Above and Beyond, the trio of Jonathan Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki, do everything you can imagine in the electronic music world produce, write, remix, DJ, and run a music label. With their artist album TriState and AnjunaBeats label compilations as well as relentless touring, they have built a huge fan following resulting in achieving both Radio One Essential Mix of the Year and top 10 on the infamous DJ list. We chatted with Tony about everything from writing and producing to the horrors of wafty birds and VST trance.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: Where did the name Above and Beyond come from?
Tony McGuinness (Above & Beyond): The three of us got together to do a remix for Chakra's "Home," and when we finished the remix and were just about to send it off to Warner's, where I was working at the time, we thought 'damn, we've got to come up with a name for the mix.' I looked around Jono's studio and there was this piece of paper printed out from the internet stuck to the wall above his bed. He had put 'Jonathan Grant' into AltaVista which was the equivalent of Google in those days and he found this website of this motivational guru trainer, and 'above and beyond' was his slogan. So I was sitting there, looking over the room, and I see 'above and beyond' and I just thought, 'that's perfect,' so it was called the Above and Beyond mix. I don't know that we thought of ourselves being above and beyond at that point, it was that the mix was called Above and Beyond, but then we started getting more work, and consequently it became our name. I think it sort of sounds a bit like we want to sound, it's kind of onomatopoeiac in that way.
RS: What's with all the different names you all use like
Oceanlab, Rollerball, and Tranquility Base?
A&B: To be honest, every time anybody comes up with a pseudonym it's purely because they're not sure that what they've just done fits in with the main name. That's where Oceanlab came from, we invented a new project because we knew that we wanted to work with Justine Suissa, but we didn't know if Above and Beyond would work with Justine. We went with Oceanlab and that's done fantastically well, and in some ways it's more popular on the record front than Above and Beyond even. Then we did a remix for another guy that he rejected but we thought was fantastic, so we wanted to put it out, but it had so many knowing references to other records, it was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek thing, so we invented the name Tranquility Base to put it out and it did quite well. We did some more stuff as Tranquility Base, but most of the other pseudonyms were around before Above and Beyond, Free State was Jono and Paavo and the Dirt Devils was Jono and Paavo before they started with me, and Nitro Methane was a thing I did with my brother before I started working with Jono and Paavo. So they're just names that have sort of come along along the way, but ninety percent of what we're doing now is Above and Beyond, with Ocean Lab coming up fast on the outside.
RS: Now this is where Anjuna Beats switches to your record label, right?
A&B: Yes, that's right, Everything's part of one kind of extended complex organism really, and Anjuna Beats and Above and Beyond just turn into each other. It was principally the business side of things that we were worrying about today, but obviously all of it has implications for the other part. That's the thing about a small label like us where we're reliant on so many different sorts of income streams to make the whole thing viable. Any one of them on their own wouldn't give us a viable business model, so we need to keep on top of everything, really.
RS: So income streams, you've got your DJing, performing,
producing, remixing, digital sales...
A&B: Yes and we've got typical artists that we sign and a publishing company. We've got our own label, a web shop that sells merchandise, t-shirts and earplugs and other things, slip mats and CD wallets and what have you. Obviously we produce Above and Beyond, we remix Above and Beyond, and we DJ. We're pretty much everything that a group can be involved in. It's really the way it needs to be, because the old model of making the money from selling records doesn't really work anymore because it's all changed. It's going to change increasingly in the future by having a sort of a bit of faces in every direction, this is the best chance of keeping going and becoming more successful.
RS: Are you all touring a lot right now?
A&B: We're continually touring to be honest, the difference between DJs and a band is there's not that much in terms of production costs, so we're kind of ready to go at a moment's notice. We don't really need to schedule three months solidly on the road and then two months off. We're able to work during the week in the studio and head-off at the weekend. Then if it's really far away, like we're doing a South American tour for a couple of weeks or an Australian tour for a couple of weeks, then we're away continually but most of the time we're gigging at the weekend and working during the week.
RS: As you're touring, is that just DJing or are you performing
with a band?
A&B: No, we're just DJing at the moment. We've done live stuff in the past in the UK, as Oceanlab and we did an Above and Beyond gig in the UK with vocalists and live keyboards and live guitar. But to be honest, it's so much work for us to get stuff like that together and in terms of what we feel we need to represent Above and Beyond at this point in time, we just haven't really had time to do it. We were thinking about doing some kind of unplugged gig to launch the Ocean Lab album when that eventually gets finished and I'm looking forward to doing that because that takes the live group element of Above and Beyond and puts it in a space where that can really make a difference. The problem for you doing any kind of live thing in a club where people are out to have a good night dancing and if you put any kind of production in to the middle of that which is anything less than the sort of produced sound that they're used to hearing, then it doesn't really work.