Following three successful studio albums and a bunch of now-classic indie-dance tunes (“Destroy Everything You Touch,” “Playgirl,” “Seventeen”), Ladytron’s fourth full-length, Velocifero, took the Glaswegian-Liverpudlian-Bulgarian foursome several giant steps forward. The album, released on Nettwerk in June, is a cohesive, more-immediate effort that injects dynamism into every track while still incorporating Ladytron’s trademark melodic vocals, pulsating grooves and moody, almost menacing atmospherics. Here, band members Helen Marnie and Daniel Hunt talk about the new album, ABBA, their love of bicycles, and “fanpires.”
I read somewhere that you wrote most of Velocifero while you were on the previous tour. Is that true?
Hunt: No, no. Writing on tour’s a really bad idea. [laughs]
Marnie: If you had to live on a bus for a few months, you would realize that you aren’t going to do anything productive at all, whatsoever.
Do you enjoy touring?
Marnie: It’s a double-edged sword.
Hunt: It’s good, but you just have to know where to draw the line. Some bands just kill themselves touring.
Marnie: My favorite part is obviously going on stage, making some music. [But] you go to bed on a bus and wake up somewhere new — which does sound like a good thing, but then you have your strict routine.
Hunt: There’s people who go — and this is the common thing — “Oh, wow, you’ve been to ‘wherever.’” And it’s like, “Yeah, we saw a restaurant.”
Marnie: The hardest part is obviously you leave people back home, and you miss your friends and family and lovers or whatever.
Hunt: Yeah, that’s the hardest part. That’s why it’s very easy when bands are young and kind of naïve to just be convinced that they need to tour forever and never take a break. They end up having no life at home and nothing to write about. It’s pretty classic: You get these bands’ second albums, and they’re all just complaining about being on tour. [laughs]
How do you find touring the U.S. in particular?
Marnie: If you’re coming over here, you have to try to fit in as much as possible so you can get to places that you might not have been before. We played New Orleans on this tour and a few other places we’ve not played before. We’ll be coming back again, [but] no point just coming back for a few gigs.
Hunt: It’s a classic British band thing. They think, “We’re doing really well in America because we played New York and L.A. and Chicago.” Our label’s always been based in L.A., and our management, as well. They work us hard, but we have an understanding of how you have to do things, so we respect that. We prefer to coming over here than doing Britain. We don’t want to slag off Britain too much … specifically England — that’s gone! [laughs]
Marnie: I prefer North America.
Hunt: I suppose you get spoiled as well. We accept the shows over here as like a norm, then we have these really amazing shows in Latin America and stuff. Then we go home and just play a normal gig somewhere in England, and it’s just, “How did we go back to this?”
Let’s talk about Velocifero. Was there anything specific you were trying to achieve with it?
Hunt: It’s just what we had really. Like, let’s just try to make something better than the last one.
Marnie: We toured the last one for a long time — over two years, I think. In between gigs we’d go home and get some headspace and think about writing things.
Hunt: We toured for two years, but there wasn’t like a nine-month unbroken spell. It was like two months here or there.
With this album, you switched labels, from Rykodisc to Nettwerk. What’s the official reason for the move?
Hunt: We don’t want to dwell on it, but … we never signed to Ryko — they bought our label. We were left in a situation where they had the rights to the album, and it was either let them release it or have it sitting on the shelf. We had to let them do it, but the only reason anyone knows about that record is because we toured it for two years.
Marnie: We made the most of the situation.
Hunt: We’ve seen more or less every permutation of why the system of labels is in so much trouble, and we’ve also seen the alternatives. We’re in a good situation now, because Nettwerk are a really logical label. They’re a big label, they have an infrastructure, but they don’t have all that bullshit that comes with major labels. We’re happy.
Marnie: It’s a worldwide simultaneous release.
Hunt: First time we’ve ever done that as well.
