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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Malcolm McLaren 1946 – 2010

Amelia's Magazine pays tribute to Malcolm McLaren, legendary impresario, fashion icon and arguably the creator of punk rock, who passed away yesterday

Written by Nina Joyce

pipettes interview thumbnail ian steadman

The Pipettes were a pretty big deal a few years ago, clinic bursting onto the indie club scene with their 50s and 60s-influenced polka-dot pop song album Meet The Pipettes and its hit singles like ‘Pull Shapes‘ and ‘Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me‘. That was half a decade ago, cialis 40mg though – since then, troche they’ve had several members come and go, leaving the band in its current incarnation of sisters Gwenno and Ani [right and left, respectivaly, in the photo above], along with the boys who play the instruments and help write the music. After a long delay they’ve managed to get a second album ready for release, so I caught up with them earlier this week to see how they’ve been coping with all this commotion.

I thought that we’d start with just clarifying something that I’m not entirely sure about, which is the songwriting – who writes what?

Gwenno: It’s the same as it’s always been. How it works is that one person will write the song, and they’ll bring it in, usually in something like a finished form – it might need a few more chords, or a second verse – but they’ll bring it to the band, and we’ll all interpret it in our own way.
Ani: Everyone’s a songwriter in the band.

I’ve been listening to the new album. It’s an interesting change in direction because it’s not as doo-wop any more, is it? There are a couple of songs that still have that Phil Spector kind of sound, like the first album, but there’s a big change towards synths and electronics and stuff. Almost like moving forward through time a bit? That’s kind of what it sounded like to me. It’s called Earth vs The Pipettes which, in my mind, means space and sci-fi and lasers and things like that – futuristic things. Is that roughly what the thinking behind the album title was?

Gwenno: Well, we were going to call it In Colour, but then there was the whole sci-fi thing – there’s this b-movie called Earth vs The Flying Saucers, and there’s a poster for the film, with all these monsters coming down and people on the floor, and we were going to imitate it with the boys all on the floor and us coming down as the monsters. The album is slightly more grown-up and more serious to a certain extent, but there’s still that silliness and that sense of ridiculousness.

There’s a lot less playground-romance in the new songs.

Ani: [whistfully] I think we should be honest that our school days are well and truly gone…

Time to put the photos away in the album?

Ani: Heh, yeah. Although I never liked school much. We were 100% losers.
Gwenno: But now you’re a winner!
Ani: Yeah! Um. A winner all the way.

So there’s the sci-fi influence on the new album, but what else was coming into your heads when you were making it?

Gwenno: Well, everyone had different takes on it, really.
Ani: When I first came into the band…

Sorry, how long have you been in the band now?

Ani: Two years. When I first came into the band I thought, “yay, I’m in a 50s pop band,” and the first songs that I wrote were songs like that, but they’re not now, they’re more disco.
Gwenno: But also there was a natural evolution, if you’re wanting to be pseudo-academic about it, but at the same time it was a natural thing for us to move in that direction. And of course, being in a band together for so many years, you start to think…

Something different?

Gwenno: Well… Actually, I don’t know.
Ani: It’s not going to be the same, is it?
Gwenno: I know, but I do think that it’s a development anyway, in a way. Everyone can be themselves more.
Ani: Who are you?
Gwenno: [Laughs] I don’t know… Well, I really love a lot of British 80s bands, Bananarama and things like that.
Ani: Which you reference on the first album quite a lot.
Gwenno: Not sonically, though.

Lyrically?

Gwenno: Yeah. And I like old Kylie songs and things like that, and I think that you can hear that more.

So are you saying that you weren’t as keen on the Phil Spector-influenced stuff from the first album?

Gwenno: No, it wasn’t that. There was a point to it, and it was a really good point. I remember seeing the band play in Cardiff and thinking it was absolute genius, and that I wanted to be in this band. None of us were massively into 60s pop music or anything like that, but it was about the history of pop music. Like, if this makes sense then we can make our own year zero here. It was a slightly more intelligent approach than just, “oh, I like playing, I like singing.”

And with your new songs you don’t feel tied down to a single aesthetic?

Gwenno: No. I think it feels… The longer you make music with someone, the more that you trust them, and the more you understand, and you can trust their input. It’s not as controlled.
Ani: And also, with this album, everyone in the band now is at the same point. You [gestures to Gwenno] came in later than the start, I came in even later, so everyone could start from the same point and everyone worked together as a unit, wrote it as a unit.
Gwenno: I guess the common thread is Martin [Rushent, producer], apart from the space theme, of course.

I was watching your video for the first single off the album, ‘Stop The Music’ – you’ve got your dance moves in that, and lots of costumes…

Gwenno: Yeah, and again, it’s quite an organic development, and I don’t think that that song is very ‘Bam! We’re Back!’ – people have been a bit slow to get behind it, and me too. I didn’t write this song and it took me quite a while to actually understand it, to really, really get into it. It’s such a grower.
Ani: It’s a much more confident approach. I don’t want to undermine ourselves, but it doesn’t sound as desperate, like, “hey, we’re in a band.”

So you’re more sure of yourself? The album does sound very cohesive despite the change in direction, I think.

