Read the full interview from the ‘August 2009’ cover stars ‘The Dead Weather’ below

Clash is holed up in a hotel in the Tennessee state capital, looking out at the 9am sky. It’s as black as coal. Is my watch right? Am I still jet lagged? Yes and yes, actually, which makes things even more disorientating.

Looking out, I see the darkest clouds hovering just slightly above the downtown high-rises, while the deserted streets are punctuated only by locals running for cover before the heavens open. And then they do, with the most almighty downpour imaginable. My first thoughts are of our imminent cover photo shoot, but then, I think, what could possibly be more appropriate on the day of my meeting with The Dead Weather?

Having lived with ‘Horehound’, the debut album from this familiar quartet, for some time now, the ominous anticipation and menacing growls I am currently surrounded by is nothing new. The album is similarly brooding: raw, brutal and vicious, it is as unrelenting and delightfully dark as the low-hanging nimbuses over Music City. ‘Horehound’ brims with scuzzy guitars, dirty bass, merciless drums and sinister, beguiling vocals. “I’d like to grab you by the hair,” we’re warned at one point, “and hang you up from the heavens.” Ouch! It’s rough and ready, but it’s also as dominating and audacious as the horizon I’m staring into. It’s the product of four adventurous minds breaking free from their usual regime and exploring the darker side of their art…

The Dead Weather is Jack White (he of White Stripes/Raconteurs fame, but here to be found behind the drums), Alison Mosshart (otherwise known as VV, one half of The Kills, on vocals), Jack Lawrence (AKA Little Jack or LJ, bassist from The Greenhornes and The Raconteurs), and Dean Fertita, on loan from Queens Of The Stone Age, on guitars and keyboards.

The location of our summit is the office of Third Man, White’s own Nashville-based label, which also houses a recording studio, rehearsal space, a photo studio and a shop that sells various White Stripes/Raconteurs/Third Man merchandise. In keeping with Jack’s previous business venture, Third Man Upholstery, in which his staff wore black and yellow uniforms, the label’s home is dressed in similar hues, standing out a mile on a road which also houses a methadone clinic. It’s a mini-empire for like-minded music enthusiasts where nothing stands between you and your art, and where your records can be written, recorded and manufactured within a couple of hours – and blocks! It’s in this familial atmosphere that The Dead Weather were born, and where White continues to create, acting as the crazed architect behind it all, lending his hand and experience to every project that passes through.

Safely ensconced within the lounge, Clash sits opposite three-quarters of the band (Dean’s off to see the doctor) to get to grips with this new incarnation. With the tape rolling, we discuss the principles of prolificness, why modern music sucks, and how the divisions between fantasy and reality are getting ever more blurred…

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Jack, one of the last projects you undertook before The Dead Weather was the Bond theme song, ‘Another Way To Die’, made with Alicia Keys. I imagine that would have had lots of constraints, having to please so many people. Was The Dead Weather a reaction to doing that?

Jack: It definitely coincided with the idea of me playing drums and producing, because that’s what I did on the James Bond song – I started on drums, producing that track. LJ and I went into the studio and did it with drums and bass at first, and then I built on top of that over and over again until Alicia came and then we finished the song together. So, when we started to do this band, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do that again’, because I liked producing from that – because we were just gonna do one of these 7”s like this [points to Third Man 7”s by Mildred And The Mice, Dex Romweber and Rachelle Garniez]. We ended up writing and then it became an album etc, etc, so yeah, it’s directly correlated to the production of that record.

Were you reined in on that song, having to meet specific requirements? Does The Dead Weather make you feel freer?

Jack: Well, they didn’t get specific until after I was done with the song, you know what I mean? When you sit around in meetings, you know? That’s why I don’t get involved too much in film work, because I don’t really want to have to answer to anybody. That was one of the few times where I allowed myself to do that, but it’s not as pleasing as working on your own things. It’s too hard to communicate about music; music isn’t really a product, you can’t really ‘make it better’ if you need to. (Laughs)

How exactly did this band come together? I know The Kills toured with The Raconteurs – was there a moment this thought popped into your heads like, ‘This could work’?

Alison: I just had so much fun on that tour. I just got on the bus with them and came back to Nashville because he [Jack White] said he had a recording studio, like, ‘Why don’t we do something?’ That’s kinda how it happened really.

When you start new projects like this, is there pressure on you to see it through and make it a marketable group, rather than just doing something for fun?

Jack: I think the pressure is to not see it through, really. I mean, of all the things I do and all the things I’m involved in, I think probably the one thing that most people want – label-wise or fan-wise – is for me to go back and be in The White Stripes and just keep doing that. So what happens is I end up pressuring everyone else to let me see it through: ‘Let me do this band right now. I have to. It’s what we need to do.’

How do you balance being prolific, being able to go into the studio and put songs out, without feeling like you’re just giving too much away?

Jack: It’s tough at times. Sometimes you’ll see people who’ll put out way too much music or too many films or something like that and you kinda want them to slow down, but at the same time, you know, the artist isn’t at the service of the people one hundred percent, so you have to do what you have to do. If you’re just doing things to stay afloat, or to make vehicles to propel celebrity or money or all those reasons, then I think it’s really bad. But if everything’s about music… I mean, like these records here [points to Third Man 7”s] that I’ve been working on the last couple of months. I mean, obviously they’re not going to be big sellers – they’re on vinyl, for God’s sake. They won’t get worked at radio, they won’t have videos for them, so they’ll exist in their own realm. I hope those kinds of things come off to people like it’s not a vehicle for anything other than the music itself. I mean, look how simple they are: ‘What can you do? You’ve all got the same background (cover art), you have the same recording equipment, let’s see what you can do.’ In one sense, I almost don’t need to have anything to do with them. I like this; it’s a good spot to be in.

The songwriting process for The Dead Weather was apparently looser than the structured methods you were used to with The Raconteurs. How did the two compare?

Jack: Well, me and Brendan [Benson] were definitely sitting down with instruments like piano and guitar and writing – Brendan was writing a chord change and I’d come up with a middle eight, etc, etc. Alison is a vocalist who’s an incredible lyricist too, and in this band I’m the drummer, so things are kinda going in a bizarre carousel motion. Maybe I’d come and, with the songs I was writing, I’d write some riff on a synthesizer and then let Dean take over and I’d go sit behind the drums, and [Alison] would do what she needs to do. Stuff like that would happen.

Regarding the lyrics, do you think, Alison, what you wrote for The Dead Weather was similar to what you might do for The Kills, or did you enter another mindset to deliberately create something different?

Alison: I think it was different. It’s just like a period of time, you know? I don’t know where all that stuff came from, but I haven’t written a record in ages, so maybe that was kind of a weird stockpile in my brain I didn’t know about. I dunno; I hope it’s different. I hope it’s not exactly the same; that would be tragic.

The looseness of the songs means that there are quite a few mistakes that are audible. Were these left in to make the songs sound honest, or was it a case of just wanting to finish and move onto the next song quickly?

