It’s a sense of the ridiculous but with rough edges; it’s exciting to listen to, it’s not just Rick Wakeman, you know?
Incendiary interview Heads We Dance
Spires, turrets and tower blocks stretch as far as the eye can see, every last surface of every one plated in glistening gold; from somewhere in the middle of it an explosion of gold glitter turns the night sky deep brown, as a huge flickering billboard tells us “You’re never alone with Model 21” before switching to the more sinister “Ministry Of Communication – Are you Connected?” A future earth or somewhere far more distant, this is the home of electro pop wunderkinds Heads We Dance (well, in their minds anyway – in reality they’re from Leeds) and they are about to take over the world. Boy bands in skinny jeans beware….
You know when you’re supposed to do something really important, and you don’t? Like, you’re about to interview one of the hottest new bands in Britain and suddenly realise that you’ve not got round to thinking up any questions? I’m sitting in that burrito bar in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens, you know, the one touring bands visiting the Northern Quarter venues always like, because it’s basically a takeaway that sells beer as well as food (you continental European types probably take this sort of thing for granted, but believe me, here most of them don’t) with Leeds-based electro stars-in-waiting Heads We Dance; there’s Becky (drums), Tom (“I was built by Pete, and I’m the bass player”), Yoni (“I built Pete, and I play keyboards”) and Pete (“I do all the other stuff that they don’t do”) and I’m going to have to wing it. Luckily this doesn’t matter. Pete could probably quite easily interview himself – as it is, his bandmates and I do manage to get the occasional word in when he stops for breath.
Pete: Heads We Dance have been going since the end of 2006. We were all in other bands, but we split those bands up and got together and played our first gig after about three weeks supporting Dead Disco at their single launch – and from there things happened very quickly for us. Then we spent a long time in development – that’s probably the most diplomatic way of saying how we spent most of the past 18 months. We started off wanting to play music for the love of it without having any really strong sense of direction and now we’ve found our feet, realised what we actually wanted to do, which is to marry a traditional kind of pop with more cutting-edge production styles, French house stuff like Justice and SebastiAn, all that Ed Banger Records stuff. We’ve been getting quite a lot of remixes done of various things.
IN: For a band who are only just getting round to releasing their first proper single you’ve got some pretty big names on board, how did that all come about?
Pete: It’s just been the power of the internet, really! We just got in touch with people over Myspace, we had demo versions of our tracks up, and we seem to share the same sensibilities as a lot of French people like Fred Falke and Alain Braxe; I think we’ve perhaps just got a more European sense of melody and style. The thing a lot of them have said to us is that they’re great at crafting the beats but they’re not always so up on the more melodic side.
Yoni: I think we’ve got strong songs, and with a remix it’s something that’s very identifiable; if you’ve got a strong hook for your remix it gives you something to hang everything else around, which is something that a lt of these people really like about working with us. It’s nice as well, we’ve just got four remixes back for our new single and they’re so completely different but all recognisably the same song still because there’s this pop melody right at the heart of it.
Pete: It’s interesting; when all the remixes are done the only thing they seem to all keep is the vocals…
Becky: I think it’s nice when someone uses something from our songs and just picks bits out for a remix, I like it.
Pete: I particularly like the one where the Frenchman sings our lyrics.
Yoni: It’s a brand new one, it’s by someone called Docteur Cauchemar and he’s just replaced Pete with a French robot – it’s brilliant! All the lyrics to the song but sung through a vocoder with a French accent.
IN: So what sort of stuff are you listening to yourselves at the moment?
Yoni: Justice, for the past year that’s really been the big album for all of us…
Pete: We felt from sort of a production point of view – yeah, we write songs and rehearse and that but we also like to record everything ourselves; we know what we’re trying to achieve; we’ve got very good at finding influences we like and bringing them directly into a record without having to explain to another engineer or producer. Perhaps five or six years ago hip-hop was the real cutting edge for exciting production, but everyone’s heard so much of Timbaland and the Neptunes now. Also, the background aesthetic to what we’re doing is how technology affects all our lives, and life in general is changing. What we’re trying to do is come at it with a sense of wonder, you know like those old sci-fi books that are all “in the future we’ll all have videophones” – and that’s led us to things like the soundtracks to classic sci-fi movies, Vangelis, all that cinematic use of keyboards – again it links back to the French stuff, to Daft Punk; we all went to those gigs they did with the big pyramid and that’s been hugely influential on what we do now. It’s a sense of the ridiculous but with rough edges; it’s exciting to listen to, it’s not just Rick Wakeman, you know?
Yoni: But we do have lots of ridiculously pretentious ideas. Like the newest track we’ve got, it starts off like a 2001, Also Sprach Zarathustra; big sort of sound, but at the end of the day we write pop songs and we try to squeeze all these ridiculous neo-classical ideas into three minutes. If it’s got a good chorus we just want to get as many ideas as we can in alongside that.
