Pnau Talk 'Changa,' Altered States and Share New Track 'La Grenouille': Exclusive Premiere

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Bryan Sheffield
Pnau

From the gloom of England to the sunshine of California, landing a U.K. No. 1 album with their good mate Elton John, banging out a monster hit and melting minds on ayahuasca, it’s been a long, strange trip for Pnau. Indeed, the journey is only beginning for the Australian psychedelic electronic act, which on Friday (Nov. 10) releases the awaited new album, Changa.

Changa sounds fresh, and it should. It’s cut from new surrounds, by a new lineup, guided by some wild experiences.

Founding members Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes tapped their chemistry as teenagers and delivered a fully formed debut Pnau album Sambanova way back in 1999, almost 20 years ago. Always evolving, the duo officially became a trio on Changa with the inclusion of Nick’s brother Sam Littlemore, a production ace who also contributed to the act’s self-titled 2007 album.

The new LP got a turbo boost in the form of lead single “Chameleon,” a thumping ear-worm which unearthed the shining new vocal talent Kira Divine and is now triple-platinum certified in Australia. “Chameleon,” with its eye-catching video directed by Nick, produced by Peter and inspired by Peruvian artist Juan Carlos Taminchi, cracked the national top 5 and snagged a pair of nominations for the Nov. 28 ARIA Awards. A trio of tracks followed: ”Into The Sky,” “Young Melody” featuring Vera Blue and “Control Your Body.”’ Billboard exclusively premieres "La Grenouille" below.

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In the world of Pnau, nothing is rigid. Conventions are chucked. Changa was influenced by the medicinal plant culture of the Peruvian Amazon, and in particular ayahuasca. Its creators imbibed, followed the light and the music, as they put it, just flowed out. 

“Psychedelics have played a role in us since we were 13 years of age,” Nick told Billboard in a catchup-up at the Sydney offices of their record label etcetc.  “I believe all creativity comes from the psychedelic realms and cosmic consciousness. It’s always been a part of what we do. It’s guided us through everything we do in our lives. Getting into entheogens has been a more recent thing for us. But certainly being in touch with the other, the unknown, the spirit, whatever you want to call it, has played a hugely important role in what we do.” Pnau is “a collective experience," he explains. "We want it to be right. And now there are three heads instead of two.”

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The 12-track set was shaped in Los Angeles, a world away from the U.K. where Pnau called home for five years. “The sun,” says Mayes of his sometime home, “it is life changing. It makes you so much happier. We always try to make the music positive, so we’re normally in a happy space because of the sunshine.” The act went through the heartbreak of completing an album, which they ultimate ditched. They discovered Kira, a source of divine inspiration, explains Mayes, and they hit the restart button.

Sam Littlemore knows the musical minds of Nick and Peter better than anyone. He's made tunes with them since school. He even helped Nick, three years his junior, buy his first synth. “It wasn’t about joining the band. It was really I just wanted to be in the room with the guys, because things happen that can’t be explained,” Sam says. “They don’t even know where the magic comes from, but it comes every time.” Nick interjects: “No it doesn’t. I know it doesn’t come from me, it comes from up there,” he affirms, pointing skyward. “Peter’s comes from shitloads of hard work. Maybe some fried chicken along the way.”

In the writing sessions, Nick and Kira found a special synergy where it was “all off the cuff and Nick would be spewing sounds constantly,” recalls Mayes. “The words don’t matter at that moment, though they might. It’s about the rhythm, tones, ideas. We put it all together and based on that, the bits we interpret out of that, we do it again and keep building.”

"It’s fair to say Kira has changed our lives,” enthuses Nick. "She’s a force of nature.” There are more recordings with her in the vault. “We don’t know what they’ll be yet,” he adds, “we just get in the room and magic happens.”

Pnau albums come when they’re ready. If they take five years, fine. “We don’t do anything that’s really rushed,” explains Mayes. “There are a lot of other things we do between Pnau albums but yeah, we can’t just do it in two weeks and put it out. We could but it’s not going to be good.” Those other projects Mayes speaks of include Empire of the Sun, the Luke Steele-Nick Littlemore tandem on which he’s a “silent” production partner. 

“Our side projects aren’t really big. Empire was a mistake,” confesses Nick with a smile. "We didn’t go into that saying, 'we’re going to make this huge'. It’s always been about emotion, even when it was instrumental it was always about colors and textures and things that uplift. All projects we do are on the same level. And they all feed back to Pnau. I’ve just done my new project called 2 Leaves and Pnau has come in -- I can talk about it as a foreign entity -- and they’ve remixed the best cut on that and it’s on the Pnau album. Any time any of us do something cool on the side, we will offer it up to Pnau and say, ‘c’mon you want to fuck this up and make it a Pnau record?’”

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If recent form is anything to go by, Changa will have a lot of bounce. It’s the follow-up to 2012’s Good Morning to the Night, a collaboration with Elton John which gave the British icon his first U.K. chart leader since the ‘80s, and a first for Pnau. 

“What we’re trying to do is dance the dance electric, which has been happening since the dawn of time,” says Nick. “That’s what we’re all about. If there’s a message from Pnau its one of benevolence, it’s always one of a gift of life and love and joy. The spirit of being alive. Dance music has always brought people together.”


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