This was one of the craziest interviews I’ve ever done. It was a week after Pnau had played a huge homecoming show at Homebake and only days after they met Elton John so they were in fine spirits and ready to celebrate. Which meant dinner at Bodega – this great south american tapas joint in Surry Hills – and a few $90 bottles of wine! By the end of our animated two hour interview, Nick had hijacked my dictaphone and was reading spoken word poetry from his journal.
How Sir Elton John became Pnau’s unlikely knight in shining armour
”The story goes he bought the album, had a listen and then went back and bought forty copies. Then he called us,” says Nick Littlemore about Pnau’s newest fan, Sir Elton John.
In Sydney for his Rocket Man tour and the launch of Billy Elliot the Musical last December, the music legend invited Littlemore and musical partner Peter Mayes to his lavish Park Hyatt penthouse to discuss their new, self-titled album and world domination over tea.
“Elton walked straight up to us, shook our hand and made us really at ease, even though we were quietly shitting ourselves,” says Littlemore. “He was a total gentleman.”
”For the first fifteen minutes, he basically told us how much he loved the new record, how many singles there are and how he was going to make it his personal mission to make us successful,” recalls Mayes. “We were just like ‘thanks for having a cup of tea with us.’”
Given Elton has put his musical muscle into breaking acts like the Scissor Sisters and Mylo in the past, the Pnau boys are well aware how lucky they are and tonight they’re celebrating over ninety dollar bottles of Spanish wine at swanky tapas bar Bodega in inner Sydney. A week after their triumphant homecoming at Sydney’s Homebake festival which saw them headlining the dance tent, the guys are still buzzing and by the end of the night and a few more bottles, Littlemore is hijacking the dictaphone and reeling off lyrics from his journal in-between talk of their recent return to form.
“LL Cool J said it best – don’t call it a comeback. We’re starting for the first time. We’ve never taken it seriously before. Maybe we did for ourselves, but this is much bigger,” he declares.
Equal parts hands-in-the-air hedonism and dreamy post-party introspection, Pnau sees its makers finally step out of the shadows thrown by their ARIA Award-winning 1999 debut, Sambanova. Less sample-based than their first record and superior to its patchy follow-up Again, Pnau is the sound of Littlemore and Mayes revelling in the group they started back in high school aged 14.
“The only reason you make music is to touch as many people as possible and we wanted to make something the world needed,” says Littlemore. “We happened upon that with our first record by chance. The second record was just us spending money and trying out ideas.”
The first challenge for their third record was escaping a stagnant record deal with Warner. “That was great because we owed them so much fucking money,” laughs Mayes. They’ve since signed with Universal off-shoot, Etc. Etc. The second was putting their assorted side-projects and production work on hold long enough to refocus on their first love.
“We spent so many years apart working on collaborations outside the band that it took us all this time to realise that the best shit we do happens when we do it together,” explains Mayes.
“It’s something [Sleepy Jackson frontman and album collaborator] Luke Steele said to us ‘this is our fucking shot, man,’” adds Littlemore. “A generation has passed since we were interesting to people and we had a lot of fears whether anyone would remember us. We wanted to make something we were proud of again.”
Steele sings two songs on Pnau – “Freedom” and arguably the album’s finest moment, the ethereal opener “With You Forever” – but it wasn’t exactly planned. He and Littlemore had fallen out several years back over a song they’d co-written on The Sleepy Jackson’s first album, but even that wasn’t going to get in the way.
“I’m a very intense person and I take things to heart,” Littlemore says about the rift. “But when we wrote “With You Forever”, I knew straight away I had to send it to Luke. A day later, he called me up and sang the whole thing over the phone to me.”
On the strength of that collaboration, they decided to write an album on the side under the working title Steelemore. Mayes finished mixing it in early December, although Littlemore jokingly declares it’ll be released “as late as possible.”
It’s probably for the best – Pnau’s more immediate plans see them flying to the UK this month for another tea appointment with their new-found champion.
”The funny thing is this is the first time my parents have gone ‘oh fuck’,” beams Littlemore. “They’ve always been supportive even if they say I make ‘drug music’ but with Elton, they can actually talk to their friends about it now.”