When Elton John met Pnau: The story behind an unlikely UK #1 album
Pnau have tasted the rarest of fruits, a U.K. No. 1 album. Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes joined an elite pack of Aussies when, in 2012, their album ‘Good Morning to the Night,’ a collection of experimental adaptations of Elton John’s classic catalog, snatched the chart crown in a slow sales week. But this was no low-hanging piece of fruit.
The unlikely collaboration was a testament to good connections, great music, timing, luck and — no word of lie — choice artwork.
‘Good Morning to the Night’ gave Elton his first No. 1 in 22 years (his ‘Very Best Of” effort ruled in 1990, the year after he last reigned with a studio release, ‘Sleeping With The Past’). Pnau had never scaled the top 40, let alone climb the summit. They’ll get another chance to fly high when chart equivalent sales are tallied up next week for ‘Changa’, Pnau’s new album, which arrived today and sees Pnau’s lineup complemented with the addition of an official new member, Sam Littlemore.
With the ARIAs on the near horizon (Pnau has two nominations), it’s an exciting month for an electronic act whose international career blew up when the Rocket Man came calling.
“Elton was in Sydney and he went to the Virgin Megastore on Pitt Street Mall. I guess he saw one of the covers and was attracted to it, bought a copy, had a listen to it and went back and bought all their copies,” recounts Nick. “That night he was at Tabou (the now-closed French restaurant) on Crown Street having dinner with Toni Collette, who is repped by our agent. He brought up Pnau. Next day my phone rang, “Hi this is Elton.” Of course it is. I don’t know how you’re ever supposed to respond to those phone calls. It’s easy with Elton. “Hi Elton. I fucking love your album.” We went over to his hotel, we were nervous. We were felling all that weird stuff when you’re about to meet a superstar. Within 10 seconds of meeting us, he’s been hugging both of us and telling us he’s our biggest fan, and suddenly you feel totally relaxed. And have some tea and grapes.”
Elton later approached his new besties with a novel idea: remix his classics.
“They could have given it to anyone but they gave it to us,” says Mayes. “They gave us all the records, all the tapes and said, ‘you can do whatever you want’”. So, no pressure then? Wrong. “It was a lot of pressure. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.” Littlemore and Mayes started digging deep. “It took six months just to listen to all Elton’s music. We had two iPods and just listened to Elton’s music. There was so much that we weren’t aware of, obviously. And we had so many deep chats about, ‘we can’t fuck this one up.’”
The process turned into an extended masterclass. And a lesson on how to strike while the iron’s hot. Mayes points to Elton’s hits-filled 1973 set ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ as a moment in Elton’s life when his creative juices were spraying around the studio. “It was one month of his time, it’s really two weeks of his time and the rest is mixing. It’s incredible that he made two other albums that year. It’s amazing he was able to do that. Whilst being on tour constantly. They’d be sitting around having breakfast and he’d put a stack of Bernie’s lyrics on the piano and he’d just write one of those songs and they’d record it. And that’s it. It takes us months to do that. Who does three albums a year when they’re constantly touring? The level of genius is ridiculous.”
‘Good Morning to the Night’ was solid gold, a No. 1 on debut. “It was a big moment,” says Mayes. “Elton was calling us up at 3am going, ‘why the fuck aren’t you awake’. We’re going No. 1.’”
Pnau will have Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’ to contend with for next week’s chart title. Wherever ‘Changa’ lands on the charts, Elton is only a phone call away.
Changa is out today via etcetc.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.