19 November 2011

Ology interview (2011)

Your favorite band are probably still reading the instruction manual for their new Minimoog, but Liverpool quartet Ladytron have been releasing effortlessly hip, old school analogue synthesizer pop for more than a decade. Their new album Gravity the Seducer (out tomorrow) is maybe their biggest stylistic leap forward yet—a seamless song cycle of evocative synth textures, haunting pop melodies, and, as always, the chilly future-sex vocals of singers Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo.

I spoke with founding member Daniel Hunt last week about the band's new album, the upcoming "Mirage" music video, and the return of the album as an artistic statement.

Hi Daniel, this is Brett at Ology. How are you doing?

Hi, I'm good, thanks!

What've you been up to today?

I've just been chilling out. We've actually been up in Scotland shooting a video for "Mirage" all week, which was interesting.

Your North American tour kicks off in a few weeks. How much time do you typically spend rehearsing before a major tour?

It depends. We've been playing shows already this summer. We just had a break in August, so we'll have a little refresh before we go out.

There are a lot of really dense, complicated textures on several of the new songs. Has it been a challenge translating them into the live setting?

Not really. I mean, we cross that bridge when we get to it. The most important thing for us has always been to make the records sound right. When we reproduce that live, we approach it in turn, and we've done it differently from tour to tour. There's no set way of approaching it, really. Depends on the set-up.

I read that you recorded the new album in the countryside in Kent. Did the environment have a direct effect on the writing or recording process?

No, not really, because we write and record for obviously a long period before we approach studios. I would say perhaps the choice of recording location was influenced by the material, rather than vice versa.

You chose to work with producer Simon "Barny" Barnicott again on this record. What did he bring to the table this time around?

We've worked with him off and on since 2002. The first thing he did was a single mix for "Blue Jeans"-- he used to be Jim Abbiss' assistant and mix engineer. We did a couple of single mixes and Witching Hour with them, and now he works alone and has a set-up out there in Kent. So it made sense, really-- we really like his mixing. He has a great set of ears and some interesting tricks… quite convoluted analogue techniques to getting certain things. We try to remain outside the digital realm as much as we can, as much as is possible. He and Jim Abbiss are both really great for that.

When you hunker down to write a new album, will you typically come up with a set direction or sound you want to pursue, or does it all come organically out of the songwriting?

You end up with a batch of material that you're working on and sometimes the sound of tracks kind of attract each other, in a way. Tracks become closer together sonically as things develop. I think that's one of the strengths of this record—it sounds very coherent, that was a conscious move on our part… as conscious as these things can be, obviously. A record like this definitely couldn't be planned mathematically.

I really love the sounds on "White Gold". Do you remember which synthesizers or keyboards you used on it?

You might be talking about the Conn organ. That's probably the most characteristic sound on it. Or else, there's a sound that sounds like a plucked guitar, which is actually hollow plastic pipes that are pitched… It sounds a bit like a guitar, comes in after the first chorus. That might be what you're talking about.

I think that "90 Degrees" might be my new favorite Ladytron song of all time. How did that song come together?

I'm glad you said that, that song's quite dear to me. I actually originally wrote that in Portuguese for my fiancé, and then translated it to English. It's a couple years older than the others. To me, that's like the heart of the record. I think that track was the seed for what developed elsewhere on the record.

I really love the "Ace of Hz" and "White Elephant" videos. I'm wondering, are visuals something you're thinking about when you're writing and recording, or do they come much later in the process?

It comes later in the process because, to be honest, almost all videos are just the director's representation of the song. Unless you're hands-on making the video yourselves, they're not part of the canon, they are something added on. Sometimes they work in their own way, or they somehow transcend the track alone, or whatever, but rarely are they actually part of the album's visual identity. So they can be standalone, but now we're getting a little bit closer to the album. For example, Neil Krug has made some video material for the record and Helen and I put together the concept for the video for "Mirage", which we've just been shooting with director Michael Sherrington. The "Blue Jeans" video was completely our thing, and we've had input before, but this one might be the first time where we feel like the video and the song have genuine synergy. But it's not finished yet, so we'll see how it turns out.

Ladytron have been pigeonholed as being a lot of different things by the music press over the years. Now that synthesizers are becoming much more of a mainstay in rock and pop music, do you feel like there's less of a tendency to label electronic bands into the different categories than there was when you were first starting out?

Yeah, I think to be honest, we bore the brunt of it. The focus on genre and this need to classify everything was something that we found… I wouldn't say we found it annoying, but we found it bemusing. It's like, why do things need a genre? And at the same time, why invent a convoluted genre for something that doesn't really have one? Why not just let things exist on their own? Why not just let an artist exist without a generic tag at all? Then again, it's just part of the marketing, it's just how records are sold. So we obviously understand why those genres need to be there mechanically, but in terms of journalism or the appreciation of music, we didn't really understand why they had to be there. We were very reticent to be tagged, which is unavoidable, but we resisted it as much as we could. I guess we don't mind these kind of tags as long as we think they're fair or they're accurate.

Sometimes I find it surprising when you read about records and the way they're described is just completely wrong. It's almost like people are reading aggregated feeds of information about something without actually listening to it and appreciating it. For example, reposting a video on your social networks or whatever before you've gone beyond the first 10 seconds. I feel like this is part of how music is appreciated now, and what I find is, more and more of my friends are switching off that side of things and are listening to records for the duration and stepping away from the feeds and the aggregation and the genres and the boxes.

A lot of music has been single-based for so long. I'm wondering, do you think there's maybe a retaliatory move towards making real albums again?

I think so and I hope so! There seemed to be this kind of defeatist attitude maybe five years ago. It was like, "Oh, f--k this, we're not making albums anymore, f--k it, nobody listens to them anyway, no one buys them anyway." And I think it was maybe an older generation of artists who just felt like all that effort wasn't appreciated and that digital market people only buy the key songs. That doesn't and shouldn't affect your own creative endeavor. People always have their favorites. Ten years ago, the majority of people would get a CD and have the tracks that they listen to and ignore the rest. You have to give your audience the benefit of the doubt that they are going to appreciate all of the stuff you're going to do and not assume they only want the singles. If that was the case, I'd just give up, it'd be pointless.