Ladytron's image of frosty European hauteur and black-clad cool is crumpled somewhat by the fact that they are the clumsiest band in Britain. "One time we came on stage to 'Paranoid' by Black Sabbath", recalls Mira Aroyo, a Bulgarian geneticist who recently completed her PhD at Oxford University. "It was going to be our great moment, but I tripped over the monitors. Then Danny came out and landed on top of me. Our tour manager had to pick us up and place us in front of our synthesizers".
"It's a common problem", Helen Marnie accepts. She recalls the time when Mira tried to solve a problem with her synthesiser on stage with a screwdriver, and yanked it so hard that it flew backwards and hit band member Danny Hunt in the face". There was blood everywhere, and that screwdriver could have gone in his eye. Imagine if we had actually killed him on stage! That would have been awful".
It's a Monday afternoon, and the neatly turned-out female members of Ladytron are drinking Bailey's from champagne glasses in Mira's Shoreditch flat. Piles of records are stacked up against the minibar, and Helen has brought along a few of her favourites to play over the course of the afternoon. Amongst them are Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' and Belinda Carlisle's 'Heaven Is a Place on Earth'. "That's me when I was younger", says Helen, who is a classically trained pianist. "Michael Jackson - why not? I would wake up, get ready for school, and listen to The Bangles, Carly Simon and ABBA. Then when I got older and more sophisticated, it was Madonna and Michael Jackson".
"I grew up with Woody Guthrie and Neil Young because that was what my parents liked, but I used to listen to the Birthday Party before school, mainly to annoy them", says Mira, whose musical tastes are a little darker than those of her fellow band member". I listened to Sonic Youth a lot too, and 'Surrender' by Cheap Trick. It's real high-school rock, and it was the thing that all the cool boys liked, along with Black Sabbath". Helen and Mira share a fondness for Jeff Wayne's epic concept album, The War of the Worlds. "Danny and I slept in Jeff Wayne's studio one night for some reason", says Mira. "We were looking at this album cover before we went to bed and we both had nightmares. But it's the campest combination ever: Victorian gentlemen and Martians".
"I like Watership Down as well", offers Helen, innocently. All four members of Ladytron like pure pop with a dark edge. The evidence for this is on Light & Magic, the album they recently completed in Los Angeles, recording in a cockroach-infested, granite-walled studio with a pool outside. "LA is very much like a David Lynch movie", says Mira. "It's a strange place, because you can't go for a walk there - as soon as you stop by the traffic lights, some freak starts hassling you".
The LA trip made the band, who had previously been steeped in European culture, realise that much of their shared influences have come from the States. "'Be My Baby' by The Ronettes is probably the song that really does it for us, because it is so simple while working perfectly", says Helen. "We all like Phil Spector, and what brought us together in the first place was the idea of combining synthesizers with traditional pop structures, hooks and melodies. Our American producer showed us that Shannon made electronic music that was just as good as Kraftwerk or The Normal".
Mira and Helen have records by a host of female singers, among them Dolly Parton, Joni Mitchell, Nancy Sinatra and Kate Bush. "Kate Bush is amazing, there's no one like her", says Helen. "As for Joni Mitchell, she's one for the girls. Boys just can't understand her".
Mira pulls out a decrepit copy of Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs, its corrugated cover a result of being left out in the rain when she was at university. "My favourite ever record", she says. "There's something very English about it. Barrett did a song called 'Have You Got It Yet?' with Pink Floyd, in which he kept changing the time signatures over the course of a few days, and all he said as they practised was, 'Have you got it yet?' He's meant to be mad, but moments like that make it clear he had some sort of genius".
Serge Gainsbourg is another favourite. Mira and Helen recount the tale of Gainsbourg appearing on television, drunk and dishevelled, with a prim Whitney Houston, who was less than impressed with his unsubtle seduction technique. Mira went to see Jane Birkin, Gainsbourg's former lover and co-singer on 'Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus', a couple of years ago at a London concert. "I really, really love Jane Birkin, and it was a bit disappointing really because she only did one song".