By Published on .

AFTER PUTTING OUT TWO ALBUMS, NICK AMOUR AND Andy Carroll, two thirds of a techno band called Habit, couldn't wait till their contract with Virgin Records expired. "We just got fed up with the music business," Amour says, noting that albums took up to a year to surface on store shelves. "By which time," adds Carroll, "if you're working in the pop market, you've lost the newness of the track."

So in 1990 they swapped their recording careers for commercials, debuting with a McDonald's track, of all things, although that job has long since given way to a spate of more innovative tunes, released in a more timely fashion. As Amour notes, in the commercials world their music "is on the air the next night, and that's exciting."

Working out of their London-based studio Red Eye Productions, Carroll, 32, and Amour, 31 (both are represented by Amber, a British repping firm), are busy exporting their music and sound design to Europe and the States. So far this includes a funk spot for Pepsi International and BBDO/New York, a series of psychedelic radio spots for Fruitopia and Chiat/Day and a campaign for Leo Burnett and Reebok. While their influences encompass everything from Ministry to Miles Davis, recurring themes borrow from the latest tremors on the British dance circuit, a scene they still frequent.

Charles Hall, a freelance copywriter who gave Amour and Carroll their first U.S. job scoring Reebok spots at Chiat/Day, says he chose them precisely because of their timely grasp of rap, r&b, house, and other genres rarely heard in commercials. "They just don't sample tracks," Hall points out, "they create their own grooves."

One of the keenest things on their reel is a danceable track for a Nike spot directed by Tony Kaye, who befriended the pair in 1985 while shooting videos for the Habit singles "Lucy" and "Shot Gun City." When they made their commercials move in 1990, they sought Kaye's advice, which led to their scoring the now widely acclaimed "Kick it" Nike spot through Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson, London, which won a Cannes Gold Lion, as well as Silvers in Sound Design and Music at the '93 D&AD and Creative Circle Awards.

The type-driven "Kick It" recasts A Tribe Called Quest's "Can I Kick it?" (a hip-hop version of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side") into a fusion of sound design and dance grooves, derived from film fragments of dramatic kicks, referee shouts, horn riffs and crowd cheers culled from hours of soccer footage.

The most pivotal sound in the commercial, though, according to Amour, is the sound of the ball as it hits the back of the net. "It sums up what the whole spot is about," he says. "In the middle of the chords there's a little keyboard line-it took us ages to get that. We were looking for something that was larger than life. "

Some of their spots reflect sheer effects with but a trace of a melody, such as a British Arts & Entertainment station ID composed of a montage of enigmatic images: a dripping candelabrum, a wine glass shattering, doves fluttering through a gold-draped shaftway, all backed with stark, heightened sound effects woven elegantly and closed with a simple piano chord. "You can pile a lot of stuff in and then start to take it away, sometimes so brutally that you just have a few sounds and more space," Carroll explains, "rather than try to push the film along with everything and anything."

Quirkier effects shine through in a Steve Lowe-directed spot for Golden Wonder Pot noodles and London's Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, starring "SNL" funnyman Phil Hartman. Playing the role of a batty news announcer, Hartman digs into a carton of noodles as he asks viewers, "What better to consume with intense food than intense visuals?" He then screens an insane horror vignette in which a boy delivering roses to a haunted mansion is attacked by a toupee that flies off the sleeping owner's head and greets him at the door like a pit bull. The ferocious hairpiece chases the kid around the house in high-speed POV shots, and eventually returns to its owner's head. "Ever tried eating your own head?" Hartman blithely asks. "Well, eat this instead, it's more intense. Stay hungry." Howell Henry writer Alan Young explains that they showed Amour and Carroll tacky horror films for inspiration which resulted in sounds like a squealing-pig noise for the rug.

Their first sparks of experimental attitude began to flicker at Brighton Polytechnic in Sussex, where they met in an integrated arts program, studying the work of video artist Nam June Paik, Philip Glass and other conceptual artists, musicians and filmmakers. A classically trained flutist majoring in painting, Carroll joined his first rock band in college, playing keyboards and bass. It was about this time that he met Amour, a film major and vocalist. Proud of his lack of formal music education, Amour says he approached music intuitively, dissecting sounds and reshaping them to accompany his art projects.

This work habit still thrives; in a Reebok spot called "Legends," for instance, in which Shaquille O'Neal must prove himself by dunking for a lineup of NBA Hall of Famers, Amour came up with a funky bass beat that shifts every bar. "It's a weird thing, but it works," Carroll says.

Accentuated and revved up, this beat fits nicely into what Amour says is a new genre of techno called jungle music, which features violins and reggae rhythms. "It's like an Irish coffee," he explains. "The bottom is dark with soul and grooves, and the top is frenetic with triple snares and offbeat rhythms."

Jungle is already gyrating into several of their spots, including a recent U.K. Sega commercial, for which it sets a perfect pace for the rapid videogame action. And early next year, Amour and Carroll expect to compile those grooves into an album, which they'll produce from material they've created from various commercials campaigns.

Their main concern at the moment is coordinating sound effects and music "so they don't crash. You have very little head space with which to create your soundscape," Carroll says of their ad work. And how do they juggle all those elements? Jokes Amour, "You need more footwork than Fred Astaire."

Most Popular
In this article: