Some year 80 - one or two – The Diodes landed in London. Lost in the grey of anything London consumes and causes to be frozen un-time, details elude, but I had known the band in Toronto in those days of my youth when, in my BOY jacket and winkle pickers, I had previously offset to the Capital of Rock East, curved my niche and wanted back my woody. By then – one or two, see – The Barracudas were garage psych, on drugs, off EMI and therefore like The Diodes one major label short with nobody to answer to again but girlfriends and the muse(ic). Make sense? No? Then you’ll appreciate how good life was back then, when flat black was right and punk was not undead so much as merely dormant and therefore interfering little in the plans of bands that – like The Barracudas and The Diodes – picked pop and rock anyhow.
We used a rehearsal room in Elephant and Castle that our drummer owned, and it was there that I think I remember first meeting Richard Citroen, once of The Loved Ones, an obscure TO outfit, but at that junkture a rather remarkably coiffed new Diode, having been by the band recruited to play drums. There he was, in my mind’s eye, jostling with the Old World, hanging on to his self with a new Diodes consisting of future Barracudas bassist Steve Robinson, founders John Catto and Paul Robinson recording an album as yet unreleased and…I’m possibly scrambled, the rest is nothing to me, I can’t remember it, we lost touch, years passed, the void processed part of our lives and something like five years ago we got back in touch, knocked out an album nobody released, but kept talking. It came to my attention finally that Richard’s methodically hatched new venture, Lola Dutronic, was making airwaves. Beat it, a Grammy nomination no less. I asked him to remix a few things that I was working up for Marty Thau’s new Red Star Digital and, like anybody with a love of electronic music, he went for it: Suicide, along with the Dolls Red Star’s original hits, wrote – and burned - the book on electronica, apostates of pop whose reinvention of the sonic wheel stands even now as an achievement both rebellious and curiously pious.
Richard Citroen has, therefore, come a long way to get to here. When we weren’t in touch he basically totally reinvented himself, raised his game, redefined its goals and is now attaining them. Originally basing the launch Lola brand around himself and vocalist Frankie Hart, the evolving duo continues to mutate songs from the French and British sixties (from artists such as Serge Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy, Brigitte Bardot or John Barry) with modern electronic arrangements. The L Word scarfing up "Les Cheveux de mon amour” is good, but petite patates next to second album “The Love Parade” being "short listed" for a 2008 Grammy Nomination in the dance/electronica category.
2008 and original vocalist Frankie Hart is replaced by Berlin-based vocalist Lola Dee. A new album, “In Berlin”, boasting Mike Garson (David Bowie, Smashing Pumpkins) on piano brings us beatly to EP “Musique”, the latest 21st century decoy thrown to fate by the machine-like mind of the man some call Citroen. “Musique” is Lola at its lush Gainsbourg Lite best, and includes a further, flash, ultra-fox iteration of “Whisper”, the Thau-Rev composition that originally I asked Richard to remix. It’s all slick, all Europa, all cool. Let it beats.
Being that we go day-back, I got Mr. C. to deal with some questions about his “work”. Understand that this guy is very smart, and the new release, based on Red Star, itself again in the ascendant thanks to the sheer quality of its burgeoning catalogue, will of Marty Thau and possibly a time-space configuration ready to give another break to a label that broke the mold so bad it needed a whole new world of music to catch its fall-out I have run out of these ideas so let’s go straight to the questions
JEREMY: What is it like to be Lola Dutronic?
RICHARD: Exhilarating and frustrating. Exhilarating because I love our process. Frustrating because we live in different countries.
JEREMY: What will Lola Dutronic sound like in 2015?
RICHARD: I see us maybe going in a more baroque, jazzier direction, hopefully without becoming an MOR snore-fest. Lola's got an amazing voice and comes at it from a totally different direction. We're really only scratching the surface of what she's capable of. For instance, that's her singing those operatic bits on "The Stranger" on the new "Musique" EP. She just threw it in. I was amazed! I'd love to do more stuff like that.