With four albums now under your belt, do you feel like the process is getting easier, or is there more pressure to “top” the previous one?
Hunt: I think it’s getting easier.
Marnie: When you’re writing music, you don’t think, “I really have to top Destroy Everything You Touch” or something.
Hunt: That’s what other people think.
Marnie: It’s whatever’s natural.
Hunt: “Can you just give us a couple more Destroy Everything You Touches?"
Marnie: I think if you feel pressure, it wouldn’t work out very well.
Hunt: I think it’s easier, because you’re obviously more experienced. You know what not to waste your time on. There is an internal pressure of wanting to make a better record, I suppose, and not wanting to repeat yourself, but I think it just got easier.
All four members of Ladytron write. What sorts of things inspire you?
Marnie: When you write, it’s very personal. We don’t really go into what stuff is about, but it can be things around you or things you’ve seen.
Hunt: It seems to be that if you write, you write personally, and it’s almost like some weird exorcism or something. As long as you don’t spell it out, it remains subjective and it’s then the listener’s song and it’s whatever they want. That’s quite a good situation, because you’ve got something out there that’s personal, and it affects you in whatever way, and it doesn’t have to be about that for the listener as well. That’s why we always get coy about it, I suppose. It’s like Bruce Springsteen introducing a song for like 15 minutes, explaining what it’s all about. Which is cool in its own way — let’s do that tomorrow! [laughs]
You’ve been playing together for nearly 10 years. Why do you think the band dynamics work so well?
Hunt: Because we’re not musicians.
Marnie: Speak for yourself! [laughs] I don’t know, I think because we’re not in each others’ pockets all the time. Because we’ve been together for so long — a lot of bands wouldn’t last this distance.
Hunt: Touring-wise, we came in on this sort of level.
Marnie: Yeah, we didn’t actually have to do that much shit stuff. We never played any pubs or bars or that kind of thing.
Hunt: We’re so spoiled! Our crew would take us to one side and say, “You do know that this is not the way it normally happens. You normally have to do this shitty back-of-the-van [stuff] and play in spaces to nobody.” So I suppose we’re lucky with the way it all turned out. That definitely added years onto the life of the band, not having to do that stuff.
Marnie: I think so, because I wouldn’t do that. [laughs]
Hunt: I don’t think we could tolerate it really.
People seem to have this image of Ladytron as very aloof, mysterious, and ultracool, perhaps because of the way you’re portrayed in your videos and press photos. Does that at all relate to what you’re like in “real life”?
Marnie: How can you get what you’re really like from a photo?
Hunt: Well that’s it, but people are so visually absorbed now. People think they understand the personality from looking at a photo of somebody. It’s really weird.
Marnie: People haven’t even seen us live and have seen the cover of the album or whatever. It’s kind of annoying.
Hunt: I don’t know, if you meet people and they expect you to be a certain way based on a photo or something, it’s really strange. But then again, maybe to some people we are how they expect us to be — unless we get really drunk! I think it’s because of the whole delivery of everything — Helen’s not acting, she’s singing a song. It’s like our last video director said: “You’re just singing: There’s no histrionics, there’s no acting, you’re not pretending to be anything. You’re just actually doing it.”
Marnie: He said, “I usually try to get people to act a bit more and really go for it, but I like what you’re doing.” And I’m like, “I’m not doing anything!”
Hunt: I think that might be part of it. Being onstage is a completely unnatural situation. You try to be as natural as possible within it, and sometimes that means not really that arsed. It’s like a symbiosis with the audience: If the audience is really high energy, you get more into it, and vice versa. So that’s natural as well — it’s not like you can just switch on the showbiz. We’re not very showbiz.
All that said, compared to a lot of indie bands today who show up on stage in rumpled T-shirts, you definitely have a more stylized look.
Marnie: We make the music, then we put some thought into what we’re gonna wear, for example, on stage.
