Liverpool's Ladytron have created a decade's worth of electro music, handily dodging the faddish limitations that quickly dated the sound their 808-wielding peers and displaying a flawless style to boot. They reemerge in 2011 with both a career-spanning greatest hits collection and brand new album, Gravity the Seducer, both testaments to how the band transformed their pristine analog vision into a new breed of epic synth-rock. They may have a taste for vintage technology, but they've never been part of a retro movement. In 2002, Ladytron co-founder Daniel Hunt told Rolling Stone: "We don't want our music to remind people of anything." They've succeeded: five studio albums later, the still sound only like themselves.
Early on, Ladytron served their band name literal justice by appearing in videos as a troupe of beautiful androgynyous robots. These days, vocalists Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo are portraying an icy exotic Art Deco glam, as seen in the decadent "White Elephant" video. Rolling Stone caught up with Marnie to discuss her band's unmistakeable visual aesthetic, why synths can be sexy, her personal style and the new makeup line inspired by her look.
Can you talk about your days as a model?
I'm not really sure where the "model" information has come from; perhaps something was mentioned in a very early press release. I've never really done proper catwalk. I only ever did a few bits and pieces along with a couple of graduate shows as a favour to friends. I am, after all, only 5' 6". Far too tiny to be a model. Plus, I look kind of weird, not in that coveted model alien way. Just in a plain weird way!
The lyrics of your song "Seventeen" seem to chronicle a young girl's modeling career. Do you find a that lifestyle life sad?
I can't comment on a model's life though I would assume for most their career is fleeting. I would say it must be hard to be constantly scrutinized solely over your looks. Don't think I could handle that. "Seventeen" was written a long time ago by Danny and is so flippant it would be ridiculous to comment on its origins now.
What do you think about the way fashion interprets music? For example: Aphex Twin and Plastikman seem to be runway favorites. What does this say about how fashion uses music vs. how the public uses it?
Certain people in creative industries will have their finger on the pulse of what is going on musically that is cult or underground. And that is reflected in their work. The worlds of fashion, music – even architecture – usually combine socially. So, it's natural for the fashion world to be exposed to pretty much everything. With fashion, there is also the need to keep creating something different and exciting, and certain types of music will compliment and enhance the catwalk experience. It's not so much about listening, its about the entire physical experience.
Has Ladytron ever worked closely with a designer or played a runway show?
Yes, Danny has DJed for Albino's Milan catwalk show, playing new tracks from our album Gravity The Seducer before it was released. We've also worn his clothes in our "Tomorrow" video and the press photos for Gravity The Seducer. He's been good to us.
How does Ladytron use fashion to enhance the look and mood/feel of performance?
We've never really concentrated on fashion too much. When we first started out we pretty much all wore the same thing. It was like a school uniform. We were a gang. Slowly, we kind of outgrew that though and that's when we starting wearing clothing on stage that were all different but gelled somehow. In the past, Mira and I have worn silk or satin dresses by Aganovich. Nowadays, we are far more relaxed about what we wear. It's a case of what we think works, rather than enhancing the music in any way. It's about what makes us feel comfortable, good about ourselves, and able to perform.
How does the Ladytron sound relate to the visual?
People have the misperception that we are goths because we tend to verge toward dark clothing onstage. However, I think it's more to do with us wanting to look good together as a band. It's about the music and nothing should really distract from that. We've never been flashy, and prefer a more mysterious approach.
Electronic music is so commonly seen as cold and clinical; the visuals, even clothing styles, pertaining to the genres also can evoke that quality. Why do you think that is?
I have no idea why that is. Synths can create exactly the same sounds as guitars. The only limiting factor of playing a synth is when you do it live. Like it or not, you have to stand behind a keyboard and play. There is no way you can bomb about the stage strutting your stuff. So it's definitely a different experience to watch. Anyway, I really don't think that cold, clinical idea stands anymore. There are so many electronic bands out there that are producing warmth in their music right now. Plus, the mainstreams take on electro kind of quashes that. Gravity the Seducer is an electronic record, but I feel like it's the warmest, most emotional, thing we've ever done.
