Erotic, neurotic, dark aural pleasure… Untamed, dirty burlesque… As addictive as Absinthe - The Courtesans are coming to dinner!
The Courtesans are a four-piece all-female rock outfit from London. Their unique blend of goth/pop/sleaze/electronica is getting them noticed on the circuit, along with their sensual cover of ‘Venus in Furs’ by the Velvet Underground. Taking a break from rehearsals in February, band members Sinead LaBella (vocals), Agnes Jones (bass) and Victoria Brown (drums) took the time to discuss their formation, influences and upcoming debut album with Brett Dunford.
BRETT: Hello, girls.
COURTESANS: (In unison) Hi!
BRETT: Okay, let’s get the boring questions out of the way then we can move right on to the perverted stuff.
SINEAD: Sure. (Laughs)
BRETT: So how did you guys start out?
AGNES: We knew each other from before the band, and we all crossed in very weird ways. I knew our guitarist Saffire (Sanchez) from the other project she was working on, so we met about two years before we got together in The Courtesans. And then I met Sinead at Bar Soho. We were having a few drinks and chatting about stuff, and that was the point when she told me about her music.
SINEAD: Basically I’ve been into music since I was a kid. I’ve been involved in theatre and was in a few teenybopper bands. When I was finishing uni, I was doing theatre and I really wanted to carry on with music. I wanted to start a new band in London and when I met Agnes, we were talking about music and just had so much in common. She mentioned to me this idea she had and it came from that. Everything I was interested in like…
SINEAD: Yeah, because at the time I was actually doing burlesque dancing. And I’m a bit of a rock and metal chick. I said to her, “Look this is what I want to do as well, so why don’t we collaborate together?” and since then it’s just expanded into this whole new element of music.
AGNES: I think the main thing was finding the right people. It was really difficult for us. We were looking for a guitarist and were struggling because we had to find the right girl who was confident with her sexuality. Who could play guitar and do it good. After a month of searching, I was thinking, “Fuck, what about Saff?” And she was just perfect. She brought in this element of unpredictability and mental-ness that was right. Then we found Vikki on the internet. She was playing in another band at the time and was getting a lot of shit from them. She was on her way out anyway because she wasn’t enjoying it, and that’s how we recruited her.
BRETT: Things always happen for a reason and it obviously clicked in the right places for you guys.
BRETT: I saw the video for your cover of ‘Venus in Furs’ and it had a kind of gothic chic thing going on, if I’m correct in saying so?
AGNES: You’re quite correct. It’s very Victorian. The song is obviously erotic and sexually charged.
BRETT: I also checked out one of your songs that you have on your website, but I can’t remember the name of it.
AGNES: ‘Dirty Killer’.
BRETT: That’s the one! It had quite an electronic vibe to it, which I liked a lot. Is that the primary feel of The Courtesans or will you branch out in more diverse avenues musically?
AGNES: Actually, it’s quite a good representation of us sound-wise. Initially we are a rock band, or dark pop, if you prefer. It’s up to the audience, I suppose. But we want to be a bit more than just a rock band, you know, that’s why we’re trying to incorporate a lot of current sounds, like dubstep and electronica, and we hope it works.
SINEAD: We’re quite open to ideas, really. It’s not like we necessarily want to stick to one sound because I think that can get a bit boring after a while. It’s like we all have so many ideas and as we’re artists in our own right, we like to collaborate our own ideas together. And were not all into the same style of music, so when we’re writing we add different elements of our personalities, I think. It can become this schizophrenic, bi-polar sound sometimes but if it works, it works. The music is always changing and that’s something we’re interested in as a whole anyway.
BRETT: We all like a bit of chaos in our lives and I think it’s delivered better with four sexy chicks on a stage dressed in next to nothing.
BRETT: It’s well packaged. And it’s not just for the males either because I’ve noticed you got a bit of a female following going on too.
SINEAD: We do. The thing is, we get a lot of people say to us, “Why do you have to expose your bodies?” or “Why do you dress like that when you’re a great band anyway?” You see, we’re not doing it for a reason; we’re doing it because we want to. That’s who we are. We want to show off our bodies because we’re proud of being women. I think with some of the female fans, they really see that. If the boys can do it then so can we!
AGNES: Another thing is that you have to be confident and believe in yourself.
