LOS ANGELES -- For Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons of the Chemical Brothers, making their new album, Surrender, required them to do just that.
To discover the right new sounds, catch the right new grooves and break the right new beats, the pioneering British electronica duo decided to shut out the rest of world and surrender -- to their creative instincts.
"This record was shutting the door of the studio and seeing what we could do," Rowlands said of Surrender, which is scheduled to hit U.S. stores June 15.
The duo holed up in their London studio for 13 months. Two small vacations and a short DJ tour were the only respites from their self-imposed exile.
Back out in the world -- specifically, sitting in a café at the fabled Chateau Marmont hotel on West Hollywood, Calif.'s Sunset Strip -- the lanky, blond-haired Rowlands and his dark-haired partner Simons interrupted bites of pizza, fries and a tuna sandwich to offer their recollections of the recording process.
The duo said they worked through the recording of Surrender without knowing exactly where they were going.
And while getting lost in the process was part of the fun, they acknowledge they did have one goal: to move away from the approach used on their previous album, Dig Your Own Hole.
Released in 1997 and featuring the hit single "Block Rockin' Beats" (RealAudio excerpt), that Grammy-winning album broke new ground that other artists are now encroaching upon.
"When that record came out, it sounded different [from] a lot of other records being released," Rowlands said. "And now, that kind of sound is being jumped on by a lot of people. And so this time around, we wanted to use a whole different set of sounds, do something that kept us excited and invigorated us, and just take it to another place where other people haven't thought of going."
Though they shut the door on the rest of the world to find that place, they opened it on occasion to let in guest artists. Among those who passed through the portal were New Order guitarist Bernard Sumner, Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher, Mercury Rev guitarist Jonathan Donahue and Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval.
Yet despite the variety of voices on the album, the Chemical Brothers achieved a sonic coherence that ultimately makes Surrender their most pop-sounding record to date.
"The experience of working with people was so varied on this album," said Rowlands. "I like that. ... Our sound is so strong and so defined that it can really take on these different things and not sound all over the [place]." (RealAudio excerpt of interview)
Sumner, singer/guitarist of the pioneering electronic pop band New Order, is heard on the album highlight "Out of Control." Buoyant and catchy, the techno-pop number has Sumner's monotonic yet melodic vocals draped over super-funky beats and multi-textured accompaniment. "I think it might be my favorite track we've ever done," Simons said. "It's really exciting to listen to; it's really clever. Every sound is really good and necessary in some way."
"You kind of die for each of those sounds on that track," Rowlands agreed. "You'd mortgage your house on any of those sounds. ... You would put them in the lifeboat."
On "Asleep From Day," a ballad showcasing subdued vocals by Sandoval, an organ-and-voice intro is overrun by electronic sounds that later relent and allow a return to that initial simplicity. That pattern -- of building up and dropping back down -- is heard on other tracks as well, including the title track and "Dream On." With Donahue on acoustic guitar and vocals, the latter piece morphs and evolves even as it makes use of repeated sonic patterns.
Another standout track comes via the Chemicals' second collaboration with Noel Gallagher, on the Beatlesque "Let Forever Be." The duo first collaborated with the British pop songwriter on the Dig Your Own Hole psychedelic dance hit "Setting Sun," a tribute to the Beatles' psychedelic classic "Tomorrow Never Knows."
With its drums, guitars and bright, warm tones, "Let Forever Be" features a live-sounding production from the Chemicals as Gallagher's vocals pivot on the line, "How does it feel?''
"It's probably the most human-sounding computer music that we've done," Rowlands said.
"Organic electronics, we like to call it," Simons said (RealAudio excerpt of interview).
The Chemicals also hit high moments on tracks without guest artists -- such as the techno excursion "Hey Girl, Hey Boy" and "The Sunshine Underground," which mixes tribal beats with trippy electronics.
The album opens with the dance-beckoning "Music: Response," on which a computerized voice repeats the title before concluding with the phrase, "Music that triggers some kind of response." While Rowlands and Simons say that triggering a response in their listeners is the basis of their music -- and for club music as a whole, for that matter -- they explain that the challenge of Surrender was finding a new way to do it.
"It was that kind of pioneering spirit," Simons said. "We want to make sounds that you've never heard before. Maybe this time around we've gone and done it."