Jack: We were recording at a very low speed on a tape machine, the lowest speed you can record at for this format, and it’s very hard to edit, which is a constraint that I chose for my studio. It would just be an eight-track with that slow speed. So, [the tape] goes by really slow, right, so if you wanted to edit from this point of the song to another point that you did well without the mistake in the middle, it’s an obvious edit the way you cut it. Say the tape was going by very fast, the edit is invisible. So you get to a point where something is in there – and this is the beauty of it – and you’ll leave it in there because it’s too hard to fix. Which wouldn’t happen if you recorded on ProTools – you’d just look at the screen, take your mouse and wipe it off. And that’s why music sucks today! (Laughs) Because everybody’s fixing all those mistakes.

Alison: And it doesn’t sound real. I don’t think there are mistakes [on this album]. I think that’s just the way it happened.

Jack: There’s a new country record by a famous artist right now – I won’t mention their name – but the engineer who worked on that told us that there was four thousand edits per minute – per minute!

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What can you possibly do four thousand times in one minute?

Alison: It’s just warping people’s minds, what they think is good and what they think is a mistake.

LJ: It’s funny cos that song turned out to just sound like R2D2. (All laugh)

I think leaving mistakes in there adds to the whole organic feel of the music.

Alison: I think people can relate to it better because it’s more human. It kinda works better with your brain to hear those things, you take it in better. The stuff that sounds perfect, to me when I listen to it, it just feels like I’m not soaking it in very well; I don’t understand it. I can’t relate to it.

Jack: The last song on the album (‘Will There Be Enough Water’), you can hear crickets coming through the window at night – we were recording late at night. I mean, if we had added that sound of crickets that would have been ridiculous. Even if we had said that out loud: ‘Let’s put crickets on this!’

Alison: (Laughs) ‘What’s wrong with you?’

Jack: But it’s there; it’s real and it’s something you wouldn’t want. I mean, most studios build cinder blocks so that you cannot hear the outside infiltrate, you know? I think those real things, people identify with them.

Does it make it harder for you to be impartial when you’re producing your own material?

Jack: I think from different angles, like being the singer or the performer or the one who’s going to go out and play the guitar solo – or now the drummer – I mean, they’re all different angles to look at as a producer. Sometimes when you’re just the producer it’s a bad place to be when you’re not involved. If I’d done Loretta Lynn’s record [2004’s ‘Van Lear Rose] and I hadn’t actually played on it, it would have sounded different. It would have been a different album altogether. You’re involved, you’re really close to it – sometimes you get too close and it’s a mistake – but if you can find that right spot, you should just be close enough.

When you go home at the end of the night, do you have the producer’s hat on or the musician’s hat on? What are you thinking about?

Jack: It’s just sort of a creator’s hat. That’s it; I mean, all the other things are just words, but you’re just making things happen. And it sort of doesn’t matter how you do it. Sometimes I get like, ‘God, all these things…’ This temple here and the studio itself, they’re all for what? For music to happen. To make music out of. Facilitating the idea of music being created, whoever it is. Sometimes you think, ‘God, is that all this is about? Is this really all this about?’ And it’s not bigger than that. You have to remind yourself that music is bigger than that.

Your studio complex is amazing. It seems like you want it to become this creative hub for musicians. What are your intentions for it?

Jack: It’s just the early days, you know. And in the first couple of months we’ve put out five or six records already. We’re selling them upfront. The three-colour versions we had, there was a line around the block to get those coloured vinyls. I mean, people are getting of their ass, off their chair and putting down their video game and coming to buy vinyl. I mean, we are ecstatic. And it doesn’t matter if we sell five hundred or five thousand of whatever record, it’s happening. So yeah, there’s a lot going on here, and I want it to get even more so in the next couple of years; I want things to expand even more.

And you’re using local businesses in the process, I believe?

Jack: We are, yeah. We press the sleeves on that block (points right), the vinyl’s pressed at United, a couple of blocks that way (points left); we’re doing it all here… this is the right spot. Even in New York or LA, it’s hard to do that.

So what’s the plan for the actual record label, Third Man? Will you be A&Ring different people?

Jack: I think right now I’m trying to see what happens. I just kinda set everything up; I built the studio, I built this trying to find out… ‘Let’s see what happens’. I’m trying to funnel things through the system, and some of these are coming out together just the way I first envisioned. Like, Dexter Romweber came to town, played a show in Nashville. We saw he was coming, so I said, “Can you come and record a seven-inch?” They said yes. They came. We recorded two songs. The next day we shot the photos here, and, within three weeks, this record was done. And that was the first thing I envisioned for this. I don’t know what’s happening; it’s tough to compare to other things. Maybe like Sun Studios or Chess Studios meets Motown meets modern post-punk indie label aesthetic as well. There’s a lot of things floating around. There’s not as many producers actually playing on records for different artists, over and over and over again in this style. And the big thing is it’s single formatted; it’s not album orientated right now.

How about unsolicited material, would you accept things that were sent to you?

Jack: Yeah of course, yeah. I mean, we’re scouting all the time, you know. There’s a team of people who work here that go to a lot of shows too. The great thing is, now that this institution is set up, my eye’s out for things all the time, even more so. I’m paying more attention to music. I’d just lost touch. It’s hard for me to go to shows too. So, this is getting me back into it. It’s about finding a back door into it again.

Are you taking precautions about this album leaking? Are you worried about that at all?

Jack: Those days are over, you know what I mean? Well, what can you do?

It just ruins the element of surprise, doesn’t it?

Jack: That’s all that I care about. That’s the hard part for me, that’s the heartbreaker for me, all the elements of surprise.

LJ: I just can’t find an answer in my head, or talk to anyone and get an answer, but why do people want to ruin the surprise? What is the big deal? Why do they need to know?

Alison: Cos people like having things that other people don’t have. It’s a power thing.

LJ: A surprise is good. It’s nice to be surprised. Just let us surprise you.

Jack: We’re gonna go play Kentucky tonight. Say someone goes to the show tonight, and they love what they hear and they record it. And then the album comes out a month later. “Oh. This sounded better live.” Now they’re comparing the album to the live show that came after the album. We’re already starting to change these songs, you know what I mean? That happened with The Raconteurs. We were changing songs completely before people even heard them, and then it was so comparative. And I’m a victim of it too. Like when I saw the Arctic Monkeys video – it was the first exposure I had to them – for the ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ song, I loved it, you know, and I watched it like three times and I thought, ‘This is incredible’. And then when the album came out I wanted it to sound like it sounded in the video where the drummer sang in the background. So then I started thinking, ‘Well, maybe that was a mistake for that video to be live, because now I’m comparing this album to that. Maybe we shouldn’t do that.’ I don’t know what you’re supposed to do.

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Do you try and keep up with the demand? Do you try and officially leak stuff to prevent anyone else doing it?

Jack: The very frustrating part right now, to be in the music business is… it feels like you have to be… It’s a long explanation to this question. Sorry for just running my mouth here, but let me try and address it, because I think what’s happened here, like, what I’ve built here is the sum of the idea that, ‘Well, it looks like I have no choice. I have to be a salesman of my own art, whether I like it or not.’ Gone are the days where you could just be Johnny Cash, and everybody did everything else for you, and you just stumbled onto stage and sang some songs, then you went home and wrote some more songs.

Now, you get approached like, ‘What kind of live session are you gonna do for iTunes, and what are we gonna leak, and what songs are you putting on MySpace, and we need to give these guys exclusive photos…’ and all that shit that I could care less about, really, you know? So now I’ve sort of been forced to care about it. So, if I’m gonna do it, I better do it well and better be hands-on and really involved in it, thinking that would lower the frustration of all that trickery – which is what I think it is; trickery. Like, give them a free song or give an extra track on iTunes when you buy the album and all that… It’s all desperate trickery to me. We tried it with The Raconteurs’ last album, like, ‘How about we just put out the album? Is that okay? Is that good enough for everybody? Before you even knew we made it, why don’t we just release it and then people can release it afterwards?’

Well, this is where we find out that journalists – excuse me – are not on the same team as musicians and artists. Neither are the VJs or the DJs or the editors – we’re not in the same business. And that’s what I thought; I thought we were all in the same business together, but sadly we’re not. Because it’s the Brazilian journalist who leaked The Shins’ album five months ahead of time. He doesn’t have any respect for The Shins’ music and he doesn’t care, so he’s not on the same team.

The radio station that played [The White Stripes’] ‘Icky Thump’ weeks before it was released and gave it away to everybody – they’re not on the same team as us; they don’t care. So now, what are you supposed to do? Now you’re a singular artist or producer or creator who’s up against your own teammates, you know what I mean? And you’re supposed to take what you can get when they’ll work with you. MTV is not playing videos anymore, so are we supposed to make videos? ‘I thought you guys were called ‘Music Television’?’ ‘Well, we’re not on your team either.’

You’ve covered Bob Dylan’s ‘New Pony’ on the album, which is quite an obscure choice. Why did you choose that?

Jack: I always think when you’ve got a new project or even a new album, one idea I had was to pick a song – any song – and see how the band attacks it. We did it on the last Raconteurs album with ‘Rich Kid Blues’. ‘Let’s see how we play this.’ And how we play it, maybe it will morph into the idea of the mood of the album and something else will appear. So, with this band, we did that [Dylan] song and a Gary Numan song [‘Are Friends Electric’], which I thought was pretty far away from each other. Maybe there will be some middle ground in there; maybe we’ll find some blues out of Gary Numan; maybe we’ll find something modern and rhythmic out of that Dylan song. But then we’ll throw those away and move on. I think they both turned out so well. That’s a live take, that Dylan song. I don’t think any of us would have picked to put that on the album, on paper, but it turned out to have such energy to it because of Alison that it had to go on the record.

The lyrics on the album sound as vicious and raw as the music. Was The Dead Weather a cathartic release for your thoughts?

Alison: It felt good! I mean, writing music is in general. It’s one of those things I have to do.

Are you living your fantasies out through your music?

Alison: I don’t know. I can’t tell the difference anymore.

Do the songs take on a new lease of life when you play them on stage?

Alison: I guess in a way. Performing is a strange thing. I just always love that line between you and everyone else. There’s so much adrenaline and there’s so much to get away with and to do anything you want – there’s no rules anymore. I have to do that. But I guess those songs do change. Sometimes they mean totally different things to me on different stages in front of different people in different rooms.

Is the brutality of The Dead Weather a diversion for you to release some energy by playing things loud?

Jack: It feels different, yeah. It feels like a different territory than we’ve been in before – it feels that way for me. It has strength to it – it’s not feeble.
LJ: It almost feels more natural to be more aggressive at this stage.

You talked about the expectations of your fans – have you read any feedback or anything that’s been said about you thus far?

Jack: There’s a temptation to do a couple of things: there’s a temptation to ignore everything – not read anything, not hear anything and only listen to the faces and the sounds from the crowd on the stage – or there’s a temptation to go the other way and absorb every single thing you can to completely understand the perception of your band. Sometimes it’s hard; sometimes you lose all idea of what the perception of what you do is. It’s impossible to tell. I’ve had backlashes before, and in the middle of a backlash you think it’s a hundred percent against you – everything is. But that’s not really the case, because you walk around outside and people tell you completely differently.

There must be times when you read something critical and realise they’re right and have perhaps gone a step too far.

Jack: The written word is a powerful thing. I think they should start teaching that too, because of how much access young people have to blogging and Twittering and all those things. They should start teaching creative writing classes where they really inform new generations of how powerful the written word is and that it’s a responsibility…

LJ: Because it won’t be. It won’t be powerful in a few years.

Jack: Yeah, they’ll destroy it. You’re right.

Are you intent to make The Dead Weather a success or is the fact that you’re having fun and doing something different more important?

Jack: Because you’re sharing with other people you sort of let them help you decide. If people are digging it and they want it and they want more of it then you’re inclined to want to give more, you know? And if it’s time to pull the curtains closed then you pull the curtains closed. I think everyone informs each other on what’s the thing to do. And especially the music itself – the music has a life to it and you keep going with it. Interview over, the band collect their travel bags and board their big black (of course!) bus that’s taking them to their Louisville gig. Clash stays in Nashville, starting work on this feature and listening over and over again to ‘Horehound’, delving deep inside it. But outside, things are getting heavy. Tornado warnings have been issued and major outdoor events have been evacuated. The Dead Weather may have already split town, but their underlying danger has clearly left its mark. As I hear Jack screaming “Time to manipulate” in ‘Treat Me Like Your Mother’, inciting the song’s savage breakdown, trees bend and break in the cruel wind, while insistent rain lashes down and against my window. It’s like the elements are trying to tell me something. It’s a warning to all: prepare to be blown away.

Words by Simon Harper
Photo by Scarlet Page

The indispensable guide to surviving a life in music, by those who know best.

After a lifetime in the game, Ice Cube leads where others follow. The Gangsta Rap pioneer has rewritten the hip-hop rulebook and now, here are his Rock And Rules.

Do things your way
I’m at a point where I know what kind of records I need to do and I need them to be pure from me. It’s good if you find people that are as good or better than you to work with, but I don’t think you need that to make it happen. I feel confident about every record; ultimately you do the records you think are hot. Some people measure success by sales but I measure it by fans, people that are really part of this Westside movement. I look for their approval on whether I’m successful or not.

Stand up for yourself
Paid opinions don’t bother me as much as free opinions. What the media say doesn’t bother me because they gotta say something, but when the average Joe tells you they don’t like some shit it sticks a little harder. If I didn’t respect you I didn’t really care what you said. That’s how I am now. Whenever you’re trying to do cutting edge things, people are gonna bite you. I’ve fought in the studio to make sure that certain records got done. Sticking to my principles has kept my sanity and manhood intact. I don’t feel I’ve sold my soul to get to where I am. Sticking to your guns, being your own man, not bowing to power makes you your own person and you don’t feel like you’ve been manipulated into anything.

Put your opinion into your records
When you learn about your ancestors’ plight it pisses you off and I figured the only way to combat that was making records. I made records about how I felt about these issues and they’re very opinionated but, it is what it is. A lot of people learned a lot from them, things that they should know. On my records nobody gets a free ride. White, black, male, female, no matter who you are everybody is examined and exposed.

Stay true to your roots
My hometown is who I am. It’s why people respond to what I do. It’s not because I’m famous, it’s because of the kind of work that I put out. The only reason I put it out is where I come from. The music comes up in that way because I’m from South Central Los Angeles. I can never lose that part of me because then there might not be a reason to care about my opinion.

