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Interview: Dragonette

Mar 22 2012

What is there to say about Dragonette that hasn’t been said before? The trio from Toronto has been in my musical repertoire since their first album, Galore, released in 2007 and are a group that continues to shape my personal musical tastes. Five years and two albums later, Dragonette has proved that they are no longer up and coming but that they’ve officially arrived. The band’s music can best be described as delightful electropop with retro tendencies with sassy lyrics to match. Their music’s mean dirty synth driven sound oozes sex appeal and has gotten the remix treatment from almost any DJ/producer you can think of – Midnight Juggernauts, Villains, Fabian, Van She, etc. It also helps that Martina has a standout voice (and style to match) that can be either sticky sweet as in “Easy” or gritty and raw as in the track “The Boys.” Now Martina, Dan and Joel have wrapped up putting the finishing touches on their third album and if their first two releases are any indication of how this album will sound, it too will be filled with anthems for the dance floor. So do a few lunges and limber up because you’ll be throwing your hands up and shaking your hips.

I had the opportunity to sit down with all three band members to talk about the new album, their creative process, and Paul Simon. There were a lot of laughs, and jokes and playful banter weren’t in short supply.

What do you guys like to talk about and share with fans on Twitter?
Dan: Well we’ve talked with each other about how it’s kind of hard to figure out what to share. Tweeting is like jumping into a cold pool – it’s easier once you get in there. But like, what the hell do you tweet about? “Look what I had for lunch” or “this is what I look like in the morning.”

You guys are originally from Toronto but where are you based out of now?
Martina: Toronto and London.
Dan: Joel runs the Toronto office and we live in London, England, as opposed to London, Ontario, which is a real place. We’re playing there next week.

Do you feel like your environment, the city you’re in, influences or inspires you musically?
Dan: I guess so, though it’s kind of hard to tell cause you’re never out of your environment to have the perspective of knowing what your environment is doing to you.
Martina: Our musical process I think is in a bit of a vacuum compared to how I imagine some people’s creative process is. We’re not really part of a music scene anywhere.

So what music are you listening to currently?
Dan: Martina listened to one record the entire period we were making our album. It was a Phoebe Snow record and it has nothing to do with anything that came out of us. Literally it was like “let’s turn on the turntable and listen to the vinyl on the stereo.”
Martina: I find that when we’re writing I think I’m more inspired by hearing something that’s really different from our sound and then thinking about how that would work in conjunction with what we do. Like hearing an old 70s smooth music track and thinking, “what would happen if we tried incorporating this into an electropop track?” But really there’s not a clear line to what we do.

Besides Phoebe Snow, are there any other records you’ve guys been playing on heavy rotation?
Dan: In the last couple of months I couldn’t get enough of the Drive soundtrack, the Kavinsky track in particular, and I think a lot of people probably feel the same way. It actually worked out really cause when we were mixing our record in France, the guys we worked with also worshipped the sound of that record and I think it had an influence on how we finished it. That was kind of the most direct cause and effect of listening to something. But beyond that, there was nothing really on heavy rotation. Joel’s actually the guy that listens to new music and knows to say, “oh these are the four bands we’re listening to right now.”

Did you guys check out anyone in particular while you were here?
Joel: No we’ve really just been playing shows and trying to find parking.
Dan: We have checked out a lot of restaurants though so if you’d like to know what they are listening to in there, we can tell you about it!

So you guys have been together since 2005 and have released two (really awesome) albums, Galore and Fixin to Thrill, and just finished your third one. The first single on the third album, “The Right Woman,” just dropped recently on International Women’s Day. Can you tell us any more about the album and what to expect?
Martina: Yeah that release worked out well didn’t it!
Dan: Yeah it was so cool to get the reaction to that cause it was a very fast, organic thing that happened. We didn’t write the track for that specific thing, it was one of the very last tracks we did for the record, and kind of an odd woman out (pun intended). But it got a really cool response from people, which was encouraging cause we worked a really long time on this record since we were touring a lot at the same time. So it was good to see that people like the teasers and that song, which is encouraging cause there are a lot of other good songs on the record. It’s very much a Dragonette record-there’s a lot of variety, especially since it took 18 months to write. We changed our whole body style a couple times during that whole period.

How did you know when the record was finished?
Dan: Got twelve songs, the record’s done.
Martina: Well apparently it’s not quite finished yet.
Dan: Yeah we need lucky thirteen. According to ourselves we need to write another song. We struggled really hard to figure out what we were doing with this album and I think finally, Martina in particular figured out ok this is what I want to do and write about and we were off from there.

Would you say there’s an overall theme to the album?
Martina: Haha no, there never is though. If Dragonette has a sound or if there’s anything consistent about us, it’s that we’re consistently inconsistent.

Martina, what comes first for you – the melody or the lyrics?
Sometimes the lyrics but mostly the melody. Like when I’m writing a song it starts out sounding like this ::starts singing a tune:: I’m just singing random, it sounds like zulu. Sometimes I finds words within that like, “oh that sounds like ‘Gallagher!’ I like that.” There’s a lot of lyrics that just happen, that’s how “Let It Go” was written. Melodies to me are always easier than lyrics, but I think they’re both important. As far as when I’m listening to music that’s not ours, I think a boring lyric doesn’t help a good melody and a boring melody doesn’t help a good lyric. I think they both want to be exciting.

Is there anyone that you admire as a lyricist?
Martina: I like Santigold a lot.
Dan: …and you like Paul Simon.
Martina: Paul Simon is the best.
Dan: That’s something Tina listened to a lot of and is actually a big influence on the lyrics and the melody of the album. Paul Simon’s great with the kind of non-traditional format that’s not so obviously verse-chorus-verse-chorus and his play on words that happen just once and are never repeated.
Martina: He’s the king.

Yeah there was an article in Rolling Stone that profiled Paul Simon’s writing process. It was a sheet of notebook paper with verses crossed out and words written over where you could see his thought process. It was quite cool.
Joel: Yeah I saw him talk about his writing process on one of those VH1 classic albums. He still hates one verse or line in “Graceland” that drives him nuts every time he hears it but to anyone else it’s genius.
Dan: Hateful Grammy award winning genius.
Martina: Yeah it’s funny, sometimes there’s a lot of lyrics of ours off Fixin to Thrill and I’m sure on this album where I think “I’m not sure if I like this lyric but I need to just let it slide.” And as the album lives in the world for a while or I post-rationalize them they can become my favorite lyrics, But they do morph.

What has your career highlight been?
Joel: This interview! <– good answer
Dan: When we played Lollapalooza we thought, “Oh now we can play shows in America,” and that was really cool. It’s the sum of a few things when you think about all the crazy places we’ve got to go and play shows at; when you feel like you have purpose to be somewhere.
Martina: For me it’s hard to pinpoint a specific thing but I’m constantly thinking, “is this a real job or am I a hobbyist?” And then all of a sudden you’re like, “oh this is my job and I’m a musician and people come to see us play.” And I think feeling that transition and that security in what we do has been the highlight of the last few years.
Dan: Yes the creeping realization that this is what we actually do for a living.
Martina: And it might not be what we always do! It might not last.
Joel: See that scares me.
Martina: Yeah cause I have no back up plan!
Dan: Joel’s back up plan is a lounge pianist, he said he’s already working on it.
Joel: On my downtime I learn a new standard a week, basically. So yeah I’m working toward it.
Martina: You’re fired.

Martina you could be a fashion model or stylist!
Martina: Haha except I’m not on the up and up of style really.

…But of course you all look great.
Dan: Yeah just so you get that in the interview just hold the mic over my t-shirt for a minute…did everybody catch that?