Interview: Elly Jackson, La Roux.
(Photo taken in Toronto, April 5th 2009 – the night before this interview – by chromewaves)
Congratulations on going Top Ten with “In For The Kill”. Did you expect the song to do so well?
It’s kinda weird. I know it’s a pop song, and that with the right exposure and the right push behind it, we always knew it could get to where it’s got. But without things like radio backing, it doesn’t matter how good your song is; if no one hears it, no one can buy it. So it’s just all a bit of a gamble. It’s obviously one of those songs that people have heard once or twice and bought.
There’s also been a lot of buzz about the Skream remix, which is quite unusual for a remix.
Well, this is the thing. That’s helped. I think it’s probably about 50% of the reason why it’s sold so much, because that remix means that the song has reached people that it wouldn’t otherwise have reached.
It takes the song in quite a different direction. Was it a strange experience to hear it for the first time?
Yeah, I think it was. I was in a hotel in Exeter at the time, just after our first gig. I could only hear it on my laptop speakers.
Which is how most people hear their music these days, I guess.
I know, and it was exactly the same – so you might as well listen to it. And you’ve got to be clever with the remix. You’ve got to be sensible. A remix is about taking the song into a new vein. There would be no point in getting a really electro remix, because it’s already like that, if you know what I mean. So you’ve got to do something with it.
You first came to a lot of people’s attention when you placed fifth in the BBC’s “Sound Of 2009” poll at the start of the year. At that stage, you had one limited edition single and a couple of songs on MySpace, and you hadn’t yet played live. So how did all these tipsters find out about you?
I think it was just an industry buzz. That BBC poll was based on 130 people in the music industry – and that is pretty much most of the music industry, to be honest. People in the music industry had known about me for about a year, so it wasn’t that shocking. We didn’t know if we would definitely be in it – but to be honest, I really don’t care. I know that’s really bad. You know, I’m not dissing the BBC or anything…
But you were glad of it? You didn’t think: oh shit, I’m not ready yet, stop?
Not at all – it came at the perfect moment. And it was the perfect position. I wouldn’t have wanted to be any higher. If you’re at Number One in that poll, you deserve a fuck of a lot of expectation. You’ve got to have your album ready, then you’ve got to come back with a whole load of press – a whole load of bang, bang, bang – or people forget.
I think being at Number Five is a nice thing, because it’s slow and gradual. But I don’t think it makes any fucking difference whatsoever. Yeah, it’s important, and we wouldn’t have had as much awareness without that poll. But in terms of meaning anything real, it’s not going to affect record sales or anything like that. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the poll not; if you’ve got strong songs and a good label behind you and good management, it’s gonna work.
Do you still keep tabs on what people are saying about you in the press, or is that a bad idea at this stage? Do you Google yourself, for instance?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Do you know what? I have absolutely no interest. I don’t go on YouTube. I check my front page messages on MySpace, but that is literally it. You only have to read one nasty thing about you on the Internet to make you never want to look for it again. It’s just not worth it. For every five people who like you, there’s gonna be five people who don’t like you.
And anyway, it’s all losers on the Internet. Anyone who’s got enough time to fucking sit there and comment and slag people off… It’s nice to write positive things, and if people feel compelled to write positive things, that’s different. I don’t think that means you’re a loser or anything…
It’s easy to hate…
How much of a sad bastard have you got to be to fucking sit there and slag people off on the Internet all day? Get a life, seriously!
What stage are you at with the album?
Oh, the album’s finished. It’s all done. It’s out in June. We’ve been writing it for four years.
Is that four years as a duo with Ben [Langmaid]?
Yeah. It was essentially a solo act, until we realised that it wasn’t a solo act – in that it’s not just a producer/singer situation. We produce together, and we write the lyrics together, and so it was more of a Goldfrapp thing. The songs are all about my life, and I’m the front woman, and I am “La Roux” – but in the studio, we are a band and it’s like Goldfrapp.
