“Yes, absolutely, every single time!” Crazy P’s front woman Danielle Moore croons down the phone line to DJ Mag. “I still get nervous onstage and I totally love that. There’s always a part of me that says 'Oh god, oh god, please let me remember everything that we’ve rehearsed, every last word, every last emotion and please let everything come together 100%!’”
On the cusp of their new and seventh LP 'Walk Dance Talk Sing', Crazy P — aka James Baron, Chris Todd and Danielle Moore — are about to tour. Again. One look at Moore and it’s hard to fathom the singer ever being nervous, such is the engrossing magnetism she exerts during her performances, backed up by lifelong friends and fellow Crazy P songwriters, Baron and Todd.
Pragmatic and hardworking, Crazy P operates like a “real” band rather than simply a club-hopping DJ outfit. Performing everywhere from packed festival arenas to dank basement digs in their near two-decade career, it’s their energetic, and often highly technical, live performances that have served them well; a unique selling point that the trio openly attribute to their impressive longevity.
Each an established solo musician in their own right — thanks to the springboard the band's cult status has afforded them — Crazy P have little left to prove when it comes to musicianship, or their place in music’s history books; instead doing it all again for the seventh time, refreshingly and simply for the love.
CHILDREN OF DISCO
“Where we grew up in Wales we had this record shop at the end of the pier. It was this gargantuan room with records for 25p a go. We absolutely rinsed that shop,” James Baron — or Jim to his friends — tells DJ Mag wistfully down the line from his home in Nottingham.
Crazy P’s three band members live separately now, Baron and Todd in Nottingham and singer Moore in her hometown of Manchester. “Sometimes we didn't know what we were after [in that shop], but it was so cheap that you could take a punt on things. We had some really great payback just buying records based on the covers, that was sort of the start of it all.”
Don't let their provocative title fool you, Crazy P are serious. Initially naming themselves Crazy Penis for shock value in the mid-'90s, the trio soon slimmed down to solely the “P” by second album ‘The Wicked Is Music’ in 2002.
“We didn’t want to cut our nose off to spite our face,” Moore said in 2008 following the release of their fifth studio long play, ‘Stop Space Return’. Moore herself was not in fact responsible for the memorable — if a little shortsighted — band name, with Baron and Todd choosing the title before she joined following a chance (and undeniably fortuitous) meeting at a house party.
Since said meeting on the brink of the new millennium, Crazy P have been pumping out disco-influenced pop jams flecked with house and funk, still shaped and informed by Baron and Todd’s early explorations in the shop on the pier. “I think [that time] has been a big influence on our sound, especially when we were first starting out,” says Ron, recalling his days rummaging through 25p records.
Mancunian Danielle had a slightly different musical education, spending time in influential nightclubs of the '90s including (naturally) The Hacienda. “There were a lot of club nights, either in Nottingham or Manchester, that were playing music that was a bit more underground. I mean, underground in the sense that it was pulling everything from 100BPM to 125BPM. All types of sounds, disco, house,” she tells DJ Mag.
Despite not making music during disco's genesis, Crazy P — individually and as a collective — have undoubtedly been influenced by the genre. Their first long play 'A Nice Hot Bath With' was just as much slo-mo disco as it was bluesy house, with sprinklings of funk, pop and more ambient textures;
the first of a four-LP stint with well-respected underground imprint, Paper Recordings. It wasn't until 'Stop Space Return' that they reached full overground ubiquity, despite previous European tours and a loyal legion of fans — somewhat bizarrely — at the bottom of the globe in Australia.
2008’s 'Stop Space Return' in particular was later hailed as a musically psychic moment for the trio, a precursor to the resurgence of muted disco sounds in house music over the last five years (think Moon Boots, Breakbot et al).
Moore admits that the group still listen to everything from blues to house, thanks to the tapas of tracks on offer throughout their creative infancy. “[In the beginning] you literally had to go on this journey of learning about music in a club, you couldn't just Shazam it,” Moore quietly laments down the phone line.
“I think there were some really good independent record labels like Nuphonic and Paper, and it was a good time for that fresh house sound. You had Faze Action, Fila Brazillia, there were lots of really amazing live musicians,” Moore continues, when asked about the best and most influential parts of Crazy P’s early years together.
There’s little doubt that things have changed significantly since Crazy P first came into existence, and more over, decided to make music their business. Not that the group want to move backward. “I don’t think anyone would say ‘Oh I want to live 20 years in the past,” says Baron, “But you had to really make the effort —music wasn't just handed to you on a plate like it is now. You had to do research, you couldn't just Google.”
Advancements in production techniques and equipment are where the trio have most benefitted, with the group writing, arranging and producing all of Crazy P’s seven LPs from the ground up. “[At the start] we didn't have a lot of equipment so we were sampling a lot of stuff,” says Baron.
