For Fatboy Slim, staring at the wall while working on his new album wasn't just something to do when bored or frustrated it was what he did for inspiration.
When recording Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars in the Brighton, England, home studio where he has produced all three of his albums the same one pictured on the cover of You've Come a Long Way, Baby (1998) Fatboy (born Norman Cook) stared at a photo of the past year's Glastonbury festival, Britain's premier musical gathering.
"That's kind of my eye candy when I'm working," the producer/DJ said. "You can actually see the Winnebago I stayed in if you look very closely. I wanted to finish some of the tracks [on the new album] to premier them at Glastonbury, so it was sort of something to egg me on: 'This is where you're gonna be when you play these tunes.' "
Although the methods and environment behind Halfway were similar to those of his first two albums, 1996's Better Living Through Chemistry and Baby, the Fatboy who fashioned it is a changed man.
"When I made the last album I had just been dumped by my girlfriend, and I was quite manic and didn't really have a home to go to," Fatboy recalled. "So I was just this wandering drunkard DJ going around the world having lots of fun, but it was all kind of manic with no basis to it."
Several songs on Halfway reflect his newly upbeat mindset, from the exorcised spirits of the Macy Gray-graced "Demons" to the buoyant house-music energy of "Song for Shelter."
"I've met and married a lovely woman, I've got a child on the way, so I'm a lot more relaxed person," Fatboy said, "and I think that reflects itself in the music."
The woman is British TV personality Zoe Ball, and the child is their first baby, due in December. Not such great timing when your other baby, a new album, has just dropped. What's a Fat daddy to do?
"I'm gonna stop for a couple of months, but I don't know how I'll react to the baby," he said. "Darren Emerson, a mate of mine from Underworld, had a baby last year, and after a month he was phoning his agent going, 'Get me on tour, I need some sleep!' "
Before he takes that paternity leave, however, Fatboy is playing a smattering of dates around the United States to satiate his rabid fans' hunger to hear the new funk of Halfway, which came out Tuesday. Following shows earlier this week in Denver and Seattle, he will perform Friday (November 10) in San Francisco and Saturday in Los Angeles. The California shows, Fatboy said, mark a return for him to something of a spiritual Mecca.
"Before, in the studio, there was a map of California," he said, "and whenever I was bored and fed up, I was like, look, you're doing this so you can afford to have holidays driving around California, 'cause I really love road trips."
Would it be fair, then, to label Mr. Slim something of a hippie? After all, he did describe the vibe on Halfway as "gently uplifting" and "kind of gospel-y." And he said he's backed off the "old-school snare rolls and bang-bang-bang fireworks," abandoning the old approach of "grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and saying, 'You will dance!"
But he resists the hippie label.
"If my hair grew, I probably would be a hippie. Sadly, I don't have that option now," the 37-year-old said. "To be honest, it's more to do with Ibiza and sunsets, the Balearic spirit, rather than out-and-out hippiedom. That's one reason why I love California I just love the whole tripped-out, love-children vibe. You know, sandals and everything."
For a guy in such a chipper state of mind, it seems fair to assume that although he's halfway between the gutter and the stars, he's movin' on up. Again, not so, according to Fatboy.
"Back down I think," is the direction he claims to be headed. "I'm kind of like Daedalus and Icarus flew too close to the sun and realized it gets quite hot up there. I kind of got celebrity fatigue toward the end of [Baby], ended up in places where I really didn't ought to be. You see all these people so full of themselves, driving around in flashy cars, and I just wanted to let their ties down, spray them with water pistols."