13 April 2011

The Gearwire interview (2006)

Ladytron debuted in 2001, with the album, 604. Since then, the foursome has crafted moody electronic anthems which can be heard on everything from college radio playlists to overhead music programming at Old Navy.

It's hard to imagine parents with their toddlers grooving along while shopping to songs with names like "Destroy Everything You Touch," and while the group's latest, Witching Hour, has a definite apocalyptic feel, it's obvious those Old Navy shoppers are oblivious to the subject matter, lost in finely crafted electronic bliss.

Ladytron's Danny Hunt says the group usually tagged with an "electro pop" handle, and while Hunt says that may be technically correct, but "pop" and "electro" are genres far too limiting for his taste.

"We're shy of any generic term because we started this group to exist outside of any genres," said Hunt, "They kind of creep up on you though, which is why its important to keep moving and experimenting. When we're being copied or placed in a pigeonhole, we just move another step."

Ladytron seems to have eyes fixed squarely on the future, but for their mix of robotic synth noises, precision drumming, and haunting vocals, the group takes a step backwards in time, not forward.

"We use predominantly old analogue synths, and synth drum sounds, we feed them through other analogue effects." Hunt says. "We use treated guitars and drums too, we like to feel that we're not shackled, that we can act instinctively against advice or expectation, and be ultimately vindicated by the end product."

Ladytron isn't completely stuck in analog mode, but the group has had its share of problems with more modern gear. The group's early flirtation with computers on stage produced mixed results. "In the days when we used to run drums from a laptop, Ableton live, which had served us well for a year straight, decided to re-serialize during sound check in Barcelona. There was no net connection, so we had to dial up through a cellphone back home, to carry out the challenge-response to get a new serial number." Hunt added, "That's the thanks you get for using legal software."

Ladytron's members pride themselves on blurring the distinction between one instrument and another. To this end, the group has an elaborate setup which harkens back to the days of prog rock excess.

"At the moment we have 7 keyboards with us, plus bass, guitar, drums, syn-drums, that is a lot of gear, it's practically Emerson Lake & Palmer, but this is because we play everything live."

Hunt is adamant that creating every single note on stage is much more interesting that taking the easy way out with backing tracks and other on-stage "enhancements". "It wouldn't be any fun for us. When using live drums we always use the original sounds from the record, amazing how much difference that makes."

How does Ladytron work up their live act? After four albums, Hunt says on-stage experience guides the decision-making process.

"We pick the songs that make the most sense live, the latest album 'Witching hour' was written having toured the previous album extensively, so we knew more about playing live, more of what worked, and what to concentrate on, but it is always an ongoing process."

"At the beginning, 6 years ago," Hunt adds, "We had a few synths and a DAT player, we didn't have the resources or the perspective. We felt like live shows were secondary, now we feel they are integral. There is some footage of really basic live shows from 2001 out there online, it is a thousand percent better five years on."

Ladytron's growing pains as a touring unit has given Hunt plenty of wisdom to offer newcomers to the tour circuit.

"Work within the tools at your disposal, look at all the gear you have, not just what you use, and establish whether it can do anything at all to enhance." Hunt says re-purposing old gear can be a huge revelation for a group's live act. "Old effects [can be] used for purposes and instruments other than the intended [uses]. There is lots of cheap gear available now, and very portable."

Hunt takes the opposite approach when recording in the studio. He says smaller is better, but he doesn't always take his own advice. "Bringing and using only the gear you absolutely need, not plugging in effects you never use for example, but to be honest, we're suckers for noise-outs so I never compromise in that regard."

The group's 2006 schedule has been quite busy, with shows in California, Bogota, and Chile, just to name a few. Witching Hour was followed by an extended-play remix disc, and the first three releases have been re-issued on vinyl. There seems to be an unlimited supply of Ladytron at the moment. Only Hunt and company know when they will be ready to head back into the studio to work on new material, but for the moment, the fans have plenty of back catalogue to get through.