From their home studios, two teenaged friends rummaged deep into their record collections to deftly stitch together their debut album.
Sambanova would surprise many by winning Best Dance Release at the ARIAs in 2000, but because of uncleared samples, their record label had to pull the album from shops. Pete Mayes told The Age in 2003: “We were so young and so naive when we made that album. We didn't have a clue what we were doing.”
When he and PNAU bandmate Nick Littlemore sat down to chat with Richard Kingsmill about their third album in 2007, they admitted that their previous efforts lacked a fleshed-out focus and purpose. In particular, their second album, Again, “was a big mess”. To add to the general indecisiveness, Littlemore revealed that there was an entire album that they’d written prior and then abandoned because it was too much like Again.
The duo had to regroup, take stock and formulate a vision for their third album. “We really sat down and worked out what it was that was good about what we had done initially and had all that buzz about,” he said. “That feeling of positivity is the main thing that we kept coming back to, of a journey, and something that delivers you on every level … and takes you somewhere.”
They achieved that goal conclusively on this record by changing their approach and mindset. “It’s the first time we’ve really written 12 songs,” Littlemore said. “Before that we were writing grooves, 12” kinda things, and we could have gone down that path, but we really wanted to bring to the world a great album, of great songs.”
He revealed that the pair employed a rigorous work ethic when it came to crafting their songs. “We write four songs a week,” he said. “You’ve just gotta do that. Any creative exercise, it is an exercise. You never know if you’re gonna do something good or something shit, it doesn’t matter. Everything is worth something – you just keep doing it ‘til you get great things. [For] a lot of these tunes, we’d written five or six tunes then we’d put them all together and make one song. ‘Come Together’ is six songs.”
Other songs were more streamlined experiences and provided important momentum to the making of the album. Opening song ‘With You Forever’ was a key creative catalyst. Littlemore explained, “We sent it to Luke [Steele of The Sleepy Jackson], whom we love. Two days later he called us up, played it over the phone, and we just knew. It just changed everything. We scrapped everything and we went, ‘OK, we have a benchmark’ and now everything has to be this level, otherwise there’s no point doing anything.’
Aside from collaborating with Luke Steele, songs were also written with Van She’s Michael De Francesco, Nik Yannikas of Lost Valentinos, Fabian ‘Mr Oizo’ Feadz, while NZ artist Ladyhawke provides a soaring vocal on the glistening ‘Embrace’. But their secret weapon was the so-called PNAU Kids Choir from Greystanes in Sydney’s western suburbs. Littlemore said of songs like ‘Baby’, “Kids are great because they just do things with no abandon. When they’re painting, playing sport, anything, they just go all in for it. So, you get a group of them together and you go [when guiding the kids], ‘Just go, eh oh eh oh eh’ and they just belt it out.”
The choir’s seemingly nonsensical chant almost asserted itself more visibly on the record. Littlemore only half-jokingly said, “We were gonna call the album Vowels but everyone shut it down”. Ultimately, there was deeper purpose in settling on the eponymous title. “This is the start for us, this is like our first record,” Littlemore said. “This is the way it feels to us, like we’ve finally come of age. We’ve done a lot of training and learning and travelling, other projects and arty stuff. And we’re coming together to make something we’re really proud of, and is vital and I think the world needs.” He gave an indication of how important this record was in consolidating their friendship and creative partnership. “This is a thing we started when we were 14 and we really had to fall back in love with it,” he said. Mayes added: “Doing this record has invigorated our enthusiasm in PNAU.”
The enthusiasm they generated on this record flowed on to some significant events for the duo. Elton John declared the release the best thing he’d heard in a decade and has mentored and collaborated closely with the band over the ensuing years. The experience of working with Luke Steele on this record led to the birth of Empire of The Sun, which has garnered strong international success. Perhaps it’s the realisation of the plan they had in 2007, which was pretty straightforward, albeit grand in scope. “I’ve never been modest,” Littlemore told Kingsmill. “We wanna take it everywhere, we want it to be global, and we wanna push good colour, light, sound, experience and positivity. It’s a pretty simple message.”