LONDON — James Lavelle is UNKLE. This is a fact the producer, still discouraged with public and press misconceptions about his role in the all-star collaboration, wants to get straight across. During the three years of creating the 1998 debut Psyence Fiction Lavelle evolved UNKLE to include DJ Shadow, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Richard Ashcroft of The Verve, Mike D of the Beastie Boys, Kool G Rap, and Jason Newstead of Metallica.
Looking back over the long and turbulent development of the album and the bout of criticism he weathered for not physically performing on the work, Lavelle states clearly that UNKLE will have a new sound — a sound without Psyence Fiction mastermind DJ Shadow.
"UNKLE has always been something that has moved about, and lots of different people have been involved, and Shadow was involved for that album, but he's not involved now in that same way." He's quick to point out, however, that "this isn't an issue between me and [DJ Shadow], this was an issue of just … everything that happened. I don't want that pressure put between our friendship again."
Shadow won't be the only one absent from future UNKLE recordings. If Lavelle decides to make another UNKLE album, Yorke, Ashcroft, or any of the other marquee contributors are unlikely to return. Instead, he says he would opt to work with well-respected, lesser-known artists such as Queens of the Stone Age or Mo'Wax label artists South or the Psychonauts. Though Lavelle and the Mo'Wax label he manages have been the ambassadors of sample-based music to the mainstream, famous for the embrace of the new and sometimes controversial musical style, he hints that he's drifting away from it … which could be a clue to his envisioned direction of UNKLE.
"I constantly sample, but not in the same way as before. … It's very small samples and completely recreated and replayed and redone. I don't make records in the same way that somebody like Josh [DJ Shadow] would make records, really."
In the meantime, Lavelle has worked several significant projects, his latest being the score to Jonathon Glazer's British heist film Sexy Beast, a soundtrack he recorded over a period of eight hectic days. Glazer had previously filmed the provocative "Rabbit in Your Headlight" music video for UNKLE. The video was banned in many areas despite its critical and fan acclaim, including an MTV Video Music Awards nomination for best breakthrough video.
Looking back at the highs and lows of Psyence Fiction, Lavelle relates that "I wanted to do other stuff after doing that UNKLE record, I just wanted to do things which were a lot more spontaneous and a lot more relaxed." His plate now full with a remix of a brand-new Prodigy single and a DJ residency at London's vaunted superclub Fabric, he can afford to wait before jumping into a new UNKLE album.
"The difficult thing with UNKLE was that there was such a jump from when it was this mad little group of people making fucked-up records to this massive kind of DJ Shadow, James Lavelle, Richard Ashcroft … you ran before walking, you know? I'd like to learn how to walk again."