Interview:

Junkie XL, the man who remixed "A Little Less Conversation", talks to EIN

Junkie XL was formed in 1995 in Holland and has become the first band ever to be officially allowed, by BMG, to remix an Elvis track for release. This Nike Ad remix of "A Little Less Conversation" has put Elvis back onto the main playlists of contemporary radio stations the world over. A new sound for a new Millennium. It's hip to like Elvis once again!

 

Junkie XL is Tom Holkenberg. Tom commenced his highly interesting musical journey at the age of 10 when his parents bought him a drum set. Piano lessons followed and then Tom's big interest in electronics and electronic instruments was fostered.

This interest laid the foundation for the amazing work he is now doing producing, writing and presenting contemporary dance music. Tom has worked with some of the biggest names on the dance scene including DJ Sasha, DJ Tiesto, Rude Boy and Saffron (singer for the band Republica).

During a tour of the USA, Tom came up with the songs for the album 'Big Sounds Of The Drags'. The album featured a varied range of different songs and styles and involved Tom's ideas of using such techniques as reversed guitars and vocals, guitar melodies, and innovative drum and string arrangements.

There appears to be no end to Tom's talents. He is an accomplished songwriter and has done the music for several movies including Resident Evil (2002), Soul Assassin (2001), Ginger Snaps (2001) and The Delivery (2000). Tom also did the full score for the new Xbox game, Quantum Redshift, and is appearing this month on Top of the Pops in Britain.

Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) took time out of his busy schedule to talk to EIN. Tom's candid discussion with EIN was a fascinating and really interesting experience covering a diverse range of themes from his work on A Little Less Conversation to the state of contemporary music.

EIN - Before we talk specifically about 'Elvis vs JXL' we should clarify exactly who & what Junkie XL is?

JXL - Junkie XL came about around 5 or 6 years ago when I was looking for a name to cover the range of my productions. Basically Junkie XL is me, although I get help from time to time from a number of my musical peers and friends.

EIN - And the name, Junkie XL. How did that come about?

JXL - My friends call me me 'Junkie' because of all the time I spend in the studio. The 'XL' stands for 'expanding limits', opening up your eyes and ears to new things, new sounds.

EIN - Who were the major musical influences on Junkie XL?

JXL - I was really influenced from the late 1980s on by electronic bands like Kraftwerk, Yello and KLF. I was into the 'hip hop' sounds. I started in college playing drums and went on to learn bass, piano and keyboards.

EIN - Were dance groups like Culture Beat and 2 Unlimited an influence on you?

JXL - Not really. In Holland they were viewed very much as being too commercial, always trying to get a top ten single.

EIN - Tom, you have created a real storm of interest and anticipation with your fantastic remix of A Little Less Conversation. How did you manage to become the first official re-mixer of an Elvis track?

JXL - (laughs) I really have no clue. The Estate (EPE) had knocked back so many other proposals over the years, I'm not sure why they accepted mine. When Nike approached me to do the music for its soccer commercial (Hidden Secret) a group of us sat down and brainstormed what tracks might work. It was a team based decision. We knew the vibe from A Little Less Conversation would work in any culture. Nike thought it was 'spot on' for what football is all about.

EIN - The song "A Little Less Conversation" is a reasonably obscure Elvis single. When did you first discover the original?

JXL - I first came across it in the movie, Oceans Eleven. The movie included a small snippet of the song and I liked its vibe.

EIN - Have you ever seen the original movie "Live A Little, Love A Little" that featured the song? If yes, what did you think of it?

JXL - No I haven't seen it. Being made in 1968 it's before my time. (unlike some of us, including the interviewer, Tom is only in his early 30's!)

EIN - Some Elvis fans think that his music is sacrosanct and that it should never be played with. Have you come across anyone with the opinion that your remix is destroying hallowed ground?

JXL - I haven't come across this view. It was very important to me in remixing the track that I kept the original track intact as much as possible. I wanted to preserve the original vocal as far as I could - to add something to it without altering the original. It was already a funky and uplifting track and had elements I really liked but wanted to beef up. I totally respect Elvis's music and wanted to maintain its integrity.

EIN - Can you tell us how you went about the remix?

JXL - I hadn't heard any alternate takes of the song I really liked. There was one where his voice goes up and it didn't have the vibe. So I took the original mono mix and added a drum group to make the sound more "2002" in its drum rhythm. I also added percussion and congos. The original track features a choir and in the remix I've used a double choir. The bass line was also redone and acoustic (Hammond) sounds added. Throughout the remix I always wanted to keep it as close as I could to the original and I think it's pretty close. It was important that the remix be seen as being "cool". It was a lot of fun doing the remix.

EIN - What was you first Elvis experience? Have you been an Elvis fan all your life or was this a new discovery?

JXL - I was exposed to Elvis at a really young age. My father was a fan and later I was exposed to his music by an older nephew. When I was growing up I was more into alternative rock, being a fan of bands like Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Who and The Byrds.

EIN - When Elvis recorded, he often did many takes of a song. With A Little Less Conversation he recorded 17 takes. Is the recording process similar for you?

