film soundtrack). It was on 45. That was good stuff.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I went to see James Brown. That was in Brixton, in 1988, I think that was. That was rocking. I started playing the bass about a year before then, and I was already in a band. I was in a band the first week I bought my bass guitar. Ever since that day, I’ve been in bands all over the place. James Brown’s show was an inspiration. That was how to do it, that’s what I thought.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “Me’shell Ndegeocello’s last album. I can’t remember what it’s called now. That stuff’s very, very mellow. I like that. She’s fantastic, actually. I’d love to meet her. Very underrated. In England, she’s massive. Huge. I’d love to collaborate with Me’shell Ndegeocello. I don’t see that I could offer her anything, though. She’s just so all-round got it there. She plays the bass, she plays the guitar, she plays the keyboards, drums and sings and raps. I can’t touch that.”
ON THE WEB: www.nuphonic.co.uk.
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