La Roux

Their sonic evolution revealed

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.”

– – –

– – –

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

Follow Clash

Buy Clash Magazine