La Roux is the latest hotly-tipped British band to ride a wave of booming synth pop (and hype) across the Atlantic to perform in North America. In the studio, La Roux is a duo consisting of 21-year-old vocalist Elly Jackson and veteran producer Ben Langmaid, but on stage La Roux is all Jackson, whose retro style, gruff demeanor and sculpted, windblown ‘do have landed her between the pages of Vogue UK‘s May issue.
With its big melodies and soaring vocals, La Roux’s music channels early ’80s Depeche Mode, The Eurythmics and Yazoo, hearkening back to a time when pop came packaged in personality rather than paparazzi photos. Ahead of La Roux’s North American debut this weekend, we rang up Jackson in her South London home to talk personae, performing and the state of pop. Read the Q&A after the jump!
Behind the scenes on La Roux’s “In For The Kill” video shoot. (MySpace)
You’re about to embark on a short tour of indie dance parties in North America. What’s the idea behind the tour?
I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be basically the same as what we did here in the UK in February. Everything has gone really, really fast with this project. We’ve only done about 20 live shows in total. So we started off doing local, small shows around the UK, at electro nights back in February. Then we did a residency in London and we just did the Lily Allen tour. We’re expecting a really, really similar vibe to the shows in February where we’re staying in crap hotels and playing smelly venues.
After 20 shows, how are you finding the live experience?
I love it, I absolutely love it. There were a lot of technical problems at the start and it used to worry me a lot before every gig. And also because we were playing places like Coventry, which are just really quite rough areas in middle England. You’re not sure if you’re going to get stuff thrown at you — literally. At all the gigs, everyone’s been amazing. It’s just weird when you put so much into it and you put so much into it and no one knows who you are or only a couple of people know who you are. You just feel like an idiot, basically. But recently because we’ve just done the Lily Allen tour, we’ve been playing massive venues and our single’s just come out here so people know who we are now. It’s just been a good confidence boost for us.
Is your record finished yet?
Yes, I just listened to it all the way through for the first time yesterday and I’m really, really, really happy with it. I can’t wait to see what kind of response it gets. [The live experience] sounds the same as the record. I think my voice is stronger than on the record because I’ve been singing almost every night for a few months. It’s quite funny, my voice sounds a lot stronger live.
The music video for La Roux’s “Quicksand”
Have you ever had vocal training?
Not really, you learn warm-ups from vocal coaches so you don’t hurt your voice but I’ve never trained how to sing like this, as it were. In fact, I did do some vocal training when I was much younger but it was classical and I only did it for a few months because I didn’t really enjoy it. I only did it because my mum wanted me to do it so I knew how to use all the areas of my voice so I didn’t get nodules or something. It was more about me learning to sing completely naturally like myself, rather than anyone else.
In the studio La Roux is two people, but live it’s all you. Why that dynamic?
It’sa bit like Goldfrapp. Ben’s not 80 year old or anything but he’s quite a bit older than me. He lets me do the talking, as it were. He’s not a front man and I would call myself keyboardist in the studio but I’m not a live keyboardist. I don’t want to worry about doing parts, I just want to sing and perform… He musical directs the whole thing and he’s there at every gig. It’s weird because we are La Roux as a pair but I am La Roux as well the way Alison Goldfrapp is Goldfrapp but they play as Goldfrapp as well.
Have you created a stage persona or character distinct from your everyday life?
Yes I think you need to. I think whoever you are, even if you’re using your own name, I think there should still be a stage persona. All my favorite artists have one, like David Bowie and Prince. Entertainment is about giving a bit of yourself and people knowing who you are but I don’t know anyone who’s life on its own is interesting enough to be called entertainment. That’s what reality TV and magazines and the whole celeb world will have you believe: that someone’s normal life is interesting enough to be entertainment. I don’t think anyone’s life is that interesting.
Is it harder to maintain distance since pop stars are much more accessible now?
A lot of pop stars sell their entire career on being the normal, girl next door and I get so confused by the whole affair. It’s ridiculous but some people find it interesting, I don’t know why. Being a pop star is like any other job and you have to put everything into it and you have to do it as best as you can. I think people like Prince and David Bowie and Michael Jackson did that and I don’t think there’s many people since that have actually done that. I’d be happy for the rest of my life I thought I’d even done a 10th of what they can do entertainment wise. But yeah, it’s important to have that character or stage persona.
What personality traits would you ascribe to your stage persona?
[pauses] It’s funny, because the first word that came into my head was ‘aggressive’. But not aggressive in an angry scary way. Just in more of an intense way. If you listen to the songs you probably understand what I mean. I think that persona is quite apparent in the vocals. It’s like a frustration — a deep yearning and frustration. I try to make the show as intense as possible and be very expressive when I sing and it’s not just about me singing the lyrics, it’s about living them every single time I sing them, regardless of how many times I’ve sung them or whether or not I even feel that way anymore. Because, of course when you sing that song, you don’t feel exactly how you felt when you wrote it a year ago. Often that situation will be resolved but you have to relive it again. [My persona] is quite intense and hopefully fairly mysterious. I do crack a smile occasionally.
The music video for “In For The Kill” by La Roux.
Obviously in your videos and photo shoots, there’s a strong ’80s vibe happening. You’re 21 years old and just missed the ’80s so what is it about that decade you find so fascinating?
I think it’s because I missed it that I like it. Because I think if I was there, I wouldn’t like it. Obviously my parents were there and they’re like, ‘we don’t understand.’ Ben is absolutely obsessed with it and loved it then and loves it now.
For English people — I’m not even going to pretend — I don’t know anything about who was president in the ’80s. I’m rubbish with history. But I do know what it was like over here in the UK. Unless you were conservative, it was pretty shit. It was Margaret Thatcher, it wasn’t a good time for a lot of people. If you were rich it was great, if you were poor it was shit, much like it is now.
Do you think pop music reflected the social-economic climate?
Definitely, the ’80s for musicians — you can’t get away with it now, you just can’t — were the coke days. And you can hear that in the music as well. There’s no bass in ’80s music. It’s all treble and that’s ’cause they were all taking loads of coke. Coke makes people want things really, really, really high frequency — ‘turn up the treble, let’s do another line.’ I think artists were having a lot of fun then and you can tell that in the music. I know a lot of it wasn’t written by them, and that is the ideal way music is written, but there’s a lot of really good one hit wonders in the ’80s and nowadays you can’t even get a good genuine artist, let a lone a good one hit wonder. Music was so much more epic in the ’80s.
Do you think that’s because so much music nowadays is consumed on digital platforms, like ringtones and mobile phones?
I don’t know. I think you kind of have to ignore that in a way. If you start thinking about that you just have to make music in whatever way you’re comfortable making music and make it sound as good as you possible can. We listen to music as I think most people who make music do: on a radio, on our laptop speakers, in our cars or on our iPod headphones. We would never mix or produce to fit those technologies or those ways of listening to things but you do sound check things… You just have to make the record sound as good as you possibly can until you’re happy with it.
La Roux’s April 2009 Tour Dates:
April 3 – Brooklyn @ Studio B w/ DJ Ayres, Nick Catchdubs & DJ Lindsey
April 4 – Montreal @ Les Saints
April 5 – Toronto @ The Drake w/ Sticky Fingers DJs
April 9 – San Francisco @ Popscene (330 Ritch)
April 12 – Los Angeles @ The Roxy Theatre