As electronic music has officially cemented itself in the mainstream music consciousness over the past few decades, classical music has firmly remained in the background. But Above & Beyond are out to solidify, once and for all, how the two worlds can coexist with their Acoustic II album.
The British trance trio's new release follows up 2014's Acoustic album, which reworked tunes from their past discography by adding striking guitar and gorgeous piano blended into the mix. And, as A&B member Tony McGuinness tells Fuse, the new LP is "stretching what Above & Beyond is in people's eyes."
Inspired by classic MTV Unplugged shows and by working closely with producer producer Bob Bradley (Pet Shop Boys, Sugababes), McGuinness shares more insight with Fuse behind Acoustic II.
FUSE: This is Above & Beyond's second time reworking its own music into this Acoustic world. Do you think other electronic or dance acts could pull it off so well?
McGuinness: There's a number of reasons why it's unlikely. It's not impossible, of course. But the fact that there's three of us, we therefore form a small but significant part of the 15-piece band, that helps people feel like we're a large part of it. I think if it was just one person in a 15-person band, that feeling of ownership would be a little less.
The other thing that we've always done is not work with loads of different vocalists. We write a lot of our songs, most of the songs that men sing on our albums are written internally, and we have a very select number of female [artists] that we work with that write songs that fit in with the songs we write ourselves. We have a very homogenous and consistent kind of song, which results in a very fairly consistent voice for Above & Beyond. It's much more like a band with one or two songwriters in the band. That's what it feels like. For a lot of other electronic artists—and I don't want to generalize for everybody—but most of the time, when the album comes out there's six different featured vocalists who are all writing their own songs about their own lives. The next album comes out, it's another six and so it goes on. I think it would be very difficult for another band from our space to do it.
As an electronic act, does a project like Acoustic ever throw off the record label or your fans?
The point is: We're breaking out of any readily understandable genre and doing something which is striking us, an artist, into areas that the industry doesn't really understand. It makes absolute sense to us, it makes absolute sense to our fans, but it falls through the cracks of the industry.
There was a slightly depressing side of the GRAMMYs in that it's very categorized. I think the tendency in an industry when it's been going for any length of time is to put things into neat boxes to feel very comfortable with people that sound like people they've heard before. The side of the GRAMMYs that was presented in the TV show was not that groundbreaking in any way, the BRIT Awards was possibly similar. There's a tendency for those things to reward the things that are known—I don't want to say anything more pointedly than that.
“I think Avicii's saying 'Enough already.'”-Above & Beyond's Tony McGuinness
As someone's whose been watching the scene, what excites you? What are you keeping your eye on?
The "EDM bubble" burst. I'm not sure when exactly. I think there's a feeling that things need to change, but nobody really knows in which direction they're going to change. There's been a lot of excitement happening in the deeper end of the market. I love deep house, deep techno... it's the stuff I'll hear in Ibiza.
Obviously, I know Avicii's retired in the time we've put this [album] together. I think that's a really interesting thing for him to have done. I applaud him. I think he realized—as we all did—you have to sacrifice your life to be an artist these days because it's 24/7. It's hard to shoehorn the things that normal people do. We've all missed weddings, birthdays, funerals, kids growing up, whilst we've been doing this, and that's the sacrifice you have to make. I think Avicii's saying 'Enough already.' I was like, 'Fair play to him for actually realizing life is kind of fun too.' [Laughs]
Above & Beyond are slowly working on their next electronic album, with plans to fully focus on it after the summer. Watch below as the group explains the connection between EDM and heavy metal below: