All My Little Words

Interview With The Pipettes

Posted in Music, Uncategorized by nickchristian on June 24, 2013

This interview was originally published by Subculture Magazine in the Summer of 2006. It’s reproduced verbatim as the original, although the introduction has been slightly edited to make me sound like (slightly) less of a twat.

Three girls at once: Honestly

Why do we love The Pipettes? For the obvious reasons, obviously: For the polka dots; for the synchronized ‘50s-American-diner-style dance moves; for their unapologetic, titillatingly tutti-frutti pop songs; for the fact that they are women who, while the music industry is collectively wetting itself over girly indie boys, are unafraid to be girly girls.

Those reasons alone should be enough but having recently spent some time in their exalted presence, we here at Subculture have a few more.

An interview never sounds as good in print. The written word alone cannot render the sincerity and consideration with which these girls speak of their band. Nor is the English language sophisticated enough to depict the enormous variety of giggles that can emerge from three such vivaciously engaging ladies over the course an hour. Only when you come to transcribe the audio from such an experience do you realise quite how fucking useless the exclamation mark really is.

Nick: You signed your record deal a little over a year ago but you were around for a fair while before that. The whole thing seemed to be a long time in coming: did you ever wonder if maybe it wasn’t going to happen for you?

Gwenno: Did you think it was?

Rose: We didn’t really think about it.

Becki: No we just started the band and kind of thought “oh, this is a bit of fun isn’t it?” and then when people started liking it that took us a bit by surprise. And then when we got offered a record deal and stuff it was all a bit like “oh!”.

R: It felt like we just tricked them. I always felt like “Aaaaah!” like we’d managed to slip through the net somehow. We didn’t, and to be honest still don’t really, feel like we have, though aspirational and ambitious, expectations of anything necessarily.

G: No. It’s one step at a time isn’t it? It’s been so gradual, even since I’ve joined.

R: But then you relate it to other bands who’ve been going for years and years and years and actually it’s been quite quick. It’s all relative I think.

N: But you guys, it seemed to me at least, were for a while probably the most well-known unsigned band in the UK. A lot of people had heard of you outside of Brighton yet still it seemed you weren’t getting the attention from the labels. Why do you think that, in spite of the notoriety, a deal was so long in coming?

G: It’s the not fitting in thing I think. At the moment people are signing up any two-bit indie band that comes along in a pair of skinny jeans and a funny haircut. The Pipettes is nothing like that so I think it took a while for….. obviously major labels didn’t quite know what to do with us. We went with Memphis (Records) because they just signed us cos they liked us.

R: They took a bit of a punt on us.

G: Yeah. It was like: ‘kinda like this; don’t really know what it is; sign it!’ seemed to be the attitude.

R: The whole thing at the time was like ‘we really like you but we can’t place you and we don’t know how we’d market you’ and all this kinda stuff. It definitely required someone that was a bit less calculating in that way to get us on board I suppose.

N: Was the Brighton connection – specifically relating to The Go! Team being on the same label – a factor at all?

R: No. Memphis came to see us a few times and said ‘d’you want a deal?’ and we went ‘yeah, alright.’. That was it really. It wasn’t through The Go! Team necessarily. We did a tour with them before we got signed and that I suppose helped establish the fact that we might be worth signing but beyond that it wasn’t really an issue.

B: I think the tour was kind of arranged by Memphis who approached The Go! Team

R: …. And said ‘do you wanna take this band with you?’

B: Although I think Ian from The Go! Team did really want us to do it cos there are some similarities. He really likes what we do and I think that was a way to help Memphis decide if it was a good idea or not. They saw that audiences did like and thought ‘wicked, yeah we’re sold!’

N: You mention that it’s very difficult for people to know where to place you, to know where you fit in the grand musical scheme of things, so where would you place yourselves?

R: I don’t think we’d put ourselves anywhere either.

B: I don’t like categorizing anything. And I mean anything across the board. I don’t like this notion of roles and things having to be boxed in.

R: Put in their place.

B: It all seems very alien.

G: The world just isn’t like that.

B: Well it’s not but people find it easier if they know exactly what this is and can put it here in this thing. Nothing is black and white and I just think it’s a shame that there’s this need to analyse and try and understand everything beyond just liking it.

R: Yeah. You destroy things when you do that too much. What’s the point? Surely the only use of genre is in a record store when you can work out where to find an album that you like. Beyond that…. It’s all bloody music! Isn’t that enough? God. We’d like to be in between all of these places…

G: Yeah and I think we’ve paved our own path as well and I hope that we can continue to do that which kind of leaves us on our own. Obviously the more established that we become and the more people hear us the more it’ll be just a thing in itself. We’ve never really been part of a scene or anything like that and that’s something we hope to continue. I think that’s what a lot of bands that we admire do.

R: They transcend all of that bollocks. It’s all a bit childish I find. It’d be nice to be a bit more grown-up about it. In a little way. Just to appreciate things for what they are.

N: So which bands do you admire then?

