INTERVIEW: PNAU

It’s 9:15 in the morning and Peter Mayes is relaxing in the Sydney sunshine, “probably getting sunburnt seeing as I’m like, the whitest guy in the world”. Peter Mayes is one half of electronic-pop duo PNAU and after their whirlwind of a year, Mayes definitely deserves that bit of relaxation. Releasing an album with the legendary ELTON JOHN has been the main project for PNAU in 2012, but as the year wraps up, PNAU have been announced as the headlining act at On The Harbour at the Cargo Bar in Sydney, to help bring the city into 2013. Mayes sounded as calm as anyone can possibly be as he explained his busy year, and all of the projects that are yet to come.

What was the first album you ever bought?

Oh god, it was probably some hideous compliation. I think the first album I can actually remember, I grew up in the 1980s in Australia so you’re gonna have to bear with me, I think the first album I actually bought, like bought bought, was Icehouse.

I’m sure there’s a better story that could be had there but as I said it would have been like, 84 or 83 or something, which would have been a long time before you were born [laughs].

So you’ve released an album with Elton John, what was it like working with Elton?

Aw it was amazing! I mean what an opportunity to have in your life as a music maker, you know what I mean? When he came down to Australia it pretty much changed our life you know, it’s been very different since then. You know we’re not unaccustomed to hard work, we’re normally workaholics but, I think he has changed our life and really opened up the world for us musically and business wise.

He nurtures us and he’s been like a mentor to us, but being given the opportunity is [a] once in a lifetime thing, I mean how could you pass that up? It’s been a real honour to be given that opportunity.

What was he like in the studio?

Well the record that we made with him, he basically gave us his whole life’s work and we made a new record based on all these different elements of his songs that were just taken from different parts of his career. He wasn’t actually there, you probably already know this [laughs] he basically writes the songs and we remix them you know, he’s the busiest guy you could ever imagine so, when he’s in the studio he records it, and he makes a record in like two weeks.

It’s very different to work with because he’s from a different era where you were basically on the road the whole time, and you made two or three albums a year, but you really had to get it done in two weeks so you can get back on the road and do some shows, and that’s just how it worked. So, very different from the way we make records now, so he wasn’t actually there, although we have written with him in Atlanta a couple of years ago. We did do some writing with him, ‘The Truth’, that’s how I know how he makes music and it was such an incredible experience, and it’s very humbling I guess to get to let him know the way we work [laughs]. The cool thing is, he gave us this opportunity because it’s something that he can’t do.

Most things he can do, especially in music, but he called us because it was such an incredible amount of work to make this album, he’ll be the first one to tell you that he doesn’t have the patience for it. So, while it was an amazing thing to be able to produce this record, it was also I guess, a wise decision because he’s not gonna sit there at a computer for a few years and cut up all the bits we like on each record, it just not something that he does! So, I guess there was a respect there that really helped make this record.

So now you’ve collaborated with Elton, and I remember Ladyhawke a few years back, are there any other artists you want to collaborate with?

Sure I mean, there’s a million people, what we do most of the time is collaborate, I mean that’s what we do we work. I don’t know if you know, but we’re very involved with Empire Of The Sun, that’s basically what we’ve been doing for the past year, aside from the Elton record, we have basically been working full time on Empire Of The Sun which is almost done. So that has been an incredible experience and at the end of the day, I think you learn more and more what a great thing it is to work with, not just an incredible personality, but an incredible singer.

I mean Luke Steele we one hundred percent is an incredible singer, he is an amazing voice and an amazing creative talent. So that is basically what we do I mean, we spend all of our time collaborating with other artists. Really there are so many, I find it hard to even mention it ‘cause there’s so many people, but yeah it’s pretty much all we do is collaborate. I think we spend more time than most people, like music artists, working with other people you know? We find it hard to just tie ourselves down to just one thing at one time.

So you’re headlining On The Harbour for New Year’s Eve, can you give a preview as to what fans can expect to see?

You can expect the typically crazy, energetic show they’ve come to expect in the past [laughs]. You know our shows have changed a lot over the years, we are doing it as like, a live band, so we are presenting it as a live band on stage, which is great because you have that interaction with everyone playing their instruments, like you can get it from a machine especially in a live setting. We’re having five people on stage, we’ve got a guitar, we’ve got our guitarist Liam and Nick, we all pitch in, except for the drummer, we have a girl who plays keyboards and synths and we have a drummer.

And everyone are just really talented musicians, and are all great at doing what they do, and they’re our friends, as much as PNAU is just me and Nick [laughs], when we play live, it’s a band and we feel like a band, we’re a unit that plays music on stage, which is a great feeling.

Since you guys are so busy, what do you do in your down time?

You know we don’t have a lot of that, [laughs] oh god my fiancées listening in on this conversation [laughs]. We don’t have a lot of down time, and you know sometimes it would be nice to have a little bit more, but we’re workaholics and we work like sixteen hours a day pretty much every day of the week. So rarely when I’m not in the studio, I’m just trying to relax so, whatever that entails, well I like eating [laughs]. If I wasn’t in music I wouldn’t really know what I’d be doing with my life but, I’m not really good at anything else. If I was to stop making music today, I would be a pretty wide guy.

I mean, I try and do a bit of excersise here and there, but my main passion outside of music is food. You know I read books and stuff, and I wanna see movies but most of the time, I’m actually really boring! And I just sit in the studio for hours a day making a record, it’s not necessarily the most glamourous lifestyle but it’s what works for me and it’s what works for Nick. It’s what we like to do and it’s where we belong, we love playing live and when we get it right, and it really works, we have a lot of fun and it’s an experience that can’t be replicated in any other way when you’ve got twenty thousand kids there, and they all are really receptive to what you’re playing, and you’re there with them experiencing it together other than it just being us and them. There’s an ultimate togetherness in a show that’s amazing and yeah, you can’t replicate that but at the end of the day we are studio people, that’s mainly where we do our stuff.

So what’s next for you and Nick [Littlemore] as a unit?

So yeah I’m DJing, but that’s just me. For PNAU as a unit, we’re making a new PNAU record, and we can’t really tell you much about it but we’re in the process or the very early stages of a large show in China. It’s kind of like, a really huge show, similar to a Cirque Du Soleil show, it’s like this huge visual and aural extravaganza that I can’t really tell you much about, but that’s actually the sort of thing that we are about to undertake.

It’s gonna be a huge amount of work to move that on. It’s an interesting thing because making a record is amazing and it’s really what we do best, but it’s always fascinating to try something new and challenge yourself. It’s always amazing to try these things, like the Elton record, it was hard to make that record because we knew it had to be good, and it’s just jumped to number one in the UK which is amazing! But we knew it had to be good, and we put so much work into it and we knew, at the end of the day we just had to press on, and that’s pretty much it for everything in music. It was also something that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, because we wanted to do something great there. Of course it’s great to always have a new challenge and to do something new, that’s what we kind of live for.

PNAU playing at New Year’s Eve “On The Harbour” at Cargo Bar, Sydney on 31st December. Supported by AJAX, YesYou, Elizabeth Rose, DJ Flagrant (dj/av set) SOSUEME DJs, Emoh Instead (What So Not), Kristy Lee and more. Info and tickets HERE 

Words By Lauren Payne

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Brisbane based photographer and writer who will judge you first and foremost on your music taste. Likes mint slice and a damn good cup of coffee.