JXL - Not really. Back then the whole process was normally done with the whole band, but not today. It is different with electronic music where you program music using software programs. In the sense that you include different edited forms it can be like a take. Certainly with vocals and real instruments, its take based.

EIN - People often think that the music of today is far removed from the Rock n' Roll music of the fifties but don't you think that the explosive sound of something like 'Hound Dog' can move you in the same way as a Junkie XL track being played on the dance floor?

JXL - I believe the consumption of music now is very different to 25 years ago. It's much more two dimensional now. If you take something like classical music, it evolved over a period of 100 or 150 years. Today, music trends take only months. There are no classic album artists today and the scene lacks 'cool, three dimensional music'. Today, there is a parallel with Motown. It was the total hit factory, with studio musicians turning out hit after hit. They were the Stock, Aitken and Waterman of their time.

EIN - Your point about there being no classic album artists today. Does that mean we've come full circle as you could argue in the 1950s singles dominated and albums were just a hotchpotch of songs thrown together?

JXL - No I think it's different today. While singles dominated how music was made in the 50s there was still a lot of classic material being written and recorded. You had classic songwriters and musicians and an interesting class of songs.

EIN - I note that you have played at a multitude of music festivals in Europe including Ibiza and even the Glastonbury Festival in England. Have you tried your Elvis remix on these crowds and what was their reaction?

JXL - The first time will actually be this Saturday. I'm appearing at Homelands, a major dance festival in Britain. 50,000 people are expected to be there.

EIN - It sounds like this will be a great experience. We'd love to be there and hear the reaction to Elvis vs JXL! EIN - Tell us about your upcoming appearance on Britain's Top of the Pops. What will your involvement be?

JXL - At this stage I'm not sure. We're still working it out. There are a lot of issues to do with lip synching and getting rights to pictures from the Elvis Estate. Sometimes the whole thing can be a pain in the ass.

EIN - Were you surprised at the very high level of interest shown by radio stations in Elvis vs JXL? BMG is predicting it will hit #1 in the UK and BMG Australia believes it could do the same here, as youth radio network JJJ has added it to its High Rotation playlist - you will be interested to know that Elvis vs JXL is the most requested song on JJJ this year!

JXL - That's great to hear. I never expected it. To be totally honest I never expected the track to be a hit. My involvement was an amazing experience.

EIN - In England both Elvis and The Beatles are standing with the equal record of 17 number 1 songs each. Do you realize that, in this year of the 25th Anniversary commemoration, it might be your work that makes Elvis once again the one and only King?

JXL - I wasn't aware of that. I don't want to overstate my involvement in the track. It was already a funky song.

EIN - I think it's fair to say though that your remix has lifted the track to a new level and is obviously the element that makes it "cool" to the contemporary youth audience.

JXL - Thank you. EIN - "Elvis vs JXL" could well be the start of a new direction in how Elvis' music is produced. Do you have any plans to remix other Elvis tracks?

JXL - No I haven't. The experience was amazing but that's it. It was a great opportunity but I'm moving on to other projects.

EIN - What about the music of other major artists? Have you considered remixing some of the swing or dance tracks recorded by say Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin?

JXL - No. I think their music has been picked up by others, like Robbie Williams. So it's less interesting for this reason.

EIN - You have some intriquing projects in the pipeline. When can we expect to hear your new album, 'Red Heat'?

JXL - It comes out September 1. It includes three tracks with vocalist, Saffron, lead singer of Republica.

EIN - What other projects is Junkie XL presently working on?

JXL - I'm wrapping up a number of projects at the moment. Apart from my album, 'Red Heat', I've just finished collaborating with Gary Numan who had the hit song, 'Cars'. I've also done the music for the new Xbox game, Quantum Redshift. Later this year we'll be touring again, making up for last year's cancelled dates, including coming to Australia. Coming to Australia was part of the tour dates we cancelled.

EIN - EIN can tell you we know there will be many dance and Elvis fans eagerly looking forward to your tour down under!

EIN -is it difficult splitting your time between performing and producing?

JXL - Yes, performing and producing can sometimes be difficult. In the dance scene it can be OK, as it's a little easier to balance your time. It's certainly more difficult in rock music where your time has to be divided between recording in the studio or being on tour.

EIN - Do you have a preference between performing, producing and songwriting?

JXL - No, I don't have a preference. I believe a fine balance keeps a musician's life interesting.

EIN - Tom, finally, leaving aside Elvis vs JXL, what do regard as your most satisfying work to date?

JXL - I'd have to say my work with D J Sasha has been the most satisfying. Making an album is a real collaboration and after four weeks you usually want to kill each other. I worked with D J Sasha for seven months and it was an amazing collaboration.

EIN - Tom, on behalf of all Elvis fans, I'd like to thank you for your time. It's been a great pleasure talking to you and I know many fans are looking forward to rockin' to some of your beats when you visit Australia later this year. We wish you all the best for the future and look forward to your great remix of A Little Less Conversation becoming a #1 hit.

For more information about Junkie XL visit the official web site at: www.junkiexl.com

Junkie XL was interviewed by Nigel Patterson, President, EIN by telephone on 30 May 2002.

The interview questions were researched and prepared by Piers Beagley and Nigel Patterson.

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