Is it important to Ladytron to have a cohesive aesthetic between members? How are those choices made?
It's always been important to us that we look cohesive as a band. In the past Mira and I have worn dresses made by friends that although different, were similar enough to draw us together and create a certain mood. My friend Angharad Jefferson is a talented designer specializing in embroidery and illustration. She has created several dresses for us incorporating different themes, mainly nature.
I noticed you wore a cool bow and cape at the NYC show. Who made those items?
My friend Mich Dulce is an amazingly talented milliner and fashion designer. She let me choose a number from her last collection and I wore the black bow headband on stage every night. I recently cut my hair short so it was my way of feeling a little more confident onstage and less self conscious. It worked. I felt great! The cape was just something I picked up online. It, too, was a good buy. I loved wearing it onstage. The movement of it along with the bow made me feel like a little pixie.
What inspires your fashion right now? I've detected a bit of retro glam, which is new for you.
Over the last year I've been wearing a lot of 50s dresses. I love the dreaminess and feminine aspect of them and have also discovered the joy of wearing hats. They really can just finish off an outfit. I've never really been that brave with hats before but intend to embrace them from now on! In our next video for "Mirage" I'm chaneling more of a 70s vibe. I picked up an amazing vintage find, and it worked so perfectly in the video.
Which designers speak to your own tastes?
There's so many out there that speak to me for different reasons. I love the lace dresses of Mui Mui and Erdem for a more ladylike look, and I like designers such as Won Hundred, Sessun, and Isabel Marant for a more laidback look. I'm also really into my jeans by my friends at Arnsdorf. It's an Australian brand. The jeans are so snug and high waisted and make your legs look like they go on forever. I am also a big vintage lover so my wardrobe is quite a mixed bag.
You've gone on record as being anti-fur. Have you always held that view? If not, what convinced you?
I wear sheepskin and leather, but that's as far as it goes. My mum was a staunch supporter of WWF when I was younger so this was a big influence on me. I remember her going on a march against the clubbing of seal clubs for their skins. It has instilled in me a love of animals and a desire to protect the amazing nature around us. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society is an organization i'm particularly interested in. Growing up, I was surrounded by all sorts of animals so fur – be it rabbit, fox, mink, whatever – is totally out of the question. I won't even wear vintage fur. There are good fakes out there as an alternative. Particularly now faux fur is having a massive comeback on the catwalks, which is pretty cool as the opposite has been the case for so long.
Have you ever had an issue on photo shoots/editorials where you clashed with a stylist over the fur issue?
We don't actually use stylists that often because in the past we've not been happy with the result. Sometimes stylists have a preconceived idea about what you like to wear and it usually doesn't match with our own ideals. Wearing fur on a shoot has never really been an issue because we've always made it clear from the start that it's not on the agenda.
Do fashion, art, and other visual forces ever affect the way you actually write, record, and produce your music? How so?
Not really. It's hard to pinpoint influences like that. Personally, I'd say inspiration when writing comes from one's own experiences. The day to day, the ups and the downs, and looking at the world around you in a broader sense. When it comes to recording in the studio technology plays an important part. But we're always looking back too, trying to create new sounds in a different way. Usually the old and new come together to create some kind of monster.
Sadie Frost has a clothing line you've been wearing. Would you ever collaborate with her, or someone else, on a special line?
Frost French is Sadie's label. I've never met her but have been wearing some shorts from that label on our recent North American tour. They seemed perfect for my most recent stage outfit. More freedom to move around without the worry of people taking photos up your skirt. It would be amazing to collaborate with a designer on a range. The opportunity just hasn't arisen or the timing hasn't been right.
We Are Faux, created by one of your makeup artists, has launched an eyelash collection based on your look. How did that come about?
Ana Cruzalegui is a good friend, and she's worked with us a lot in the last few years. She wanted to create a brand influenced by music and fashion, along with the people she's worked with. Ana collaborated with Mira and I on her first collection of lashes. Mine are called Good Girl, and are super duper bad. They're like an art deco building on your eye lash. I love them.
Watch the We Are Faux commercial, starring Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo:
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