‘It was a big risk,’ Above & Beyond talk challenges and insecurities amidst groundbreaking acoustic album
“This acoustic album, this passion project of yours…,” I begin to ask.“A vanity project,” Paavo Siljamäki of the esteemed Above and Beyond corrects me laughing.Lounging in the spacious lobby of Atlantic City’s Revel before their set at HQ Nightclub, Above and Beyond reminisce about their massive project, the masterpiece compilation Acoustic. A reboot of their smash hits in live instrumentation form, the album has recently hit #1 on iTunes charts. While that may not surprise their army of die-hard followers, the debut on top of the charts is unexpected – the artists have been unsure how the public would react.
Paavo explains, “It has been really fun we’re doing this, but in the back of my mind, I have been really worried – how are people going to react to something so different than what they are used to.” He shifts back comfortably into the sofa, “it is almost relief now that it has been released, and we are getting a lot of love out there. I have felt like it was a big risk, and that people would think: no, this isn’t the Above and Beyond I know.”
Paavo pinpoints the turning point when they started playing tracks without drums in our DJ sets. “The first time we started playing an acoustic version of ‘On a Good Day,’ we had this version: a piano and a vocal pretty much. We started playing that at the end of our sets, and people started singing along to this big acoustic thing.”
He starts gesturing in the air, trying to firmly grab an abstract feeling he was digging out of his memory, “without the drums, it somehow had this different atmosphere.”
“It had us thinking, wouldn’t this be amazing live.”
The group paused, soaking in the memory of that eureka moment. Tony takes a sip of the mixed cocktail drink, and chimed in, “It would be not electronically, I thought. Maybe we should do something like MTV unplugged.”
For this group, their fans are notorious for being some of the most loyal in dance music, a dichotomous blessing and curse. When they walk into the club to the DJ booth, the shrieks of maniacal delight snipe them from all angles. Some club attendees are grabbing wildly, restrained by bouncers. Some girls cover their face, about to cry. Few keep their cool.
“How incredibly easy is it to make someone happy. There’s nothing in life that makes a person happier than making someone else happy. I feel really fortunate to be in this situation. Just by doing what we do, if we make people happy, it’s fantastic.”
With this adoration comes over-the-top scrutiny of each musical work and their every move, the pressure to truly bring joy to their fans grows more intense. Above and Beyond’s music has transcended just entertainment for their devotees – it has evolved into a full relationship.
“We always enjoyed the process of feedback from our fans. Success in any musical venture is about forming a relationship and gaining loyalty amongst a certain group of people,” Tony says.
He ascribes much of the success of the acoustic album to the refreshing sound of live instrumentation of their music.”
“When you look at the reason why people like us, the reason they stick our lyrics on their bodies, there is something underneath the nature of the music that we make, and all this nonsense about what genre it is,” Tony waves, dispelling those thoughts from the cool night air.
“Yes, we came through in electronic music, but If i can be really honest about it, so much of what people love us for is completely representative in the acoustic album. A large part of that connection, the songs, is how they are presented, and how they get remixed. It is another way of connecting with the fans while still true to something they love.”
Above and Beyond’s eye for intricate perfection is always present. Tony’s shirt is neatly tucked into his matching pants while Paavo speaks with succinct eloquence. The group seems in synchronized tune with another, finishing and adding to each others’ thoughts throughout. It’s this full attention to detail that demanded the group to only focus on the reboot of this project if they were serious about it.
The hired long time collaborator Bob Bradley to quarterback the endeavor, and planned the logistics of the performance. While the idea always centered around a live concert video for the acoustic show, the group realized that it was easiest to first practice and record in the studio.
Once production started, doubts still lingered despite their intense concentration on the project.
“I was saying we should be in the studio writing the album, and we shouldn’t be wasting time doing the acoustic album – that’s the truth,” Paavo reveals.
They continued on, picking the twelve most popular songs, originally four for singers Zoe, Justine, and Richard Bedford, but the latter two declined. They replaced them, and began rehearsing soon thereafter. What served as tune-ups for the live show in June of 2013 eventually became studio sessions for the acoustic album.
After all these years of groundbreaking accomplishments, it’s easy to forget that the group feels like they are nowhere close to the end of fulfilling all their goals.
“The album is totally a dream to make happen – it wasn’t my dream when it started, but now it’s a dream come true,” Paavo marvels.
Tony yearned for that live experience, “I was in a band, and I really wanted to look [Jono and Paavo] into the eye and smile in the middle of a gig. It is a thrill to see a song connect with people at the time that you are playing it. there is something magical about that. You do 50% of it when you are playing a record version of it, but you get 100% of it when it is live.”
Whatever the experience, whether Reddit AMA’s (“We were prepared for a lot more trolling than there was.”) or the next upcoming album (“We have a lot of music we hope to make in the next two years.”), one thing is dead certain: Above and Beyond will be united in the journey.
“It’s easy for me to look at what we created together, know full well the hugely important Paavo and Jono have played in that, and it enables you a deeper respect and love for these people, which makes it easier to work with them. you can put aside any foibles you might have, any small irritations in someone’s regular habits, and see the importance and the majesty in their role of your life, and that has to make it easier. That’s what a mature relationship is about.”
Paavo jumps in, whole-heartedly agreeing and punching home the point even further. “There are moments when we let arguments cloud the opinions of other people in the band, and things may pile up.”
He pauses, contemplating decades of experience, trying to consolidate it into a thought that reflects the present and future.
“But there are moments that we do something in the studio, that I look back and think, how the fuck did we do that? I know I could not have done it myself, and I know they could not have done it by themselves. Then all of a sudden, it makes sense, and I think, that’s why we are together.”