The Pipettes came to fame following the success of their debut album ‘We Are the Pipettes’ which made the top ten album charts in Japan and saw single ‘Pull Shapes’ kept off the number one spot only by the unstoppable force that is J-Lo. They are more of a music concept than a band; they’ve always been a bit of an experiment (which they drew inspiration from when naming the band). They debuted back in 2003 as a polka dot wearing, 1950’s inspired girl band and dropped off the radar somewhere around 2008 by which time founding member Julia Clark-Lowes had retired from the bad, followed shortly out of the door by Rose and Rebecca who left to embark on solo projects. This year marks the return of the Pipettes and phase two of their musical experiment, for they return not as the 50’s girl band we formerly knew them as, but as a sugary sweet 1970’s/80’s disco(esq) set. Sat in the less than air-conditioned Pipettes dressing room, on a sticky leather sofa it’s hard to envy the life of The Pipettes in this weather but wearing their summery dresses and fresh out of sound check, sisters Ani and Gwenno Saunders, vocalists of the band in this new line-up, kindly spare twenty minutes before performing at their single launch to answer a few questions about The Pipettes spectacular comeback.
Congratulations on the new album ‘Earth vs The Pipettes’, I had a listen to it and as enjoyable as it was, it took me a few listens to come to terms with it! I wasn’t expecting it, what inspired the change of sound?
The Pipettes were never just going to be a 1950’s girl band, they’ve always been a musical experiment. The evolution we’ve made into this album came naturally, too naturally perhaps! We’ve always taken inspiration from bands like Bananarama and we’ve always wanted everyone to dance and enjoy our music. Creating an 80’s inspired album was always on the cards and it just seemed like the right time.
The bands line-up has changed so much since formation and now there’s this brand new sound for The Pipettes, did you not consider forming a new band rather than re-branding The Pipettes?
The three boys are still original members of the band, we all came from the same Brighton music scene and many people forget that I [Gwenno] was with the band from 2005 when we launched our debut album ‘We Are The Pipettes’. We’re not rebranding The Pipettes, we were never destined just to be a 1950’s band, we are a band searching for the perfect pop song. The third album will make sense of what we are about. People will get a better perception of what the band is about. We don’t know what the third album will be or who will contribute to it but it won’t be like this album. It will be completely different. We work by trial and error.
Is the version of the Pipettes for keeps, or are we looking at the new ‘Sugarbabes’ and a new line-up for every album?
We don’t have a massive marketing and Pr organization behind us like the Sugarbabes, we’re not a brand in ourselves we just are what we are naturally. Who knows how many of us there will be by the time the next album comes around, there might be 12 and there might be 24 it will depend on what feels right at the time. We’ve tried to bring the boys more to the forefront, involving them in the photo shoots and getting them in new, sharp matching shirts.
There’s a family dynamic in the band it would seem, the two of you are sisters and you got the brothers; Jon and Seb Falcone in the band, how do you find working with family?
Working with family has it’ advantages, there’s no beating around the bush when we’re bouncing ideas around. Whereas it can sometimes take a lifetime to dismiss ideas because you don’t want to hurt each others feelings, working with family means that you can just say what you think, knowing that no offence is meant. The band is like one big family anyway, we work together in every aspect and it’s always been that way.
The new songs are quite catchy with lovely lyrics, who’s responsible for writing the songs?
Everyone writes together here, we all contribute, that way it keeps everything fresh and we can all share the acclaim as well as the criticism. All of our songs are written by ‘The Pipettes’.
At this point sounds of Coronation Street started to leak through the door. Monster Bobby, one of the original members of the band was rehearsing his side project, an Orchestra named ‘The Little Orchestra’. It would seem they were preparing to play a British Soap Opera Medley in their slot on the line-up as first support to the Pipettes. Now back to the interview…
Brit Award winning Producer ‘Martin Rushent’ produced this album, what was his contribution?
Everything, in many respects this is the Martin Rushent album. We couldn’t have done it without him, he’s really great and he’s been involved in every stage, start to finish. The album sounds different on CD to a live performance, thanks to Martin the CD sounds great but live music is what we do and we do it well, it’s what we’re all about.
Who were your influences for ‘Earth vs The Pipettes’?
We all have out individual influences but for this album the main influence was ABBA alongside other bands like Bananarama, Chic and all the other great major disco bands of the 70’s/80’s.
The Pipettes new sound has divided fans, some love it and some long for the 50’s girl band back, why should people buy into The ‘new’ Pipettes?