IN: So, Vangelis and Strauss meets Daft Punk and Justice? Well, nobody could accuse this band of taking the easy option. In fact all this talk of sci-fi and welding big and knowingly pretentious ideas to proper three minute pop songs, and their sense of style, it’s all a bit reminiscent of the 80s isn’t it? As our friends over at ManchesterMusic wrote, a time “when Pop Stars were these amazing other-wordly beings, not the production line dummies Simon Cowell shits out”. The never knowingly underdressed Pete will have changed into a black suit accessorised with gold shirt, gold shoes and a gold flying V guitar (“it was beamed down from outer space”) by the time they come onstage later, and Becky is particularly proud of her new flashing bass drum. Their debut single came out in glitter-sprinkled clear vinyl, and their website has to be seen to be believed – welcome to Planet HWD?
Yoni: I think a lot of the best bands do that; not necessarily to the extent of putting an imaginary gold city on their website and writing songs about it, but most of the best albums you get drawn into their world. It’s nice to sort of immerse yourself in something like that.
Pete: Something I feel I want to get off my chest is all the 80s comparisons; yes there are certain things like vocal stylings and synth melodies, but in a lot of ways in indie music there seemed to be this reaction at the end of the 80s against all this, and back to more of a sort of traditional, classic approach. This word ‘classic’, it just drives me mad – it’s like “how middle-of-the-road can we be?” And a lot of modern guitar bands, they’ll notice, they’re like “oh, it’s so pretentious, they’ve got keyboards” – but the keyboard sounds we use are modern keyboard sounds, it’s just everyone these days seems so scared of going to extremes within the indie-pop market. In post-rock you can be more extreme in one way, in hip-hop you can be ridiculous with your hydraulics and your cars, and now it’s happening it dance music too, you’ve got Justice starting their album with some old kind of sci-fi Roman film soundtrack. It’s not that it’s an 80s thing as much as that’s when it all ended, and got replaced with this dull plaid-shirted “honest” rock thing. You don’t think The Beatles wanted to be classic, did they? They just went with the times; went psychedelic for a while, experimented and pushed boundaries – now all bands seem to want to do is call themselves “The something” and sound like the Clash and it just makes me feel sick really. People say we’re derivative but I couldn’t pick out any of those modern guitar bands, the Wombats and all that lot just all sound the same to me.
Yoni: And if you listen to the new Mystery Jets single, now that does sound like an 80s song, that could actually have been recorded in the 80s, but I don’t think our records could have been made at any time other than now really.
Pete: It’s more the sense of style and drama of bands like ABC and The Human League which is attractive; bold pop records that are exciting to listen to. I find a lot of modern records are patronising to their audiences; as if kids can’t handle anything else apart from guitars played really badly and songs sung really badly. You can maybe do the Radiohead thing and get away with being a bit pretentious and absurd, or you’ve got to play it really straight. Our mix guy’s actually really against some of the production styles 80s records use, you know, all that reverb – he was trying to emulate more of a Kylie Minogue thing, her album X, more of a compressed, punchier sound.
IN: He carries on in a similar vein for some time, from which we glean that he is not hugely impressed with current media darlings The Black Kids, before he eventually stops for breath. I notice Tom’s not actually said a word yet. Does he not let you talk? “I’m not allowed to. I’m lucky to be allowed to turn up to the interviews to be honest” deadpans the bassist. “He does all his talking with his haircut” counters Pete. Yoni’s laughing his head off. “I think this was all from a question you asked about half an hour ago, wasn’t it…” I don’t actually get a chance to even answer this, as he’s off again…
Pete: A lot of European and North American and Japanese writers who are a bit more aware of everything that’s going on in a global market can place what we’re doing within its correct context; I think in UK journalism a lot of the time it’s so kind of parochial. One review we had recently in Leeds effectively said “there are no guitars in this so it’s got no balls about it”.
Yoni: Leeds is a big city with a lot going on, but the two biggest bands in Leeds right now are The Kaiser Chiefs and The Pigeon Detectives; there’s no surprise those bands are popular, they write songs that are catchy, they’re good at what they do, but it isn’t exactly forward thinking is it? When we first started people were getting excited about our early demos saying they were different and unique, and we’ve come so much further now.
IN: Obviously being from Manchester I’m more than aware of how the music press likes to associate a city with one sound, do you think those bands have coloured the idea of what people expect from Leeds right now? And if so where the hell do you lot fit in? Or don’t you?
Pete: Bands always get compared to what’s gone before, so you’re never going to eclipse the Kaiser Chiefs if you do that kind of music. I’d much rather we stand out from the crowd. People are going to start getting sick of being patronised, of being fed the sort of safe cocaine rock like the Hoosiers, it’s just Fleetwood Mac isn’t it?
Yoni: Or bands like One Night Only, it’s just boy-bands with skinny jeans on isn’t it? Surely we can’t be that far away now from everyone having had enough of The Kooks.
Words: Cath Aubergine 2008
Photos: Cath Aubergine