18 May 2014

Jim DeRogatis interview (2006)

While the democratization and rapid distribution of music via the Internet has been a boon to many independent bands, there's no denying that it's compromised the ability of groups to grow organically over time, crafting a sound that improves from album to album.

"It's actually pretty rare for a band these days to develop over three albums, because people just expect that it will be here and then it's gone", says Ladytron keyboardist and vocalist Daniel Hunt. "The appetite for indie rock at the moment is so voracious that things are just getting soaked up faster than they can be produced. A band like the Arctic Monkeys comes out straight away and has such a big success on the Internet, they're barely even given the chance to make their first album, let alone a third!".

Taking its name from Roxy Music and drawing inspiration from the strangely non-mechanical sounds of early synth-pop artists such as Kraftwerk, Gary Numan and Devo as well as vintage '60s pop, Ladytron was formed in Liverpool in 1999 by Hunt and fellow club DJ Reuben Wu, who recruited Bulgarian vocalist-keyboardist Mira Aroyo and vocalist-keyboardist Helen Marnie.

The group has yet to broach the mainstream, and its music is a treasured secret for a dedicated underground following. In addition to numerous singles and EPs, Ladytron has given us three full albums of exquisitely crafted, unforgettably melodic electronic pop: 604 (2001), Light & Magic (2002) and Witching Hour (2005).

"We had been on tour for a long time with Light & Magic, and we had the opportunity to continue touring it -- Marilyn Manson asked us to support him on tour; things like that. We had made some progress, but we were quite naive, especially about the USA, because we did one tour here [in 2003] and a trip around Coachella and thought, 'That's enough. We've done it now; we've sold out the Henry Fonda [Theater] in L.A.' We skipped all of the crappy little shows that people normally have to do".

"We wanted to get off tour and start the next record, because we thought that was more important. But in retrospect, the record was delayed so much that we could have toured for longer with the last one. We just wanted to get back into the studio and demonstrate what we could do; we already found with the previous albums that we liked them, but we knew we could make something closer to what we heard in our heads".

Witching Hour is indeed the group's strongest offering yet, with songs such as "International Dateline" standing as perfectly realized pop gems. The disc has an overall darker vibe that makes the gorgeous vocals and indelible melodies seem even more mysterious and seductive.

"I think it's more emotional", Hunt says. "I don't know if you've seen a little film of when we went to China -- just some footage that a friend took -- but she started the video with 'The Last One Standing' and ended with us playing 'USA vs. White Noise' live in Shanghai. She said that she took it in the opposite direction of how she perceived the album: as stark, pretty and solid, and then becoming more emotional.

"I was watching TV the other day and there was a documentary about illegal immigrants trying to get from West Africa to the UK I thought, 'God, this is really, really sad', and then I realized they had 'All the Way...' as the music underneath it!".

As for "International Dateline", Hunt says the tune came together in the group's new home studio, which eschews computers in favor of older, more distinctive analog synthesizers and instruments.

"I had this really bad little Casio keyboard that I actually bought for five pounds off a Chinese guy in a cafe. It had this really nice distorted sound, and you could only play two notes at once because it wasn't polyphonic. It was a bit like [the punk-era electronic duo] Suicide. The song just came about with the chord sequence from the keyboards; there were variances with the vocals, then the guitar part went on it, and that turned it into what it is now. The lyrics just came pretty instantaneously".

This underscores a common misperception about the band: despite its futuristic image and fondness for fanciful sci-fi instrumentation, Ladytron maintains the spontaneous spirit of all great rock bands, and unlike many electronic groups, its focus is always on songs rather than sounds.

"I think with this record, a lot of people who have had the opinion of us as automatons before might have revived it", Hunt says. "Sometimes people can only go on what they've heard, their perceptions of it and things they read. And I feel similarly: if someone described a band to me that was all about style over content, I would just be going, 'I am going to murder them!' But that's not us at all".

21 April 2006