Dragonette has long been a secret weapon of the pop underground – witty and stylish, Canadian-bred, London-centric electropoppers who found favor overseas with their excellent albums Galore and Fixin’ to Thrill and have slowly built a Stateside following in dance circles. Now, as pop catches up to their template and pulsating four-to-the-floor EDM anthems become the de rigueur Top 40 sound, their slow-burning star seems destined to rise even higher. With “Hello,” their collaboration with Martin Solveig, the band scored their first bona fide US chart success and introduced their archive of spiky, irreverent synth gems to a broad audience.
With their third album on the horizon, Dragonette recently hit Number One on Hype Machine with their new single “Let It Go.” They also previewed another new disco-fied track, “The Right Woman,” to fashion audiences via Diane von Furstenberg’s Proud to Be a Woman compilation. Meanwhile, Jean Paul Gaultier – the eccentric designer with whom the band collaborated on the Solvieg-charged “Boys and Girls” in 2009 – has placed their six-year-old debut single “I Get Around” in his Madonna-tinged European Diet Coke ads.
The amiable group met up with Rolling Stone on the heels of their sold-out New York show last week. Pixie-like frontwoman Martina Sorbara divulged on how she managed to not look like a “stripper” while playing in Miami, how “Hello” is a double-edged sword, and why Miranda July should be paying close attention to their lyrics. You can also check out the world premiere the Faustix & Imanos remix of “Let it Go” below.
Your Euro-leaning sound has always done well with New York audiences. What is it your favorite American city to play?
Dan Kurtz: It’s definitely one of them; having a sold out show at Bowery Ballroom feels amazing.
Martina Sorbara: It’s either New York or Lawrence, Kansas.
Dan: Which we’ve never played! (laughs)
What’s been a surreal live experience for you?
Dan: We just played Miami, which is sort of like Vegas. It’s really different for us. The venue we played had crazier lights than a U2 show.
Joel Stouffer: We felt like imposters in that environment.
Dan: We try to stand out by actually playing, not DJing, our songs.
Martina: And I mainly focus on trying to not to look like one of the strippers. The fact that I don’t have fake tits might also distinguish me.
Dan: Depending on how well this interview goes, we may have a budget for that soon, though! (laughs)
Have you noticed a shift in crowd reaction and size since “Hello” became such a hit?
Dan: Do people scream like crazy when we play “Hello?” Yeah.
Martina: And then kind of fall silent afterwards….
I imagine its success must create an overall trickle-down effect that benefits your other material, too, though?
Dan: Yeah, it’s interesting that with hitherto unknown songs of ours that don’t sound like “Hello” – which is probably 99 percent of them – people are now starting to sing to them, too. Songs like “Pick Up the Phone” or even “I Get Around” – which is ancient at six years old. I mean, it’s pre-iPad!
Martina: I’m sure there’s a bazillion passive listeners in the world, but I’m sure the active listeners who liked “Hello” did their research. They will find our albums.
Dan: The new song is doing well. Actually, Laidback Luke’s remix of “Let It Go” hit Number One on Hype Machine. And the Knocks’ version hit Number 10.
Are you working on anything else with the Knocks? They are such dynamic producers.
Dan: I would like to. I can’t stress enough how much I like what those guys are doing. They’re so fun, and they’re very musical – which is actually not a prerequisite for being a musician. Doing something with them in any capacity will be at least fun and rewarding and could result in some really interesting music.
How did “Hello” come to be?
Martina: It was the second song we did with Solveig. We met him in Australia, on a bus from a festival on the way to an airport. We did a song in 2009, “Boys and Girls,” for Gaultier, so that was our initial collaboration. Then, he later got back in touch to discuss doing something for his new album.
Dan: He had already made a series of videos, and wanted to make songs for them. (laughs)
Martina: He had written the track for “Hello” and sent me the video already shot – he wanted to have a cohesive theme of videos throughout the course of the album. We had an internet exchange about recording vocals, and it all fell into place.
Now it’s become a staple of Dragonette sets – but were the band also involved in the recording process?
Dan: Nope. I just faced this question in Canada after winning a Juno Award for it.
Martina: “Thanks for this award; I have nothing to do with this track…” (laughs) It’s really just my vocals.
Dan: Until we played the shit out of it, “Hello” just felt like a Band-Aid on our set. Now it feels like ours.
You wrote with Nicola Roberts for her debut solo album. What was the process like?