SINEAD: We don’t give a fuck if we’re not wearing a fake tan or shit like that. We know who we are and think you should just be yourself and not care what other people think. That’s what I hope people see in us.
BRETT: I really like that.
BRETT: I’m a male. Naturally, I’m going to like anything you say.
BRETT: I think there are a few female acts in the industry that restrain themselves, either physically or in the way they look because they got a stick up their arse about it or their management has a stick up their arse. “Concentrate on the music” and all that. But I think if people were themselves then they can’t go wrong because they’re not pretending to be something they’re not.
AGNES: For me, I think the feminist thing is going the wrong way at the moment. We heard a few voices like, “You’re putting the feminists thirty years backwards” and its bollocks. It’s seriously bollocks because being a woman doesn’t mean you have to wear a baggy fucking t-shirt to cover up your tits. I think that’s where they got it wrong. Also, they think you’re just trying to sell your music by showing off your body and that’s not necessarily the case, you know?
BRETT: So how do you apply all this sexuality into the live medium? What can people expect to see from you in performances?
SINEAD: Sexuality is a massive part of human life, especially for us. It’s a big part of who we are because we’re all very comfortable with our sexuality. For me, if you can make music that makes people feel sexy, that brings out the dark side of you…
AGNES: Your horny side.
SINEAD: …then why wouldn’t you want to express it? When we’re onstage performing, we enjoy the moment so much that it does become a sexual experience for us. The audience have just got to expect the unexpected because who knows how we’re going to feel when we’re singing “that song.” It could be anything that brings out our naughty side.
AGNES: You know, there was this girl who came up to us and she said… (Laughs)
SINEAD: One girl said, “I actually think I had an orgasm watching you on stage because it was such a sexual experience for me.” Then there was the guy who messaged me after the show and was like, “Hello, Sinead. I just want to say thank you because me and my wife have been having a few problems over the last few months, and we saw that your band was playing locally in the area. So I got tickets, we both came along and the experience was quite amazing. Let’s just say it was the best night of our married life.”
BRETT: That’s good.
AGNES: We achieved the goal.
SINEAD: Yeah, we achieved the goal. People are having great sex because they saw us play!
AGNES: Ultimately, the ideal situation would be if everyone in the audience started having sex while we play. That would be excellent.
BRETT: Right, I’m coming to the next gig!
BRETT: The thing for me is that I am an ogler of the highest order. If there’s a girl in front of me with an amazing pair of legs – it has pure man-stopping power. I stop, I drool and I find it difficult to fix my gaze on anything else because I really appreciate the female form.
SINEAD: We’ll have to get you in the front row next time.
BRETT: I’m not sure if I would be concentrating solely on the music though. Talking of which, I understand you’re playing London soon.
SINEAD: We are indeed.
BRETT: I’ll have to drag myself out of my pit and see you guys do what you do. I know Mel (Editor) is going to check you out at Satan’s Hollow in Manchester this April.
AGNES: Satan’s Hollow is going to be a good venue for us.
SINEAD: I’m really looking forward to it.
AGNES: It has a round stage and it’s quite unusual. People can just surround you. There is nowhere to hide and you’re watched from everywhere. I like that a lot.
BRETT: And hey, it’s called Satan’s Hollow. How cool is that?
SINEAD: I know! I actually went there for my eighteenth birthday. It’s funny because I have so many memories of the place and now we’re playing there.
BRETT: What are your influences?
SINEAD: My musical influences are different from the other girls. I’ve grown up doing theatre and I’m into a lot of different types of music as well. I’m into heavy metal, rock, psychedelic, classical; it all depends on what mood I’m in. Vocally, I’d say Hope Sandoval is a big influence on me, and Beth Gibbons because I’ve been a fan of Portishead ever since I was a kid. I love the sexuality she puts across in her voice. I think it’s really beautiful and enchanting. I’d say, for me, they’re the main influences, especially for the type of music we’re doing. With other things like theatre though, I got different influences altogether.
AGNES: I’m from Poland originally and when I was growing up in the early nineties, I mean, Poland was always a decade behind England musically. So, the punk movement here was massive in Poland ten to fifteen years later. That was the big thing, you know? My first major crush musically was Nirvana. It was quite sad when I found out Kurt Cobain was dead because I was hoping they’d play Poland one day.
BRETT: That was sad for me too.
