Progress Report: Ladytron's Daniel Hunt discusses the group's fantastic new album Gravity the Seducer and examines the relative joys and pains of making music with the same band for well over a decade.
Since releasing their first EP in 1999, Ladytron have consistently conjured up seamlessly beautiful electro-pop equally suitable for dance floors and séances. Earlier this year the band released Best of 00-10 — a sprawling 33 track deluxe treatment documenting the band's excellent first decade. This October they will release their fifth studio album, Gravity the Seducer — a moody, sensual, cool-as-ice collection of songs that should further cement their position of contemporary music's finest purveyors of erudite pop music. We called up founding member Daniel Hunt to discuss.
Hey Daniel! What part of the world are you in right now?
I'm in Liverpool. It's good to be back home for a while.
I'm in NY right now, where the temperature is approximately 1000 degrees today.
Oh I wish! We've had our four days of summer here. This is my first British summer here for years, so I'm making the most of it.
What can you say about the making of this album? Was it a vastly different experience from previous albums?
It felt a little bit easier because the three previous albums, the previous one in particular, we ended up touring for a long time. We toured Witching Hour for way longer than we were expecting to and we were literally off the road for about a week before we were already in the studio. Obviously we already had material written prior to that so it wasn't like we were working for scratch. But it also wasn't like there was a lot of time to go and live normally and recharge and whatever. This one we actually finished a year ago and it was mixed and mastered in October. The delay here is really just an issue of scheduling. We had a "best of" compilation out at the time, so it didn't make sense to release this new record so soon. We have been sitting on it for a while, I'm just glad people are able to hear some of it already because we were dying to get it out there.
That must feel strange. There is always that weird limbo period between when something is finished and the time it actually gets released.
Yeah, it was probably more acute this time because I had just came away with such a good feeling about the record and I was desperate to hear it. It has been quite frustrating to us. But we came away with a really good feeling about it, I think looking at it a year later and as objectively as I can, it is definitely our most coherent piece of work. It's definitely the least, I don't know how to say this without misleading, but you know previously we may have had one eye on making sure some kind of commercial "boxes" we needed to check. Even if it wasn't overt, we would still have some sort of eye on thinking about what might happen with certain tracks commercially or whatever. I think that's as much as my band would admit to. I think that this time we didn't do it at all to be honest and the end result was something that we all were happier with … so it will be interesting to see how it is received. I just feel that as soon as you step away from those kinds of constraints things get so much better … but obviously with the way things are these days, I don't quite blame people for kind of playing it safe in that respect. Once you step away from that, I don't know, the quality of work increases and you got to give the audience the benefit of the doubt that they will appreciate that and that they will appreciate the development and appreciate the extra levels of work. The best thing I can do to gauge this is to play it to my friends and the response so far has been really positive … so I'm happy.
Well the record has a very seamless quality to it. I mean it seems very much of a piece.
That was what we wanted. That is the kind of record we wanted to make. There's still a lot of variation in it though. Our albums in the past have been quite intentionally disjointed and they worked to a point in that way, but this one is way more coherent. There are still quite the extremes, you know. For example "90 Degrees" and "Melting Ice" appear very close together on the record, but they basically represent the two extremes in terms of styles on the record. When it comes to the structure of it — the sequence and everything — we are old fashioned, we are traditionalists, we like the idea of people sitting and listening to records all the way through which is not a particularly fashionable viewpoint these days but we don't know how else to do it.
How was the record recorded? Do you guys have your own studio now?
Yeah. We've always had our own studio, but when we think things are about 60-70% finished, we take it somewhere else to complete the recording. We did the first album in Wales, the second one we did in L.A, for the third one we remained in Liverpool, the fourth one we did in Paris and this one we did in Kent with Barny Barnicott. He now has his own house in the countryside where he moved a studio from London that was closing down — he basically got all the gear from there and transplanted it in the middle of the country. When we made it we all lived in different places: three members of the band were living in London, while I was living in Italy until two months ago. So, the idea of us having a studio as a home base wasn't really applicable.
That does change things. When everyone lives in different cities you really have to plan. It's not like you just turn up in the afternoons and jam and see what happens.
Exactly, but we have never really done that to be honest. We have always lived all over. Now there's three of us in London. At the very beginning there was three in Liverpool, and I think that was the closest we have all ever lived within proximity including the house in Italy for almost five years. The last two records were made while I was up there.
Has your process as a band changed radically over the years? How do you guys tend to write music? Do you all write together? Does everyone bring their own bits and you sort of play around with them?