Don’t think about the past
I try to be fresh for today, to make sure that I’m not resting on what I’ve done and just worry about what I’m about to do. I know it’s gotta be hot, but it’s more important that it’s gotta be me. I can make hot trendy records for the time but who wants to hear that shit from Ice Cube? I make sure that I don’t get impulsive and just do a record that’s gonna bang right now. I want my records to bang forever and all time.

Words By Ben Homewood

‘I Am The West’ is out now on Lench Mob Records.

cube

Evan Dando talked to Clash Magazine for the ‘August 2009’ issue; Find out what he had to say about collaborating with Gibby Haynes and others for the mix-tape album ‘Varshons’

Those were the days. Making a mix tape to keep you going on a long drive with friends. A way to tell your girl or boyfriend how you feel without opening your mouth. Or just your own biography in other people’s pop. It’s a joy you never grow out of.

None more so than the beautiful wild child of Nineties country punk pop Evan Dando, front man of The Lemonheads, a band known by everyone, but which seemed to hover on the edge of true success.

The band had many ups and downs in its twenty-year or so existence. Bandmates came and went, but Dando remained. Whether it was to revel in the spotlight he so frequently got or because he loved the music is anyone’s guess. One thing that is as clear as day is his own personal love for music.
Sitting in a typical rock star’s hotel room in west London, bed strewn with stale tobacco and crumbled hash, he reaches for his guitar and strums a few lines of his favourite songs.

“Have you heard this one?” he asks, then, “What about this one,” but I’m almost embarrassed that some of these life-changing melodies had escaped me.

It’s why his new album, under The Lemonheads band name, is such a little gem. It’s nothing to take too seriously, he says, just a bit of fun to prepare him for his next big musical venture – as yet unplanned!

‘Varshons’ is not even a mix tape from Dando to his fans, friends or family. It’s more like a collaboration with one of his closest mates: their ultimate mix tape, recorded for themselves, but it just so happens others may enjoy it too.

The mate is Gibby Haynes, lead singer with The Butthole Surfers and obviously a massive influence on Dando, not just musically, but on his whole grown-up life (even Dando suggests this ‘grown-up’ him is still a pretty new revelation).

Together, they compiled a list of songs from all eras, all walks of life, all moods, but a collection that summed up their friendship and Dando’s life.

“It’s sort of biographical for me because these are the songs we used to listen to,” Dando says, flitting from one song to another, just to tell the tale behind it. “Gibby is a genius – he has a diagonal brain. We like the same stuff and he chose most of the songs on the album. And he produced it. I’d never had a producer like him before. He told me how to sing it and instead of arguing, I just did it the way he wanted. It just sounds amazing – I don’t know how to do that.’

Dando and Gibby found each other in the summer of ’93 – an epic year for Dando which saw him hanging out with the likes of Johnny Depp, a former P band mate of Gibby.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Dando says so endearingly. “We spent a summer cementing our friendship when I was staying with Johnny. Me and Johnny were like five-year-old kids, just inseparable. People thought we were a couple. They were great days. There were a lot of drugs.” A serious expression falls on his face, recalling the happy days marred by the death of friend River Phoenix outside Depp’s club The Viper Rooms while Gibby was on stage.

‘Varshons’, apparently said with a southern twang, is like that summer – a bit of everything and a whole lot of fun with a few moments of darkness.

It starts so soft and gentle with a dose of Gram Parsons, an artist that has been close to Dando in his musical career, even though he says he came to him “backwards”. “It wasn’t that I listened to a lot of Gram Parsons. I didn’t even know who he was when I started writing songs. But I wrote this one called ‘Ride With Me’ and someone said, “That sounds just like Gram”. We must have a musical affinity.”

It’s a misleading start to ‘Varshons’ though. The sweetness is soon turned to sour with songs from such artists as the “insane mad fucker from New Hampshire”, G G Allin. He would beat people on stage, rape women and tell everyone at his shows he was going to kill them.” Nice. “But I think it’s important not to link the person and the music,” says Dando, maybe because he’s ashamed of some of his own past antics back in his crackhead days, but probably more likely that he wants to be able to record a song about killing his girlfriend because he got bored without too much vindication.

Saying that, Allin’s ‘Layin’ Up With Linda’ is a great track. Hilarious (until you realise poor Linda probably did get violently murdered because she didn’t make her man chuckle enough) and strangely upbeat. It went down a storm at an intimate gig in London’s Macbeth, which was more of a live karaoke sing-a-long to the hits of The Lemonheads than a ‘here’s the future Dando’. Not even a grimace appeared when he staggered on stage an hour late, cheering up his awaiting crowd with his ten-second soundcheck and tales of back in the day.

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The mad fucker antics continue on the album with a cover of ‘Waiting Round To Die’ by cult country musician Townes Van Zandt, notorious for his drug taking and drinking. “He fell off a roof just to see what it felt like.” Amazingly, he lived to the grand old age of fifty-two.

Then there’s the defining moment on ‘Varshons’, the end of side one, as Dando puts it. ‘Yesterlove’ is by Sam Gopal, a British psychedelic band whose second coming was led by Motorhead frontman Lemmy. “What a gentleman,” Evan says. “It’s a trip-out song, but with humour. It’s the sort of song I would listen to on the way to the grocery store over and over. It’s the centre of the album.”

And it stays pretty true to the original: plodding in a druggy haze, yet full of life. The similarities between Lemmy’s voice and Dando’s are uncanny. In fact, Dando changes his vocals throughout ‘Varshons’, flitting from the soft and serene to the more husky and lived in. It’s not so much an impression as an homage and the laid back Dando magic still shines through.

So, he said he wanted to make something odd and that’s what he’s done, but strangely, this weird collection of songs – The Green Fuz side by side with Leonard Cohen – work wonderfully together. Maybe it’s the production, or the mixing from ex-Cornershop guru Anthony Saffrey, or Dando’s bandmates Vess Ruhtenberg and Devon Ashley. It’s probably more likely to be that this is a Dando break, something to do between projects and something to focus on during binges. He confesses that he’s been having a rough ride recently after “a month in Australia where I had an amazing time and then back home to a bad time”, dabbling in things the papers thought were behind him and trying to keep his marriage going.
But what really gels this album together is Dando’s sweet dulcet tones, heartfelt like Lee Hazelwood singing to his Nancy. In fact, he’s occasionally joined by his Nancy on ‘Varshons’ – old friends Kate Moss and Liv Tyler.

Moss, pretty yet tuneless on Arling & Cameron’s ‘Dirty Robots’, has been close to Dando since they met at Eartha Kitt’s birthday – Dando was Kitt’s date for the evening. And “such a sweetheart it’s ridiculous” Tyler is wonderful on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’. “I would never do a Leonard Cohen [song] by myself. We were going to do ‘So Long Marianne’, but we just gave this one a try and it was so much fun, but it was way too pretty sounding for a while.” It remains pretty, but there is a certain over-the-topness added by The Only One’s John Perry.

“My favourite bit is the solo. It reminds me of Marilyn Monroe singing to JFK,” he says, still in awe that Perry graces his album and friendship.

