Athlete’s Greatest Hits: What Next?

**London-based indie band Athlete have been around for a while. With four albums under their belts (two of which – ‘Vehicles and Animals’ and ‘Tourist’ – having gone Platinum), and an Ivor Novello, they have reached a new milestone in their career: ten years as a band. Now concluding their current tour, in support of the recently released ‘Singles Collection’, I sit down to chat with front-man Joel Pott about the past, present and future of Athlete.**

_This question has been on my mind a while, where did the band’s name come from?_

The name ‘Athlete’? From our heads. From our collective heads.
We were at a gig and we needed a name and that was the first thing that came to mind and it just stuck.

_So it didn’t come from the sports section of the paper?_
No, not really, no! [laughs]

_You’ve now got the singles album out. Did you guys pick the track list?_

Yeah. Basically, about a year and a half ago EMI wanted to put out a singles collection and we didn’t want them to at that point in time. We managed to convince them to put it out now, about a year or so after ‘Black Swan’. We chose the track listing and did the cover and all that kind of stuff.

_So you didn’t plan it, then, it was forced on you guys?_

It was forced, but we worked with the label so we ensured we put the tracks that we want on it, and to get them to produce a special edition with all our B-sides on it.

_Do you guys feel like you’ve changed much since you released those first singles?_

Aw, yeah! Man, anyone changes in 9 years. It’s been quite a journey for us. The first demo we ever produced, was before we were even signed, we didn’t know if anything was going to come of it. Now, sitting here, last gig of this tour having played to over 10,000 people, 4 albums out, a no. 1, an Ivor Novello, and traveled the world.
So yeah, that stuff I think that does change you, and obviously stuff at home as well. Relationships, getting married, having kids. That stuff changes you.

_I’m intrigued, how has the stuff at home influenced Athlete?_

Obviously, ‘Wires’, I’ve associated with my daughter Myla [written about her premature birth]. She’s the eldest. A song like that was a big song for us, and a real personal song that won awards and stuff. Obviously a song like that is going to be a favourite.
There’s others too, like the ‘Outsiders’, ‘Love Come Rescue’. They’re favourites at the moment, I guess.

_The awards along the way must have been satisfying._

Of course. The Ivor Novello. Really didn’t expect that. When something like that comes out of the blue it’s like a big pat on the back really. “Well done. Nice one”

_How would you describe yourself and the band when you first started out?_

Outsiders. We didn’t fit in at all. And we didn’t want to fit in. We were trying to make music that was individual. That was the plan really – trying to make music that was our own character. I think, by doing that, we didn’t fit into any kind of scene really.

_Do you still feel the outsiders?_

Yeah, I think so. I don’t feel like we fit into any scene. We don’t particularly want to either.

I think all the bands and artists I really like and look up to, even though they were part of a scene, they weren’t trying to be part of it. They just created something that was really attractive, focusing on being the best they can be and writing tunes that aren’t part of any trend or adhere to any kind of marketing plan. Just trying to write really good songs that mean stuff to people.

_Which bands are you referring to?_

Obvious examples like Radiohead. Big influences for me are bands like Pavement, Grandaddy, Flaming Lips. Bands like that, from back in the day.

Now though artists like Bright Eyes. Someone like that who’s an amazing songwriter, completely got his own sound and everything. Writes songs that really connect to people. He tells stories where people go “Yeah, that’s my story too!”

_Anything, looking back, that you’d like to change? Do differently?_

A few haircuts, probably. A few of the early haircuts weren’t great.
But, no. I don’t really have any regrets. Even though things haven’t really gone according to our ideals, the ‘great plan’ or whatever, I still feel really pleased with the decisions that we’ve made.

_So, 9 years on which of the 4 albums is your favourite? Which song?_

Someone else asked me that earlier today – “What’s your favourite song?” – I don’t know if I can answer that. I can’t. You have favourites at particular times.
Every song is personal in a different way. I love playing ‘The Getaway’ live – great live feel.

_Fond memories of the last ten years?_

Oh, man, all this shit! Being on tour, y’know. Being on tour is just great. Obviously you miss the family and everything, but it’s a real gang being out on the road together.
We’ve got a whole bunch of friends around us on tour – tour manager, crew, everyone. It’s just brilliant.

As for particular memories: I remember getting stuck on a hill in Norway as it had snowed really hard. Our bus driver had the handbrake on and everything but the bus was still sliding down the hill. Fortunately he managed to get it under control but he couldn’t get up the hill, so we were stuck. Couldn’t get the snow chains on or anything, so we just got the whisky out, got the pipes out.

A few days before some of the crew had bought sledges at a flea market in Germany, so it was just perfect! We spent hours just sledging down this road. No cars, drinking whisky and smoking pipes.

It’s memories like that for me, for me. Obviously there are gigs (that stick out). Playing V Festival back in 2004. On the main stage, finishing ‘Wires’, and having sixty thousand people just carry on singing it for like 2 minutes. That was out of control, in a brilliant way.

_Any low points?_

On this last album, we were just planning to go out to the USA to do a tour, and like the day before we went away the label we were on in the US went bust.
Stuff like that, y’know? But, to be honest, you just kind of deal with it. Things come and go, don’t they, and although that was like “Shit, oh no, what do we do?” we still went out on that tour and what happened (in the end) was Motown Records came on board and helped out.

_You guys were between labels for a while, in the UK, did that feel difficult?_

It was liberating at the time, getting off EMI, because it wasn’t a great place to be. We loved a lot of the people we were working with there, and still do. It was a great label, I hope it can build itself back up to being a great label – particularly Parlophone.
But after getting off EMI, I got the champagne out.

_You guys have been together for a long time. Bands have come and gone and fallen apart in that time. How do you guys keep it going?_

Don’t allow each other to be dicks. [laughing] I think that’s important. You need a little bit of an ego to be in a band – but when it gets to that point in Athlete where you are a complete idiot, the other members of the band, they’d take the piss out of me!
We were all friends before we were in a band together so I think we value our friendships more than success or fame. It doesn’t mean we don’t have arguments or don’t fight, or whatever, but I think in the end we definitely have a good thing.

_What’s next for Athlete, what are your plans for over Christmas and New Year?_

My family and I, we’re going to have the first Christmas on our own this year -just the five of us.
Usually it’s quite a big family do. My family is fairly large and my wife has a big Greek family so that’s about 50 or 60 people. It’s mental but it’s great.

_So no direct sequel to ‘Black Swan’, then?_
It’s too early to tell. I feel like I need to go off and do some other stuff for a while. Explore and discover, before we start making a new record.

_Do you mean other stuff musically or other career options?_
Yeah, other stuff musically, and also I’ve spent a lot of time away from my family. I want to go traveling with my family, maybe go and live somewhere else in the world and experience that.


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