Shock Machine is the exciting new project of James Righton, once the keyboard player of 2007 Mercury-Prize-winning nu-ravers, Klaxons. Earning possibly the coolest prize in Christendom can never be an out-and-out curse, but arguably, for Klaxons, it wasn't a sure-fire blessing. It seemed to lead some critics (unfairly) to classify them as too cool for school and to give less credit to the arguably more studied albums that followed "Myths of the Near Future", before Klaxons disbanded in 2015.
I encountered Shock Machine by happy chance, at the Thekla in Bristol, as the support act on the Lemon Twigs' UK tour. You know how support acts often go. People observe dutifully, clap politely, or as seems to be more frequent in modern gig 'etiquette', talk to each other and geotag themselves, so that all their mates can know full well they're having a good time. Only part way through "Open Up The Sky", Shock Machine had clearly got people out of the bar, out of cyberspace and into the immediacy of that shoulder-and-neck-lurching dance that humanity has developed for listening to music whilst standing in crowds. Bristol gig stalwart, Big Jeff, led the mosh from the front, earning an appreciative handshake from the equally frenetic Mr Righton, as he worked the crowd, part creating and part sharing the joy. Bearing in mind this was the first night of the tour, Shock Machine had certainly hit the ground running.
Their sound emanates from a potent, bubbling cauldron of artists such as OMD, Tame Impala, REM, The Beatles, The Charlatans and Todd Rundgren. It is a sound full of exuberance and fuelled by the joy of renewal. James Righton spoke to Contact Music after the dual exhilaration of performing his own set and then taking in the glam mayhem of The Lemon Twigs.
Contact Music (CM): Good evening, James. These look like exciting times for you.
James Righton (JR): Yeah. I have an album coming out in June that I made about a year ago, with a producer called James Ford, who's a friend I've made music with for years. .
CM: And did the band then assemble around that project?
JR: It did. I wrote the album, recorded it and then got a record deal, so I got together a band to replicate the album's sound live. .
CM: How would you describe your sound?
JR: An unashamed representation of things I really love, which spans from the Beatles to Todd Rundgren - melodic, weird music. I always liked music that was melodic, but that had something a bit more wonky and odd going on too. I've made an album I really like and I hope other people like it. Songwriting is what I love to do, so I want the album to be heavy on the quality of the songs. .
CM: You made your name with the band Klaxons
JR: I did my service, yes...
CM: How far away or how close to that do you feel at this stage in your career?
JR: A million miles away from it, to be honest...
CM: How would you describe it as a stage in your life?
JR: Klaxons was a really great chapter in my earlier life, and now I'm older and happy doing other things. It's really weird. I'm here tonight supporting The Lemon Twigs, whom I love and I'm really happy that they invited me to play with them, because I don't think they even knew about Klaxons.
CM: This band puts you right out at the front of things. Are you in your element there?
JR: Yeah, I love it. With Klaxons I had an instrument, so I had a job to play keys. Everyone's roles get defined early in bands, so you're 'that guy who does this one thing' and it felt too restrictive doing that. I think I was always a front man in disguise and I'm now enjoying stepping out into the light. I'm not scared. The main thing is that now I'm a dad and I've got a daughter, I really don't care what people think about me, so it's easy to be a front man.
CM: Does being a husband and a father lead into the songwriting at all?
JR: 100%. I'm totally unashamed in what I sing about. When you're in your twenties and starting out, the problem is that you care about being cool. Being older, I can care less about being cool, which is a liberating feeling. Irony is, I stop caring about being cool, then I get a f**king offer to support The Lemon Twigs, who are probably the coolest people in the world, or maybe totally uncool to a whole lot of other people - dissect that.
CM: The coolness jury's probably out on Brian D'Addario's catsuit tonight (skin-tight, leopard print, open to the navel).
JR: I'm totally in favour of that wardrobe choice...
CM: You're off to the dressing room in a sec to size it up and see if you can walk away with it?
JR: They are both lovely guys and brilliant to tour with. By the end of the tour, though, I will be in Brian's catsuit.
CM: What are the immediate plans for Shock Machine?
JR: I've got my album coming out in June, called "Shock Machine". Recording it, there was just me and James Ford in the South of France in a cabin. We bashed it out in four weeks and I then got a guy called Ben Allen who's worked with Deerhunter and Animal Collective to engineer and mix it. I've always wanted to do a self-titled album, and the first song I released was called "Shock Machine".
CM: "Shock Machine" on "Shock Machine" by Shock Machine!
JR: Yeah. I love the sound of it! There'll be a tour with some headline gigs. My main songs aren't out yet. I've held a few things back. And I've written my next record already. I'm in a really good place. Writing-wise, I'm doing lots and I want to get on and record the next one as soon as possible.
CM: Finally, James, what does your little one think of Daddy's music?
JR: (As a fond smile breaks across his face) She hates it. It would be so wrong if she loved it. You've got to rebel against your parents. She is under two, though, so I'll wait until she's a bit older to get her firm judgement. I hated everything that my Dad liked, but weirdly now, I love everything my Dad liked. Isn't that the strangest thing? Now that I've got a child and now I'm in my thirties, for me, Steely Dan and 10cc are the f**king best thing ever, so it's all come full circle. There's time for her yet!