When Tender Trap first entered our eardrums, we were charmed by its indie-pop prowess. Great songwriting, wonderful guitar lines and delicious vocals made us anxious to learn more about the band. You can imagine the sense of charm we felt when we discovered that the band was fronted by the great Amelia Fletcher. Having previously played in Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, and Marine Research, she has already contributed to the soundtrack of our lives. Joined by Heavenly and Marine Research alum Rob Pursey, John Stanley (Marine Research), Katrina Dixon and Elizabeth Darling, they have continued to make the music that we treasure. Their newest album, Dansette Dansette shimmers with the beauty and light that we’ve come to expect from this group. Amelia Fletcher talked to TDOA writer Leilani about their latest effort.
TDOA: The newer material, judging from the Do You Want a Boyfriend single that came out at the beginning of this month, seems to be sort of a concious effort to return to your C86 roots. Film Molecules, on the other hand was definitely more of an electronic record, whereas 6 Billion People seems to be kind of a melding of both styles. Was there a specific reason why you decided to come back to your older sound after 9yrs?
AF: When we recorded FILM MOLECULES we were thinking that we’d not be playing live any more. Maybe we’d got a bit insular, maybe we’d just got fed up with carrying drum kits around. And we wanted to produce something completely by ourselves. Just to remember why we really loved doing it, irrespective of whether anyone else wanted to listen. We did a few gigs with a drum machine, but I think we looked very anxious most of the time in case it didn’t do what it was supposed to. And then we really missed the proper live thing, the noise of drumkits – and 6 BILLION PEOPLE was recorded while we were in the middle of changing our minds. We also had Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields playing and recording with us at that time. Having a girl drummer who can sing great harmonies…. that was enough for us to change our minds completely. So then we made a deliberate effort to recruit at least two more women, including Katrina, who can sing and play drums. (She only uses a side-tom and a snare so we don’t even need to worry about carrying too many lumps of metal around.) Finally, we wanted to have as much harmony live as we’ve always had on record. And we were really lucky to meet Elizabeth, who plays guitar and sings too. Three girl voices! In some ways it feels like we’ve finally worked out how to do live what Talulah Gosh and Heavenly always wanted to do.
TDOA: Your new album, Dansette Dansette, is being released later this month in the US by Slumberland which makes you label mates with The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. Often they get compared to bands that you have been involved with in the past, like Talulah Gosh or Heavenly. Here you are in the present with Tender Trap, releasing music at the same time as other bands like TPOBPAH …. How does this effect your approach to creating new music? Is it harder to write songs knowing that your contempories are kind of approaching the sound as though it were a revival of twee/indie-pop, while it effectively never really died for you?
AF: I don’t think that bothers us at all. What is great is to be part of a vibrant scene, one that knows instinctively that pop music and punk have a lot in common – inventiveness, anti-corporate attitudes, independence. Age doesn’t make much difference (although if you asked younger bands what they think about having veterans like us around, they may say a different thing). We’ve always composed and recorded new songs, only occasionally playing old ‘hits’, and I think that’s why we have more in common with the newer bands than older ones who just play their old stuff.
TDOA: Now that Tender Trap is a 5 piece, do you feel less limited as to what can be performed live and when you’re recording? How was your experience recording your latest album different from your previous albums?
AF: 5 people means that more surprising things can happen when new songs are rehearsed, and it all happens very quickly. And we are released from the tyranny of playing with a deviant drum machine. Recording the new LP was really really great fun: the band is a good gang to be in, and I think that comes through on the LP.
TDOA: Between the 5 of you, we could probably make a list of over 10 bands that each of you have been a part of or were linked to – That’s a lot of music! How do you keep things fresh for each project? Do you ever feel pressure to make sure each of these endeavors has it’s own distinct personality?
AF: I think that a few years ago we did what a lot of bands do when they’ve been making music for a while – they try to be more sophisticated. That’s what FILM MOLECULES was like. Very thought-out and controlled. It’s much more dynamic again now though, because there are five strong personalities in the band none of whom are arsed with sophistication and control. Having said that, we spend more time trying to get the lyrics good. Maybe because we are thinking that there are more people listening.
TDOA: Are there any other projects that any of you are currently involved with outside of Tender Trap? How do you balance out the responsibility or decide which venture takes precedence?
AF: Elizabeth has her own band, Allo Darlin. which is doing really well and plays a lot more gigs than we do. We have to juggle dates with hers, but it works out ok. I do Economics, Rob makes TV drama programmes, John has about three jobs and Katrina works for The Guardian newspaper.
TDOA: A lot of your songs (I’m thinking of “Fireworks” specifically) sort of hearken back to that carefree 60′s girlgroup sound, but I can also detect a bit of even a psych-pop influence on your first album (the opener “Fin” had me thinking of The United States of America and Stereolab) and of course, the band also seems to be influenced by indie rock as a whole. Is this reflective of the music you grew up with? What albums do you think of as creative touchstones? Can you remember the last album you memorized from start to finish?
AF: The last LP Rob pretty much memorized from start to finish was Sumday by Grandaddy. Mine was You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever by Orange Juice. A long time ago, but as you get older your memory starts to weaken.
TDOA: Your last full length (6 Billion People) came out 4 years ago, so there’s be an obvious lag in release time between LPs. When you put a project on hiatus like that, what sort of things do you do during that downtime to ensure that the creative process doesn’t die? As older artists, how do you deal with juggling the more “adult” aspects of your life (i.e. work, kids, jobs) with your lives as musicians?
AF: You don’t really need to do anything to keep it alive – we find that ideas for songs keep coming. The question is whether you can find the time (and the collaborators) to do anything with them. We did have to stop for a bit because our two daughters (Dora and Ivy) were too little to be left alone. But they’re old enough now, and they have formed a band of their own (called ‘The Fire Girls’), so they seem to understand our activities. Jobs are always an obstacle, but that’s always been the case.
TDOA: It’s an obvious statement, but times have definitely changed for the music industry since your C86 days. I remember catching Heavenly’s video for Trophy Girlfriend on MTV’s 120 Minutes but today you’d have to probably resort to YouTube in order to watch a band’s newest video. Each of you has matured past the golden years of indie rock and into a time where one can simply type an album’s title into Google and download it. How has your experience as musicians changed in the past 15 years? Can you share with us how you’ve adapted as artists during a time where information is practically instant?
AF: Well, we make our own videos for no money and edit them at home for no money, and then people get to see them – so that’s good. People seem to love 7inch singles, all over again, but in a way that is mildly nostalgic and fetishistic. They remind you of a time when it really felt like a triumph to get hold of, say, the new Fire Engines single. You had to really seek it out, which made it feel very special, and meant that the scene was full of very committed, determined people. But is that so different from now?
TDOA: You recently came over to the US in May of this year to play some shows in NYC and Philadelphia. NYC seems like an obvious choice, and I personally LOVE Philadelphia as I spent a good portion of my 20′s living there, but what made you choose to play there out of all of the other east coast cities? Do you have plans to do a broader tour of the US at some point?
AF: We would love to do a bigger tour of the US. It was painful to come all that way and only play twice. But we will definitely be back. Philadelphia? That was because Herbie, who runs ‘England belongs to Twee’ invited us to play there, and we are very glad we did. Herbie and his club are very cool. We’ve never been in a frat house before. And Philadelphia is a great place – Katrina took a lot of photos!
To learn more about the band, visit their MySpace page.