AGNES: I was quite narrow-minded at the time, I must say. It was only when I got older that I realised a good song is a good song, whether it’s disco or whatever. My mind is very open right now. My influences are Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and then moving to now with Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Of course, I love the punk classics by the Sex Pistols and The Clash.
BRETT: We have much in common in that regard. The Sex Pistols are my favourite group in the whole world. Grunge I was totally a part of. Not in this country obviously because it was an American thing but I was buying Sub Pop records years before Nirvana hit the scene.
BRETT: And swiftly moving onto Vikki.
VICTORIA: I like Bullet for My Valentine and Avenged Sevenfold. Travis Barker too; he’s a big influence of mine.
BRETT: How many tattoos has he got on his neck?
VICTORIA: Good, aren’t they? I used to have a lot of pictures of Travis on my bedroom wall. Actually, I think they’re still there now. (Laughs)
BRETT: No shame in that, just as long as Ian Watkins isn’t still up there as well…
SINEAD: God, no! (Laughs)
BRETT: That’s what you call…
SINEAD: Horse meat?
AGNES: I just thought of something you can add to our influences, who I think we are the most influenced by as a group performance-wise or how we’d like to be – Rammstein and Marilyn Manson. Regarding our show, I think we’re just trying to make it a special experience for everyone, involving theatrics, fire and sexy outfits.
SINEAD: Sexual, elaborate, crazy, scary…
AGNES: Something that saturates the brain and when you come out, your adrenaline is pumping and you’re saying to yourself, “Fucking hell! That was brilliant.”
SINEAD: And Rob Zombie as well.
BRETT: Very theatrical.
SINEAD: If we end up doing stage shows like him, I’ll be a happy bunny.
AGNES: You need to leave some memories in people’s heads, you know? You can’t just be insipid and bland. You have to be something special.
SINEAD: And stop giving a shit, as well. Like who cares about rules? Rules were made to be broken, so if we have to break a few for entertainment value then, hey, we’re happy to do it.
BRETT: Let’s talk about the album. It’s out in April?
AGNES: More like May. We have this pledge campaign thing going on at the moment. Right now, we’re writing and recording demos, but to record an actual album you need funds. We are a self-financed band with everything coming out of our own pockets. And the pockets are not very deep. Initially, the plan was for it to come out in April. Realistically speaking, that’s probably not going to happen.
SINEAD: We want it to be the best that we can make it.
SINEAD: If it takes that extra month or more then it will. It’s going to be our first album and we’re really proud of the music we’re putting together, so we just want it to sound right.
AGNES: There are not many bands – not as many as you would think anyway – who are incorporating this electronic dubstep sound. You got Enter Shikari, who are fucking brilliant and I love it. There’s a lot of indie going around using traditional rock sounds… but for fans of the electronic stuff, there’s not much of it about and there’s a lot of mixers and engineers who are not getting it at all. We spoke with a few and they don’t seem to get the idea as much. They are always surprised like, “Do you want this wobbly bass here?” or whatever. We just want it to be a mix of everything and that’s why we need to get it right.
BRETT: It’s going to be a mix of genres all lumped together into one sexually charged record?
AGNES: Anything that makes you feel sexual or makes you want to fuck. There’s a lot of deep bass, a lot of wobbly bass, and the sound is just right. We don’t want to fail on that and will keep it in a sexual vibe. You know, we’re not going to rush.
BRETT: No wine before it’s time. You have to take these things in your stride.
BRETT: With the electronic thing, I was going to ask if you’ve heard the new album by Trent Reznor’s side band, How to Destroy Angels?
AGNES: I heard a bit about it but I didn’t get a chance to hear. Is it good?
BRETT: It’s incredible and absolutely nothing like Nine Inch Nails.
AGNES: It’s funny that you mention Nine Inch Nails…
SINEAD: They’re another big influence for us, actually.
AGNES: …because at one point we were considering covering their track ‘Closer’.
BRETT: You should do it.
SINEAD: It’s so fucking hot. Bands like that are really sexy because that’s the kind of music you can fuck to. And that’s what I like. So what if it’s a bit naughty, if it can make you feel that way… you know, that’s who we are. That’s a part of life all humans should express more.
BRETT: And what about the songs?
SINEAD: Musically, when we are writing, we’re not afraid to collaborate with other people. Some of the songs that we’ve written together are born from jamming sessions. Maybe we’ll write a separate piece of music and we’ll come and bring it together that way. One of our songs called ‘Dirty Killer’; me and Agnes wrote that. It’s quite a personal song. A lot of people probably won’t necessarily understand what the lyrics are about.