Gwenno: Well, it was a move away from songs like ‘Pull Shapes’, which we ended up feeling quite defined by. Putting ‘Stop The Music’ out first is quite a deliberate thing from us, as in, “here’s a song, we really love it, and it stands on its own and doesn’t need gimmicks.” Which, again, is what this album is about. You have to take it as it is – you like the music, you like the music, if you don’t, you don’t. I think ‘Stop The Music’ confirms that statement, really. The video, too, I don’t think is at all a gimmick, I just think it’s shot very beautifully. It’s probably the proudest I’ve ever felt in making something, visually. I don’t feel like I’m being stupid, jumping around clapping my hands.

You don’t worry at all that the change of direction will alienate some of your fans?

Gwenno: Well, I think that was inevitable. I think, even had it been the same lineup, someone isn’t going to like the new direction anyway. It’s easy to think that we’re alienating fans with a change in direction.

But you’re picking up new ones, too?

Gwenno: I think so, too. To be honest with you, the only reason we’re still here is for the songs. We knew it was going to be difficult with the new lineup, but had we not had so much faith in the songs we just wouldn’t have done it.
Ani: Yeah, and I’m not going to lie – over the past two years it’s not been easy to keep going, at all. There’s been no reason except that we’re making this record.

A labour of love?

Gwenno: Well it is, but having done the first record and having had people respond to it by saying, “it’s a bit gimmicky, it’s a bit throwaway,” it just made us feel that we wanted to do quite a serious thing. Yes, we do dress up and do silly dances, but we feel very passionate about that!
Ani: And then there’s the whole thing that we’re doing it independently, by ourselves, not on a major label or with co-writers forced on us. We would never do that, even though it was an option.

You said that the first album was a bit gimmicky – but surely that’s the point of pop music? To criticise pop for being throwaway and fun is a bit like criticising water for being wet.

Ani: Yep. That’s a thing I find with pop, that it can still be great music, it’s not just throwaway. Someone’s writing it, it’s someone singing someone’s emotions. Just because it’s pop…
Gwenno: I do think it’s completely different, though, when you have artists drawn up in a marketing board meeting.

But that’s still someone’s words that they’re singing, someone’s emotions.

Gwenno: I suppose. I just have a real detachment from modern pop music at the moment.
Ani: I’m not talking about Rihanna – I love Rihanna! I love Girls Aloud! But I’m talking more about…

Straightforwardly manufactured acts who are designed deliberately to make sales?

Ani: Yeah…
Gwenno: [To Ani] I don’t get what you’re trying to say…
Ani: I’m trying to say that just because it’s pop music that doesn’t make it less good, or less credible, than indie or whatever. I think that because we clap hands and dance and wear silly things…

Lots of bands wear silly things, mind. You guys seen Of Montreal?

Gwenno: Hah, yes!

Just because pop music might be, as you say, manufactured, doesn’t make it any less worthy, does it? But you guys are clearly not that kind of mainstream pop music, you’ve got that weird twist to it still by bringing in elements of disco and soul and so on.

Gwenno: I do think that it’s important, with this album, that even though it’s four to the floor most of the time it has still be played and written by a real band. I was talking to [former member] Rose about it yesterday – I like that in songs like ‘Stop The Music’ it’s grounded in very good music. It’s not just an electro-dance-slash-hip-hop song, it’s clearly grounded in 60s soul and all of that stuff. We were having a discussion in studio the other day about having a backing track – obviously Martin has done a lot of stuff to make us not really sound like we’re real, which is brilliant, we love that, and you can never recreate that live unless you played along with a backing track, which we would never, ever do. I really dislike bands that play to backing tracks, on the whole, and I have yet to see a band I’ve enjoyed the feeling of who have played along to a backing track. I would rather have less instrumentation, and see what everyone is doing on stage, and have that being what I hear.
Ani: It loses a lot of its soul. The way it feels, when it’s played in a certain way…

Like having an old record where it always skips in a certain place, and when you hear it on the radio and it doesn’t have that little clip in it, it feels less real?

Gwenno: Yeah, and I think where we differ, as a pop band, to a producer in a studio just making up something for a hired songwriter, is that we don’t have to justify ourselves by saying, “we’re real.” I think that’s an interesting distinction.
Ani: You always feel like you have to validate why you do something. I feel like we’ve thought a lot about the point of us doing this now.
Gwenno: Yeah, because the point is different now. When we started we were sort dressing up and being all anti- those indie guitar bands that were around, but they’ve all gone now, so where do we stand in the grand scheme of things? [Laughs] You need to know who your enemies are, you know, who the bad man is, fighting against what system. It’s finding out what your context is, sort of doing that all over again, really – and I think the songs are wicked. I genuinely do. I think Martin’s done a really good job.

He’s been around for a while – almost old to enough to have worked on some of the original doo-wop records.

Ani: Yeah he has. There’s just some amazing stuff that he’s done. The thing that I love about Martin is how ridiculously enthusiastic about music he still is. He’s not at all cynical, which is just great, because you’d think that you’d lose enthusiasm by then. He’s kind of done more than anyone I’ve ever met.

So who’s he worked with?

Gwenno: Well, I think his biggest thing was Dare by The Human League. Buzzcocks, Stranglers, Shirley Bassey, Altered Image… I think he turned Madonna down.

Really?

Ani: A guy called and said, “I’ve got this girl, Madonna, do you want to make a record with her?” and he said he was too busy because he was doing another Human League album. Even if that’s not true, I think it’s great.

Rehearsals for your tour are going well?

