Pnau talk Elton John: “We were the right kind of people to do this record”

Pnau aren’t ones to play it safe. From getting in copyright hot water with their debut album Sambanova in 1999, through all the crazy of (wildly popular) side-project Empire of the Sun and working with Cirque de Soleil, the Sydney duo have never been afraid to push boundaries.

So really, it shouldn’t have come as too big a surprise when word came that Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes were collaborating with Elton John on a new project. Good Morning to the Night is the (first) fruit of that labour: an album that’s seen Pnau take Elton’s back catalogue and morph it into contemporary, smooth and undeniably appealing disco tunes. When inthemix spoke to Peter Mayes about the collaboration, Good Morning to the Night was about to hit #1 on the ARIA charts. Ahead of the massive success of what may have once seemed an unlikely collaboration, here’s what Mayes had to say about working the Rocket Man himself.

Hey Peter. So what are you in the midst of today?

I’m in Los Angeles, which is my new home. And I’m in a studio in Santa Monica and we are very much in the thick of doing the new Empire of the Sun record right now.

Really? That’s very interesting. I was going to ask you about it actually…

It’s going amazingly well. It’s really exciting actually.

So how far along are you guys with that?

People always ask that, and it’s hard to say because we’ve been doing it on and off since October last year. We’ve been doing it in so many different countries. We’ve done New York, Australia, a bit in London, and now we’re back in LA, but I’d say we’re well over halfway. I’d say we’re on the finishing stretch.

It’s just we have so many songs and they’re all at different stages. Some of them have only just started and some of them have been around for eight months, so it’s a huge project and my head is well and truly right in there at the moment, but it’s going really well. I’d say we’re getting very close to the finishing line.

Great. So how is it sounding so far? Is it a similar vibe to the first album or…?

Yeah you know, it’s also very much a development of that sound and you know we can’t do a record that’s…we’re not just doing Walking On A Dream version two. There’s no point doing that and there’s no point repeating yourself. There’s a lot of depth to it and so many different flavours, like the first record, there’s so many different flavours.

Well, we’re excited to hear it. The collaboration with Elton obviously is the reason I’m talking to you, and I’m sure you’ve probably explained this a million times before, but how did the collaboration come about?

Basically he found us in Australia a few years back, soon after that we moved to London and his management company took over our management. Since then, our lives have changed a lot. Basically, soon after he took over our management he gave us this job to do – I mean it’s not really a job, he gave us this incredible gift shall we say. We were blown away. It’s an incredibly exciting thing, and really humbling to be given that opportunity in this business. To work with a musical legend, especially with someone who’s had so many records and done so many different things. Initially it was like, “Wow. Where do we start?”

To sort of answer my own question, we just started by listening to all his material and really absorbing it and learning about all the Elton John music that we hadn’t heard before, and there’s still so many songs that we still haven’t! We made the decision to start with the 70s because that was his biggest period, at a time when in his words he could do no wrong. It was such a creative, such a fruitful period. He was doing two or three records a year, and he was touring non-stop. All you have to do is listen to those records to see the kind of musical atmosphere that was going on at the time. It was very creative and very open in a way. It was a time when what could get on the radio was very different to what you hear now.

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