Sample-based production is nothing to be sniffed at, though it’s largely in Baron and Todd’s separate solo projects that samples still take front and centre, with their individual production monikers of Ron Basejam and Hot Toddy respectively.
State-of-the-art gadgetry has a big part to play in Crazy P’s live shows too — it’s something Baron and Todd have become master manipulators of. Moore, who admits she’s not as tech savvy, uses less equipment during the live experience. “It's a vocal processor, well, a vocal effects box. That's my only piece of technology [on the tour],” she laughs. “But, I am enjoying the future!”
Baron expands: “[When you produce or play live] it's always a learning experience every time, it's difficult to quantify. You never ever reach a point where you think 'Oh yeah, I've mastered that now’”.
But mastered it Crazy P certainly have, with ‘Walk Dance Talk Sing’ the group’s slickest and most mature record to date, despite parting ways with Ralph Lawson’s 20/20 Vision imprint in favour of !K7 Records, following two LPs with the famed, Leeds-based record label.
“You know, being a producer, it's so ongoing, there's always new things to know and you learn by your mistakes. We always have different ideas about stuff and no one is necessarily right. It's all about compromise,” concludes Baron. “Except for me, I’m always right,’ interjects Todd; an example of the warm and playful affection the three so obviously still have for one another.
With such a transparent sense of camaraderie, Crazy P present a unified and committed approach to making music; something that’s literally seeped into everything they do — from creative process, to production, to performance. “It's so much based on each other and us coming together, knowing our emotions, in a place in time,” says Moore, “What we've been listening to, the inspirations, it is very much an organic thing. It's not formulated.”
When Crazy P play, people listen. The trio still exercise an impressive pull on the festival circuit and with big name club venues — despite ‘Walk Dance Talk Sing’ being almost three years in the making. They’ll play UK mega festivals Love Saves the Day and Parklife this summer, as well as heading back to Australia at the end of ’15.
Consummate professionals, the band delight just as much with their aura as with the songs themselves; a trait upon which Crazy P now strongly rely. “In the digital age, things have become so accessible and people can do it all on their own with very little equipment — and, of course, that's a good thing!” says Baron. “But being able to play and being able to perform live is something that really helps you stand out from the crowd,” says Todd.
Adopting an attitude of “adapt or die”, Crazy P have steadily relied more on their live performances to float their musical endeavours — a financially viable and no doubt enjoyable solution to a significant drop in physical record sales.
“Financially, the industry has changed so much that a small band like us can't actually make money just by selling records. The live shows, the DJing and everything else that we do, that’s what’s kept us going.”
The real key to Crazy P’s magic on stage is the very ease with which they do it; singer Moore naturally commands most attention. It’s no secret that the front woman of any live act requires a special, can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it kind of charisma, something Moore has in spades.
The art of playing to the room is important to Moore, allowing her to tap into different parts of her own stage aesthetic for each show. “[You] call on a different part of your performing, your presence; you know when you're on at a festival, you do feel a little more detached from the crowd.
It's a different feeling, you're performing bigger, you're exaggerating more. You're trying to give a huge performance, whereas when it's a more intimate thing, you come from a different place.”
Even after numerous tours and hundreds of live performances, Crazy P still run up against challenges — especially when it comes to cherry-picking the best bits from their hefty back catalogue. “We always just want to play the new stuff and keep the old stuff to a minimum, but it’s always a balance of what people want to hear and what you want to play.
This time, we've reworked some of the old stuff for this show, so it’s more fresh for us,” explains Todd. It’s a given that playing the hits must get repetitive for any touring band, but on inspection, it seems blindingly obvious that Crazy P's members still live for the rush of performing live.
“[Live music] is something that people will actually make the effort to go out and do, it’s an experience. There isn't an equivalent digitally, it's still this visceral and sensory thing for people,” says Baron passionately.
“[Our] first show was at King George The Fourth in Brixton. Come Shake the Whole was the name of the night and it was 2001,” recalls Moore. “So, you must have been extra nervous at that gig right?” we ask.
“Exceptionally yeah! Oh and it was an interesting sight to see Maurice Fulton — who played after us — spend the whole night spinning in a turban and a dress,” she laughs.
From Fulton in a frock in a Brixton basement, to seven impressive LPs and countless sold-out tours, Crazy P show no signs of slowing down. With ‘Walk Dance Talk Sing’ quite possibly their very best work to date, and with lead track ‘Like A Fool’ set to be a hit akin to that of past underground smash ‘Heartbreaker’, Baron, Todd and Moore continue to craft a legacy that will keep them onstage for just as long as they very well wish.
‘Walk Dance Talk Sing’ is out now on !K7