Q & A: Helen Marnie From Ladytron
Last month, we played our interview with Helen Marnie of Ladytron fame on TYCI radio. Here is a transcript of the interview.
SO, HELEN. YOU'RE BACK IN GLASGOW.
I moved back about October last year. I'm still settling is since it was so busy over Christmas. I'd been in London for about 12 years, then I decided to move back home. It's definitely very different to London. In London, everything is on your doorstep and really accessible, whereas in Glasgow you need to hunt for things a little bit more, but I love Glasgow. The people are great and I'm slowly starting to fit back in. It just takes time.
YOU'RE WORKING ON YOUR FIRST SOLO ALBUM JUST NOW. WHERE ARE YOU AT WITH THAT?
I'm kind of behind where I should be. I'm a bit pissed off since I thought I'd be further along by now. I'm actually doing a Pledge Music campaign to raise funds and get the record out there as it's obviously a very expensive process, but I hope people aren't too upset when they hear they'll have to wait a little bit longer.
GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT...
Hopefully so. I just want it to be as good as it can be, and I hope everyone understands that.
HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT MAKING THE RECORD?
I recorded the demos all myself but I'm a bit of a technophobe so can only take things so far. I then got a couple of producers involved, one from Ladytron and one based in Iceland, and I went out there to record it.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE ALBUM.
It's quite broad but plays on the themes of ‘the elements', implied and used in ways throughout the album. I would say it's quite pop – way more so than Ladytron, but I wanted it like that. I feel like I'm often the most pop element in Ladytron. As for titles, I'm not sure how much you're meant to give away...
SOME PEOPLE TELL YOU NOTHING, SO DON'T FEEL FORCED. WE'RE NOT THAT KIND OF OUTFIT...
No, it's OK! There's a song called Submariner, which is very personal and emotional to me. Hearts On Fire is another exclusive too.
YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST. TYCI, MAKING WAVES. GOING BACK TO THE START OF YOUR CAREER, HOW DID YOU GET INTO MUSIC IN THE FIRST PLACE?
I wasn't that cool when I was younger. I didn't listen to what you would class as cool stuff like My Bloody Valentine or house music. I was a bit too young for that at the time and good into that stuff later. I started playing the piano when I was about eight – classically trained – and then I was always into music and drama at school. I had a short stint at Glasgow uni when I was 17. I got into uni to do music but when I went for the interview, I decided I wouldn't do music, I would do something else. I'm not telling you what I ended up doing but I didn't last there, so I took about six months off and then decided music was what I wanted to do. I went to Liverpool University where I studied popular music and that's where I met the rest of Ladytron towards the end of my degree.
BEFORE WE DID THIS INTERVIEW, SO MANY PEOPLE GOT IN TOUCH TO SAY HOW MUCH THEY STILL RATE LADYTRON.
It's great. It's kind of surprising to me sometimes how many people have heard of us! We did really well in some places, but they never really got us as much in the UK. In a way, it's nice to have that kind of anonymity back home because I don't think I could handle it otherwise. I mean, there have been a few occasions – I got offered free cake in Starbucks once about ten years ago – but I think we have the best of both worlds.
WILL LADYTRON BE BACK AT ANY POINT?
Yes, definitely. That was a worry for the rest of the band when I decided to do the solo album – that people would think we're splitting up, so I've tried to stress all along the way that we're still together. We're just taking a year out to do things. We're all moving around – I've moved here, one guy is in America, one guys has moved to Brazil, so we're just using that time to take a step back before making a new album.
YOU WERE SAYING YOUR NEW STUFF IS VERY POP. IS IT STILL ELECTRO-BASED?
I wanted it to be electronic, yes. Having been in Ladytron for so long, it's just natural for me to want to do that but I think it possibly has more of a folk edge. It's got a softer, more gentle edge than what I've done with Ladytron. There's ‘real' instruments and piano as well, as well as synths.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT WRITING?
I have got a little set up at home and I just have a midi keyboard and a basic vocal setup. That's how it all starts – I'll write a complete demo at home that gets so far and if I think it's good, I'll work on it in the studio to make it into something more official.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS WRITTEN FOR YOUR OWN PROJECTS, OR HAVE YOU WRITTEN FOR OTHER PEOPLE AS WELL?
There's been a couple of things but I'm not sure if they ever saw the light of day… I've had a couple of things come past me that just haven't been right. I would be open to writing for other people – maybe I've grown a bit in confidence by doing my own thing and I'm completely in control which feels good.
I went back to Iceland in November and I was working on a song with my co-producer and we were working on a song together from scratch which was something completely new for me. Even with Ladytron, one person will write at home and then throw it to someone else to put a melody down or do some instrumentals. I was really shit scared about this – I didn't know what to expect but in the end, he's such a cool guy, that made me really relaxed so we were just bouncing stuff off each other which was new and I quite enjoyed that.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE RISE IN POPULARITY OF NEW FEMALE-FRONTED ELECTRO ACTS LIKE GRIMES AND AUSTRA?
I think it's great. I'm all for more girls doing it. When we first started doing it, there wasn't very many girls on the scene, especially in electronic acts. When Ladytron first started out, it was mostly indie guitar bands in Liverpool so we were quite unusual in that we were electronic, as well as having two girls fronting it which was very unusual at the time.
DO YOU THINK THAT THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS A BIT OF A BOY'S CLUB?
I'm not sure that's so true now. Yes, the majority of bands are boys and fronted by guys but behind the scenes, there's a lot of women writing for people, and a lot of the bigger acts like Christina Aguilera and Katy Perry are women who have a lot of influence. Occasionally yeah, you'll meet an arsehole, but generally if people think you're making good music, they want to be a part of that. I've never had any problems in the industry just because of the fact that I am a girl.
THAT'S GOOD NEWS. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE WANTING TO PROGRESS IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
It's hard because at the moment it's quite saturated. I'm always quite embarrassed when I meet new people and they ask me what I do and I say, “I'm in a band”. I feel like the must be rolling their eyes – or maybe it's me who's rolling my eyes, because it seems like everyone is in a band now. Nowadays, it's all so accessible that you can do it yourself. If you've got a laptop and some software, then you should be able to produce something to a standard where it can be heard by other people in demo form.
When Ladytron first started, we didn't go down the conventional route. We didn't do any gigs at all. We made all the music and then got airplay on Steve Lamacq and John Peel and that's how we got noticed. I'm not sure if that's how it would happen now but I always felt like a lot of bands just gigged constantly in pubs but weren't getting any exposure outside of that. You need to send your music to people who are in a position to play it. Gigging obviously gets you into a position, once you have been noticed, to have all your stuff together and play it but it doesn't necessarily get you out there, so I would approach things like radio and get a manager.
AND WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE YEAR – FINISHING THE ALBUM? PLAYING SOME SHOWS?
Yes – we'll get the album finished soon (although not as soon as it should be!). I'm not sure what will happen. Will people like it? And if they do like it, will I have to play gigs? It'll be good but I'll be scared...