June 3rd, 2008 | Interviews

Joe McGarry

Sheffield imports the Long Blondes, prefer high heels to flats, Brigitte Bardot to Juliette Lewis and would rather be happy and alone, than sad and in love. Camella Lobo speaks to Emma Chaplin from somewhere in the Midwest on the first leg of the Long Blondes US tour supporting its sophomore album, Couples.

Are you in Detroit right now?
Emma Chaplin (guitars/keys): Yeah. We just got in and it’s cold here!
How do you like L.A.?
I don’t even know what it’s like. We were in L.A. last year but I was sick so I didn’t really get to see any of it!
What’s different about your L.A. fan-base?
I can’t even remember. I don’t know…I just remember that the shows we played there were really busy.
What can we expect from you guys this time around?
We’re going to do a much longer set this time. We’re going to do all of the songs off the new album and they’re all quite different songs from Someone to Drive You Home. They’re not all guitar-based. There are a lot more keyboard-led songs and samplers and things.
Do you feel pretty at home in the U.K. music scene?
Yeah! Lately we’ve done loads of shows there and Europe as well. We’ve really enjoyed it and have done pretty well there, especially Germany. We seem to have a really big fan base over there. We just played a big show at the Forum in London, which is quite a big venue, too. We were the headliners.
It seems impossible for you guys to not be compared to seminal bands from Sheffield. It’s an obvious angle, but what’s your take on that?
That’s fine with us. The thing about the Sheffield music scene is that bands tend to live in their own worlds. Most Sheffield bands are completely different from each other. If you look at the Arctic Monkeys compared to a band like the Human League, you see the diversity. It’s not like when people find out you’re from Sheffield they assume you have a certain kind of sound. For instance, when you refer to bands from Manchester, you instantly associate that with a certain sound. So, I think it’s really nice. I don’t have any problem being linked with that kind of history. Sheffield has a nice range, I think.
Did you all grow up in Sheffield?
No, none of us did, actually. We’re all originally from different areas in the north of England. I grew up in Newcastle, which is a lot like Sheffield. When we met there, we were all going out to the same gigs. It was right around the time that the Strokes and the White Stripes broke through. There were loads of copycat bands like them playing at Sheffield venues. The relationships culminated all around there. We didn’t really know our drummer, Screech (Mark Turvey). We had just seen him hanging around quite a lot and we needed a drummer, so we got him.
Screech has gone on record admitting the desire to conquer the world as a band, right?
I think he was probably just having a bit of a laugh there…
I read somewhere that you all got together and picked which instruments you were going to play and then learned how to play them.
Well, we just basically played what we could get our hands on. Like, we made Reenie (Hollis) the bassist because her uncle or cousin had given her one or something. We just assumed Kate (Jackson) would have a good singing voice because she has a great speaking voice. I think Dorian (Cox) had a guitar since he was 15 but never played and then I was like, “Ok, I’ll just play the keyboard then.”
So I guess there weren’t really any fights over who was doing what?
No, it was pretty easy, only now I play about as much guitar as I do keyboard. Dorian and I switch off. I think I’d get really bored if I just played keyboard.
None of you have long hair or are blonde, so where did you get the name for the band?
Before we had a name, we actually had a song called “Long Blondes” and it was about groupie girls with long blonde hair that go around trying to steal everyone’s boyfriends. You know the type, right? It’s one of our oldest songs. Dorian and especially Kate were also really into – and still are into – ‘40s Hollywood icons.
Upfront you definitely recognize the new electronic influence on Couples. What was different about working with club producer Erol Alkan rather than someone like Steven Mackey of Pulp, who produced your last album?
Erol was very open to new ideas so he wasn’t really pushing us in that specific direction. We were coming up with very different songs and we were trying all sorts of different things anyway. He had quite a bit of experience with guitar bands as well with all of the Brit-pop stuff he worked on through the ‘90s. He just had loads of ideas, actually, not that Steven didn’t. They just have a different way of working. It was really relaxed so things came naturally. It was loads of fun working with Erol.
What was going on in the two years between albums?
We had finished touring for the first album and then it was summer, which is festival time. There just wasn’t any chance to get any kind of writing done. We’re not really good at writing on the road. It’s just really difficult when you’re in a different country all of the time.
Am I picking up a reference to the widely publicized intra-band romances in the album title?
Yeah, the album wasn’t written just about that specifically but it was definitely an aspect of that. We chose the title as well because, yeah, it happened you know? There were couples in the band but we didn’t want that to be the only angle. There were a lot of different reasons why we called the album that. It is actually about a lot of different couples. While we were writing, we were putting a bunch of different famous couples on a board and it got pretty massive. All of a sudden we had a whole couples wall and that became the song “Couples.”
How tired are you of being compared to Blondie?
We’re not really tired of it. I think people forget though that Blondie had quite a few very different sounding albums, not just Parallel Lines.
What are you guys listening to right now?
Dorian has been talking a lot about Vampire Weekend and we’ve been listening to this itala-disco comp called After Dark from the label Italians Do It Better. That was such a big influence for Dorian when we were writing. Between one of our UK and US tours Glass Candy were playing in London the night we got back and he went out and saw them after a huge drive from Munich.
What bands from the past or present do you think are underappreciated?
Hmmmm… Have you heard of St. Etienne?
Yes, they’re great!
Yeah, they hit right around the time of the Brit-pop stuff but didn’t get a lot of huge recognition like some of the other bands from that time. I really love them. I also really love the Tom Tom Club. I think they were kind of forgotten about, too. Now that I think about it, CSS reminds me a lot of the Tom Tom Club.
Although you’ve achieved considerable success, there’s still a very DIY/underground element to your packaging. And Kate did the Couples album cover, right?
Yeah, she did that and the Someone to Drive You Home album cover as well. It’s nice to keep as much stuff as you can like that. You should do as much as you can yourself. If not, when you have an idea, it never quite comes out the way you envisioned. That’s why it’s really good to be in control. It’s bad enough just trying to get fonts right on album covers and stuff like that. That’s the reason that we didn’t have a digital download available for the single because Kate put a lot into the artwork and didn’t mean for it to become just a little tiny box in the corner of iTunes. It’s nice seeing the artwork as it was meant to be shown on the LPs. Each of us also did some short films ourselves for Couples with Dorian’s handheld camera. They were up on our website but if they’re not there, you can find them on YouTube. We each came up with an idea for our own little film and we really enjoyed doing those. I think in the future, we’ll probably end up doing our own videos, too and get help with the editing and stuff like that.
The Long Blondes are known for being very fashion forward. Is it a collective statement?
We never as a band sat down and said we want to dress a certain way. We’ve all got out own individual taste in clothes but when it all comes together I guess maybe it looks that way? I don’t know. When we’re on tour there’s just no space or time to orchestrate that kind of thing. Personally, I think if I went up on stage without makeup in whatever kind of clothes, I just wouldn’t feel like I was getting into the gig as much, you know?
Predict the ultimate future for the Long Blondes.
This is just all so weird because after we finished touring for our last album, I really didn’t think we would have recorded an album like Couples at all. That just happened naturally. There was really no plan to do something with more electronic sounds so I don’t know what the third album will be like. Hopefully, the third album will be something that we’re all really proud of like we are with this one. I’m just going with the flow. I don’t like to tempt fate, you see.