[Ben] doesn’t come out live or anything. He’s just not really interested, and I am the “face”, as it were, of La Roux.
I mean, I am La Roux – but we are La Roux at the same time. It’s kind of confusing.
The Goldfrapp thing helps to settle it in my mind, actually.
Yeah, I don’t know what I’d do without Goldfrapp, in order to explain things. I don’t know how they explain things; you’ll have to read some old interviews of theirs.
But you’ve gone in an opposite direction from Goldfrapp. They’ve moved from electronica into a more acoustic singer-songwriter vein, whereas you’ve done the reverse. Was there a moment of revelation, when you discovered the joys of the synthesiser?
Yeah, there was. I started fucking about on the synths one afternoon at a mate’s house. He used to make tunes in his bedroom. He dabbles in various areas of the industry – a bit of tour managing here and there – and we used to hang out. I used to go up to Dalston and not leave for days on end. He got me to play guitar on someone’s track and he said: do you wanna start making a tune, just for fun? And I was like: yeah, OK. Then he gave me a synth and he was like, do you wanna put some chords down on this? And then I was like, fucking hell, this is amazing!
Then I wrote “Colourless Colour”, which is on the album. It kinda spurred off my synth love. Then I went back to Ben and said: I wanna do this instead.
Did you junk all songs that you’d written beforehand?
No, no, no. “Fascination” was the first song me and Ben ever wrote together on guitar.
Did it change the way you put songs together?
We don’t write on guitar anymore, but we still go through the same process. You get four or five chords that you really like, and then you start humming over them. And you find some lyrics, and find a melody, and go from there really. So it’s the same process, but on a different instrument.
I was reading some old interviews, and in one of them you were asked to pick five words to describe your music. One of the first words you picked was “cheap”. People don’t normally describe music as “cheap” in a positive way, so what are its virtues?
We have one of these synthesizers called a Matrix. It’s by Oberheim and it’s fucking brilliant. It’s not like a keyboard synth. It’s just a rack with a plus and minus button to go through the presets. And it comes out with these noises that… there is no other way to describe them, apart from cheap and nasty. They’re just really tinny and thin and tacky and scratchy and plonky, and I love sounds like that. Really angular.
Obviously it doesn’t sound cheap now, because it’s been mixed and mastered and stuff. But some of our early demos were like old tracks from “Speak and Spell”. Really, really, really dry and beepy and angular. Then as the album grows, it starts to become more and more expensive… (Laughs)
Do you see yourself retaining that certain cheapness in your sound? Or could you ever imagine yourself hiring an orchestra and going for that whole epic, widescreen production?
No, I’m probably gonna go really epic, I reckon! (Laughs) But hopefully still with those cheap sounds in it. Songs like “Tigerlily” have that. They’ve got that slightly epic thing, but they’ve also got a cheap kind of Caribbean feel.
Do your songs come directly from personal experience, or do you like to invent characters and situations?
No, I can’t do that. I’m really good at lying (laughs), but I’m really bad at making stuff up. So it’s all totally from personal experience.
So how much of La Roux is a mask, and how much are we getting the real you, baring her soul on stage?
When you see me on stage, that is totally me: baring my most personal, most upset, most tragic moments, as it were. That really is what you’re getting. I really mean that, as well.
The character of “La Roux” came after the songs, so the songs are totally and utterly me and they always will be. La Roux is the hair, La Roux is the clothes, La Roux is the stage persona as it were – but it’s just a slight exaggeration of what I actually am. It’s not a massive acting job, or anything.
Your first live show was only in early February: at the Notting Hill Arts Club, where you had a short residency. Then just over a month later, you were supporting Lily Allen on tour, and so playing in much larger venues. You must have had to scale up pretty quickly, so how did that go?
It was kind of weird. I remember the first night of the Lily Allen tour: being backstage in the dressing room and just kind of… not being nervous. And then being nervous about not being nervous. But there were about 2000 people out there, and I could hear them. And I was like: I’ve got to go from 200 to 2000 in the space of two weeks, with no extra rehearsal either.