But the biggest surprise would have to be closer ‘Beautiful’. Any trace of Christina ‘I hate that bitch’ Aguilera has been zapped away and Dando has brought his own subtleness to the Linda Perry penned emotional tearjerker. Fear not though, as John Perry brings his own personal touch in the form of some floaty, foresty feedback, “just like Scorpion”. “It’s recorded the way it should be recorded and done in one take so it wasn’t pressured.”

– – –

– – –

Even with the effort not to take ‘Varshons’ too seriously, it’s still an immensely pleasurable listen and it’s sure to have some bearing on whatever Dando chooses to do next, although he already says “the next one is going to be fucking great, one side loud and one side quiet.”

It’s great to hear and even better that Dando is so full of inspiration and praise for his own – and others’ – music. He picks up his guitar again as soon as he’s asked what songs would be on his perfect soundtrack, not content with just listing them but needing to show why his chosen ones are so special. Even when he listens to his own covers, he stops, almost presses his finger against your lip to hush you, just so you can hear the one chord or one word that makes the song so amazing to him.

“I would always put on The Only Ones’ ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ and Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’, then a bit of Paul McCartney and one of my favourite people in the world, Ella Fitzgerald, and I always have to have ‘Dirty Old Man’ by The Fugs,” he says, scribbling down more songs in purple crayon for me to take home and explore and lapping up every new artist given to him in exchange.

Charles Wright And The 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s ‘Express Yourself’, The Bevis Frond’s ‘Lights Are Changing’, Edwyn Collins’ ‘Low Expectations’ and Holy Modal Rounders’ ‘Euphoria’ are just a few listed on the ultimate Dando collection, or the ultimate Dando shuffle.

“It’s the best present you could ever give. A shuffle with three hundred of your favourite songs on it, given to someone you love. What could be better than that?”

Let’s hope ‘Varshons’ gives a little bit of that love to Dando-ites out there, anxiously waiting for their next band or solo record. “It’ll be worth waiting for. I want to make haste with deeds of great honour.”

Words by Gemma Hampson

German techno duo Niederflur provide us with a DJ mix to keep your ears occupied over the new year period, reflecting the uncompromising, and frosty conditions that have engulfed the UK, with a selection of dancey but dark techno.

One of the first acts on the renowned German electronic label M-nus, Niederflur have been making experimental and uncompromising electronica for over eight years, often deep and hypnotic, but always fascinating and with an underlying warmth and undeniable groove.

The duo’s mix takes in a range of techno moods to stimulate the brain but keep the body moving at the same time, ranging from minimal click-back to blissed-out tech-house to jumpy, jackin’-influenced Chicago sounds, from the likes of Shed, Terrence Fixmer, Mike Dehnert and Jonas Kopp.

The perfect intelligent and innovative antidote to the relentless uber-cheer that adorns the usual slew of festive tunes and new year cheese classics. Enjoy your new year with some bite, for a change, courtesy of Niederflur.

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$link = ‘http://media.clashmusic.com/music/djmix-podcasts/ClashMusic-DjMix-Podcast-Niederflur.mp3’;
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Niederflur Dj Mix Tracklisting

1. Shed – Intro (Ostgut Ton)

2. Claudio PRC – Clear Depth (Variation) (Prologue)

3. Obtane – Gemini (Sonic Groove)

4. MFS – Devils Chair (DR)

5. Terence Fixmer – Phantoms (Niederflur Remix) (Electric Deluxe)

6. SCB – Hard Boiled VIP (SCB)

7. John Tejada and Josh Humphrey- Assimilation (Palette)

8. Expander and Dalessandro – Pump-Kin- Pie (Soniculture)

9. Selway and Rohr – Last Time (CSM)

10. Xpansul and Damien Schwartz – Sour Mood (Billy Dalessandro Remix) (True Type)

11. Mike Dehnert – The March (deeply rooted house)

12. Derek Plaslaiko – Raw Jam (Jonas Kopp remix) (Perc Trax)

13. Niederflur – Exil (Ed Davenport Remix) (Niederflur Tracks)

14. Raiz – Keep Secrets (Jerome Sydenham and Funktion Remix) (Droid)

Check out the previous episodes of our Dj Mix Series on iTunes HERE or individually on ClashMusic.com HERE

Lola Olafsoye is the lead vocalist of the super sci-fi glam rock orchestra Chrome Hoof. Beaming powerful high energy electro, their prog doom disco lures the masses to the dancefloor.

Who are Chrome Hoof?
They appear as a strange, futuristic, glam rock cult dressed in sparkly hooded silver robes and catsuits. Now a ten-piece orchestra, originally the group was formed as a duo in 2000 with Cathedral bassist Leo Smee and his brother Milo. Olafisoye’s deep powerful vocals harmonise gloriously among trills of analogue synths, church organs, guitars and pianos. The submersible sounds of dark, doomy, groovy disco are sure to have you converted.

The idea for the costumes originated…
“From the boys wanting to be in disguise, like intergalactical monks or something. The boys like to dress up.”

My outfits are usually made by…
“A seamstress who has a shop called Prankster in New Cross. I get her stylist to work with me and sometimes we go hunting for stuff. My outlandish ones are generally Mel at Prankster.”

The sparkle hooded robes are made by…
“Chloe from the band, with material from Walthamstow market. She’d be there with the sewing machine, and we would slowly elaborate and add to the pieces ourselves.”

The band have been inspired by films like…
“Blade Runner and Star Wars. We all have a little bit of that intergalactical space commander in us I think.”

My starsign is…
“Scorpio. I’m a water baby, so I do like the depths of the sea but I like being an earthling really.”

If I could have one super power it would be…
“Something to do with sight: X-ray vision like Superman. But then you need to be able to fly and time travel… many things!”

Something we are yet to experiment with would be…
“A slow ballad? (Laughs) I don’t think so. We are all quite hyper, full-on people and we all like to dance so it’s always going to go down the dance, jazz, blues, heavy metal route. It’s about not being afraid to go into all those genres fearlessly. We do what we do naturally and will carry on and explore that.”

Dirty Projectors discussed their album ‘Bitte Orca’ and influences in this August 2009 Clash Magazine Interview.

Often, depressingly, talking to a musician is far less interesting than listening to their music. When “we just make songs what we like, like” is the most perceptive explanation a band can give about their creative processes, the facepalm is instinctive. That’s not the case with Dave Longstreth, mastermind of the Brooklyn-based Dirty Projectors, whose new album ‘Bitte Orca’ is one of the best records of the year so far.

Despite ‘Bitte Orca’ being an endlessly inventive and fascinating listen – and a fun one too, beard-scratchers – he talks a real good game, if you can actually get hold of him. Sure, he’s performing with David Byrne, and yeah, he’s in the studio with Björk; we’ve heard all these excuses before, press person! When Clash finally does touch base, he’s still juggling a million things to do, but while we’ve got him, he’s going to make an impression.

Dirty Projectors have been a going concern since 2002, and used to include two members of Vampire Weekend. In recent years they’ve been cultivating a reputation as a band easy to admire, but not quite so easy to love. Isn’t the idea of a chopped-and-screwed rock opera about a suicidal Don Henley kinda amazing? That’s Dirty Projectors’ 2005 album ‘The Getty Address’. And what if a band tried to cover an entire album that they hadn’t listened to for fifteen years, basing the whole thing on blurry fragments of teenage memories? That’s ‘Rise Above’, from 2007, in a conceptual nutshell. Both albums had plenty of great moments, but ultimately felt like they were born of better ideas than execution. ‘Bitte Orca’ isn’t so easy to narrow down, but it seems like the absence of an overarching theme has taken the edge off its abstract experimentalism, allowing the band more room for baser aims, like hooks.

