I still remember the first time I heard Electrelane. I was in my favorite record store in my hometown Rochester, NY, when the store manager Leilani told me there was something I absolutely had to hear. She popped in The Power Out, the sophomore effort by this all-girl band from Brighton, England. I was skeptical at first because to Americans like me an all-girl band means love-torn piano ballads about boys who don’t appreciate them. But when I made myself comfortable in one of the store’s listening stations and the cd spun to life, I quickly found that Electrelane are not the Donnas. For this I am thankful.
Their melodies bubble to the surface, leading the imagination through environments that change under the music’s steering. Some of the tracks, like “On Parade”, come across like a car chase that concludes in a fiery crash, as cymbals and distorted guitar ring through your head. “Oh Sombra!”, a light track sung in Spanish, makes me remember strolling down Las Ramblas in Barcelona, eyeing all of the silver and copper jewelry.
Electrelane is a band whose music takes a person to exotic places, and if the fans embrace the group like critics have, then it is certain they will be going places as well. When I sit down with Emma Gaze (drums), Mia Clarke (guitar), Ros Murray (bass) and Verity Susman (keyboards/vocals), I find the women to be as beautiful and charming as their music while we discuss their reoccurring themes, Nietzsche, and the importance of the Latin language.
PopMatters:Your first album, Rock It to the Moon, was more of an instrumental affair, similar to Axes. Was Power Out [their second album] more of an experimental one-off and now you feel like you are coming back to your roots?
Mia Clarke: Yes, I feel the instrumental sound is more of what we are about.
PM: Can we discuss for a moment what it was like working with Steve Albini again? [He produced the band’s last two albums, The Power Out and Axes, respectively.] And was it true that he was a fan and kind of sought you out?
MC: I wouldn’t say that he was a fan. He was curating All Tomorrow’s Party and I sent him our first record to see if we could get on the bill. And I guess he loved it. We really wanted to work with him. He really wanted to work with us. So we did. He was very easy to work with.
PM: Was he an influence in shaping your sound and brining it back to the instrumental core of the band?
MC: No way! [they all laugh] He doesn’t listen to demos or anything. We went in there with the music ready. He doesn’t make any suggestions in terms of what we should do or how to write our songs.
Verity Susman: The thing he helps us is with how we end up recording it. The last [album] the drums were in a separate room. And so was the bass. This time we wanted to bring it all together to give it a more live sound.
PM: Speaking of your recording methods I was hoping you could explain more about the Axes sessions. Was this album recorded as almost one long jam session in a succession of long takes?
VS: No, we did multiple takes, but we ended up going with some songs’ first cuts. When we wrote the album we wrote it as if we wanted to play it non-stop.
MC: The night we set up our stuff we were all like, “Okay, lets go to it.” We played not thinking we were going to use the stuff but it ended up being some of our best stuff probably because we were most relaxed.
PM: In The Power Out Verity sings in four different languages and you name-drop people like Nietzsche. Was there any concern that the music was too highbrow to let it break here in the United States?
VS: Well I don’t think there were any illusions about us breaking it in the Billboard Top 40. In America it seems like it’s either rap or country. We didn’t think we’d get a big look here. I don’t really think of it name-dropping either. We aren’t trying to be intellectuals; we are sincere in what we doing. We pull things that we think fit to get here.
PM: The press seems to make a big deal about how with British music location is so important in defining a band’s sound. The Doves are from Manchester; Radiohead is from Oxford. If Britain is truly that segmented, how did being from Brighton shape your sound?
MC: Brighton doesn’t really have a type of sound. There are many different types of bands and all the ones that are signed are very different from one another. Brighton is a seaside town. We just moved away.
PM: I loved your cover of Springstein’s “I’m on Fire.” This album has a Leonard Cohen cover. How does a band like yours decide which songs they’re going to cover?
VS: We really just pick what we like. I think people think we are doing them ironically but they are just really great songs and we genuinely really like them. They’re really fun.
MC: I think they would be surprised to know we really like Bruce Springstein. We really aren’t that pretentious.
PM: I will do my best to clear that up. I will write that you took me backstage and there were all of these books piled up, everyone was smoking cloves. They asked if I knew Latin. It was all very uncomfortable for me.
VS: [They all laugh] We actually want you to do your interview in Latin.
PM: Are the comparisons to Stereolab and Le Tigre getting old yet? I feel that Americans need a frame of reference to understand what they are expected to like.
VS: We are really, really, really tired of being compared to Stereolab. It’s boring. We sound nothing like them. I think that comes down to lazy journalism. Any journalist who has to compare this to that is not really a writer. You need to think about your own way of writing about it. It befuddles me that after three albums Stereolab is a name that is still batted around. Well, they have the monopoly on keyboard. “Oh wait they got keyboard? They must sound like Stereolab!” And it’s like, no. On Axes we use a piano—it’s not a synthesizer so I guess I really don’t get it.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.
// Notes from the Road
"Co-presented by the World Music Institute, the 92Y hosted a rare and mesmerizing performance from India's violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam.READ the article