April 2007 - Mr and Mrs Pop


Canadian four-piece Dragonette compose electro-rock anthems with an unashamed pop sensibility. Hudson caught up with band songwriters Dan (bass) and Martina (vocals) before an ICA showcase to find out about life as a married couple on the road...

Martina, you used to be a folky, singer-songwriter type - how did you go from that to electronic power pop?
Martina: Well, I've always listened to everything, and I guess folk music was the only thing I really knew how to write but I really wanted to make different types of music. Not that folk wasn't my thing, but when I met Dan he was in an electronic band...
Dan: I think I may have shown her where the door was...
M: No, you made it possible...
D: But you were already this kind of girl..
M: I was very much a hippy little girl, one of those short-haired teenagers with baby plats and who plays at folk festivals.
Were there some friends and followers who were shocked at your change in direction?
M: Yeah, some of them couldn't' really make the leap.
D: Some of my band's fans also had difficulty making the leap. When did you meet?
D: In 2002. We were on the same bill at a festival that was mostly rock bands.
M: It must have been fate that we'd meet, because I was the only acoustic, tampon-music girl, and Dan was this kind of dancey house band, and all in the middle was Top 40 radio rock bands... obviously it was fate because there was no other reason why we should have both been on that bill.
And you started dating soon afterwards?
D: Quite soon after... hours later.
M: Yeah, about 1am that night!
But you were dating someone else at the time Dan - was that messy?
M: Not when you lie about it!
D: Not really, but I would like to temper that harsh truth by saying that I was not in a very good space at that point and Martina was the shining light that pointed me out of it.
And now you're married?
D And now we're married. We married about 10-11 months after we met.
That must be pretty intense, working and living together - you must be together 24/7?
M: Yeah, all the time. Last night I went to bed before Dan did and it felt weird not to have his body in the bed next to me. In the day time, there's no reason not to be together. We're in the studio together, and then the sound checks together...
D: And then you go home for dinner with your wife, who happens to be the person you've worked with all day. It is a bit intense, but it feels pretty normal for us.
M: It means that we've been married for three years, but for a normal couple, we've seen each other as much as if we'd been together for 15!
Lyrically, do you find yourself writing about your relationship?
M: Well.... yeah.
D: The song 'Competition' 'is about that interim time when I was living with one person and running around with another. But I think there are times in our relationship when you have to turn off the business side of it and just be a married couple, so it's not like there's time to reflect too much on the married couple side of it. I don't think anyone needs to write a song about being in business with someone!
M: [jokingly] 'I see you too much, you're in my face...!'
How would you describe your sound to the uninitiated?
D: I describe us as a proper rock band that play pop music... fronted by a girl, with dance beats. I could go on!
Have there been any comparisons that have irritated you...?
D: I think that the default comparisons that people make rest upon the fact that we're a girl-fronted band. There are just a handful of universally-recognised girl-fronted bands, so we've had comparison with Gwen Stefani or Nelly Furtado, and I think it Tina was a guy there would be a much broader spectrum of comparisons. Everyone comes from a different place, and we certainly don't spend our time trying to work out how to sound more like Gwen Stefani.
You're both obviously influenced by the 80s - who are you favouite acts from that era?
D: More 70s for me. The biggest influences from that time? Police, Prince, and some of the girl rock like Heart and Pat Benatar.
M: Cyndi Lauper.
D: But it's not like we listened to the Police and thought 'let's make a record'
Was their re-union long overdue?
D: Hmmm... it's long overdue and maybe past due! Having watched... we just watched Stuart Copeland's movie 'Everybody Stares'. One of the first things he bought when he made some money with the Police was a Super-8 camera and he started filming their entire career. He made a movie out of it. The electricity of the Police in the early 80s, when they were a massive touring rock band, was amazing.
M: The started on one side of the continent, and by the time they got to the other side they were...
D: From touring in a band to touring in an aeroplane, and they were just dynamic. I think the new version is gonna be a softer version of the Police. But I would still be desperate to go see them. Having seen cover bands that play The Police, it's almost like an insult to the songs, there's some magic between the three of them.
'Jesus Doesn't Love Me' is the sort of title that could cause trouble in America - has anyone expressed concern at it?
D: There are people in America that have said 'That slut was singing about Jesus!' after one of our concerts.
M: For sure, that makes me feel a little bit subconscious because I don't think I'm generally a very controversial person. I just think it's something that people can relate to, when you do something and you think 'Uh-oh, Jesus isn't gonna like me for this one'. I guess when you put it in a song you use the name of the Lord in vain...
D: But we're not actually using it in vain.
M: I think as many people who might be offended about it, there'd be just as many people who would get what I'm talking about. I'm not trying to piss anybody off. The words actually came out of Dab's mouth. It's like that feeling you have when you think 'what would my parents say if they saw me doing this!'
D: It was a pretty innocent thing, but it's great fodder for writing a song, because we got to stick all those gospelly girls in there, but we're not really out to challenge people in that way. There will be people with a bone to pick, or are really reactionary because Jesus is a really strong word.
You've signed to Mercury and are concentrating on success here in Europe - do you feel musically more at home here?
D: I think it serves a completely unmusical purpose as we wanted to come and live somewhere else other than Toronto...
M: But in the back of our heads we kind of thought that there was more of a place for the music we're making here. In Canada, people don't really make pop music. If they're gonna make pop music, they're gonna go to the States or come here. In Canada it's all about how alternative or different they can be, and people want to make music that's full of meaning and very reflective, which is fine but...
D: We want to be really vacuous!
M: No! Because we're not! There are a small group of people in Canada that would happily put on a Kelly Clarkson remix just because it's good, but people like that are few and far between.
D: We were also really into a lot of the music that was coming out of England at the time, and music here seems so much more dynamic - it's way more popular and is in everybody's conscious. In Canada we would have been a niche within a niche. We needed a place where you didn't have to be apologetic about how outrageous the music was you were making - and it is outrageous to us compared to the music we were making before. Coming to London and realising that it takes so much to get noticed, that you can be as outrageous as you want and nobody will necessarily pay attention. Also, there's a whole industry of people who are all good at making this thing as good as it can be - which is such a rewarding environment to be in. Here music is like being a lawyer or doctor, it has as much respect, whereas in Canada...
M: They can be like [adopts patronising voice] 'Are you still doing that music thing?'

An abridged version of this interview was published in Out In The City, April 2007 David Hudson

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