True music lovers have an open mind and a curious willingness to follow their favorite artists on creative and artistic journeys, no matter how non-traditional or unorthodox the ordeal. Such was the case when electronic giants Above & Beyond explored new territory, one nearly unheard of in dance music, with Acoustic, which saw the trio take their progressive and trance-laden anthems and rework them into acoustic-based remakes via lush guitar, strings, piano arrangements, and all.
Critics and devoted fans alike adored the group’s daring approach, and now, Above & Beyond return with the second installment of their acoustic series, the appropriately titled Acoustic II, which sees Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki reshaping tracks from their latest album, We Are All We Need, with a refined touch that ravers and classical purists alike can admire.
We chatted with Siljamäki to learn more about Acoustic II and how Above & Beyond transformed their sound once again.
In regard to Acoustic II, what was the process in transitioning from an electronic-based song to a fully orchestrated piece?
When initially we were thinking of doing this acoustic thing, we were wondering how we could play music together as a band, given that we all play instruments and there are three of us. We tried to recreate our original tracks live, but we were never really quite happy with that, and we felt like it was hard to make those versions better than the originals. When this idea of doing what I’d call an MTV Unplugged–style version of ourselves came about, suddenly it started making perfect sense.
We’d started to end many of our DJ sets with an acoustic version of “On a Good Day,” which is one of the tracks we released a really long time ago. We already had kind of an acoustic track we were playing in our DJ sets, and that also gave us the faith that this could absolutely work, because it was such a wonderful feeling being at EDC in Las Vegas and singing along to “On a Good Day” with so many people. It was real and raw and wonderful, that kind of sing-along moment with an acoustic track. That really sparked our enthusiasm and gave us the belief that we can do this.
When working on the production, do you have to go back and deconstruct your songs? Or since you’re all musicians, can you just jump right into it?
We’ve had a guy named Bob Bradley—he’s the executive of the main production—and he’s been really instrumental in coming up with these versions of these songs.
When you first formed the group, would you have ever thought the electronic music audience would be so receptive to something like this?
No, not really. We were doing it for kind of selfish reasons—because it’s such a wonderful thing for us to do. That’s really why we did the first round of acoustic.
We’d done the London show; we didn’t have any plans of doing more, but then we saw the L.A. Greek Theatre and thought it would be perfect there. So we did two days at the Greek, and it left us feeling like it was such a wonderful thing to be able to perform live in that kind of context.
We then went back to our management team and said, “Look, we really want to do this. How can we do this?” This is funny: They basically came back and said, “We booked you guys a tour. You’ve got Royal Albert Hall, three nights on Broadway, the Greek, the Hollywood Bowl, and then you’re going to finish with Sydney Opera House. Will you guys please give us an album? Thank you very much.” [Laughs]
There was incredible pressure to put this together as well, because we had such iconic venues to play, and we didn’t have the songs, and we didn’t have the final band together. It’s been a big mountain to climb.
How long did the whole process of the album and tour take?
It’s been active work for about a year. It was last summer when we really put gear in traction on this. It’s already been an amazing journey for us. We were able to go to Abbey Road Studios and record the strings and brass for the album. That’s one of those bucket list things we’ve dreamed of.
What are some differences between the first Acoustic and Acoustic II?
We looked at the first one and what we would improve—what could we make sound bigger and bolder? We were listening to some film scores, like from John Barry and the classic James Bond soundtracks. We realized one of the things we could definitely do is use more brass.
On this album, we’ve got really quite a big brass section on quite a few of the tracks. Also, we have a bigger string orchestra recorded at Abbey Road, and it gave it that instantly recognizable film score feel. That just feels like probably the biggest difference between the first and the second—a much bigger orchestra feel.
Acoustic II from Above & Beyond is available now on Anjunabeats.
Deanna Rilling still trances around the world. Follow her on Twitter.