Mar 21, 2012 12:00AM

Interview: Electrelane

We talk to frontwoman Verity Susman ahead of the band's Australian tour.

British all-girl band Electrelane is about to start their Australian tour, which begins with their Sydney show tomorrow night. Having formed in the late nineties in Brighton, the band – currently made up of frontwoman Verity Susman, guitarist Mia Clarke, drummer Emma Gaze and bassist Ros Murray – announced an indefinite hiatus in 2007. In February last year, Electrelane came together once more, announcing a whole lot of summer dates throughout the UK and Europe, and, by extension, Australia, in which they'll be performing songs from their four-album archive. We caught up with Verity.

Rosie Dalton: Electrelane have been on indefinite hiatus for some years now, what adventures did you get up to during that time?
Verity Susman: Adventures probably makes it sound a bit more crazy than it was. We went back to studying, got jobs, our guitarist and drummer moved to the States so nothing particularly exciting. It was all the kind of mundane stuff that we hadn't done in a long time.

Your guitarist, Mia Clarke, co-curated a book called The Art of Touring during your hiatus. What are your personal feelings on touring?
I love it. I think it's one of my favourite parts of being in a band. I like the travel and constantly moving around.

So aside from the fact that we don't live in the seventies, is there any truth to the way touring is portrayed in films like Almost Famous?
I guess if you're a really big band it's like that but, at our level, it can be a bit of a slog... I really enjoy it but we have to move all our gear ourselves, which is a lot of heavy lifting every night – unless you're really strong. That's the only downside of it, and traveling in little vans and getting up early, going to bed late. But there's always a lot of adrenaline because of that; you're always a bit stupefied and you get to go to a new place and meet new people and people are happy that you come to play there and it's nice – I mean, it's one of the nicest things you can do. There's loads of time spent just waiting around, which is really nice too because you can do stuff. People come on tour with us – partners and stuff – and they say, "This is not very crazy, this is not very rock n roll." I think they're expecting it to be one long party but, with us, it's not quite like that.

Do you have a favourite country to tour?
I really like touring in France because they give you really nice food [laughs].

In your experience, have Electrelane ever had any male groupies?
Ah... no, not male ones.

What about female groupies?
[Laughs] Maybe.

I think we've probably had one male and one female groupie.

Do you have any horror stories from the road?
Oh gosh, we're probably not rock and roll enough.

What would you say is the biggest stereotype surrounding girl bands?
That they can't play – that's one of the ones that gets thrown around a lot, and also that you're going to make really twee pop music. We've had people coming up to us after we play and saying "Wow, you can really play!" or after sound check, going "That was really heavy, we thought you were going to be playing some jangly pop style."

Have you ever struggled with that?
It's just kind of laughable now and it wouldn't get to us anymore, we'd just think the person that was saying it was a bit clueless. But I think in the beginning, when we were less confident and still working out what we were doing, it was less easy to come up against those stereotypes and feel like you have to push through them all the time. People would assume that we were into repetitive stuff and that there was a simplicity to our music, with minimal chord changes so that was kind of frustrating.

Are you inspired by many other girl bands past or present?
I wouldn't say that we were musically inspired by the Riot Grrrl movement because we have taken a different approach and we're making very different music. But in terms of the politics and the fact that they were women who got up and played music, who were very forthright in terms of being feminists and who didn't give a damn about what anyone said about them and did it all on their own terms, I think that was really inspiring. I think the Riot Grrrl movement and the bands that were around then have inspired a lot of women, not so much musically, because women were always making pop music, but to push themselves forward and not to let things like those stereotypes get to them. I think that Riot Grrrl really helped women to feel more confident and to do whatever they wanted with music. So, yeah, that's been a big influence. I think we would all feel indebted to that.

If you had to listen to one girl band for the rest of your life, which would it be out of Destiny's Child and the Spice Girls?
Destiny's Child, definitely! I mean, I listen to them anyway, but God, compared to the Spice Girls, there is no competition.

So what inspires you outside of music?
I like reading, going to other concerts and going to the opera; the opera is a big influence on me, but I guess that's kind of music. I would say also books and films, all the normal stuff. But I think music itself is probably the biggest influence on what I do musically.

How did growing up in Brighton shape your approach to music and to life?
Emma [Gaze] and I became friends and decided to start a band there and I think that being in Brighton was a very lucky thing for us because there were a lot of opportunities to go out and see loads of bands. And then when we actually started Electrelane, it was so easy to get gigs because there were so many places that were willing to put new bands on, so we were kind of lucky in that respect. We really became friends through going out and watching bands and Brighton is a really good place for that because there are lots of people – there are two universities there – and it's got a really good music culture.

Did you find it to be a very competitive music scene?
I think initially it was very supportive and then eventually, when we started to get some success – I'm talking success on a really broad scale; when we started to get a little bit more known outside Brighton – it felt like it changed a bit with some people. I don't really know how it is now because I haven't lived there for a long time, but the indie scene in the late nineties, when we were there and starting the band, was really small. So you would see the same people all the time and it was really supportive if you stayed within that, but once you started to get outside of that, it wasn't so supportive anymore. I guess that's the same everywhere though.

The music scene in Berlin is very unique as well and has been the source of inspiration for a lot of artists, what was Electrelane's experience of Berlin like?
I was there for two years and then the rest of the band came over, so for me it was like home. But I think the others found it a real break from everything else that they were doing; when they talked about it, it was as if they were on holiday. We were there in the summer and it was really hot and we were rehearsing in this beautiful old studio, so I think the atmosphere of the place was very light and happy, very different to historical ideas about Berlin.

You were there during the World Cup and sampled part of a football game in your song ?Five'. Was that the most unusual thing you have ever sampled, or are there other hidden references we don't know about?
Yeah, we did use part of a football match, it was just between local teams. On our first album, though, we recorded Emma's dog in the studio. Sometimes she'd bring her dog to rehearsals and everybody would laugh at me because the dog would start singing when I started singing, which is usually a bad sign as a vocalist, if dogs start howling along. But then we got the dog to come into the studio and we recorded them singing along and ended up using that on the record.

Since the band has reunited, does it feel like starting over or is it like riding a bike, as natural as ever?
This is going to sound cheesy, but it's kind of both. I mean, it's like riding a bike because it comes back to you, but it's like starting over because of all that excitement of being together again and playing songs that you haven't played in a while.

Electrelane's Australian tour dates:

Thursday March 22 – Manning Bar, Sydney
Friday March 23 – The Corner Hotel, Victoria
Saturday March 24 – The Zoo, Queensland

Introduction: Ingrid Kesa