G: God loads. Recent bands?

R: We’ve been listening to Field Music. Rumble Strips we like. I think they wanna be a pop band to some extent.

B: And they’re having the same problem as us, being categorized as a Dexy’s rip-off band. They’re feeling the same kind of pressures which is nice to know given that they’re boys as well so it’s not just cos we’re girls!

R: I still really like Le Tigre. I still think they’re very important.

G: Cos they’re an influential band as well. But I do kinda like bands like The Chalets with this real pop ambition. And that’s the reason I joined The Pipettes even though I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t even think about if we were going to get a record deal or anything like that, I just loved the pop ambition of it all – even though I saw it at the Barfly it was as if it was Wembley instead of this sort of toilet venue. I think indie bands trap themselves in this this horrible indie self-indulgent thing. They don’t want everybody to like them, only clever people or cool people. I can’t bare that indie snobbery. Those are the sort of bands that I love. That lose that self-consciousness.

R: I do hate that “well I’ve got it, why don’t you get it?” sneery attitude people have towards music. It’s really shit.

G: Self-consciousness I really can’t bare.

N: There is something refreshingly tongue-in-cheek about you that doesn’t really fit in with anything that you’re seeing anywhere else at the moment. Does the music industry take it self too seriously? Have you found that more as you’ve been more involved with it?

G: It’s more that the idea of music as escapism has been so dismissed recently. It’s all about how real someone is and what reflection they are of some shitty life. Like ‘real life is shit’ and why can’t you want to escape from that? I think especially the classic pop records that we’re into do do that. You put the record on and you forget how shit your day has been at work. That I think is very dismissed and I think that’s why pop in general is quite dismissed in this country. There’s this need for music to be ‘real’ when it’s not in fact real at all. What is real? Lily Allen is seen as real because she’s marketed as someone who’s speaking to the girl on the council estate. Her life has never been like that so how is that more real than Rachel Stevens? That’s how I feel anyway.

R: I think I’d agree with that statement.

N: So when you guys think about your audience, who is it that’s buying your records and coming to your shows, if not the sneery indie kids?

G: It’s diverse isn’t it?

R: Yeah there isn’t one type. I like to think because the band was formed to make music for people like us who are so bored with everything, they just want something else there that they can latch onto and feel empowered and enjoy. I think the people I’ve met after our gigs are people like us or people I went to university or school with who I was friends with which is really nice.

G: It’s amazing. It feels like there’s one big gang of people that feel the same way about it. That sort of breaks down the barriers between the audience and us, which is something that we never want to lose because we are just three girls lucky enough to have fallen into this position. It could be anybody in the audience that could do it as well. It’s sharing a collective vision because we couldn’t do it if they didn’t turn up.

R: We also get older people as well.

B: It pleased me very much when we played Aberdeen and there were a bunch of burly rugby players dancing around like fairies. I think that says it all about our gigs; that it’s a very non-judgmental atmosphere and people can completely let go, it’s just about having fun and being in a gang. I think that’s nice because when you go to a lot of indie gigs there isn’t that option. Everyone’s constantly worrying about wearing the right thing or if people are gonna look a them if they start dancing around like an idiot. I hate that kind of snobbery.

G: It’s a waste of a life…

R: And it represses people.

B: And it prevents you from going to see live music as well. I’ve stopped because I couldn’t handle that any longer. I just wanna go and have fun and these people are preventing me from doing that. I decided I would just stop going altogether which is a shame I think.

N: So is that part of The Pipettes mission, to transcend snobbish boundaries?

All: Absolutely! Yeah! Definitely!

R: It’s one of the big things that pushed us to start the band in the first place really: to find a way of ignoring all that stuff. You don’t have to fall into the same old routines that all the other bands do. Obviously you’ve got to play the game in that sense; you’ve got to do those venues and you’ve got to engage with things at some levels. I think as much as possible we want to keep away from all that stuff. We don’t want to be stuck in the Camden Barfly every week, that’s not exciting.

B: That isn’t ‘keeping it real’ to us.

R: And us actually being a bit bored and hot and smelly and depressed…

G: And you can’t use pyro(technics) at the Barfly, which is obviously one of our other great ambitions

B: And glitter streams coming out of the cymbals…

G: It’s too restricting – it just won’t do!

B: We want big stages!

G: It’d be amazing to do something like Wembley! A proper full-on pop concert! That’s what we’re trying to do in our own way..

R: How well we achieve that… I dunno…it’s a bit shoddy but I like the shoddiness of it.

N: Keeping it real?

R: We’re quite honest about it but it’s more of an aspirational thing rather than revelling in our own crapness y’know? We just wanna be as we are but that’s not to say if we got the opportunity we wouldn’t be something bigger and better.

B: We’d do it now if we could but we can’t.

G: People ask us at out shows if we’re going to change and it’d be very difficult because all of our ideas are already very much formed so nobody’s really going ot be able to manipulate us into being something other than what we are. Quite reassuring I think.

B: For everyone involved… maybe.

