It’s a myth, the idea that all purveyors of drum and bass are hyperactive mentalists.The justification for that statement is Dan Arnold of Brighton-based trio The Qemists, a beatsmith who seems remarkably chilled as we hook up early on a Thursday evening. As one third of a unit currently tearing a strip out of gig venues up and down the country, it sounds like he’s taking it all in his stride.
As we talk, the band’s debut album Join The Q has not long hit the shelves, and a UK tour is imminent. Arnold is excited, but admits the band are taking success in their own understated way. “Yeah, I don’t know how we do it to be honest – we’re actually quite chilled. It’s a bit of both I think, once we’re on stage we cut loose a lot more but off stage we’re completely normal. I always found 90% of people I meet aren’t rude boys in any case!”
The Qemists started off as a rock band, which explains the raw guitars that sit towards the lower end of their sound. “We all met when at primary school”, Arnold remembers fondly, “and I’ve been in the band ever since secondary school. The sound has moulded since then.”
So how does he regard their change of tack from rock to drum and bass? “It’s all about progression. All we wanted to do was just play, and although we were working hard on the rock band none of us were too worried about getting signed. More recently, just before things happened, I remember we would be saying ‘I’d love to be signed to Ninja Tune’, then kind of waking up and saying, ‘No, we’re a rock band!’ It’s the weirdest thing that it has actually happened now.”
Coldcut‘s Ninja Tune label, to which The Qemists are now signed, are showing their diversity these days. “That’s definitely the case,” he agrees, “though a lot of people have found that we’re different even for Ninja. I do think though that more and more they’re showing they’re eclectic, with The Bug and heavier people like that. I still think we’re one of the strangest acts they have but that’s a good thing I think.”
Now that we seem to be well over the ‘next best thing for 2009’ stage, it seems a good time to point out to Arnold that The Qemists scored highly in such polls. “I’ve been aware of that, yeah, I get loads of the press stuff. It’s strange for us, as it’s something we started three years ago, but at the moment it sounds like it’s really current. I think a lot of it’s about keeping the rawness, and I think that’s what people are keeping on with. I’ve certainly had a good journey so far. Pretty much all I’ve got to complain about at the moment is my wisdom tooth.”
Playing live is a relatively new step for the band, but as Arnold explains it’s something they didn’t want to rush into. “The idea was to take the record live, and we spent a lot of time working out how to do it without playing to a backing track. That was the last thing we wanted to do. And I think – I know – that it’s going to work. We’ve got Jenna G on board to do some vocals, and we’ve got Bruno, an MC from Brighton, doing that stuff. It seems to be working well. I feel like we’re really looking forward, and we’ve made the progression back to playing live.”
Does he feel the electronic music heavyweights have upped their live game in recent times? “Yes, definitely. I mean it almost goes without saying that some of them have always been up there, bands like The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers.” He pauses, as if remembering. “Certainly I’ve been to see The Prodigy a few times, and it’s such a massive sound they make. Faithless as well, I’ve always known them to put on a great live show and think they work really well.”
“I always found a lot of drum and bass bands don’t stand up live at all. We want to do that – and we want to sound big” – Qemists’ Dan Arnold aims high with his band
And on the drum and bass side of things? He’s more sceptical. “I always found a lot of drum and bass bands don’t stand up live at all. We want to do that – and we want to sound big. We don’t want to be just a drummer going mad with a backing track, there’s a lot more to us than that”.
The guestlist for Join The Q includes Mike Patton, front man of recently reformed Faith No More, who added vocals to Lost Weekend. Arnold was pretty much awestruck by the collaboration, even though they have yet to meet. “For that track we were writing more of a big rock vocal, we derived a track and he was one of the first people we thought of. We tend to make a wishlist in that respect. Certainly Jenna G, Wylie and Zoe were at the top of our lists, while Drop Audio started with nothing in mind then we suggested it to ID. We’ve been really lucky.”
Returning to Patton, Arnold remains starry eyed. “He seemed so nice, by far the most professional person we’ve ever worked with,” he gushes. “He was telling us what he wanted to do, and he gave us the vocal very quickly. We haven’t broached it yet but I’m really hoping we’ll perform it live at some point.”
Talk inevitably turns to Pendulum, who have taken the idea of drum and bass with guitars to previously unseen commercial heights. Arnold respects their stance, while acknowledging The Qemists stand for something rather different. “I’ve been into Pendulum for a long time, and I reckon their production is really up there. It’s a tight and amazing sound. Their new stuff is further away from what we do though, but I see how they’ve certainly opened some doors that might not have been opened. It’s not a decision on our part to be a more rock, more dirty – it’s what comes naturally to us. Our influences are different, I would say. We’ve listened to Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers. We come from different backgrounds.”
Much of the ensuing months will see The Qemists take Join The Q on tour across the UK. How about the US? Their sound seems well suited to make an impact there. “I’m not sure what plans we have there,” admidst Arnold, “but we do have a few DJ dates as part of a Solid Steel tour. I know some drum and bass producers over there, some guys who make electro. I think it would be really good.” For now, he’s more than happy as the band hone their live sound in the UK – and build on their early success in 2009.