Gwenno: Really good, actually. We’d done a gig as a duo in October at S?n Festival, Huw Stephens’ festival… it seemed a bit of a curse, the S?n Festival, because we couldn’t do it the year before because a girl left the band, but this year we decided we were definitely going to do it because my mum was there, my dad was there, my friends… And then we hadn’t rehearsed, and rehearsing as a duo has really changed the dynamic of the band which I hadn’t expected so much. There’s a lot more singing in unison – I feel so much more confident about it. Obviously, it’s good because we’re siblings, and if we’re singing out of tune we’re going to be harmonising out of tune, if that makes sense. I remember with Rose and Becky that it wasn’t always in tune, there wasn’t that natural instinct, and we were always counteracting each other, we weren’t really harmonising. This is good, I’m quite excited about this new thing, there’s more of a unified voice.
Ani: And also with the old songs we haven’t found that it massively affects them, and we were worried about the old songs mostly because of the freaky harmonies, but there really weren’t any three-piece harmonies anywhere. I do Rose and Becky’s parts, though – I rock ‘n roll AND I hip-hop, which is great.

Does this mean that you’re not looking to find a third member of the band, to get it back to how it was before?

Gwenno: No, not really. I think it was quite nice realising that we’re not the Sugababes, and you can’t just fill that gap. It feels like an evolution, because obviously having a third person who you don’t know can be really weird. They’re not Rose, they’re not Becky, and that’s just not how it is any more. Getting a randomer doesn’t really work…

Kind of like a session musician?

Gwenno: I think that’s what happened, by the third girl who came in. She ended up being really more of a session singer, really, because they couldn’t join in the writing because we’d already written the album, it was finished, they could only sing along with us. It was kind of a redundant thing, and there was no point in them joining the band if they couldn’t help to create anything. Much more of an urge to get the album out, because it’s been going for the last couple of years, and now it’s finally coming out…

Scary?

Gwenno: Yeah, actually! I’m just so happy, that we’re not sitting on this album. It was recorded in the spare bits of studio time that Martin had, which is great, we appreciated that so much, but I remember we read a book which mentioned him, talking about when he made Dare. He said it took him more than a year to make it, and were already three months into recording so we were a bit worried because he was comparing our album to Dare – though obviously it’s probably not going to be anywhere near as big! – and in the end it took him, I think, one more day to finish than for Dare.
Ani: It’s just so good to have the album out really. I’m not nervous at all. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but we have tried our best.

The Pipettes were a pretty big deal a few years ago, stuff bursting onto the indie club scene with their 50s and 60s-influenced polka-dot pop song album Meet The Pipettes and its hit singles like ‘Pull Shapes‘ and ‘Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me‘. That was half a decade ago, recipe though – since then, they’ve had several members come and go, leaving the band in its current incarnation of sisters Gwenno and Ani [right and left, respectivaly, in the photo above], along with the boys who play the instruments and help write the music. After a long delay they’ve managed to get a second album ready for release, so I caught up with them earlier this week to see how they’ve been coping with all this commotion.

I thought that we’d start with just clarifying something that I’m not entirely sure about, which is the songwriting – who writes what?

Gwenno: It’s the same as it’s always been. How it works is that one person will write the song, and they’ll bring it in, usually in something like a finished form – it might need a few more chords, or a second verse – but they’ll bring it to the band, and we’ll all interpret it in our own way.
Ani: Everyone’s a songwriter in the band.

I’ve been listening to the new album. It’s an interesting change in direction because it’s not as doo-wop any more, is it? There are a couple of songs that still have that Phil Spector kind of sound, like the first album, but there’s a big change towards synths and electronics and stuff. Almost like moving forward through time a bit? That’s kind of what it sounded like to me. It’s called Earth vs The Pipettes which, in my mind, means space and sci-fi and lasers and things like that – futuristic things. Is that roughly what the thinking behind the album title was?

Gwenno: Well, we were going to call it In Colour, but then there was the whole sci-fi thing – there’s this b-movie called Earth vs The Flying Saucers, and there’s a poster for the film, with all these monsters coming down and people on the floor, and we were going to imitate it with the boys all on the floor and us coming down as the monsters. The album is slightly more grown-up and more serious to a certain extent, but there’s still that silliness and that sense of ridiculousness.

There’s a lot less playground-romance in the new songs.

Ani: [whistfully] I think we should be honest that our school days are well and truly gone…

Time to put the photos away in the album?

Ani: Heh, yeah. Although I never liked school much. We were 100% losers.
Gwenno: But now you’re a winner!
Ani: Yeah! Um. A winner all the way.

So there’s the sci-fi influence on the new album, but what else was coming into your heads when you were making it?

Gwenno: Well, everyone had different takes on it, really.
Ani: When I first came into the band…

Sorry, how long have you been in the band now?

Ani: Two years. When I first came into the band I thought, “yay, I’m in a 50s pop band,” and the first songs that I wrote were songs like that, but they’re not now, they’re more disco.
Gwenno: But also there was a natural evolution, if you’re wanting to be pseudo-academic about it, but at the same time it was a natural thing for us to move in that direction. And of course, being in a band together for so many years, you start to think…

Something different?

Gwenno: Well… Actually, I don’t know.
Ani: It’s not going to be the same, is it?
Gwenno: I know, but I do think that it’s a development anyway, in a way. Everyone can be themselves more.
Ani: Who are you?
Gwenno: [Laughs] I don’t know… Well, I really love a lot of British 80s bands, Bananarama and things like that.
Ani: Which you reference on the first album quite a lot.
Gwenno: Not sonically, though.

Lyrically?