So, I ask Longstreth to explain what ‘Bitte Orca’ is about, really, and he says this: “Collapsing dualities, conciliating factional antagonisms, creating Mexican blankets of formal beauty and arresting emotionality.” I don’t quite know what to say to that, so he continues: “Parsing the future for potsherds of the past, reggae kaleidoscopes, goofing around with noise-gated snare drums.” There’s a pause. “‘Stillness Is The Move’ is sort of a love song,” he continues, much to my relief. “The beat is based on T-Pain. We commissioned a radio mix of the song by the guy who mixes all of Timbaland’s records, but the mix we made sounded way better, so we didn’t use it.” ‘Stillness Is The Move’ is the album’s first single, a juddering, trilling, soaring kind of alien R&B ballad, featuring bright lead vocals from Amber Coffman. Explaining the new prominence of both female band members – following song ‘Two Doves’, a clear tribute to mournful German chanteuse Nico, is sung by Angel Deradoorian – Longstreth says, “I wanted it to feel like a Beatles album, each of the singers with a lead number, playing with foreground and background. So much of our singing is about sharing a melody between two voices, or dividing a harmony into component voices, you know. Giving the girls a lead number felt like a natural application of that idea to the album as a whole.”

Like all Dirty Projectors albums, ‘Bitte Orca’ is packed full of ideas – but this is the one which gets them all to coalesce together most smoothly. It’s all pretty odd on first listen: you’ll hear flashes of Peter Gabriel, King Sunny Ade, Pere Ubu, Captain Beefheart, Talking Heads, The Fiery Furnaces, Arthur Russell and Frank Zappa in there at different times, not forgetting the aforementioned T-Pain and Nico. Somehow, even though he’s pulling from so many different boxes, Longstreth still manages to put his hundred-piece puzzle together and form a clear picture, a picture that looks in whole like no-one else. It’s been enough to convince two of the world’s most critically revered musicians, David Byrne and Björk, to collaborate with Longstreth in the last few months. Firstly, Byrne and Dirty Projectors recorded ‘Knotty Pine’ together for the Red Hot Organisation’s ‘Dark Was The Night’ charity compilation this winter. Then Björk got in touch, having been impressed by a Dirty Projectors cover version of her own ‘Hyperballad’, and Longstreth agreed to write a suite for her to sing, again in support of an AIDS organisation. The six-song ‘Mount Wittenberg Orca’, which is planned for release “sometime”, is about an imagined moment of eye-contact between Coffman and a whale.

“Björk is a huge inspiration for me,” Longstreth says. “It was a big honour to write music for her. She said the only other person’s music she’s ever sung was Schoenberg’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’.” That’s not a name that often gets dropped in interviews with indie-rock bands. But Dirty Projectors are not a normal indie-rock band.

San Diego-based four-piece Transfer have had a taste of success and now they want more.

Having just come off the back of supporting Brandon Flowers on sold-out dates across America and the UK, they have been exposed to the high life, and now it’s just a matter of time before it comes.

“It has been an incredible experience for us,” frontman Matthew Molarius humbly admits. “When we played I felt like we really got an unexpectedly warm response. And after the last song of each set it was very reassuring to have a sold out audience cheer and be as receptive as they were. It was a really great experience for us as a band.”

Their sound, which borrows heavily from British back catalogues, employs a reverb-drenched, guitar-driven rock which has never failed to sell. All fingers point toward them being a big noise in 2011.

They are due to return to the UK early next year, with the intention being to strike while the iron’s hot and deliver upon mounting expectation. So how important is the UK to Transfer’s long-term plans?

“It is for me, especially as we’ve got a whole other audience that are potentially paying attention,” concludes Molarius. “It’s important for us to come back and keep checking in on that. We also love doing what we do so to get that reassurance from new people and fans, I’d say it’s very important to us.”

Keep your eyes open, and remember where you heard it first.

Words by Sam Ballard

Where: San Diego
What: Widescreen indie rock
Interesting Fact: Guitarist Jason had to behave when growing up – his dad was the chief of police in town.
Get 3 songs: ‘Get Some Rest’, ‘Losing Composure’, ‘Like A Funeral’

Chicago quintet Tortoise spoke to Clash Magaizine for the August 2009 issue. Read the full interview below

“I guess I don’t really expect people to know that we have a sense of humour, because we’re pretty serious about our music,” admits quietly spoken Tortoise bassist Doug McCombs, a stubbly chin cupped in his hands as he considers less than laugh-a-minute pre-conceptions of his band in a London boozer. “There is humour in our music but it’s overshadowed by how serious we are about playing. Our sense of humour often comes out in different ways: press photos, the way we title our songs. And on tour we’re like any other band: being on tour is basically one long joke. People probably don’t think that. They probably think we sit on our tour bus reading Faust. But we’re pretty fun.”

Saddled with the burden of the ‘post-rock’ label, in reality Tortoise – McCombs, plus multi-instrumentalist band-mates Dan Bitney, John Herndon, John McEntire and Jeff Parker – have rarely navigated such straight and narrow paths. Krautrock, jazz, lo-fi noise, even hardcore punk and dance nods, have all gone into the blender with frequency. It would be a stretch too far to suggest ‘Beacons Of Ancestorship’ – its title, McCombs says, drawn from the notion of “being part of a continuum or line that goes through music throughout time” – will make it onto too many party playlists in the near future. Although electronics-packed track ‘Northern Something’ could slip into the record bags of a few unsuspecting Chicago house or Detroit techno DJs should it ever cop an unlikely white label release. Yet for all their serious intent, a modest playfulness snakes through the new record; a synth twinkle here, a joyously loose noodle there. “On this album there’s definitely not too many weird time signatures,”

McCombs considers. “It’s more of a 4/4 feel. Even samba. Dance or party-based music is something we’ve always tried to incorporate, even though our music tends to be less about dancing and more about something else.”

‘Beacons Of Ancestorship’ marks Tortoise’s first regular full-length record for five years. In the time since its predecessor, ‘It’s All Around You’, they released weighty rarities retrospective ‘A Lazarus Taxon’, plus ‘The Brave And The Bold’, a covers album re-imagining Devo to Elton John with bearded Americana icon Will Oldham, AKA Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, on vocals. If that suggested Tortoise were comparatively killing time, however, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, ‘Beacons Of Ancestorship’ was variously laid down over multiple studio sessions spanning the past half-decade.

“We’re not really comfortable with deadlines,” McCombs explains. “For the most part if we’re under pressure to produce something it’s not going to be good, so we would rather take our time and make sure it’s something we are happy with.”

A plethora of side projects kept all five members busy during downtime among aforementioned stints recording. These are men who very much live for music, which for the rest of the band means they have little time for the music press. “There are members of Tortoise who can’t stand to talk about our music to other people,” McCombs concedes. “Almost all of them except for me. They don’t want to do it and that’s fine. But if people want to know about our music I’m happy to tell them.”

