Pendulum: Homecoming heroes

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If you consider yourself a veteran bass ‘head of the Australian scene and were present in Perth during the early ‘00s as Pendulum kicked off with Vault then you can also consider yourself lucky as the Pendulum of now, in the year 2012 no less, is a starkly different beast far removed from those humble beginnings, one that’s destined to never again play small, shit-kicking shows to devoted local followers.

Nope, now Pendulum are a stadium-filling band, commanding the biggest stages across the Northern Hemisphere and, this summer in Australia, the honour of headlining Future Entertainment’s Summadayze festival tour, not to mention the just passed NYE on Bondi Beach for Shore Thing. With that looming large on his mind, Pendulum’s Gareth McGrillen spoke to ITM in 2011 about the status of the group nearly a decade into their career and their ‘responsibility’ as the main event of summer.

The Summadayze tour is your second trip around Australia in consecutive summers; what’s brought you back again so soon?
Well, if everything had gone according to plan you wouldn’t be seeing us again this summer. Pendulum is technically finished for the time being and has been since September. To take a breather is something that I think is important for a band like us because we always go as hard as possible for as long as possible. We haven’t really had a break since we started so before we head into the studio again to record our next album we said ‘okay, that’s it, let’s take a break for a while, recharge and give ourselves some time to let the ideas get refreshed again’. But then the offer to do New Year’s in Australia came through and we just couldn’t refuse that.

The obvious difference with this visit and your last one with Future Music Festival is that this time you’re headlining. Does it feel like a natural step up for you guys?
It definitely feels like we’ve reached this new level recently. We’ve done the same festival circuit around Europe over the last couple of years but we’ve been playing a bit lower on the bill of those events. You’re playing these shows and making them as massive as you can but the audience there isn’t necessarily yours. So we’ve been trying to prove ourselves with each of those shows and this year it really felt like the audiences were ‘ours’ and not there to see other acts specifically, if you know what I mean.

Being in that headline slot is a totally different experience. When we were in those lower spots it kind of felt like we were the underdogs, y’know? And because of that we could go out there and give it everything and try and steal the show a bit. There were a few key moments where we flipped a festival on its arse and people left talking about us, not the 10 bands billed above us. But now that people are coming to see us in particular there’s a pressure of expectation on us; we’ve got to live up to that now and bring it every time.

So are you feeling some sort of pressure to live up to that idea of a ‘headliner’?
It’s a big responsibility but I think it’s one that suits us well. We’ve been known to try as hard as we can and spend every cent that we’ve got to make our live show the best it can be so it’s definitely working out for us. We’ve never lacked self-belief; if we did then we never would’ve got out of Perth. We’ve put everything into the show and it’s what has gotten us to this point.

The reaction to the tour with FMF last summer was a real talking point with fans post-festival, I found. Even though you weren’t headlining then – The Chemical Brothers were – it seemed like you got just as big of a reaction from the festival.
That festival was incredible and I think there was definitely enough audience to go around between us. They’re good mates of ours and they were really smashing it, which was great to see and also great to be around. They’re a real ‘legacy’, you know? The set times were good to us too as there was minimal overlap between our sets so we both got a lot of love from the crowds. When you’re playing with people like that it makes you up your game, in a way, and I think we did that with each set.

When thinking about the career progression of Pendulum it seems as though every move you guys make is a step forwards; you’ve gone from Western Australia to having such a huge international following and now you’re headlining the summer dance festivals at home. Do you guys need to consistently readjust your ambitions and move the goalposts back to the next great challenge for Pendulum?
That’s the problem with us, I think. It’s something we’re trying to change and that’s why going into the next album – at least writing-wise – we’re going to take a year off. We haven’t taken a break in 10 years, actually. We’re not splitting up or anything like that we’re literally just trying to force everyone to take a holiday from Pendulum so we can get re-inspired again.

It’s like you say, ‘where do you set the goalposts?’ and for us our goal has to always do better than we have done the last time and there is a point where you can get so ‘big’ that topping your last effort can become almost impossible. I’m not sure what our next goals are going to be specifically but we’ve got massive plans for the new album. For the time being Rob and I are working on our side project, Knife Party.