Gwenno: Yeah. And I like old Kylie songs and things like that, and I think that you can hear that more.

So are you saying that you weren’t as keen on the Phil Spector-influenced stuff from the first album?

Gwenno: No, it wasn’t that. There was a point to it, and it was a really good point. I remember seeing the band play in Cardiff and thinking it was absolute genius, and that I wanted to be in this band. None of us were massively into 60s pop music or anything like that, but it was about the history of pop music. Like, if this makes sense then we can make our own year zero here. It was a slightly more intelligent approach than just, “oh, I like playing, I like singing.”

And with your new songs you don’t feel tied down to a single aesthetic?

Gwenno: No. I think it feels… The longer you make music with someone, the more that you trust them, and the more you understand, and you can trust their input. It’s not as controlled.
Ani: And also, with this album, everyone in the band now is at the same point. You [gestures to Gwenno] came in later than the start, I came in even later, so everyone could start from the same point and everyone worked together as a unit, wrote it as a unit.
Gwenno: I guess the common thread is Martin [Rushent, producer], apart from the space theme, of course.

I was watching your video for the first single off the album, ‘Stop The Music’ – you’ve got your dance moves in that, and lots of costumes…

Gwenno: Yeah, and again, it’s quite an organic development, and I don’t think that that song is very ‘Bam! We’re Back!’ – people have been a bit slow to get behind it, and me too. I didn’t write this song and it took me quite a while to actually understand it, to really, really get into it. It’s such a grower.
Ani: It’s a much more confident approach. I don’t want to undermine ourselves, but it doesn’t sound as desperate, like, “hey, we’re in a band.”

So you’re more sure of yourself? The album does sound very cohesive despite the change in direction, I think.

Gwenno: Well, it was a move away from songs like ‘Pull Shapes’, which we ended up feeling quite defined by. Putting ‘Stop The Music’ out first is quite a deliberate thing from us, as in, “here’s a song, we really love it, and it stands on its own and doesn’t need gimmicks.” Which, again, is what this album is about. You have to take it as it is – you like the music, you like the music, if you don’t, you don’t. I think ‘Stop The Music’ confirms that statement, really. The video, too, I don’t think is at all a gimmick, I just think it’s shot very beautifully. It’s probably the proudest I’ve ever felt in making something, visually. I don’t feel like I’m being stupid, jumping around clapping my hands.

You don’t worry at all that the change of direction will alienate some of your fans?

Gwenno: Well, I think that was inevitable. I think, even had it been the same lineup, someone isn’t going to like the new direction anyway. It’s easy to think that we’re alienating fans with a change in direction.

But you’re picking up new ones, too?

Gwenno: I think so, too. To be honest with you, the only reason we’re still here is for the songs. We knew it was going to be difficult with the new lineup, but had we not had so much faith in the songs we just wouldn’t have done it.
Ani: Yeah, and I’m not going to lie – over the past two years it’s not been easy to keep going, at all. There’s been no reason except that we’re making this record.

A labour of love?

Gwenno: Well it is, but having done the first record and having had people respond to it by saying, “it’s a bit gimmicky, it’s a bit throwaway,” it just made us feel that we wanted to do quite a serious thing. Yes, we do dress up and do silly dances, but we feel very passionate about that!
Ani: And then there’s the whole thing that we’re doing it independently, by ourselves, not on a major label or with co-writers forced on us. We would never do that, even though it was an option.

You said that the first album was a bit gimmicky – but surely that’s the point of pop music? To criticise pop for being throwaway and fun is a bit like criticising water for being wet.

Ani: Yep. That’s a thing I find with pop, that it can still be great music, it’s not just throwaway. Someone’s writing it, it’s someone singing someone’s emotions. Just because it’s pop…
Gwenno: I do think it’s completely different, though, when you have artists drawn up in a marketing board meeting.

But that’s still someone’s words that they’re singing, someone’s emotions.

Gwenno: I suppose. I just have a real detachment from modern pop music at the moment.
Ani: I’m not talking about Rihanna – I love Rihanna! I love Girls Aloud! But I’m talking more about…

Straightforwardly manufactured acts who are designed deliberately to make sales?

Ani: Yeah…
Gwenno: [To Ani] I don’t get what you’re trying to say…
Ani: I’m trying to say that just because it’s pop music that doesn’t make it less good, or less credible, than indie or whatever. I think that because we clap hands and dance and wear silly things…

Lots of bands wear silly things, mind. You guys seen Of Montreal?

Gwenno: Hah, yes!

Just because pop music might be, as you say, manufactured, doesn’t make it any less worthy, does it? But you guys are clearly not that kind of mainstream pop music, you’ve got that weird twist to it still by bringing in elements of disco and soul and so on.

Gwenno: I do think that it’s important, with this album, that even though it’s four to the floor most of the time it has still be played and written by a real band. I was talking to [former member] Rose about it yesterday – I like that in songs like ‘Stop The Music’ it’s grounded in very good music. It’s not just an electro-dance-slash-hip-hop song, it’s clearly grounded in 60s soul and all of that stuff. We were having a discussion in studio the other day about having a backing track – obviously Martin has done a lot of stuff to make us not really sound like we’re real, which is brilliant, we love that, and you can never recreate that live unless you played along with a backing track, which we would never, ever do. I really dislike bands that play to backing tracks, on the whole, and I have yet to see a band I’ve enjoyed the feeling of who have played along to a backing track. I would rather have less instrumentation, and see what everyone is doing on stage, and have that being what I hear.
Ani: It loses a lot of its soul. The way it feels, when it’s played in a certain way…

Like having an old record where it always skips in a certain place, and when you hear it on the radio and it doesn’t have that little clip in it, it feels less real?