R: Possibly not…

N: The whole Pipettes package – style, sound, perfomance etc – is very neat and very classic. To what extent is this a genuine reflection of who you are and to what extent is it deliberately contrived?

R: Well it’s planned out, it isn’t chance that we happen to go on stage wearing polka-dot dresses. Yeah it is contrived to a certain extent. We’re interested in the idea of manufacturing ourselves and branding ourselves and thinking about the whole spectrum of the way in which people will see us and hear us.

B: It’s a concept and I think for a long time, especially in the ‘90s when OK Computer came out, there was this derogatory attitude that people used towards ‘concepts’ with regards to music. But then all music in the ‘60s and ‘70s was a concept. The Sex Pistols were the biggest concept band ever yet people love The Sex Pistols and ruthlessly defend their honesty and integrity. It just seems very strange that when you then come out as a conceptualised pop band, and when I joined the band I was told that this was how it would be, that that somehow is worse.

R: Any bog-standard indie-boy guitar-band is just as contrived. It’s styled and it looks a certain way because that’s a formula that they know will work and it’s fashionable and appealing to people at the moment. Unfortunately our styles and stuff might be a bit trendier now than when we began but we still are quite out of synch and that’s kind of how we like it.

B: The honesty comes in admitting that everything is thought through rather than pretending that it isn’t.

R: But there’s also an honesty in that we came up with it ourselves and it’s how we want to be and not something that’s been imposed upon us. That’s, I think, where the truth comes from and what differentiates us from a lot of bands.

N: Your album was released last week, and you’re currently riding high in the indie charts: how has your sound changed since the early demos and singles?

R: It’s just a bit more developed I think. Those early recordings that we did, the little independent seven inches were the beginnings of what we were thinking about and it was really just about getting the songs out as quickly as possible. Even though this album was recorded in two weeks – which is quite quick, and time and money were obviously of the essence as they always are – I think those little recordings helped us work out where we wanted to go and how we wanted to sound and what we didn’t want to sound like. It was just lovely to get the opportunity to work with strings and horns and properly get it all out because that’s how we wanted it to be from the beginning but we just didn’t have the resources.

G: We’re also treating it like a record rather than just sounding like a better version of what we do live which would be boring to listen to constantly. Obviously the song carries it to a certain extent and we use what we can live, because that’s what we are about, but when it came to recording the album…

R: …..we had a chance to do something else.

N: How much say did you have in the production and musical arrangement side of things?

G: We had a very clear idea of what we wanted it to sound like. Not in terms of the specifics but we knew we wanted it to be recorded as live, which all the instruments were, and we did want strings and horns and things like that, but we did get a lot of help with that.

B: It was always very important to work with a group of people who would give us what we wanted without us needing to tell them and I think that is what happened and I think we were very lucky.

N: And the end result is as you imagined it would sound?

B: I think it sounds a hell of a lot better than if any one member of the band would have had their wicked way with it. That was the important thing.

R: When we first finished it I don’t necessarily think any of us expected it to be like that. I also think it’s a very honest representation of the two-and-a-half years that led up to that point. I think it sums it up and is a really nice memento of that time. Even now I kind of feel distanced from it because it was six months ago and we’re kind of thinking about what’s going to happen next.

N: Which is what?

All: Who knows?!?!

R: Something very different I imagine.

G: We’re rehearsing new songs all the time..

B: And developing our songs

G: I really don’t think we’ve reached our full potential at all. We’ve got a lot of good ideas and I would like to see us completely follow things through which is something we’ve only managed to do because we’ve gained confidence as a band and we’ve grown up. Some of those songs are three years old; we’re definitely thinking ahead.

R: Maturing it a bit really – not “mature” in a rank way!

G: No, no, no. just developing and becoming more confident in what we can achieve as a seven-piece. I’m really excited about that; I think it’s going to be really good. We always know the aim is pop and that’s the thing that binds us all together: that love of a very good classic pop song.

N: Okay, last question before security boots me out the door cartoon-style: How do you feel about comparisons to the Supremes and which one of you is destined to be the Diana Ross figure to implode the whole thing?

All: [Giggles and splutters of laughter] Me! It’s definitely going to be me!

B: No, we never wanted there to ever be one main lead vocalist. That’s very important to us.

R: it’s not about our egos in that sense. The idea is so much more important and the fact that us three front the band… we’re actually just spokespeople for the idea and for the other boys. We’re not here to speak about ourselves in that way.

B: I hate the idea of us splitting up in order for one of us to pursue their own career. Then I would be like: ‘God, I’ve known you for all these years and you were just an egotistical bastard after all’. We’re not like that and it would be disappointing if that were to happen.

G: And also, I think, the democracy of the band is quite important. We’re constantly arguing as most bands do and there are seven of us and we are the three that do this part of it, and that’s purely because we’re the girls and we’re at the front. It’s a very very practical thing and not because…

R: …..we’ve pushed our own personalities to the front.

B: So, yeah. To clarify that… it’s gonna be me!

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