It could have gone so wrong. But it didn’t! I fucking loved it! It was brilliant! I think I was just really ready for it, and now I’ll probably be slightly disappointed to be back on small stages.
In a strange sort of way, it might be easier in a larger venue – because you haven’t quite got that intimacy with your audience. If you’re playing the Notting Hill Arts Club, you can see the whites of their eyes – but if you’re playing the Glasgow Apollo or wherever, there’s just a dark mass in front of you.
Oh, exactly. It is much easier. You can be that character a lot more, and you can over-perform. You can’t over-perform in a venue with 150 people in it, because it doesn’t have quite the same impact. It just looks like you’re over-performing for the size of the venue. So you have to bring it back down again. I was really enjoying performing, and really getting into that persona of La Roux – and La Roux doesn’t really like small stages much. (Laughs)
You can retain a mystique in larger venues – whereas in a tiny venue, you’ve got to hop off the stage at the end, and go to the bar with everyone else. So there’s a bit of a disconnect there.
I like that distance, and it can be hard to maintain that distance. Last night [at a small showcase gig in Toronto] I literally had to walk off the side of the stage, pretty much into the crowd, and this girl just showed me her tits.
She was like: I’m just going to show you my tits. And I was like: can you please not? I really don’t want to see them. At all. And that’s really… woah, it’s in your face.
And you can hear everyone talking and stuff! They’re right there in front of you, so you can practically hear what they’re saying. You can go to the front of the stage and drop down to do a kind of emotional bit – and literally, their face is where your crotch is. It’s just a bit weird!
What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from these past four months?
(Long pause) I think it’s the stuff you learn from doing live shows every night. It’s stuff that you can’t really pinpoint, or that you’ve specifically learnt – but you find yourself being more and more comfortable on stage every night. And the people that have seen you from the beginning really notice the changes.
Every night you go: hmm, tomorrow night, I think I’m gonna walk right over to the left of the stage. Or I’m gonna use up a bit more of the stage. It’s little things about a performance, that really make a difference. You start to learn through experience and practice. There’s no other way of learning, apart from just doing it.
It must be a period of very rapid personal growth.
Yeah, and also just learning about interview technique: what’s going to be taken in the wrong context, and what’s going to be taken in the right context.
And learning not to get bored with the same old questions?
Yeah, totally: to give the same passionate answers, just as you would the first time you were asked the question. Because it’s not going to be the same people reading it. It’s going to be different people.
Well, we appreciate that. Finally, a friend of mine is concerned about the grammatical inaccuracy of “La Roux”. He says that it should be “Le Roux” for a man, or “La Rousse” for a woman.
I dunno, it was in this baby name book! It was their fault! Obviously, “La Roux” looks much better written down. Also, I didn’t know it was wrong until about a month after I chose it. And I just didn’t give a shit, really. I just didn’t care. It’s so irrelevant.
To me, it means “red-haired one” – and it does, vaguely. It’s just a male version of “red-haired one”, which I think is even cooler, because I’m well androgynous anyway. So it kind of makes sense.
And Depeche Mode doesn’t make any sense! And loads of English bands, or any bands all over the world, they call themselves… you know, a name like… I dunno, I’m trying to think of something. (Pause) Well, the Eurythmics isn’t a real word, is it?
No, I suppose not.
Exactly! But no one goes on about that!
My friend thought it might be a conspiracy. Because “la” and “roux” aren’t meant to go together, and because they haven’t been used together before, he said you’d show up quicker on Google.
[Stunned] Really? Oh, that’s amazing.
But then the French for wheel is “la roue”, and the French for street is “la rue”, so you can defend it on those grounds. And the famous female impersonator is also called Danny La Rue.
I thought he was a transvestite? No, I was wrong?
I don’t think he likes that, no. He’s a female impersonator.
Oh, never mind! (Laughter)