Gwenno: Yeah, and I think where we differ, as a pop band, to a producer in a studio just making up something for a hired songwriter, is that we don’t have to justify ourselves by saying, “we’re real.” I think that’s an interesting distinction.
Ani: You always feel like you have to validate why you do something. I feel like we’ve thought a lot about the point of us doing this now.
Gwenno: Yeah, because the point is different now. When we started we were sort dressing up and being all anti- those indie guitar bands that were around, but they’ve all gone now, so where do we stand in the grand scheme of things? [Laughs] You need to know who your enemies are, you know, who the bad man is, fighting against what system. It’s finding out what your context is, sort of doing that all over again, really – and I think the songs are wicked. I genuinely do. I think Martin’s done a really good job.

He’s been around for a while – almost old to enough to have worked on some of the original doo-wop records.

Ani: Yeah he has. There’s just some amazing stuff that he’s done. The thing that I love about Martin is how ridiculously enthusiastic about music he still is. He’s not at all cynical, which is just great, because you’d think that you’d lose enthusiasm by then. He’s kind of done more than anyone I’ve ever met.

So who’s he worked with?

Gwenno: Well, I think his biggest thing was Dare by The Human League. Buzzcocks, Stranglers, Shirley Bassey, Altered Image… I think he turned Madonna down.

Really?

Ani: A guy called and said, “I’ve got this girl, Madonna, do you want to make a record with her?” and he said he was too busy because he was doing another Human League album. Even if that’s not true, I think it’s great.

Rehearsals for your tour are going well?

Gwenno: Really good, actually. We’d done a gig as a duo in October at S?n Festival, Huw Stephens’ festival… it seemed a bit of a curse, the S?n Festival, because we couldn’t do it the year before because a girl left the band, but this year we decided we were definitely going to do it because my mum was there, my dad was there, my friends… And then we hadn’t rehearsed, and rehearsing as a duo has really changed the dynamic of the band which I hadn’t expected so much. There’s a lot more singing in unison – I feel so much more confident about it. Obviously, it’s good because we’re siblings, and if we’re singing out of tune we’re going to be harmonising out of tune, if that makes sense. I remember with Rose and Becky that it wasn’t always in tune, there wasn’t that natural instinct, and we were always counteracting each other, we weren’t really harmonising. This is good, I’m quite excited about this new thing, there’s more of a unified voice.
Ani: And also with the old songs we haven’t found that it massively affects them, and we were worried about the old songs mostly because of the freaky harmonies, but there really weren’t any three-piece harmonies anywhere. I do Rose and Becky’s parts, though – I rock ‘n roll AND I hip-hop, which is great.

Does this mean that you’re not looking to find a third member of the band, to get it back to how it was before?

Gwenno: No, not really. I think it was quite nice realising that we’re not the Sugababes, and you can’t just fill that gap. It feels like an evolution, because obviously having a third person who you don’t know can be really weird. They’re not Rose, they’re not Becky, and that’s just not how it is any more. Getting a randomer doesn’t really work…

Kind of like a session musician?

Gwenno: I think that’s what happened, by the third girl who came in. She ended up being really more of a session singer, really, because they couldn’t join in the writing because we’d already written the album, it was finished, they could only sing along with us. It was kind of a redundant thing, and there was no point in them joining the band if they couldn’t help to create anything. Much more of an urge to get the album out, because it’s been going for the last couple of years, and now it’s finally coming out…

Scary?

Gwenno: Yeah, actually! I’m just so happy, that we’re not sitting on this album. It was recorded in the spare bits of studio time that Martin had, which is great, we appreciated that so much, but I remember we read a book which mentioned him, talking about when he made Dare. He said it took him more than a year to make it, and were already three months into recording so we were a bit worried because he was comparing our album to Dare – though obviously it’s probably not going to be anywhere near as big! – and in the end it took him, I think, one more day to finish than for Dare.
Ani: It’s just so good to have the album out really. I’m not nervous at all. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but we have tried our best.

The Pipettes were a pretty big deal a few years ago, site bursting onto the indie club scene with their 50s and 60s-influenced polka-dot pop song album Meet The Pipettes and its hit singles like ‘Pull Shapes‘ and ‘Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me‘. That was half a decade ago, more about though – since then, price they’ve had several members come and go, leaving the band in its current incarnation of sisters Gwenno and Ani [right and left, respectivaly, in the photo above], along with the boys who play the instruments and help write the music. After a long delay they’ve managed to get a second album ready for release, so I caught up with them earlier this week to see how they’ve been coping with all this commotion.

I thought that we’d start with just clarifying something that I’m not entirely sure about, which is the songwriting – who writes what?

Gwenno: It’s the same as it’s always been. How it works is that one person will write the song, and they’ll bring it in, usually in something like a finished form – it might need a few more chords, or a second verse – but they’ll bring it to the band, and we’ll all interpret it in our own way.
Ani: Everyone’s a songwriter in the band.

