Andrew Darley talks to Ladytron’s lead singer Helen Marnie about her new solo album and what she’s posted on PledgeMusic in order to make it happen.
When Ladytron decided to take a break after their fifth album, their lead singer had no intentions of stopping. Taking the hiatus into her own hands, Helen Marnie decided to carry out her idea of making a solo record. She wanted to make an album that was more personal to her and straight from the heart. Using PledgeMusic she was able to fund, develop and create the music in the way she wanted. Although the as-yet-untitled album follows the electronic vein that her band is largely recognized for, it is written in a more pop-oriented and diverse way. I chatted with Helen about making the record and how it feels to be going it alone.
Hi Helen! Thanks so much for chatting with me today. I’m excited to hear you’re bringing out a solo album. When did the idea initially come about?
Well, we, as in Ladytron, always joked about doing our own solo albums and what we would call them. I believe one of my options for a title was Celtic Connections. Seriously though, I think when I knew Ladytron would be winding down for about a year I decided that it could be a reality. So, I guess the beginning of 2012.
You relocated to Iceland to record the album. Did the move to new surroundings play a role in the music?
Well, I was only in Iceland for about a month. The demos were all pretty much in place before I went out there so it was a matter of adding layers, recording vocals and trying to make it sound really great. The co-producer and engineer I was working with had his studio out there so it made sense to record there. I love Reykjavík. It’s a pretty unique place. However, long days in the studio make it hard to explore. I was also quite aware that I needed to be careful with my voice so I didn’t party as much as I would’ve liked. I did manage a little weekend tourist trip though, so maybe that filtered through into the music.
Did you go into making the album with a specific concept you wanted to create?
Not really. However, I knew I wanted it to be quite pop and song based. I also wanted it to be personal and emotive. I hope that comes across.
Has the album got a name yet?
I do have a title, yes, although I’m not sure I can release it yet. I think some secrets are good.
Are you nervous about releasing music on your own?
I am extremely nervous. It petrifies me. I am also aware that Ladytron has a huge following and feel that pressure. However, I’ve been pretty clear from the start that this is not a Ladytron record. I can’t stress it enough. I do think what I’ve created is good. Parts of it are serene and beautiful, and I’m pretty proud of it. I guess that is all that matters.
How would you describe the sound of the album? If it was a colour, what one would it be?
I think it would be a midnight blue, merging into turquoise. It’s vocal strong, lush but dark at times. It’s like a landscape that changes over time.
You used PledgeMusic to fund the album and it has been a huge success for you. Why did you decide to use it and were you expecting such a strong reaction?
I’ve been asked this question quite a lot. I still think some of the people that have pledged are confused as to why I went down this road. But, to put it bluntly, I had no money. There is no way I would’ve been able to make the record and get it out there myself. I write and sing, but I need to work with other people such as producers, mixers, engineers etc in order to fulfill what I want the record to be. And that means I have to employ quite a few people to work with. Contrary to what people might think, Ladytron are not rolling in money. With the industry as it is touring is the way the majority earn now. The Pledge has gone great so far and it’s still rolling. I just hope people appreciate the record when they receive it.
You’ve pledged some weird and wonderful things for auction including disposable cameras with photos of your journey, designer clothes from old videos and even your car. Surely that must be a hardcore fan’s dream!
I’m a bit disappointed that no-one has snapped up the mini. I swear this car has never broken down on me. She’s a British dream, albeit a bit rusty around the edges. But, it’s probably just as well because otherwise I wouldn’t have any wheels to drive around town. The cameras went like wildfire. I actually had to take that option down as so many people bought one. I suddenly panicked when I realized I had about 40 cameras with 27 exposures on each to fill. That is a whole lot of photos! I’m slowly getting through them.
The album is produced by both Bang Gang’s Bardi Johannsson and your fellow Ladytron bandmate, Daniel Hunt. Did you need to set any boundaries to ensure you did not thread the band’s sound together?
The album is produced by Daniel Hunt with co-production by Bardi Johannsson. Basically, that was the idea of bringing someone else on board. Someone outside of Ladytron. I said from the start – I don’t want Ladytron, so we need to be careful. Bardi helped with that.
Did you find yourself writing more personally than the way you would as a collective in the band?
Yes, definitely. I think a solo album has to be personal, doesn’t it? I am actually prepared to share quite a lot of my heart and soul. It means a lot that people can connect with what I do.
Have you thought about the visual aesthetic of the album and how you want to present it? The shot of you in the pool is stunning and grabbed me because it totally contrasts with Ladytron’s image.
It’s actually quite liberating to have complete control. It’s just me. I can present myself any which way I choose. There is no-one else to think about. I’m enjoying that right now. I recently did the cover shoot with my friend and photographer Lisa Devine, and I’m so happy with the result. The cover looks awesome in my opinion. The gatefold will be even better!
You’ve always been very stylish when it comes to clothing and hairstyles, both on and off stage. Is fashion important to your work?
Why thank you. It’s lovely to think that other people consider you stylish! I don’t feel very stylish sat here right now. In fact, I have mucky dog paws all over my jeans. I think the way you present yourself is important, but it’s kind of just what makes you feel good. Fashion isn’t important to my music. I can sit and write a song in my pjs. For me though, when I go on stage I want to look good and feel comfortable in what I’m wearing. It’s about pleasing myself.
Could you talk about some of the inspirations or themes of the album?
There are motifs that weave in and out of the album. Pulling it together, I think my main influences are the people in my life, landscapes, events and memories. These are what make the biggest impact in my opinion, so for me it’s natural to somehow incorporate them into the music and lyrics.
I know you’re in the mixing process of the album, but are there any songs jumping out at you as favourites yet?
Yep, I’m still at mixing stage. I have my favourites but they seem to change on a daily basis! ‘Hearts on Fire’ is kind of anthemic, and ‘Gold’ is melancholic.
Since the early ’00s Ladytron have been torchbearers of electronic and synth music. Nowadays electronic music has been embraced by the mainstream and indie rock has largely faded into the background. How do you feel about the explosion of electronic music in the last few years?
I think it’s great. It just shows that music is far more accessible to people now. Get a laptop = make music. However, I think it’s more how you use the instrumentation and technology to create something worthwhile.
It’s early days yet but have you thought about performing solo live?
I’ve thought about it, but that’s about as far as I’ve got. If people like my album, I will. I’m thinking about an all girl band.
Being in the music world as long as you have, has your relationship to music changed over the years?
Yes, I think for a period I disliked music or the music world. It’s really strange. I guess maybe being in the thick of it for so long deadens your ears or something. Saying that though, there have still been artists that have held my attention over the years. Thankfully now, I have a whole new lust for music. Particularly Glasgow music. There’s so much great stuff coming out of this city right now.
Have you learned anything about yourself making this album?
Do not underestimate one’s self. Aim higher and have faith.
Marnie’s debut album is due out in May. You can pre-order a copy of it through her PledgeMusic page by clicking here.