Unlike the giant Galapagos Islands creatures with which Tortoise share their moniker, McCombs and company aren’t about to lumber blindly into old age. Unafraid to unfurl EP-length epics with nonchalance, Tortoise resolutely remain an albums band. Despite swimming against a tide of opinion suggesting the format faces imminent extinction, their next mooted post-‘Beacons Of Ancestorship’ move is aimed squarely at counteracting the digital age. “We make albums that stand on their own as a piece of music, songs that seem like they have to be part of that whole thing more than they would ever be a single,” McCombs muses. “But we had an idea to do a series of shorter pieces of music that would be presented on five-inch vinyl. Thatlimits it to two minutes per side. I love the fact that format still exists and that’s almost reason enough to do it, release one every month for a year or something. “I’m so behind the times,” he sighs. “I don’t even have an iPod. But certain things are interesting to me almost as a relic. It’s time to go back and find ways to present music that’s as interesting as the music itself.” With invention still at the bleeding heart of their craft, almost twenty years since the band’s formation, the creative fires still burn strong as ever for Tortoise. “It’s really all I want to do,” McCombs asserts, settling into an almost contented tone. “I know I’ll continue to have good ideas and interesting ways to express ourselves. And I’m sure that we’ll continue to be a band for a pretty long time.”

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BEGINNERS GUIDE

Tortoise’s discography for bluffers.

‘Tortoise’ (1994)

The debut Tortoise LP contained glimpses of the multi-faceted ingenuity that was to become their trademark, and, in ‘Ry Cooder’, a cheeky nod to the eponymous veteran guitarist.

‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ (1996)

Joined by Slint guitarist/post-rock pioneer Dave Pajo, ‘Millions…’ is widely acclaimed as a modern classic, fully fusing Krautrock complexities onto dub and electronica exoskeletons.

‘TNT’ (1998)

A jazzier adventure than ‘Millions…’, traceable to the addition of genre- loving guitarist Jeff Parker, replete with cover art that was, supposedly, simply scrawled on the cover of a blank CD-R.

‘Standards’ (2001)

Licensed to the ever-wonderful Warp Records in the UK, further expeditions into electronica fittingly flourished within ‘Standards’, which disappeared on unrepentant tangents fit to make Animal Collective sound like Girls Aloud.

‘It’s All Around You’ (2004)

Dismissed in some quarters for perceived failures to push the Tortoise template, this is probably the band’s least celebrated full-length; by any other standards, though, it’s still jammed with jazz-inflected outer limits exploring.

Words by Adam Anonymous
Photo by Jim Newberry

The Who’s debut album, ‘My Generation’, came after the band morphed from Beatles copyists to figureheads of teenage England amid a controversial management takeover and riotous live performances.

Pete Meaden, a top mod and music publicist, had taken control of the then-named Detours in 1963 after being sacked by The Rolling Stones for being a ‘pigheaded mod’.

An ace face on the scene since its infancy, he was one of a select pack of main movers who set the pace. Convinced the movement needed a group to act as spokesmen, Meaden quickly made the band prime candidates.

Meaden rechristened the band The High Numbers and modelled them in his image. He worked fast, wanting to fill the void for a mod group before the moment passed.

All was going well, until a performance at The Railway Tavern in North West London, when aspiring manager Kit Lambert vowed the band would be his. Lambert and partner Chris Stamp were film directors looking to get into pop management. At the Railway, Lambert was blown away by the band’s relationship with the audience: they had found a “group of mods playing to an audience of mods”. Meaden – no businessman – was quickly elbowed aside, bought off with a below-par £500.

With the lion’s share of work already done, the new managers set about amplifying Meaden’s plan. It didn’t take long. After changing the band’s name to The Who, the managers hit upon something missed by Meaden that would give them an identity beyond mod: their live performance. Noticing conflicts between band members and a primal energy onstage, the managers encouraged the band to be wild and rebellious when they played.

Suddenly gigs were raucous and unpredictable. Instrument trashing became a regular part of their show after the audience reacted hysterically to guitarist Pete Townshend accidentally smashing his guitar through a venue’s ceiling. The audience, frustrated and confused by being the first generation to escape national service and war, felt the performances summed up their emotions.

Suddenly the press was all over the band, with broadsheets quoting Townshend on the influence of auto destructive artist Gustaz Metzke. Unsurprisingly, teenagers fell quickly under the band’s spell.

Keen to capitalise on the success, Townshend wrote a guaranteed hit: ‘My Generation’. As the band tired of the mod scene, ‘My Generation’ offered a final love letter to the scooter-riding pill poppers to whom the band owed much.

On 3rd December 1965 The Who released their debut album. Recorded at breakneck speed, the band had captured the ear-splitting volume of their live shows on disc, with ferociously powerful guitars and Keith Moon’s drums striving for attention. Nowhere was this more prominent than ‘The Ox’ – a feedback-drenched instrumental over which crashed endless drum rolls reminiscent of their gigs. On standout tracks ‘The Kids Are Alright’ and ‘La La La Lies’, Townshend fused the angst-ridden teenage lyrics of the past with sophisticated Beatles harmonies.

Running to little more than thirty minutes, ‘My Generation’ barely stopped for breath, reaching number five in the charts and capturing The Who amid a chaotic and unfiltered arrogance they would quickly refine. As the band and managers toasted their newfound success and looked to the future, Pete Meaden was forgotten.

Words by Shane Gladstone

The Who – ‘My Generation’

Released: 3rd December 1965
Producer: Shel Talmy

Musicians:
Pete Townshend – guitars, vocals
Roger Daltrey – vocals, harmonica
John Entwistle – bass, vocals
Keith Moon – drums, vocals.

TRACKLIST:
1. ‘Out In The Street’
2. ‘I Don’t Mind’
3. ‘The Good’s Gone’ 
4. ‘La-La-La-Lies’
5. ‘Much Too Much’
6. ‘My Generation’
7. ‘The Kids Are Alright’
8. ‘Please, Please, Please’
9. ‘It’s Not True’
10. ‘The Ox’
11. ‘A Legal Matter’

1965 IN THE NEWS:
– Sir Winston Churchill dies.
– Bob Dylan ‘goes electric’ at Newport Folk Festival.
– The racially fuelled Watts Riots erupt in LA.

1965 THE ALBUMS:
The Kinks – ‘Kinda Kinks’
Otis Redding – ‘Otis Blue’
The Temptations – ‘Temptin’ Temptations’

Read on to enjoy the La Roux interview from August 2009 issue of Clash Magazine.

Elly Jackson, the face and voice of electropop duo La Roux is on the phone. Occasionally perceived by the media as a bit of an ice maiden, no doubt in comparison to the many other smiley pre-packaged poppettes who are doing the rounds at the moment, she is charming, warm and eloquently opinionated. And with a career that so far has achieved what most singers could only wish for, Elly is understandably excited about the release of La Roux’s self-titled debut album.

It seems fitting to start by asking about the making of the LP. “It was a long process, it took around four to five years. I’d been writing songs from the age of about thirteen, and when I met Ben [Langmaid, the other half of La Roux] I brought these stream of consciousness tracks to him. Ben helped me to structure them better. The songs were very long thought processes and he would try to focus what I was doing and help me to form tracks into a pop structure”.