AGNES: Lyrically, Sinead wrote it about me.
SINEAD: Basically, I’ve spent a lot of time with Agnes and I know a lot about her life. We have a lot of similarities too, when we were growing up. We’re also similar in the darker aspects of our lives, you could say. Anyway, when we were writing that song together, we were in a studio and I just went off on one. I couldn’t talk to her for a while because I was just writing and writing.
AGNES: She wrote this story about a glitch from my past in regards to maybe partying a little too much. Not going into details but yeah.
SINEAD: I started reading out what I was writing and Agnes got a quite emotional. I just said, “I was thinking about you.” It is a bit sad, in a way, but when you’re singing it, you might not hear that element. Primarily, our lyrics are about experiences. Experiences with a friend, experiences with me, et cetera. Experiences with others, who I’ve seen, met or grew up with throughout my life. If you listen to the lyrics and understand what we’re talking about then the chances are you can relate to it yourself.
AGNES: Sinead was writing about my experiences but, because she didn’t mention any particular issues, the lyrics are quite wide and can be interpreted in lots of ways. So whether it’s related to drinking, related to drugs, a girlfriend, or any other demons that you might’ve had, this song is definitely about the darker side of life.
BRETT: Actually, I picked up on that when I first heard it. Perhaps that’s because I’ve battled my fair share of demons too.
SINEAD: We’ve wrote a bunch of songs. Everything that we want to put on the album has pretty much been written already.
AGNES: The next single is called ‘Genius’. If you look on our website, there’s an acoustic version up there.
BRETT: I saw that on YouTube.
AGNES: The album version is going to be very different and it should be released soon. I can’t tell you the exact date. It’s going to be an example of how our album will sound overall. There’s a good melody to it; lots of trashy guitars and some more of that wobbly bass!
SINEAD: It’s very dark and cinematic… has an eerie sort of feeling. That’s how we want to portray songs and album, really. Because that’s how we are personally, that’s our style. Sex can be dark sometimes and that’s what I like to write.
BRETT: Well, I look forward to hearing it and will be happy to drop a review for the site. Whoever is in charge of sending out the digital copies, you have my email. Wink-wink.
AGNES: Wicked. (Laughs)
BRETT: Okay, we have a few minutes left. Is there anything you want to add?
AGNES: Ask us anything you want.
BRETT: Shout as many obscenities as you can.
AGNES: Brett, you should spend an hour with us in the studio. You will hear the most disgusting language you have ever heard. Women… we are actually worse. They can be fucking worse than men.
BRETT: I know, that’s why men love women so much.
AGNES: Seriously, you should just come on over.
SINEAD: We’re a crazy bunch of ladies. We can be quite schizophrenic at times.
AGNES: You are more than welcome to come over, Brett. When are you coming?
SINEAD: We’re a lot to handle. If you think you can, you’re welcome to try.
AGNES: When are you coming?
BRETT: (Sarcastically) I’ll try to pencil you in.
SINEAD: Don’t be afraid, Brett.
BRETT: Oh, fuck off. I could out-perverse all of you put together. You’ve met your match with me!
HOWARD: (Courtesans management curiously stirring) Hmm…
SINEAD: Wahey! I like the sound of you already.
BRETT: I’ve yet to meet a woman as perverse as me. That said, my current girl is Norwegian, which says a lot. Norwegians take a shine to me for some reason.
SINEAD: Do you speak Norwegian?
BRETT: The only languages I speak fluently are English and Drunkenese.
BRETT: So how should we wrap this up?
SINEAD: I think to wrap it up: The Courtesans are coming for you. We’re coming for the world. Watch this space because anything could happen.
BRETT: I like that. Anyway, it has been awesome to speak with you girls.
SINEAD: It’s been awesome to talk to you as well.
BRETT: And educational. Let’s hope we can do a follow-up to this soon.
AGNES: Massive kisses to you! (Blows a kiss)
BRETT: You too.
COURTESANS: (In unison) Bye!
The Courtesans have just completed a successful stint of shows around the UK and will be playing more gigs later in the year. They are currently in the studio recording their debut album for imminent release, and if you would like to contribute funds to their pledge music campaign, you can do so here: www.pledgemusic.com/projects/thecourtesans