Hunt: I feel like other bands actually put way more thought into it than we do. At the beginning people didn’t like us and just dismissed us as a haircut band. By today’s standards, every single band we ever meet is a haircut band now.
Marnie: We don’t actually put that much effort into it.
Hunt: I don’t.
Marnie: We can see. [laughs]
Do you think it’s a compliment that people think you do put that much effort into it?
Hunt: More people will use that as something negative and dismiss the music for these reasons, and that’s the most frustrating thing. When you’ve done something purely musical and someone dismisses it as style over content just because they looked at a photo — I suppose in 20 years it won’t matter. It’s difficult to see how it’s perceived and it’s frustrating when you come up against that, but obviously it’s just part of the process and you end up just not taking any notice.
Marnie: In the beginning everyone wore these stupid uniforms.
Hunt: They weren’t that stupid. We didn’t want to be typecast, so we stopped doing it. Everyone was like, “Why aren’t you wearing the uniforms anymore?” Like we betrayed them!
Marnie: I’ve got a friend who makes some stuff for me [now]. It’s not like we put that much work into it.
You’ve been frequently compared to ABBA. I’ve even heard Ladytron tagged as “ABBA noir.” How do you feel about that?
Hunt: I can live with that.
Marnie: We quite like it. I like ABBA.
Hunt: I’m suspicious of people who don’t like ABBA — it’s like not liking music!
While we’re talking about your similarities to ABBA, have band members ever been romantically involved?
Hunt: Well, Mira and Reuben for a while.
Marnie: Shut up! [laughs] That’s the number-one reason we’re still together.
Hunt: [We] would have been one of those classic one-album bands if that had been the case.
The video for Velocifero’s first single, “Ghosts,” is pretty surreal: The four of you clad in black suits and dresses in the desert with a wolf, baseball bats, tumbleweeds and dustclouds, a yellow car, and a zillion rabbits. What was the filming process like?
Marnie: It was in the desert in California. I’ve been in the desert before —
Hunt: But it was the first time we’ve had to stand around for two days in the desert.
Marnie: I loved it. Actually, it’s my favorite thing that we’ve done. I love animals and I got to hang out with a wolf and rabbits.
Hunt: All the juxtaposition. It was like, we should really not be there, the car shouldn’t be there…
Marnie: We pulled up 5 a.m. on the first day of the shoot in a car. We passed this little house with a cactus tree outside. I turned to him and was like, “Oh my God, that’s the Kill Bill house — the church where she gets married and shot!”
Ladytron’s fanbase seems to be growing rapidly. Any weird obsessive fan experiences?
Marnie: They’re mostly cool. In the last couple of years we’ve gotten more younger kids, so that’s nice to see. Generally everyone’s been sweet, but then there are the odd occasions fans try to stare you out. "Why do you like us? Because I’m not feeling any warmth from you at all!" [laughs] But maybe that’s nerves or whatever, I don’t know.
Hunt: I think the term is “fanpire.” “Really like your band, but I have to say something negative to you to somehow qualify that.” It’s really weird — it’s such a minority, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s like that. But you do kind of have to be on your guard, because there’s just a lot of dickheads out there who just want to suck your energy in any way they can. It’s not just people in bands; it’s anyone.
Is there anything you think people would be shocked to know about Ladytron?
Hunt: Mira’s really heavily into guns, actually. We’re trying to get her on the cover of Guns & Ammo, her and Ted Nugent together.
Marnie: Shut up! We’re not into guns! Don’t write that please! No, not guns!
Hunt: Reuben likes classic cars. Where the rest of us buy groceries, he buys classic cars.
Marnie: We all bought bikes on this tour. Most cities we arrive in we try to go for a cycle. It’s like E.T. — there’s like four of us in a row!
Hunt: Sometimes when you ride away from a venue there’s already people there — these four bikes come barreling out.
Marnie: Usually we get bike appreciation as opposed to band appreciation. Like, “Hey, nice bike!”