Since their 2005 debut, Dragonette have grown steadily to become a household name in the world of underground electro-pop music. Along with two full-length albums, the band’s repertoire includes a host of impressive collaborations with the likes of American DJ Kaskade and French producer Martin Solveig. Most recently, the band worked with Solveig in 2010 to release the joint-effort dance track “Hello.” The single made a huge splash globally, catapulting the band into the limelight amongst a flourishing electro-dance music scene. In the aftermath of the fame wrought by the success of “Hello,” Dragonette has attempted to stay close to their roots of writing and producing dance music with both style and substance while appealing to a larger, more universal audience.
In Dragonette’s forthcoming album Bodyparts, out September 25th on Universal Music Canada, the band hopes to balance their historically synth-laced, underground dance-pop sound with the influential pop aesthetic so prevalent today. Lead single “Let It Go” certainly succeeds in this task, featuring a catchy, danceable, and most importantly accessible, hook alongside the youthful vocals of Martina Sorbara and Dragonette’s signature synth-lines. Needless to say, in the post-“Hello” era, the band would also love strike a chord with pop music fans everywhere and showcase a sound they proudly call their own.
Glide Magazine recently spoke with Dragonette’s Sorbara about the band’s hectic fall, which includes the release of Bodyparts and a whirlwind North American tour, and about the band’s inception and their evolution over the past decade.
So I guess I want to start by asking, Dragonette has been together as a band since 2005, so what first brought you together as a band, and how did you decide to pursue the sound that you’ve adopted over time?
Um, well Dan and I met at a local string guitar thing, physically, and we both got up in a band, and I was doing solo stuff. We met and then we moved in together and then we just started playing like ordinary time around the studio, sometimes making joke songs and just kind of flying in directions that neither of us went in on our own projects. But I think the sound, the whole music scene, the whole music industry was in the peak of the indie rock fashion and everything was charged you know, and low-key music.
Right, like 2005…
Yeah it was all like either rock, or if you were a girl you were singing really serious stuff like Norah Jones, or Dido, or beautiful artists. I don’t know Dan and I, we just kind of had this reaction to that, and we wanted to make pop music with synthesizers and electronic sounds and be able to, I don’t know write fun songs. And that was kind of the expectation. But yeah I think after that first kind of reaction to joke music I think we found our own way of writing our own serious songs but still being in communion. Like the reaction thing went away and now we’re kind of left with all of our influences over the years, and we use guitar, and we make guitar rock when we feel like it, and we make synthesizer music when we feel like it, and I think what’s left is that we use whatever the fuck we want and the template is very broad and the ingredients can be whatever we feel like. (laughs)
Alright, cool! So, your new album Bodyparts is being released in September. Can you tell me a little bit about the album and what we should expect from it?
I think it’s a really fun album. There are some really heartfelt songs on it that aren’t made to dance to, or they’re not made for fun, they’re just made for me to be able to express stories and things that I haven’t got to over the years. But then there’s a lot of fun songs, there are some thrashers, there are some dancers. I don’t know I’m really proud of this album, I think that after the initial like, “Oh my God how the fuck do we write an album after ‘Hello,’ and is that what we’re supposed to be?” because the whole world reacted to that song. And that kind of initiated a temporary paralysis, for me, and for both of us actually, for Dan and I.
So I guess that kind of leads me to ask, how did that experience change you as a band? How did it help you grow?
Well I think the band grew because we kind of, all of the sudden our audience grew and the places we go to grew. I mean our audience has grown very steadily since we started, we never had that overnight success experience. And we’ve just worked hard and we’ve had a slow and steady growth, which is great, but I think all of a sudden we had attention from an industry that had kind of written us off as an indie band, and so I think it helped us grow because we got to fly around to places and put on shows, and have the purpose to make our shows kick ass as much as possible. And we got a lot of other people listening to us, and so we got to show them what else we can do. I think it also initiated the paralysis in the writing process. But once that went away, once I was like, “Fuck this. This is really boring to listen to my mind question everything I’m doing,” I think we just really let it all go and just wrote the kind of songs that we wanted to write. And you know, ‘Hello’ is in the past and this is now. And so we’ve got all these fun songs that feel like us, and you know, we’re a band and we create rad [live] music so that’s the kind of songs.
Nice. So, did you guys work with a producer for Bodyparts? Or, who handles production for the band?