I’ve been listening to the new album. It’s an interesting change in direction because it’s not as doo-wop any more, is it? There are a couple of songs that still have that Phil Spector kind of sound, like the first album, but there’s a big change towards synths and electronics and stuff. Almost like moving forward through time a bit? That’s kind of what it sounded like to me. It’s called Earth vs The Pipettes which, in my mind, means space and sci-fi and lasers and things like that – futuristic things. Is that roughly what the thinking behind the album title was?

Gwenno: Well, we were going to call it In Colour, but then there was the whole sci-fi thing – there’s this b-movie called Earth vs The Flying Saucers, and there’s a poster for the film, with all these monsters coming down and people on the floor, and we were going to imitate it with the boys all on the floor and us coming down as the monsters. The album is slightly more grown-up and more serious to a certain extent, but there’s still that silliness and that sense of ridiculousness.

There’s a lot less playground-romance in the new songs.

Ani: [whistfully] I think we should be honest that our school days are well and truly gone…

Time to put the photos away in the album?

Ani: Heh, yeah. Although I never liked school much. We were 100% losers.
Gwenno: But now you’re a winner!
Ani: Yeah! Um. A winner all the way.

So there’s the sci-fi influence on the new album, but what else was coming into your heads when you were making it?

Gwenno: Well, everyone had different takes on it, really.
Ani: When I first came into the band…

Sorry, how long have you been in the band now?

Ani: Two years. When I first came into the band I thought, “yay, I’m in a 50s pop band,” and the first songs that I wrote were songs like that, but they’re not now, they’re more disco.
Gwenno: But also there was a natural evolution, if you’re wanting to be pseudo-academic about it, but at the same time it was a natural thing for us to move in that direction. And of course, being in a band together for so many years, you start to think…

Something different?

Gwenno: Well… Actually, I don’t know.
Ani: It’s not going to be the same, is it?
Gwenno: I know, but I do think that it’s a development anyway, in a way. Everyone can be themselves more.
Ani: Who are you?
Gwenno: [Laughs] I don’t know… Well, I really love a lot of British 80s bands, Bananarama and things like that.
Ani: Which you reference on the first album quite a lot.
Gwenno: Not sonically, though.

Lyrically?

Gwenno: Yeah. And I like old Kylie songs and things like that, and I think that you can hear that more.

So are you saying that you weren’t as keen on the Phil Spector-influenced stuff from the first album?

Gwenno: No, it wasn’t that. There was a point to it, and it was a really good point. I remember seeing the band play in Cardiff and thinking it was absolute genius, and that I wanted to be in this band. None of us were massively into 60s pop music or anything like that, but it was about the history of pop music. Like, if this makes sense then we can make our own year zero here. It was a slightly more intelligent approach than just, “oh, I like playing, I like singing.”

And with your new songs you don’t feel tied down to a single aesthetic?

Gwenno: No. I think it feels… The longer you make music with someone, the more that you trust them, and the more you understand, and you can trust their input. It’s not as controlled.
Ani: And also, with this album, everyone in the band now is at the same point. You [gestures to Gwenno] came in later than the start, I came in even later, so everyone could start from the same point and everyone worked together as a unit, wrote it as a unit.
Gwenno: I guess the common thread is Martin [Rushent, producer], apart from the space theme, of course.

I was watching your video for the first single off the album, ‘Stop The Music’ – you’ve got your dance moves in that, and lots of costumes…

Gwenno: Yeah, and again, it’s quite an organic development, and I don’t think that that song is very ‘Bam! We’re Back!’ – people have been a bit slow to get behind it, and me too. I didn’t write this song and it took me quite a while to actually understand it, to really, really get into it. It’s such a grower.
Ani: It’s a much more confident approach. I don’t want to undermine ourselves, but it doesn’t sound as desperate, like, “hey, we’re in a band.”

So you’re more sure of yourself? The album does sound very cohesive despite the change in direction, I think.

Gwenno: Well, it was a move away from songs like ‘Pull Shapes’, which we ended up feeling quite defined by. Putting ‘Stop The Music’ out first is quite a deliberate thing from us, as in, “here’s a song, we really love it, and it stands on its own and doesn’t need gimmicks.” Which, again, is what this album is about. You have to take it as it is – you like the music, you like the music, if you don’t, you don’t. I think ‘Stop The Music’ confirms that statement, really. The video, too, I don’t think is at all a gimmick, I just think it’s shot very beautifully. It’s probably the proudest I’ve ever felt in making something, visually. I don’t feel like I’m being stupid, jumping around clapping my hands.

You don’t worry at all that the change of direction will alienate some of your fans?

Gwenno: Well, I think that was inevitable. I think, even had it been the same lineup, someone isn’t going to like the new direction anyway. It’s easy to think that we’re alienating fans with a change in direction.

But you’re picking up new ones, too?

Gwenno: I think so, too. To be honest with you, the only reason we’re still here is for the songs. We knew it was going to be difficult with the new lineup, but had we not had so much faith in the songs we just wouldn’t have done it.
Ani: Yeah, and I’m not going to lie – over the past two years it’s not been easy to keep going, at all. There’s been no reason except that we’re making this record.

A labour of love?

Gwenno: Well it is, but having done the first record and having had people respond to it by saying, “it’s a bit gimmicky, it’s a bit throwaway,” it just made us feel that we wanted to do quite a serious thing. Yes, we do dress up and do silly dances, but we feel very passionate about that!
Ani: And then there’s the whole thing that we’re doing it independently, by ourselves, not on a major label or with co-writers forced on us. We would never do that, even though it was an option.

