Interview by Jumana Farouky
Photos by Nicky Sims

Sitting in their local Brighton pub – all dark wood and torn chair cushions – the four women of Electrelane talked to UTR about their transition from instrumental sirens to electro-jazz-punk chicks and what it’s like to make music in a man’s world. The whole story is on page 21 of Issue 5, here’s the best of the rest:

On the Brighton scene:

Jumana Farouky (JF): There's been a lot of talk about the Brighton scene -- is there actually a Brighton scene?

Verity Susman (VS): I don't think there is. Not in terms of loads of people hanging out together and being supportive. No, I don't think there's anything like that.

Emma Gaze (EG): There's a real indie scene in that you can go to gigs at clubs and you always see the same people. But apart from that.

Mia Clarke (MC): The bands that are signed, I think they're all incredibly different.

EG: It just so happens they're in some loose way defined as rock bands, but they're all completely different from each other. I think there's scenes within scenes.

MC: But there's definitely a lot of bands here. Kind of something for everybody.

EG: But people haven't really picked up on it. Not the way, say, there's always the Liverpool scene or the Manchester scene. But nobody's really picked up on the Brighton one.

On their shift from instrumental to vocals:

JF: Why did you guys make that transition? And why did you decide to add vocals?

VS: It just felt right. Way way back, when we first started, we always had a lot of singing. But it never worked that well. When we did instrumental it was always more interesting. More completely we felt like we were doing something good, while the songs with the singing ended up quite bog-standard, boring, not very interesting. That's why we went for the instrumental.

JF: But it's more common for bands to start off writing songs with lyrics and then as they get more confident with the feel of their own music, they can express themselves without words. But you guys did it the other way around.

VS: We were actually more confident working with music before we felt we could put words to it. And I think when we put the words in the first one, we felt we were losing the feel of the music. We didn't get a sense of the feeling. That's why it was almost completely instrumental.

EG: But with this one, it just worked. We put the words in and we thought, "Oh yeah, now it's complete." Whereas before it was the other way around, they were distracting from the interest of the music. But now we're more confident with the music, we can do more confident things and because we know that we can we don't mind that there are words over the top as well.

VS: It's just about doing what feels right.

EG: The EP was very different from both the first album and new album. I think we're quite wary of being put in a box and having someone decide what we are. And that's why we're quite eager to… not always change the face of it, but do whatever we feel! Because as soon as you stop, then what are you doing it for?

On the differences and similarities between first album Rock It To The Moon and their latest, The Power Out:

JF: Is there something you brought from the first album into the second one?

VS: The improvisation. That's how a lot of our songs come about, so that's stayed. And we're not precious, if we don't think a song is really working we'll just drop it, rather than working away at it. And in the first album, the songs sounded complete without vocals. This time, they sounded complete once the vocals came in. And we didn't want to layer loads of things like we did with the last album. We wanted to keep it quite simple, a live band in a room playing together.

EG: It was really dense the first one. And the new one… Part of Steve Albini's work, there's loads of space and you can hear everything. You can hear the space around it, which is really nice. So I can see how for that reason some people aren't going to like the new one.

On sexism and their label as a feminist band:

JF: Do you feel any sexism in the music industry?

VS: Yes.

JF: In the beginning was that something that drove you?

VS: In the beginning more, yeah. We had to keep pushing ourselves.

JF: Any examples?

VS: Going to gigs and the sound engineer being really patronizing, saying stuff like, "Have you plugged your guitar in?"

EG: It sounds ridiculous, but it's true.

VS: It makes you uncomfortable. You know when you walk in…

EG: …they're laughing at you…

VS: …and they're standing there looking at you like, "What are you doing here?" We're not part of the boys' club. Like in music shops…

EG: …they'll be standing around admiring their equipment and we'll be, like, we know about our equipment, you can come over and admire it with us. We do know what we're talking about.

VS: Now it's a bit different. Now that we're playing in bigger places people have a bit more respect. They know you must be able to do something or else you wouldn't be playing there.

JF: Is that a political stance you want the band to represent? That's the kind of thing that could turn people off.

EG: It's really hard because it's really important to highlight the problem, but then if it makes someone not like you… But then why should we not be able to talk about it and say what we think about things just because some people might not like it. That's a bit… shit. And it's not like we go around shouting from the rooftops, but if we're asked we're going to talk about it.

VS: We didn't start the band to put across a feminist message, but if you start a band you're going to be thrown into it. It's a male-controlled industry and these things come up, by either being asked or just come up by being in a band.

EG: There's a difference between making a feminist statement in your songs like, say, Le Tigre. That's basically their whole manifesto. I don't think we're like that, not like we're trying to push a political issue.

Rachel Dalley (RD): Even within the band I think there's a difference of opinion on political issues. We're not trying to put across a band statement. But this is something we all agree on.

MC: It's really important for people to know that we are individual people.

On their fans:

JF: Do you guys get fan mail? How does it make you feel?

EG: Sometimes it almost makes you want to cry. We once had a letter from this guy in Turkey and it was really sweet. He lived in an abandoned amusement park and he listened to our album while he was walking around with headphones.

MC: He was saying that all the rides came to life when he was listening to our album.

EG: And quite young teenage girls, we get a few letters from them. It's not like we have loads of letters, but when they do come, they make you feel better. To help someone get through something.

JF: Have you ever written fan mail?

EG: [To Rachel] Now you have to tell her the Robert Smith story.

RD: I didn't write to him, I turned up at his house with a banana. There was this magazine called Smash Hits and if you took a picture with a famous person holding a banana, you got a £10 voucher, so I went round his house with a friend, a banana and a camera. Caught him on his way out. He was living with his mum. We just knocked on the door and said, "Is Robert here?" He came out and chatted with us and let us take the picture.

On whether their new album is darker or happier than the last:

VS: I do think the music sounds more optimistic overall than it did on the last album, where it was optimistic but in the end had a negative feel to it. But with the lyrics, most of them are quite bleak, so I think that changes the subtext. But it's a different way to approach things than you would on the instrumental album. But then it depends on how you interpret what the words are.

EG: Which is what's nice about it, because you can listen and not know what the words are. And then if you knew you'd maybe have a completely different take on it.

VS: We'll probably put the words on the website so if people are into it and want to find out, they can know.

Read an earlier web exclusive UTR interview with Electrelane’s Mia Clarke here.