Oh that’s us. We’ve produced all of our albums. Mostly Dan and I, and Joel, sometimes extra production. But we’ve had some songs that have kind of bounced around between us and other people. Like on this album, we have a song called “My Life” that we produced and then we gave it to this guy Rene Arsenault out of LA, and he did some stuff on it. But for the most part we’re just based in our little home studio. Which makes me feel proud.
That’s so cool. Yeah, I mean, I’ve been part of a band myself, so just having that experience. I mean, you’re working out of a bedroom almost, and when you get to that final product it’s just such an awesome feeling.
Yeah, I think just the industry has changed enough, and the technology has changed enough that the fact that it’s possible for us to make an album that’s dispersed over the planet, and it came from our extra bedroom, that is a pretty satisfying feeling.
So, what is the writing process like for Dragonette? I noticed lyrics from your new album are posted on your Facebook page in these really creative photo scenes of body parts, obviously. So is there a special emphasis you place on writing lyrics? Or how does a typical Dragonette song take shape?
Typically it starts with some kind of riff, and generally it starts with the music and with a track. Whether it’s four bars or an entire song layout. But generally it starts with 30 seconds of music and then it’s my goal to try and find a melody. And that generally doesn’t involve lyrics, just syllables. But often when I hear the syllables and sing the words come out of those syllables. Because for me I don’t like writing lyrics first, because I feel like the track is going to dictate the rhythm of the words. So it’s really hard to retrofit the words to certain rhythms. So sometimes my totally incomprehensible jargon, I don’t know, it says something to me and I’m like, “Oh wow, it sounds like I just said this.” And you know that’s how “Let It Go” came about. It’s those kinds of things, I work really hard and it sounds like something. And it’s almost like the back of my mind is talking, and then I get to listen to what the back of my mind is saying and I get to interpret it.
Great. That’s so cool. Speaking of “Let It Go,” you guys released a really cool video for that song. Can you tell me a little bit more about that, and what it’s about, and how you got the idea for the video?
Yeah the idea. It was my friend and I, my friend Drew Lightfoot, he’s a great video director, we’ve done a few videos with him. Um, he, we came up with this idea that like, there would be this like clinical laboratory place, and it would look like they were going to do all these terrible things to humans and animals. But then every time the setup would look like something really dark and terrible it would often, the outcome would be positive. And I don’t think we reinforced that enough, I don’t think it’s as clear as we had in mind, but I think the story is still told. But the idea was like, you know, it looks like there are going to be tortured animals, and then all of a sudden the rabbit is there just so that, you know, I can feel how fluffy and nice the rabbit is. And then you know, I’m taken into a room to be brainwashed by a television screen, but actually on the television screen is just like cupcakes, ponies, puppies and rainbows. And so that was the idea to have everything that looks like it’s going to be like A Clockwork Orange, but then it’s just like, “Hey, feel good! Everything’s awesome!” (laughs)
Haha, yeah. Did it take a long time to put that together, or was it just instantaneous? Did the idea just come naturally?
No it took a while. It took a while because we had this other idea first. It was kind of like two ideas that got mashed together. One of them was this clinical laboratory thing where I don’t know like, I forget what the idea was but it was on the clinical laboratory side. And then the other idea was that we were going to do “Happy News,” which would be this news program, but everything that was happening on the news was like, we were just reporting like, you know cupcakes, puppies and rainbows, and all that stuff. But then Drew was like, “I don’t know how we’re going to maintain that for three minutes.” (laughs) And so we kinda let those two, be a little bit more mashed together.
Mhmm. Well it’s so much fun to watch, and really gets me going on days when I just feel sorta off.
Oh I love that! That makes me really happy.
It’s a lot of fun and I really enjoy it. One thing I wanted to touch on with you guys, you are pretty well known in kind of an underground, electropop scene I guess. I know that you’ve worked with Kaskade on “Fire In Your New Shoes,” which originally kind of turned me on to your music, and more recently with Martin Solveig on “Hello,” so what are your expectations as a band moving forward, or what do you want to do with yourselves as a band from this point forward? Is this something you’ve talked about, or?