You said that the first album was a bit gimmicky – but surely that’s the point of pop music? To criticise pop for being throwaway and fun is a bit like criticising water for being wet.

Ani: Yep. That’s a thing I find with pop, that it can still be great music, it’s not just throwaway. Someone’s writing it, it’s someone singing someone’s emotions. Just because it’s pop…
Gwenno: I do think it’s completely different, though, when you have artists drawn up in a marketing board meeting.

But that’s still someone’s words that they’re singing, someone’s emotions.

Gwenno: I suppose. I just have a real detachment from modern pop music at the moment.
Ani: I’m not talking about Rihanna – I love Rihanna! I love Girls Aloud! But I’m talking more about…

Straightforwardly manufactured acts who are designed deliberately to make sales?

Ani: Yeah…
Gwenno: [To Ani] I don’t get what you’re trying to say…
Ani: I’m trying to say that just because it’s pop music that doesn’t make it less good, or less credible, than indie or whatever. I think that because we clap hands and dance and wear silly things…

Lots of bands wear silly things, mind. You guys seen Of Montreal?

Gwenno: Hah, yes!

Just because pop music might be, as you say, manufactured, doesn’t make it any less worthy, does it? But you guys are clearly not that kind of mainstream pop music, you’ve got that weird twist to it still by bringing in elements of disco and soul and so on.

Gwenno: I do think that it’s important, with this album, that even though it’s four to the floor most of the time it has still be played and written by a real band. I was talking to [former member] Rose about it yesterday – I like that in songs like ‘Stop The Music’ it’s grounded in very good music. It’s not just an electro-dance-slash-hip-hop song, it’s clearly grounded in 60s soul and all of that stuff. We were having a discussion in studio the other day about having a backing track – obviously Martin has done a lot of stuff to make us not really sound like we’re real, which is brilliant, we love that, and you can never recreate that live unless you played along with a backing track, which we would never, ever do. I really dislike bands that play to backing tracks, on the whole, and I have yet to see a band I’ve enjoyed the feeling of who have played along to a backing track. I would rather have less instrumentation, and see what everyone is doing on stage, and have that being what I hear.
Ani: It loses a lot of its soul. The way it feels, when it’s played in a certain way…

Like having an old record where it always skips in a certain place, and when you hear it on the radio and it doesn’t have that little clip in it, it feels less real?

Gwenno: Yeah, and I think where we differ, as a pop band, to a producer in a studio just making up something for a hired songwriter, is that we don’t have to justify ourselves by saying, “we’re real.” I think that’s an interesting distinction.
Ani: You always feel like you have to validate why you do something. I feel like we’ve thought a lot about the point of us doing this now.
Gwenno: Yeah, because the point is different now. When we started we were sort dressing up and being all anti- those indie guitar bands that were around, but they’ve all gone now, so where do we stand in the grand scheme of things? [Laughs] You need to know who your enemies are, you know, who the bad man is, fighting against what system. It’s finding out what your context is, sort of doing that all over again, really – and I think the songs are wicked. I genuinely do. I think Martin’s done a really good job.

He’s been around for a while – almost old to enough to have worked on some of the original doo-wop records.

Ani: Yeah he has. There’s just some amazing stuff that he’s done. The thing that I love about Martin is how ridiculously enthusiastic about music he still is. He’s not at all cynical, which is just great, because you’d think that you’d lose enthusiasm by then. He’s kind of done more than anyone I’ve ever met.

So who’s he worked with?

Gwenno: Well, I think his biggest thing was Dare by The Human League. Buzzcocks, Stranglers, Shirley Bassey, Altered Image… I think he turned Madonna down.

Really?

Ani: A guy called and said, “I’ve got this girl, Madonna, do you want to make a record with her?” and he said he was too busy because he was doing another Human League album. Even if that’s not true, I think it’s great.

Rehearsals for your tour are going well?

Gwenno: Really good, actually. We’d done a gig as a duo in October at S?n Festival, Huw Stephens’ festival… it seemed a bit of a curse, the S?n Festival, because we couldn’t do it the year before because a girl left the band, but this year we decided we were definitely going to do it because my mum was there, my dad was there, my friends… And then we hadn’t rehearsed, and rehearsing as a duo has really changed the dynamic of the band which I hadn’t expected so much. There’s a lot more singing in unison – I feel so much more confident about it. Obviously, it’s good because we’re siblings, and if we’re singing out of tune we’re going to be harmonising out of tune, if that makes sense. I remember with Rose and Becky that it wasn’t always in tune, there wasn’t that natural instinct, and we were always counteracting each other, we weren’t really harmonising. This is good, I’m quite excited about this new thing, there’s more of a unified voice.
Ani: And also with the old songs we haven’t found that it massively affects them, and we were worried about the old songs mostly because of the freaky harmonies, but there really weren’t any three-piece harmonies anywhere. I do Rose and Becky’s parts, though – I rock ‘n roll AND I hip-hop, which is great.

Does this mean that you’re not looking to find a third member of the band, to get it back to how it was before?

Gwenno: No, not really. I think it was quite nice realising that we’re not the Sugababes, and you can’t just fill that gap. It feels like an evolution, because obviously having a third person who you don’t know can be really weird. They’re not Rose, they’re not Becky, and that’s just not how it is any more. Getting a randomer doesn’t really work…

Kind of like a session musician?