LOLA: Lola Dutronic is open to different influences. Since I like acoustic music, I could imagine that we might add some acoustic instruments, without modifying them electronically. Finally, whichever direction, for sure it will be sensual.
JEREMY: The Downloading Debate: Are you as an artist being ripped off by downloading?
RICHARD: Everybody is to some degree. I don't buy the record label position that every file that's "shared" equals a lost sale, but certainly a percentage of it does. There's no limit to the number of mp3s that can be produced, but there IS a limit to the number of people who want to buy them. Sharing the odd track with your mates is one thing, but when your music is being given away wholesale to strangers through a P2P, it's a bit much isn't it? I find there's a real sense of entitlement among some in the so-called "file sharing community". Some of these people don't seem to understand the amount of time and money that goes into producing the music. While Lily Allen certainly doesn't need me to defend her, I was appalled at the abuse she had to endure when she dared speak out against this stuff. Honestly, you would've thought she'd killed someone!
Bottom line: There's lots of ways of checking out an artist. You can go to their website or MySpace or YouTube, and if you like a song, go to iTunes and download it. What's the problem? It’s only a dollar. People spend more than that on bottled tap water...
JEREMY: In your productions you appropriate a great many influences. As a veteran, I just call it “copying”. By what alchemical-musical process does what you listen(ed) to become what your listeners hear?
RICHARD: A lot of Americans have told me that they hear the influence of Angelo Badalamenti, and they're probably right, but I'd say my biggest influences are Phil Spector, John Barry and of course Serge Gainsbourg. The way they set up mixes, their use of sound effects and loops, plus they were all visionaries. I'm also a big fan of Timbaland and DangerMouse, so I suppose I've got one foot in the past and one foot in the future, if that's not too corny.
My tastes are quite diverse, and with Lola Dutronic, it's about putting things together in unusual ways. A 60's type melody with a Jay Z beat, rather than a campy retro sound, and of course I've always loved the sound of female French singers. It always sounds great, even if the words are total gibberish. Refining this so that it sounds natural can take quite a bit of push and pull, but it's worth it in the end. As for song writing, I think most of us are magpies. You're bombarded with music daily, so you can't help but be "influenced" occasionally. Of course you have to be careful what you listen to, otherwise your record might end up sounding like The Jonas Brothers.
JEREMY: You worked lately with Mike Garson, of Bowie fame. That must have been a trip? One-way or return? And does taking on board names of good but somewhat now obscure repute accomplish more than collaborative comfort zoning? Having rubbed shoulders with Mike, who else of cult kudos clobbering power would you like to have on the team?
RICHARD: Mike got in touch through our MySpace page, offering his services, and once I got over the shock, I realized I had just the thing. The resulting track, "Au Revoir", which appears on our "In Berlin" album turned out really well, but the actual process was fairly simple. I sent him the track and he laid down some piano at his place and sent it back. He asked what I had in mind and while I was hardly going to tell him how to play piano, I did mention something about Aladdin Sane, but that was the only time I mentioned Bowie. He played some stuff I wouldn't have thought of in a million years. I can't think of any other special guests I'd like to have on a Lola Dutronic record, but who knows? Maybe we can get Alan Vega to duet on something. I'll have to ask Marty about that...
JEREMY: The Diodes: Discuss. (Disgust?)
RICHARD: You'd never know if from that recent book, but I actually joined The Diodes in the summer 1981.
The idea was to move to London and re-invent ourselves in a kind of disco/rock direction. It seemed do-able, as the songs that John Catto was writing at the time had melodies reminiscent of Kraftwerk and Ultravox, and we all loved disco music, so why not? However after rehearsing for a while, it became apparent to me that they weren't really interested in going in that direction at all and were a bit too in love with their own history to make the leap. While they always had a fairly big sound, I think we ended up getting a little too elephantine for my liking. Still, it was fun playing the London club circuit, and we got to record an album at the fabled Morgan Studios. Those old school big room studios are really something. I have fond memories of playing the piano in the massive main room with the lights dimmed. You don't get that with a laptop! I learned a lot about record production from observing our producer, Pete Moss. I had a LOT of time to do this, since as a drummer, my job was pretty much done by lunchtime on the first day. While Pete was definitely from the Glyn Johns School, I was impressed by what could be achieved in a proper studio with a proper engineer. Unfortunately, the album itself didn't turn out too well. There were some interesting ideas, and John's guitar was as inventive as always, but too many cooks got involved in the final mix, and nobody was very happy with it, which is one of the reasons it was never released.
