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Canada’s Dragonette seem about ready to explode since the recent release of their second album, Fixin To Thrill. The follow up to 2007’s electro-pop debut, Galore, the new record, while still very danceable, shows more new wave influences. Witty and charming, lead singer Martina Sorbara has all the makings of a pop icon: a sultry yet perky voice, suave onstage dance moves that appear more natural than choreographed, and adoring fans who scream her name at concerts. Band members include Dan Kurtz (Sorbara’s husband and songwriting partner) on bass and keyboards, Joel Stouffer on drums and Chris Hugget on guitar. Hailing from Toronto, the group has recently been living in London, UK, where the new album was written.

“Boys & Girls,” a song recorded with French electronic DJ/composer/producer Martin Solveig, features Dragonette and has recently become a hit in Europe after it was used to promote the Jean-Paul Gaultier fragrance, Ma Dame. The fashion-themed video, shot in the Gaultier mansion in Paris (with a cameo of Gaultier himself), has Sorbara in a duet with Solveig, further cementing Sorbara’s image as a pop and fashion icon.

Dragonette is currently wrapping up the first leg of their tour, which will take the group from North America to Europe, where they’re already more established, and then to Australia over the next several weeks. I chatted with Martina Sorbara just before Dragonette’s show at a packed Santos Party House in New York.

How’s your tour been so far?
It’s been good. A lot of driving, a lot of playing, a lot of late nights. It’s good, though. It’s been really fun to experience the whole, like, second record thing — it’s very different.

Did you tour for your first record?
Yeah we did, we toured a lot but mainly Europe, though not as extensively. So we’re playing a lot of US cities for the first time. The experience of having twice as many songs and having an audience that’s actually come back as opposed to an audience that’s just checking you out. It kind of like solidifies; it’s people who are investing emotionally and coming out for the show. It’s different — it feels solid.

Any favorites so far? Has there been any particular location that has been a high point for you?
All the California shows were really good: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Costa Mesa. It was fun because we don’t get out there a lot.

Where did you play in L.A.?
We played at a place called the Echo. And Costa Mesa was so weird! It was in like a strip mall, and we were like, ‘Oh my God…’ When you come from the East Coast, something in a strip mall is like ‘What?’ [puzzled expression] but in California it’s totally normal. So at first it was like a big question mark, but it was really awesome and people were coming from all over the place.

The new album has a sort of different sound from the first, and seems a bit more new-wave influenced that the first one, which features more electric guitars. Was that intentional?
No, we’re not a very intentional band [laughs]; we don’t have the discipline to be intentional! We just kind of go wherever, you know you add some of this, you add some of that and then you feel like it needs a bit more of something. The only sort of thing I remember thinking going into this record was wanting to try to make sort of a hybrid sound between the more electronic sound and a really distinctively acoustic one, but that could have amounted to a more new agey thing [laughs]. And I don’t even know if we accomplished that, but it was the only sort of conscious thought I had about what we should do. But mostly, every song was kind of like luck, or something, and the steering process was pretty haphazard.

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You’re from Toronto originally but were living in London for a while, which is where the new record was mostly written. Where are you now?
We’re still based in Toronto but still living in London.

London has a great music scene, with a lot of places to go see bands live.
Yeah, almost too many!

Do you get to see a lot of shows?
I’m terrible at going out. I like having people in, having people come to me [laughs]. I go out, but I don’t go to see live music as a hobby. I probably should, but when I go out to hear bands, I find it hard to turn my brain off, and I’m not relaxing but watching and judging;  judging myself and the bands, and that’s just terrible. So I go out and do something else.

What are some of your influences and long-standing favorites?
Music that I put on intentionally to listen to … a lot of ’70s pop, Phoebe Snow, Rickie Lee Jones, Nick Lowe and then maybe a wildcard of some new vinyl I’ve just picked up. I’m kind of stuck in the past. If I were at home right now I’d put on Phoebe Snow. Dan always gets so frustrated because we get stacks of CDs and there’s always cool new music to listen to, and I always come home and put on the same four records. [laughs]

Any favorites among current artists?
Totally! I loved the Santogold record so much; that album is something that I’ve listened to the shit out of. I’m not a super with it music kind of person, and don’t have my finger on the pulse, but I know there’s more. I hear new music and it inspires me, but it’s fleeting. By fleeting I mean I can’t keep up and keep a hold of who all the bands are, there’s just so much.

Yes, it’s hard to keep up with everything. I used to be a little bit better at knowing what’s out there and the different labels and all, but I don’t so much now, maybe it’s an age thing.
I think it must be! [laughs] At least it is with me. I remember when I used to buy magazines and read about new bands, thinking this sounds very interesting and then going out and buying it.

Is The New Deal (Dan Kurtz’s other band that Martina sometimes works with) still happening?
Yes, The New Deal is still going, between when Dragonette is playing. They’re going to have a show in New York on New Year’s, but I won’t be with them, I’ll be in Florida (vacationing with family).

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Did you do SXSW this year or any plans for that or CMJ in the future?
We did SXSW two years ago and CMJ maybe a year ago. Not sure yet if we will next year. I also did a showcase thing with The New Deal and just remember that it’s a very in and out experience doing showcases.

I wanted to ask you about the name, Dragonette. Where did that come from?
It’s just a word I thought of. I thought I’d made up, but apparently it’s some kind of fish. I liked it for the sort of contradiction of it: dragon, a great beastie thing, and then the dainty ‘ette.’

It also sounds like it could be a play on Dragnet.
Yeah, that’s what some people have sometimes thought we were called.

So what’s next for Dragonette?
We’re busy touring (U.S., Europe and Australia) until December 8th, then we’ll have a break before we start up again in the spring.

When you reconvene in the spring, will you start working on the next record, and will you do any writing while you’re on the road?
That might be ambitious! It’s hard to get yourself motivated for writing when you playing shows night after night. As the tour moves on and the machine gets more limber, it kind of frees up the mind space a bit. But I am looking forward to the next parts of creativity coming back. When you finish the record, you let that part go and you get creative in a different way. So, I think in the next few months we’ll start trying to write here and there.

You’ve worked with a number of iconic and influential artists such as New Order and Cyndi Lauper, among others. Are there any particularly memorable experiences and have any of them been an influence to you in any way?
Yes, with Cyndi Lauper, I remember thinking, she has such a different process than me, and we both recognized that with each other. It was one of my first experiences of actually writing with somebody. When I’m writing with Dan, we’re sort of writing in tandem and not necessarily writing the meat of the song together. But it was interesting to see how her process was sort of opposite mine, and I think I just took away a little bit of how she comes up with her ideas and how she flushes them out.

It’s interesting how sometimes having different approaches can have a dynamic effect when working with someone else.
Yes, it really felt great.–Teresa Sampson, Photos by Tear-n Tan

 
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