Um, well we have this album coming out in the fall that’s kind of all-encompassing, so we are going to tour it. And we have some other songs that didn’t quite make the finish line so it would be great to try and finish those songs and just spit them out unceremoniously, just for fun. And I think that that’s the mandate, and when a song comes in from somebody else like an awesome DJ or some other guest opportunity, it’s all just on the song and whether it’s inspired, but that kind of avenue… It’s fun for us to be able to team-up with other people, but it’s not like, “Oh we better get some DJ collabs because that’s what we should be doing,” it’s just whether or not it feels good and whether it’s fun. But it’s definitely something that we like to do because we get to do something outside of the Dragonette parameters and get to hop into somebody else’s creative world and career, just jump in there and be part of somebody else’s music, and maybe perform with them, and get to know them, and get to have the opportunity of having somebody else dictate the bed of what a song lies in.
Mhmm. I guess kind of on that note, with that whole kind of concept of creativity and working with different sounds, I’ve seen that prior to Dragonette, and as you mentioned, you did some solo work. I listened to your album The Cure for Bad Deeds, which reminded me a lot of Ani DiFranco, actually. Can you talk about that a little bit?
I think that era of my life is really what defined how I write songs. And I think that’s one of the things I enjoy about writing the music that we write now with Dragonette, is that I get to bring this kind of singer-songwriter angle to a genre that a lot of the time is less storytelling, you know what I mean? When Dragonette was just starting out it was kind of undefined like, “What is this? I’m a singer-songwriter and I play guitar and piano, and I evoke that way.” I think the idea of this band really came together when I realized that that’s what Dragonette needs to be for me. Like, I don’t want to write pop songs that don’t have that backdrop of being my life and my experience and being able to diverge my vulnerabilities and whatever it is that I wanted to sing about. So I think that having the whole first part of my musical world be like, kind of about a singer-songwriter like Ani DiFranco or whatever else, was the first band that I really loved. Well first it was Cyndi Lauper, so then you see the whole spectrum. (laughs) And like I love country music a lot, I mean not modern country but just like smart, old country songs. Like John Prine and Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. That kind of songwriting to me is I think what taught me a lot about the way I write songs. And then there’s this whole era where I was only listening to jazz music and I was performing jazz, and that was where I was getting the most satisfaction in performance. And I think all of those things have made me the way I write songs. And just waking up one morning and realizing that all those elements that I didn’t think had a role in writing synthy dance music, those elements are the most important thing to add to this, because that’s what makes it unique, and that’s what makes Dragonette Dragonette, and that’s what makes me, me.
Right, and I notice that it seems that the work that you guys put out, it’s something that you can dance to, and it’s something that’s fun, but it’s also substantive, and there’s actually meaning behind the kinds of songs that you’re writing.
Well it makes me feel really happy that you say that, cause that’s all I want.
You guys have been touring globally for pretty much most of the summer correct?
Um, yeah. It’s just first we’ve been trying to finish up the album, and it’s been more of a weekend job for the most part, but yeah.
So you’re about to start a pretty major, jam-packed North American tour, how are you preparing yourself for that?
Um, I don’t know if there is a way to prepare, just kind of get into the flow of it. I mean, we’re going to rehearse for the next five days, and that generally gets you back into the mind-set, because actually we haven’t played a show since we were in Moscow over, maybe two weeks ago? And that was like a one-off in and of itself. So, it doesn’t take long for you to feel like, “What the fuck? I can’t remember what my job is again. Like what does this entail?” So, I think once you rehearse you start to get your mindset back into the live music thing. And um, as far as getting prepared to go on the road for two months, all you can do is pack the clothes you think you need and try to get all the toiletries you need, and do all the interviews you’re supposed to do.
To finish up, I just want to ask kind of a random question. What is something that everyone should know about you, or about Dragonette, that maybe they don’t?
Um, I don’t know! I mean, the three of us are actually kind of the four of us because it’s also our sound guy. So it’s me, Dan and Joel, and Nathan, Dave, David our sound guy, but he’s been with us since the beginning and so he’s kind of part of the band. And we’re, I mean I don’t know what people think bands are when they look at it from the outside, but the four of us are kind of like family, we just kind of love doing everything together. So when we’re on tour together, we kind of operate as a single human. But we’re actually really good friends, which I don’t know, I think that maybe falls apart after you’ve been in a band for 20 years together, or something. So I don’t think we’re really ready for a tour like this, I think we actually are all looking forward to that time that is exclusively us and there’s not another social world interfering, and we’re like really bringing the band back together, and it’s like this team of people that work really well together. So, I don’t know, that’s just a picture from the inside.