I thought the band's later incarnation as High Noon worked much better, as John's vision was much clearer, with songs about cowboys and the like, and that's good, because everyone can then pull together in the service of an idea, rather than a lot of sound and fury ultimately signifying nothing. Like everyone else, they've gotten back together with the original 1977 line-up for one last hurrah, and hopefully a decent payday. Good luck to them, but I think it's important to keep moving forward. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't. Sometimes you don't even want to.
JEREMY: Why and how did you make the transition from rock and pop roots to electronica and Europa?
RICHARD: I play several instruments, but before I even picked up any of them, I had loved the sound of synths. I first heard ELP's "Lucky Man". Crap song, and an even worse band, but that Moog at the end was amazing! Synths were the size of houses back then, and cost a fortune, so getting one was a non-starter, but I did have access to my Dad's old drum kit, so the die was cast. Still, I kept my ears open, and from listening to Giorgio Moroder's productions with Donna Summer and Japan, I realized that you didn't have to sing "boogie-oogie-oogie" over a disco beat if you didn't want to. But what really convinced me to re-think things was this:
When I first moved back to England in 1981 (I'm from Coventry originally), Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" was the #1 record in the country. On our first night in town, we're having a pint in a pub on The King's Road when it comes on the jukebox, and that robotic shuffle starts up, which raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Next thing we knew, what looked like everyone in the place was banging in time when Marc Almond sings "Sometimes I feel I've got to... BANG BANG...run away" . I'd never seen anything like it, and I thought to myself, what is it about this music that causes such a reaction? You'd never see that at The Hope & Anchor!
I was also knocked out by Depeche Mode's analogue symphonies and Trevor Horn's amazing cinematic productions of ABC, who were all over the radio. Even Kraftwerk had a hit with The Model. The sounds themselves just had so much more punch than the average post-punk rock noise. Even today, Blue Monday gets me going more than The Clash ever could. Compared to all this, rock seemed suddenly old fashioned, and one day I just lost all interest in playing it. I ended up stranded in Toronto after the final Diodes tour, so I packed up my drum kit and got involved with some friends who had a studio with some synths and a drum machine.
Our earliest recordings were pretty bad, sub-Tears For Fears stuff, but eventually we started producing some things that were worthwhile. It took me years to get it right, but eventually I got to a place where the music I made seemed to be on a par with the music that I actually listened to. I think the whole transition was really about me getting in touch with who I really was. I recently read an interview with Trevor Horn, and was amazed to discover that, despite my early years in punk rock, I've got a lot more in common with him than Iggy Pop.
JEREMY: On a nerd note, what kind of equipment do you use to make your musique?
RICHARD: I used to struggle with a Pentium 2, but now I use a MacBook running ACIDPro 7, SoundForge 9 and CoolEditPro, with a Firebox I/O, a Joe Meek compressor and KRK Rockit 6 monitors. All in a lovely matching white. Apart from some sample cds, I use a MicroKorg synth/vocoder and a Yamaha E403. Basically the cheapest pro keyboards on the market, but they sound great, and certainly all I need. I also have a Strat and a Vox AC30, plus various mic and fx pedals.
JEREMY: What is the future of the music “bizniz” now? What gives hope; what causes despair? Is it helpful having a niche in the Canadian market; how supportive has the Canadian audience been of your music, and how well-received is it in France, whence came Gainsbourg?
RICHARD: I love how acts like The Ting Tings and CSS make this joyful noise with scant regard for the past. That gives me hope.
