La Roux's Elly Jackson On Joni Mitchell, Misogyny And...
La Roux, the retro-loving, but forward-looking duo of singer Elly Jackson and producer Ben Langmaid, released one of 2009's strongest debuts, snagging them a Mercury Prize nomination and early attention as one of the BBC's top Sound of 2009 picks.
Bolstered by feverish, darkly gleeful and immediately unforgettable singles like "Bulletproof", "Quicksand" and "In For The Kill", La Roux's self-titled album vaulted to Number 2 on the UK charts over the summer and also spawned a collection of Crayola-colored, 80s-reverent videos, casting Jackson as a fashionably androgynous goddess with a defiant, love-ravaged scowl.
La Roux mutates into a slightly different outfit whilst on the road; Langmaid prefers the anonymity of the studio and touring musicians like keyboardist Michael Norris and ex-I Was A Cub Scout drummer William Bowerman accompany Jackson for gigs, including this year's All Points West, Glastonbury and Lollapalooza festivals. La Roux has announced dates for their world Gold Tour in 2010 and the North American leg will kick off in Chicago on February 1, 2010, landing at New York's Webster Hall on February 11.
The Alternate Side caught up with the candid Jackson, whose fearless opinions, gravity-defying quiff of chestnut hair and youthful recalcitrance have thrust her into a maelstrom of often unwanted media attention in the UK, garnering as much attention as the 21-year-old singer's airy, urgent vocals and romantically frustrated lyrics. She told us about band's plans for a sophomore album, her views on the marketing of mainstream music, and the travails she faced this year as La Roux bounded up the British charts:
TAS: As a child what was your first memory of how a particular song or album affected you emotionally? Is there a song you might have latched onto in a deeply personal way that first inspired you to write?
‘Right Down the Line’ by Gerry Raffery is a really important song for me. We had it on cassette and my mum used to play it when we were driving round in her little [Citroën] 2CV. I remember feeling emotionally attached to that song the first time I heard it and it still affects me in the same way. It can make me cry in a second if I let it. My mum was also really into Joni Mitchell and Carole King so I was exposed to folk songwriting from early on. Joni is a natural poet and has been a strong influence on my songwriting.
TAS: As you look back on the last decade, what music do you think will stand the test of time and resonate for future generations?
This year I’ve been really impressed by the albums from White Lies and Fever Ray. I’m really looking forward to what they do next.
TAS: "Bulletproof" has become an anthem of 2009 - are you bulletproof yourself or have the slings and arrows of the media (or the music industry) affected you at all, given La Roux's rapid ascent? Do you wish you were tougher - or do you feel that you're the strongest you've ever been?
I had to learn a lot this year. Most artists have time as an unknown on the gig circuit and the chance to build up a fanbase before a label even takes any interest in them. We didn’t have that, it was just straight in to massive media scrutiny before we’d even played live. I love performing live but it wasn’t why I went in to the music industry. I just wanted to make music, so I didn’t feel all that comfortable on stage at the beginning of the year and journalists were writing about me seeming nervous and our set being unpolished – it was our first ever gig for god’s sake what do you expect? I also learnt the hard way that EVERYTHING you say in an interview will be twisted, taken out of context, and spat back out to make you sound like a massive bitch. I don’t smile a lot in photos and I am outspoken. I’m only saying what most people think, but people aren’t used to honesty, I think. I got bullied at school, which forced me to toughen up and now I’m having to learn what it feels like to be bullied on the internet and the press. You absolutely have to ignore it, basically, or you’ll go mad. If you ignore it then you can be bulletproof.
TAS: You've been outspoken about how American mainstream "ideal" has led to some mighty boring pop music, especially in terms of how women are promoted or developed as artists. What's the biggest problem with mainstream pop these days?
I just think there’s been too much of the same thing for far too long. The R&B market is flooded. The music industry has not kept pace with current trends, particularly online, and is suffering financially as a result. So no one wants to take a risk and labels just end up signing copycat acts because they know it will make money. Using the same songwriters, producers and choreographers has made the mainstream generic and therefore dull. The industry still retains a misogynist outlook and this means that young girls hoping to be singers or dancers know that they are only in with a chance if they look a certain way. At a certain point the decision to wear very little and get your boobs done becomes perceived as normal and the people doing it are people that kids look up to. It’s dangerous and the music industry has a lot to answer for. Sex sells, fine, it's a fact of life, but it can be done in an interesting way and is doesn't need to aimed at 10 year olds.
TAS: You return to the States this February - do you plan on working in any new material? Have you and Ben retreated to the studio at all to write new songs?
Hopefully Ben will be with us in February - he might join us in Australia in March too and we can work on some stuff then. We’re going to the South of France in January too. Our manager has a house there that he has very kindly lent us for a few weeks so we can just be on our own and start working on new tracks. We already have an idea of how it’s going to sound. I’m really excited.
TAS: When you're both writing, what is the catalyst that makes a song breathe for you? Is it in the lyrics? The melody? What you can do vocally with it?
Ben and I work so well together in the studio - we know each other backwards - and the entire album was a labour of love for both of us. He has a fantastic ear and knows exactly what melody’s going to work. The lyrics are largely about my experiences, but Ben will help me word something that I’m having trouble expressing and vice versa. He gets a vocal performance out of me that no one else could.
The evolution of this album was very emotional for you. Your lyrics are based in agonizing heartbreak. Do you see your sophomore album as being more positive ... or do you feel most creative when shattered?
It is unquestionably easier to write when you’re depressed! Everything is so raw. I’m actually really happy now and hopefully that will come across in the next album.