Our focus has been on writing better songs, like any pop group we’re trying to create that perfect pop song. We’re not so much new as we are part 2 of our musical experiment. The next part will me massive, there’s no boundaries, maybe we’ll come back as a trance group or a choir with 100 singers?! There’s a lot of mass produced cheap pop music out there that you can easily dismiss but there’s still depth in even those songs, look at ‘Better the Devil You Know’ by Kylie. People have to open their ears to different things and we are trying to do that. Take Pop Art, it might look tacky and commercial to some but it’s not just about the picture, it’s a reflection of society living, it’s not just throw away.
You’ve already said that the CD is great and that you’re great performing it live, which wins the battle of ‘CD vs Live Performance’?
It’ll all make sense on tour. Live music is all we are good at. It’s not better or worse than the CD, it’s just different. There’s a different energy. We enjoy gigs; you’ll see the difference when you see us live in a couple of hours. We’re not one of those bands that plays to a sample either, so many bands do it these days and it’s not something The Pipettes believe in. We play everything in our music or it doesn’t appear.
Following the interview with Ani and Gwenno, I stuck around to see how well they backed up their statement “Live music is what we do and we do it well” and I’ll say this, they weren’t kidding! I must admit I had my doubts, on first listen to their new album ‘Earth vs The Pipettes’ and as a fan of them back in 2005, I was shocked and a little disheartened. It’s a big change. They seemed to have jumped from one world (the world of boutique chic girl band) to another (a more mainstream disco wonderland, a throwback to the 1980’s). How could they retain the Pipettes Identity and be producing this music? Well as they say, they were always experimental; it would have been rude not to shake things up in a tumbler for this new album really and shake things up is definitely what they have done. I’ve actually grown to quite like this album but I don’t think I’ll be shouting that from rooftops. I think it took the third listen to get me completely hooked on their newly released single ‘Call Me’ which was launched tonight and took third position in the Pipettes 16 song set.
Obviously taking on this sound means lots of synthesizing, clattering bongos, disco-funk guitars and Miami Sound Machine horns, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and more often than not, it’s not my cup of tea. With plenty of strings and 60’s ‘sha-la-la’ backing vocals still cluttering the mix it’s probably going to take a lot of criticism, but they are definitely turning into one of my guilty pleasures, and I expect there will be others willing to happily listen to this secretly, because it can’t fail to put you in a good mood, it’s a perfect soundtrack for all you ladies painting your face on a Friday night! ‘Aint no taking’, which was second on the bill, has a lot of catchy guitar work, the album wouldn’t depreciate if it had a lot more of this in it! As catchy as the lyrics and instrumentals were, nothing was as catchy as the bands dance routines. With hip swaying and finger wagging that wouldn’t be amiss at a Nolan’s gig, both the Band and the audience looked like they were having a smashing time with the audience taking the lead of Ani and Gwenno during Boo Shuffle (named after Ani’s Hampster), shaking and twisting on cue. You can’t fail to notice the bands energy on stage, an energy really befitting the disco genre.
One rather tasty difference to this reincarnated band is the enhanced role the boys are taking. Dressed in matching shirts and dancing around energetically, it was nice to see them getting involved and being part of the bands performance as opposed to merely being the accompaniment, lurking at the back of the stage which is what they were accustomed to doing when touring their last album.
It could be said that this band has turned a complete 180 on it’s former self, 2006 saw The Pipettes telling us they didn’t want to hold our hand, 2010 see the Pipettes thrusting that hand towards us. Where in 2006 they just didn’t want to let the music stop, they’re now begging us to ‘Stop the Music’ but two things remain; the bands love of slang titles (we moved from ‘Pull Shapes’ to ‘I Vibe You’) and their true talent to perform. You can say a lot about this rebirth, love it or loathe it, but what you cannot take away from ‘The Pipettes’ is their ability to have fun and take their audience along for the ride, proven in itself by the deafening chants of the crowd to entice the band back on the stage for an encore. An encore they gave us too, coming back for two “unprepared” songs that they “weren’t expecting to perform” we eventually got to hear ‘Pull Shapes’ and ‘Stop The Music’. There wasn’t a dull face in the crowd. A good gig, enjoyed by all and a catchy album that many will grow to love (even if they don’t divulge that information to even the closest of friends!).
‘Earth vs The Pipettes’ is released via Fortuna POP! On 6th September 2010, so go buy it!
The Set list:
Need a little time
Aint no talking
Cos it’s not <3
Finding my Way
Stop The Music