Yeah, everyone brings their own bits in — either complete tracks, or it's like 'I brought a song in and it needs working up and producing' or 'here is an instrumental that doesn't have a vocal.' You know, here's part of something that needs something else. It's different every time. I think that what has developed over time is that everyone is a lot more confident with putting in all these completed demos to work from. At the very beginning it was more my responsibility to tie everything together. It still kind of was with this record, in terms of bringing the threads together. But everyone is a lot more confident in the studio now, so I guess that's just development naturally over time. It's not really any conscious change in process, just getting better at it and not wasting time on the things that don't really make a difference — like concentrating on the actual sounds rather then this musical alchemy.
Its interesting thinking back to when I first saw you guys play in New York which was in the early-2000's I guess and when the Best Of compilation came out it really made me think about how long you've been doing this. I bought 604 right after I moved to NYC. I was a baby!
That's why we released the compilation: to make everyone feel old.
Is it hard to believe that you guys have been making music together for well over a decade now?
Well, yes. I kind of resent "best of" compilations in general. I was thinking back and there have been some compilations that felt important in a band's back catalogue when it didn't just seem like repackaging old songs for commercial purposes but it actually felt important. For example, Songs To Learn And Sing for Echo and the Bunnymen. It was kind of like ushering in the second wave of their audience. The Smiths compilations, for example. I guess I'm thinking of mostly bands from the '80s. Anyhow, we thought, well there is a positive way of doing this and since we've been together so long, there was probably a lot of our audience who wasn't even aware of the majority of our material. So we made a choice of putting together a compilation that we felt was immediate and wasn't just a selection of singles. We put the tracks that we thought should have been singles even if they weren't and often they correlated with the tracks that were well liked amongst our audience, so that made sense. And also it was a chance to draw a line in the sand, really. I mean this new record is different. It still sounds like us but it is different. You know the last thing we want to do is to be making the same record. It was nice to be able to put what we've done in a new context — over ten years of work — that had some benefit beyond trying to just sell some records.
I think its cool that as a band you have a really great trajectory in terms of building on the strength of each successive album. It seems like you have developed a really devoted fan base that has grown very organically, which is not easy to do now. I feel like it's harder and harder for bands to do that now, not only because we're even more obsessed with only what is "new" now more than ever, but also because there are just so many bands … and thanks to the internet, we are inundated with hearing about all of them all the time.
Yeah, that is certainly part of it. I like to think that we've done things in a good way and were lucky to have our audience... but there is that aspect of saturation. I was talking to someone else about this in another interview recently. When we began, we were witnessing the beginning of changes within the industry, so we sort of experienced the tail-end of "how things were" and also the benefits and drawbacks of "how things became." But this is something that we realized pretty early on. With Witching Hour, for example: It is often thought of as our best record, I think it is in a way and I really like it, though I actually prefer the new one. What people don't understand is that we were touring that record for two years and we had been completely orphaned by our label, so we didn't have any marketing whatsoever besides a couple of copies being let out in the first months. What we found and what kept us going was that we went on tour. The tour we did in the states in 2006, we were told by our management that it wouldn't work and it wasn't viable and we went and did two sellout tours across the States and Canada with absolutely no backup at all and it made us realize how things had changed. And not just for us. The audience was clearly there, but it was still not apparent to the old-school industry people... even though we were seeing it with our own eyes. That changed a lot for us, it made us realize that we could keep on touring and making records as long as we found it fun, which is obviously quite a fortunate position to be in.
How will it be touring this record?
I'm looking forward to it. We made a conscious decision to not do so much because we really hammered the last two records. We wanted to just limit how much we did to give ourselves more chance to breathe. Obviously that means we can't play everywhere and it is a shame sometimes, but often that's not our decision. It's basically down to promoters. For example we've got no Texas gigs on this U.S tour. I know it can be quite frustrating for our audience. We decided to be a bit more careful this time because I think it was basically from 2005 to 2009 where we just hammered it, where we were never off the road.
It's hard to have a real life outside of that.
It gets difficult. This is part of the problem now: the pressure on musicians. There's this assumption that its all fine because everyone just goes on tour and they make their living that way but really you are up against every other band now. Every other band now that ever existed and is still alive and on tour. And there's only so many venues and so much money to go around and also it's like, if you're going to be doing this, what's the point if you've got no life at home? So it also puts a pressure on the creativity. No one is going to make good records if they are on tour for 10 months a year. So we've been lucky enough to look at that situation and make some choices, which has helped us. We have seen both sides. We've basically done that for four or five years, so we are going to pick and choose from now on.
The record is out in September. What will happen next for you?
Our North American tour starts in Mexico, and then through the U.S and Canada in September to October, and then we have a little bit of a break, and then it looks like we are doing South America and Australia and New Zealand and maybe a little bit of Asia before we hit Christmas and then... well, then we will deserve a rest.