‘Fascination’, a solid piece of pop gold that would nestle nicely next to Robyn’s ‘With Every Heartbeat’ is the first song that Ben and Elly wrote from scratch together: she brought the chords and the riff to the studio and they worked from there. “With that, we realised how well we write together. So we laid down a lot of the tracks in Ben’s living room, and we were really happy with the lyrics and the melodies but not with the exact sound of the songs”.

At this stage the duo were working with guitars and utilising Elly’s folk singing style. The fundamental shift in styles occurred when they had a bit of a break from recording to allow Ben, who’s from a DJing background, to earn some fast cash by producing sessions with house singers. In the meantime, Elly went out raving. “I had a slow epiphany and gradually discovered ‘I want to make electronic music, I want to be doing the sort of gigs that I’m going to’.” Which were? “Secret Sundaze, warehouse raves, parties where Mr. C would turn up at 4am and DJ because he felt like it. It was a really good scene but not one you could be in for more than a year without killing yourself! I just hadn’t been exposed to that kind of electronic music before. My schoolfriends were more into indie like The Futureheads and Maximo Park. I’ve got their albums and they’re okay but I’ve never really loved them. I also discovered more ’80s music at these parties as well as electronic because at around 8am people would put on really cheesy stuff that didn’t sound cheesy at that time – I’d be like, ‘Wow! Whitney Houston’s ‘How Will I Know’ sounds so good!’ So via these parties I discovered Sebastian Tellier and got to know the fun side of electronic music like Chromeo, Mr Oizo and DJ Mehdi.”

– – –

– – –

How did Ben take the news that you wanted to shift the music to another direction? “I felt bad to say, ‘I don’t want my records to be all guitar’, but it turns out Ben had been thinking the same thing and he was relieved when I told him! So we went back to the songs, stripped them and added the new synths and sounds. Friends have been surprised that there isn’t any guitar because that’s what I did for so long, but I think it’s really passé. I love Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Bob Dylan but I don’t want to copy their style. It can be a bit self-pitying. I wanted to make energetic music – I didn’t want to perform sat on a stool.”

This decision has allowed La Roux to attract a wider audience as well as giving them more scope for music-making in the future. “I mean, where can you go after a folky guitar album? You can’t really go to pop from there, it’s a very different journey and people wouldn’t know how to take it. It would be like Adele turning around and doing a dubstep album! I’m not saying goodbye to guitar music completely but we’ll just have to see what happens.”

La Roux’s biggest single so far, ‘In For The Kill’, demonstrated their ability to attain widespread appeal – the magical balance between commercial and critical success – thanks to one of the best remixes in recent history. When Annie Mac played Skream’s ‘Let’s Get Ravey’ remix on Radio 1, the show was inundated with a record amount of texts from people desperate to know where they could get their hands on it. Soon afterwards, most major music radio stations included it along with the original song on the A list, and it’s been a popular opener for many DJ sets. It’s safe to say that the track has reached the remix zenith, joining the ranks alongside Ed Case’s take on Gorillaz’ ‘Clint Eastwood’ or Fatboy Slim’s touching up of Cornershop’s ‘Brimful Of Asha’.

What do you think of Skream’s remix? “I love it. The original track is at a difficult speed – you can’t double-time it – and an electro-house remix wouldn’t have been different enough. The whole point of a remix is that it should take it somewhere totally different. What was great was that it’s reached a crowd that the original wouldn’t have got to. Loads of people heard the remix at dubstep nights and lots of people didn’t know the original, they didn’t know there was one, but then heard about it from friends and bought both versions. It was amazing and I’m very grateful.”

The re-working of the song shows off the flexibility of Elly’s seemingly fragile voice, which fully controls the song until the beat drops. “I still sing in a folk voice even though we moved away from folk songs. I’m very inspired by Joni Mitchell, more than by Annie Lennox, which is what a lot of people think. I could have changed my singing style to suit the music more but I think it would sound affected.”

Honesty is crucial to Elly in her music and image, and I wonder how concerned she is with how she’s perceived. Does she consider herself to be a role model? “I suppose so, but I don’t set out to do that. I don’t wake up in the morning wanting to change the world – I’m not trying to be Bono! But if I do give confidence to girls and show them that you don’t have to have long wavy hair and skirts and high heels for boys to find you attractive, or in fact you shouldn’t even worry whether or not boys find you attractive, they should like you for who you are, then that’s great. I think Ladyhawke and Florence And The Machine are good role models, though Florence is the most feminine, but not in a ‘take your clothes off and get your tits out’ way. They show that the industry’s not just scantily clad girls doing meaningless, soulless music.”

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Is that what you think of the current pop music scene? “Well, I don’t think it’s as bad as I’ve been making it out to be recently. There is some really good pop music, like Florence and White Lies, and I think the face of pop is changing. Glamour is coming back. I’m not very keen on her music but Lady Gaga is bringing back style and an emphasis on the visual.” Unfortunately for everyone though, there is still a lot of dross in the charts, and Elly has her eye on the main culprit: “I blame Soulja Boy. Have you heard ‘Kiss Me Through The Phone’!? Single of the year… But if you want to know about quality pop, look at Prince! He’s the ultimate pop star. Michael Jackson would have been my number one choice up until recent years, but Prince is amazing! He shows that you can achieve success by not being an arsehole, but by being really talented, having integrity, not doing loads of TV or interviews, but just by being all about the music, because it should be all about that. He embraces all the industry stuff but shuns it at the same time – it’s quite genius really.”

Do you consider yourself a pop star? “In order to be one, you have to be one twenty-four hours a day, and I’ve recently realised I can’t do that. I think I thought I could. I just want to sing about stuff that I really care about, I want to be really honest in my music, and I really don’t care about being recognised in the streets or writing autographs. I’m just interested in the music. So no, I couldn’t call myself a pop star yet.”

Looking ahead, the La Roux live band are hitting the road across the summer to showcase the debut album. UK appearances include Glastonbury, Leeds, Reading, Bestival and London’s iTunes festival. What should we expect from your live shows? “We’re still developing them because we only started gigging in February so we haven’t had a chance to do much yet. We’ve got two keyboard players, Mikey and Mickey, who are going to stand on lightboxes on podiums, and a drummer, Will, who’s doing electronic percussion. I’ve been adamant that I want the shows to be more animated, so Will’s going to be standing to make it look more energetic – he’s a big part of making my dream come true.”

And, looking even further into the future to a time where the wave of female electro-pop has subsided, where do you see La Roux in ten years’ time? “I’d like to have sold a decent amount of records, and either be producing or writing under another name, doing a few gigs here and there, and hopefully be in a good relationship with someone I love, and be healthy. I think it would be unrealistic to think I’ll still be a performer, unless you’re someone like Madonna, but I could prove myself wrong. I really don’t think songwriters can be as talented ten, twenty years down the line as they were at the beginning. You have your best ideas at the start of your career – even David Bowie wouldn’t be able to come up with an album as good as ‘Young Americans’ or ‘Let’s Dance’ if he tried to do that now. So I’ll get the best out of myself that I can in the next five or six years that hopefully other people will like, and I’d love to get to arena stage, but I can’t imagine doing this for the rest of my life. I’m not a workaholic like Madonna!”

Words by Jenny Nelson