It’s been a four-year journey from debut single to album for Hugo Gruzman and Jimmy Lyell of Flight Facilities, but with their Australian tour well on its way to selling out, it’s confirmation that good things come to those who wait. The release of their aptly titled record, Down to Earth, is a new format for the single-loving duo who have cracked the Triple J Hot 100 four years in a row with their particular blend of soft synths and catchy pop. The record also features a string of cameos, ranging from the unexpected (Kylie Minogue) to the unusual (comedian Reggie Watts) and the downright melodic (Owl Eyes, Emma Louise).
We recently sat down with the producers to discuss their beat-making process, working as a team and those pilot hats.
This is an extended interview from Issue 15 of The Collective.
Tell us the story behind the Flight Facilities logo and how you both met?
Hugo: Flight Facilities was my grandfather’s company. He was a pilot, so we used to wander around airports – it was a big part of my growing up. So when it seemed like I had found the right person to work with, I just copied the logo into a Photoshop document and started pasting it on everything.
Jimmy: I was Djing at a night already and [Hugo] came up and just started playing. It was like the ‘new guy’ DJing and blowing everyone out of the water. Looking back on it, I’m surprised that Hugo picked me, because he’s very picky with things. It’s a great honour.
No one else was willing to put on a pilot hat maybe?
Jimmy: He showed me that he had a small part of the concept [of Flight Facilities] ready and I think he actually said we should play in pilot costumes. I was like, ‘Get the f**k out of here!’ [laughs]
Hugo: It seemed like a good idea at the time and now we’re stuck in it! But sometimes we try to turn it into less of a costume party.
Jimmy: Which we are, we are a walking costume party.
How is it working as a duo?
Hugo: We have things where we are so opposed, even down to the tiniest, most stupid detail that no one would even notice. And then other times, we just know. I think more than anything it’s the vibe.
Jimmy: In terms of the little bits and sounds along the way, we will debate over almost nothing, but that’s what makes our sound. You have to remind yourself it’s for the better. Nothing is Flight Facilities unless it’s got both of us on it. We don’t do shows solo, it’s a real dual effort.
Originally you were known for remixing other artist’s songs. Is there a big difference working on your own material and was that daunting at all?
Hugo: I remember thinking, ‘Can’t we just be those guys that just do remixes?’ We still love to do remixes. It’s just a time-and-reward versus effort type thing and remixes don’t hold the same weight they did once upon a time.
Jimmy: We did ‘Crave You’ because we felt pressure from people who thought we should have an original of our own. But before we released it, we each took turns in calling each other up and saying, ‘let’s not release it, I don’t think it’s going to work’.
Were you surprised to have ‘Crave You’ make it to number 19 on Triple J’S Hottest 100?
Jimmy: We just weren’t ready for stuff like that. We didn’t even have a back-up single. It was one of those really strange, surreal, but nice moments. You can never get used to that. We had to scramble to get a manager.
Hugo: I remember getting calls in Byron Bay on holiday with my family and someone was like ‘you’re on Perez Hilton’ and I was like, ‘Awesome, what’s Perez Hilton?’ We just kind of had to fit into the role of pretending we were these really great producers. I sometimes wonder if that song had been a different song, if we’d followed a different path and made a six minute instrumental band song, would we still be trying to do that? When we made ‘Crave You’ we happened to make a four minute pop song. Since then, we have decided to follow that same path and try to make quite classic pop songs.
What is your music-making process?
Hugo: Definitely a beat first. Through writing the album, we realised the best thing to do first was to isolate songs that we felt like we needed for a show and songs that we really liked the feeling of. We never, ever end up with anything close to what we have referenced. It just puts it on the drawing board, and then we go from there.
Jimmy: We put together a whole bunch of different songs that are like each other and then we make something out of all of those elements. Out of the feeling that all of those elements bring, maybe there will be three songs in one group, four in another. And we try and make one song out of the groups.
Do you ever surprise yourselves with the end result?
Jimmy: I think the surprise comes about a month after it’s released. That’s the feeling that I get. You’re so in the bubble when you’re making it, and mixing it, way too close.
Hugo: Public opinion definitely informs it as well. You see it through the eyes of everyone else and they give the song its meaning, rather than us just sitting there going, ‘This is the thing we sat in the studio for hours, pressing buttons and staring blankly at’.
It was four years between your first single and your new album? Was that deliberate?
Jimmy: We didn’t really know that we were going to release an album. We made singles to try and build a fan base first. You need to build up a listener-ship to be able to drop an album.
Hugo: You are enlisting people to spend an hour of their time on you and you need to justify that to them in the lead-up. But it was kind of an accident, we sat there and realised we had enough songs for an album and we feel bad that we have waited this long, now that we’ve done it. But the single thing works fine and has done better than we could have imagined. It’s good to keep people’s ever shrinking focus on that one release, because it means you can give them a concise representation of what you’re all about.
What can we expect from the new album?
Jimmy: It’s really different. My main concern with the record is that it’s too different and I am interested to see how people react to it.
Hugo: [the album] has whole decades of influence. There’s a 90s hip hop influence and then there’s a lot of the 2006 – 2007 dance music style, which we were into in a big way. It will work best as an end-to-end piece and it’s a good show of the music we have listened to in eras past.
You’re about to get started on a national tour. What do you love most about live shows?
Hugo: It’s got to the point now where we are struggling to fit in any other tracks but our own stuff, which is a good feeling. But a strange one for sure.
Jimmy: It shows us that we can put a pretty [vocalist] in front of us and make it a whole lot better [laughs].