Gwenno: I think that’s what happened, by the third girl who came in. She ended up being really more of a session singer, really, because they couldn’t join in the writing because we’d already written the album, it was finished, they could only sing along with us. It was kind of a redundant thing, and there was no point in them joining the band if they couldn’t help to create anything. Much more of an urge to get the album out, because it’s been going for the last couple of years, and now it’s finally coming out…

Scary?

Gwenno: Yeah, actually! I’m just so happy, that we’re not sitting on this album. It was recorded in the spare bits of studio time that Martin had, which is great, we appreciated that so much, but I remember we read a book which mentioned him, talking about when he made Dare. He said it took him more than a year to make it, and were already three months into recording so we were a bit worried because he was comparing our album to Dare – though obviously it’s probably not going to be anywhere near as big! – and in the end it took him, I think, one more day to finish than for Dare.
Ani: It’s just so good to have the album out really. I’m not nervous at all. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but we have tried our best.

For generations of punks, symptoms Teddy Boys, story New Romantics, nurse drop outs, dreamers, starlets and the fashion-fixated, 430 Kings Road was the centre of the world in the 1970s. Wrapped in the quixotic armoury of owners Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s groundbreaking designs, the young regulars were a sea of then-unknown faces that went on to have an unbelievable impact on music, fashion and culture. It’s with great sadness that the world must say goodbye to the impresario icon and legend of self-promotion, the inimitable Malcolm McLaren.

McLaren’s legacy as one of the most unashamed and thick-skinned entrepreneurs in popular culture is bolstered by his endless list of achievements. As a teenager who floated between occupations with the greatest of ease, McLaren established his unstoppable spirit and discovered a craving for infamy. In its most famous incarnation his Kings Road establishment was SEX, billed as London’s gregarious hotspot for S&M enthusiasts. But McLaren’s intention did not seem to be aimed solely at those looking for a few extra kicks in the bedroom. SEX was a way of life for teenagers looking for something new. The tills ringed endlessly as his collaborations with then-girlfriend Westwood were snapped up and immortalised in fashion history. The desirability of the punk look, all safety pins and bondage trousers, with that eternal spirit of anarchy, was established and never waned. If you need any proof of the legendry status of the clothing of this period, just ask Damien Hirst, posterboy of the post-millennium state of self-promotion, who shelled out £80,000 on 70 McLaren/Westwood garments later proved to be fake. However, if Mr Hirst is less than forthcoming about his blunder then you can simply wander down Camden High Street on the weekend to witness that lasting effect of those magic, transitional years of English punk. What started as a sparking desire to create a name for himself grew into McLaren’s controversial but unforgettable empire. Not bad for someone who insisted he wanted to “fail in business, but to fail as brilliantly as possible.”

Never one to stem his vicious determination, McLaren began managing bands, less successfully with the New York Dolls and later, rather bizarrely, an attempt with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. But it was his wild impetus behind the Sex Pistols revolution that really marked him out. The music and the fashion went hand in hand with the whirlwind subculture that captured the national imagination. In what is probably the best managerial manoeuvre of all time for what was an essentially manufactured band, McLaren positioned Johnny Rotten and the boys upon a floating performance boat on the Thames to promote the 1977 release of ‘God Save the Queen’, all manic sneers and a very big two fingers up to the establishment. McLaren’s vision of anarchic utopia spread across Her Majesty’s gracious nation as a battle cry of the new youth and the prophetic rising of Britain’s young, disgruntled generation. Difference was a statement, rebellion was empowerment and saying the C-word on telly was a little bit rude but it made for good publicity. The Sex Pistols rode the wave of controversy to self destruction and acrimonious ending that ultimately stretched into bitter court battles over royalties.

The Sex Pistols were the stars of the McLaren show, but he had a lot of important supporting acts in his repertoire too. His second musical brainchild, the band Bow Wow Wow, did not achieve the kind of worldwide success of the Sex Pistols, but their infectious blend of sweet and sour African beats and funky 1980s influences have made them a permanent fixture on my playlists. Despite being conceived as a promotion of Westwood’s New Romantic style, Bow Wow Wow gave us Annabella Lwin, one of the most unforgettable style icons of the 80s. McLaren might’ve given her the name but it was Lwin who brought the attitude required for her dishevelled shirt dresses and mohawk. McLaren’s solo career spawned a phenomenal 16 releases with his own brand of b-boy-hip-hop that flashed New York and London street culture together in a way only a man of his unashamed enthusiasm could do. If you’re in any doubt a few listens to Double Dutch will have you grabbing your fold out chairs and icebox and if you’re feet can stop bouncing, scribbling the invites to your summer block party in no time.

He may have matured into a man with a penchant for good wool coats and neatly folded scarves but he never lost his spirit. Despite his peers shedding some less than favourable light on him (John Lydon once branded him the most evil man on earth, no less), he never shied away from the controversy, a cheeky firebrand in celebrity culture. The lasting effect of punk on contemporary British fashion is an attitude that can never die. McLaren seemed to inspire dynamic change wherever he went and I sometimes wonder what a colourful capital it would’ve been if he had run for Mayor as rumoured in 2000. His proposed alcohol in libraries would have been a highlight. A little shandy with your Shakespeare would’ve certainly put the comedy back into the life of the characters, which is exactly what McLaren seemed to do for Britain in the 70s and 80s. Rightly or not McLaren was sometimes painted as somewhat of an incompetent chancer, but the point was, he kind of knew all along and it never stopped him. He had achieved his dream of immortality.

Malcolm McLaren 1946 – 2010
Too fast to live, too young to die

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