Influences of early synth pop and electro are highly apparent in the music of Ladytron, but they are far from being a retro band. On their debut full length CD, 604, they successfully drew from the past to create a highly unique, futuristic sound. Their sonic palette often sounds like it could have been used to create an early '80s synth pop hit, but things would probably be much different today if bands from that era were able to create such infectious, sophisticated pop music as Ladytron.
Ladytron is comprised of Mira Aroyo (vocals/keyboards), Helen Marnie (vocals/keyboards), Daniel Hunt (keyboards/rhythm box) and Reuben Wu (keyboards/rhythm box). They recently released a new CD, Light & Magic.
The following is an email interview with Hunt.
How has Ladytron evolved from the initial formation to what we hear on 604?
We're more of a band, back then we hardly knew each other, it was all an experiment, we didn't know how things would progress. Now we have our setup better organized, our studio better equipped, for example we part-recorded "Movie" in a cheap studio in the same building as our label Invicta Hi-Fi. We wouldn't have to do that now, it's really liberating, to remove the time constraints of a studio and the opinions of the engineer from the process, to have indefinite time and space to record.
Where does the title 604 come from?
It's the area code for British Columbia... we're glad we've attached this strange importance to that number, it crops up everywhere now. We noticed when we stayed in Hamburg in Germany (in a hotel called "Commodore" - pure coincidence), that the number to phone reception from your room was '604'. Moments afterwards the building had caught fire and we were lucky to escape with our lives. I'm not joking.
What bands would you say most inspired you to make music, and who do you think had the biggest influence on Ladytron's sound?
Personally I can't remember, I suppose when I was a kid I was into Duran Duran and stuff like that, I got introduced to American electro like Mantronix, Newcleus, and Jonzun Crew through my older brother when I was about 10 years old. That was a massive influence, and I still listen to that stuff today, it has far greater mystique for me than English groups from that period.
Liverpool groups had some influence, Teardrop Explodes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood... later on in school I was into Jean Michel Jarre when the other kids were in their soft-metal phases... but I don't think any of these things made me WANT to make music, I think I just did anyway. I can't speak for the others obviously.
What are your favorite pieces of electronic musical equipment, and which do you think has the greatest effect on your sound and/or approach to composing music?
I love my Roland SH-09, it's all over the record. Mira loves her Korg MS-20, Reuben loves his Korg MS-10, But we record on a PowerMac, which has to be the most important item of kit actually. Steve Jobs gets a thank you on our album.
How would you compare the reaction you get from audiences in the various countries you've performed?
National stereotypes sometimes come out. I'd say Sweden was the most insane response so far, followed by Germany, the French are either ecstatic or very quiet, and the Spanish are narcofiends. We have enjoyed everywhere we've played so far, maybe because we never bother playing in England very much.
Do any members of the band have formal musical training?
Reuben and Helen have some classical training which has been completely disregarded in relation to this group. Their parents should be very proud after all that expensive tuition they paid for.
What's you approach to live performance? Do you have some backing sequences fixed, or are you able to play (or at least manipulate) everything live?
We play everything live but obviously we use drum machines and some bass sequences occasionally, things that are physically impossible to play, it would be pointless us trying to use a drummer and a bassplayer live just to fit into peoples preconceptions of what a band should be. We like the fact that our live setup is so different.
Do you think at all about live performance when you are writing/recording songs?
Not at all. I sometimes think "this would be good to play live" maybe, but I wouldn't want to limit our recordings by worrying about how to perform a song, live shows are momentary, records last forever.
How quickly do you tend to write/record? What does the ratio tend to be in terms of time spent composing, crafting sounds, and doing vocals?
Writing/recording/rehearsing is a single process for us, but personally, my songs knock about in my head for as long as possible before they're committed to tape in any way, as soon as you play a keyboard line, I feel like it has been defined, so I try and let the whole song develop in my head over weeks or months before I start building it up. It can happen very quickly, "The Way That I Found You" - Helen had sung that song once, before we got the take that's on the record, the song itself only emerged a week before we mixed the album.
Do you ever find that the electronic musical equipment gives you TOO MUCH control over things, to the point that you're not sure if a song is done?
You just need to keep stepping back and listening, I rarely tinker with something needlessly, I like our directness, I don't want to lose that simplicity on a track just because it's lived with us in our studio for a few months. It can ruin great tunes, you need to discipline yourself, it's the flipside of what I said earlier, sometimes you need to just turn off and go home.
You seem to be in a unique position because there's a heavy early '80s synth pop influence, yet at the same time you have a sound very much your own. What do you think the pros and cons are of people making the association?
Pros: a reference point. Cons: having to justify your existence every step of the way, I think it will not be an issue by the time we release our next album. We also get associated with groups we don't really feel any affinity with.
Our final word is always that we have some influences and instruments from that period, which we use to generate our version of right now.
How do you feel about the recent returns of such early '80s electronic pop bands as Soft Cell and Book of Love?
I suppose it's a little elevated over the cabaret circuit, I'd love to see Soft Cell live, but it's just the past, I hate seeing my idols looking torn down, onstage, caked in foundation...
What's in the immediate future for Ladytron?
European festivals, US Tour, "Playgirl" single, recording next album, laptops on the beach.