Despair? The way things are going, eventually everyone in the charts will probably be a contest winner of some sort, especially now that everybody's in show biz, whether they should be or not. Maybe Simon Cowell is the only filtering system we've got left. That's cause enough for despair right there, but given who radio is actually aimed at, maybe that's not such a bad thing. Certainly the days of a "credible" act getting into the charts, let alone topping them, is a thing of the past, especially in North America.
Actually it's always been a mystery to me why some acts have credibility while others seem to get so much stick. I'm not a fan, but I seem to remember reading some respectable reviews for James Blunt's debut album in the UK press before it was decided one day that he was the Anti-Christ. The thing is, a lot of people secretly like him, just as a lot of people secretly despise Broken Social Scene, even though we're all supposed to like them. Silly isn't it? People like what they like, and no amount of hectoring is going to change that. I hate using terms like "market niche", but while we hope that the new "Musique" EP will do well everywhere, it does appears that we currently sell more records in North America than Europe. I was quite surprised to discover this, given how many of our songs are sung in French. Apart from the sheer size of the American market, Francophone Quebec has always been supportive of us, so that counts for a lot. We also seem to be quite popular in Norway and Greece. We're probably not as popular in France as you'd think because our odd combination of Parisian French and Quebequois filtered through Lola's German accent grates on some Parisians.
There's not much we can do about that, but as the French say: C'est la vie! Maybe we'll call our next album "Lost In Translation"...
JEREMY: Give us the Grammy nom’ goss’.
RICHARD: Not much gossip, I'm afraid, but here's the story anyway: In the fall of 2007, we were "short listed" for a Grammy nomination in the Dance/Electronica category. The list has 50 acts on it, so it's a bit like American Idol where there's dozens of contestants at the start, getting quickly whittled down to the final 5 finalists.. We didn't get the to the final nomination stage, losing out to the usual suspects like The Chemical Brothers and LCD Sound System, but there's certainly no shame in that. Still, it would have been nice to have gone to the ceremony just to hang out.
LOLA: Oh, I don’t like gossip at all. Next question, please.
JEREMY: Lola Dee: What song would you cover to do “The X-Factor”?
LOLA: I've never planned to attend a casting show, and I have no intention of doing it in the future. But if you were to force me to sing a song there, I would choose a song nobody would expect - for example a famous American Country song or a Heavy Metal song - and rearrange it into something different and sing it in another way than the usual way.
JEREMY: Would Lola Dee indulge us in a reasonably detailed account of her history and eventual collaboration with “The Dutronic”? (I like this, kinda like “The Chronic”!)
LOLA: I met Richard at an exhibition in Berlin. In fact it was the opening of the exhibition of Richard’s wife Kat, who is an artist - an excellent artist, by the way. While talking, we realized that Richard and I are both musicians, and that we both have a “faible” for Serge Gainsbourg, and French music and films from the 60s/70s. That’s how the idea was born to do the third album of “Lola Dutronic” together.
RICHARD: That's also why we called the album "In Berlin". Truth in advertising...
JEREMY: Lola Dee, which current vocalists do you admire and to whose past ones’ artistic traits do you aspire?
LOLA: I love so many different kinds of music and artists, so it wouldn’t say anything, if I would mention just a few names now. I guess it’s evident that I and the music of Lola Dutronic are inspired by all the singers around Serge Gainsbourg. - And Gainsbourg himself is a true hero for me in respect of his musical talent and skills for writing and composing: his flexibility of different musical languages; the combination of complex lyrics and his music, which is everything, but not top-heavy… What a shame that he is no longer alive, I would have loved to see what he would had been composed in the 90s, the 2010th, 2015…
The "Musique" EP, featuring the single "Beautiful World (Slight Return)", is their first release for Red Star Digital Music and will available at iTunes and most other digital outlets. Video by Marc Campbell
For more information about Lola Dutronic please contact:
Interview by Jeremy Gluck 01/06/10