Dan: We did “Lucky Day” with her; it actually was originally a Dragonette song that sounded like Blondie, and that’s how it remained til her label decided it needed to sound dancier. But she’s a cool girl; it was a nice surprise coming from that world. She spent a LONG time at our house; we wrote a bunch of songs with her. She’d come over and just be herself. Of course, “being herself” means turning up at 9:30 in the morning in immaculate hair and makeup and amazing outfit, but she was very chilled out as a person. The amount that she knows about music and thinks about music is great – I think it means she’ll have a long career.
Martina: We might release the original version of “Lucky Day” one day.
How did you choose what material to donate to Diane Von Furstenburg’s compilation?
Martina: “The Right Woman” is the song, and it will be on the upcoming album. It already fit the female empowerment theme of Diane’s compilation, and I love her designs, so it worked out. We wouldn’t just throw it anywhere! I love that song.
Dan: (deadpan) Every woman is the right woman.
What role does fashion play to Dragonette’s music?
Martina: When we started Dragonette, it was within a culture of music that revolved around dudes with guitars who wanted to look like they just rolled out of bed. We were not interested in that. We all came from scenes that were “earthy” and we wanted to go as far in the opposite direction as we could. So it was about fashion and fun. But now, that pop stars regularly wear, like, trains on their heads, it’s kind of less fun.
Now that everyone wants a Sputnik-shaped dress, you feel inclined to do the opposite?
Martina: I do, but I don’t want to sound like I’m just trying to defy what everyone else is doing. I mean, we never did those looks as well as anyone else, anyway! I just don’t feel the impulse to dress up or present the music in that way now. I don’t think these new songs want to be dressed up crazy.
Dan: Now we can wear one pair of jeans and three shirts. You can’t wash a tuxedo everyday. We used to try to make that work; it was rough. We couldn’t afford it!
It’s hard to be high-maintenance on a budget.
Martina: Not to say we won’t try again! Right now, we don’t want to worry about it. We’re always going to care about the visuals we use, though.
Do you have mutually enjoyed film or art references?
Dan: The Royal Tenenbaums. We all have the same sense of humor, which is why we’re still a band.
Martina: If you come into our van – I mean, our “jet” – any day of the week, we spend hours just talking in lines from movies. A proper conversation, too.
Joel: Our language is based on inside jokes and movie dialogue. It’s probably really annoying to everyone around us. You either get it or you don’t.
Dan: Which is why there’s no longer a guitar player in the band.
Has a movie ever influenced a Dragonette song?
Martina: I’m in love with Miranda July. I watched her movie The Future, and it was totally weird. I wrote a song called “My Ghost,” which encapsulates a scene from the movie. It’s on the new album; I tweeted her about it but she never got back to me!
What are your favorite things to wear onstage?
Dan: Martina has a pair of jeans that make me glad I married her. I especially love playing about two feet behind her when she’s wearing them. They are killer jeans!
Martina: I go to thrift stores to find my stuff; I had an amazing shirt I used to wear onstage that cost about 20 cents.
What is the best clothing item you’ve ever stumbled upon randomly?
Martina: This vest. I bought it like four years ago, never wore it, then pulled out it recently. I literally never take it off now. Get ready to see this outfit a lot; it’s never coming off.
Dan: She also has a leather jacket she got in China; this boutique let her raid the place. Just her, though! Not us. But I have a new jacket I love as well; it’s been rolled into a ball, worn on planes, and it’s still crisp. I’m really happy with it.
Joel: My staple lately is this plaid shirt. It’s really thick. And it’s great for travel.
Martina: It’s also his outfit for chopping wood.
You obviously embrace the kookier side of fashion. Can that still lead to fashion regrets?
Dan: Martina has this pair of Juicy-type trackpants I can’t stand; she wears them on the plane.
Martina: No! I got those for free. A guy wore them in our new video, and I took them afterwards. They’re really comfortable.
Dan: And pre-stretched!
Martina: They’re really roomy and disgusting.
Joel: She also suddenly likes gaudy ballcaps, I notice. Suddenly ‘Tina turns into Snooki.
Martina: You look like Snooki!
Can you hint at what we can expect from this new video?
Martina: It’s bonkers. It’s for “Let It Go.”
Dan: We shot it at a microchip factory in Toronto. They decided to not pay rent, packed up, left and left a whole lot of shit there. A good place for an illicit rave – right near the airport!
Joel: Resident Evil shot scenes there.
Martina: The idea of the video [is] harvesting happiness and putting it in pills. I think our videos are pretty clear-cut, but no one ever gets them.
Dan: Once you take the treatment away and eliminate dialogue, it seems like only the most blatant imagery reaches people.
Martina: But this one is really good.
Dan: And we look good. The important thing!
You can download Dragonette’s “Let It Go (Faustix & Imanos Remix) for free here.