Electrelane Find Their Voice
On their first longplayer, 2001's Rock It to the Moon (Mr. Lady), Brighton-based girl-rock quartet Electrelane bust out an epic instrumental record, layering on Farfisa organ and interstellar guitar, and driving their driven kraut-rockist rhythms out into space behind a propulsive beat. Three years on, and their The Power Out (Too Pure) follow-up finds them ditching instrumentalism for out-and-out vocalism, with keyboardist/guitarist Verity Susman's keen croon placed out front of the combo's more restless, less rhythm-driven music. And such vocalism gets taken to grand degrees on "The Valleys," a song that finds Susman commanding a full choir singing in medieval minor keys.
On that one moment, this second-time-around Electrelane seem vastly different from the first. But the band hasn't changed; they're still centered on close friends Susman and drummer Emma Gaze, who started playing together in high school; a version of Electrelane came together in 1998, and released their first single, "Film Music," in 2000.
The lineup, which also includes guitarist Mia Clarke and bassist Rachel Dalley, has, in fact, remained unchanged in three and a half years. Which means, of course, that the change has come from the members themselves. "Within all of us there's quite a vast turnover of influences, and of ideas that we want to do, and so change seems like it's going to be a constant," Susman offered during a recent interview. "I don't think we'll ever change so radically that we'll be unrecognizable, or completely different [from] what has come beforehand."
Susman said that, with The Power Out, she really wanted to add more structure to the songs, culling the lengthy, unstructured, instrumentalist jams of the first record down to more focused pieces. And, she continued, "We wanted to make a record that had a more simple sound, instrumentally speaking. Less about layers and effects, and more about using acoustic, wooden instruments like piano and Hammond.
"I wanted to make something more folky. Not something that sounded like modern folk music, but something influenced by folk-music traditions more than the kraut-rock and electronic stuff that really influenced the first record. I was thinking about things like hymns, and spirituals; those were the things that were in the back of my head when we started making the album. I don't know how much of the record turned out like that, but that's what I was inspired by at the time."
But whilst The Power Out lays on saxophone and piano and vocals and that entire choir, Susman refuted the idea that this record was more of a "studio" concern. In fact, she stated, this record even despite the added extras bears more of a resemblance to Electrelane as live band than the more "straight" Rock It to the Moon did.
"The music for the first one was written over a really long period of time," she said. "And the way it was recorded was, we'd lay down the bass and the drums as guide-parts for the keyboards and the guitars, and then we'd layer them on top. Our old guitarist left right when we started making that record, so we often ‘built' songs as a three-piece, and then when Mia, our new guitarist, joined, she'd play parts over things we'd already recorded, and she'd help us add on other layers. So there was very little actual playing as a band.
"With this new one," she continued, "we wanted to get more of a live sound on the record, because I'd felt a bit disappointed that the first record didn't really capture what we sounded like live."
To try and capture the band in such recorded verité, Electrelane turned to iconic audio engineer Steve Albini, whose renown is for frill-free recording designed to represent bands as they already are. With the support of new label Too Pure behind them, the band flew into Chicago and set about recording for three weeks without a break. Where Rock It to the Moon was assembled in the studio, this time Electrelane "had all the songs already written, with the structures and ideas already in place."
And, as far as Susman sees it, this has been a complete success. To her, The Power Out "sounds pretty much like we did as a band at that time. If we were to set up and start playing in your lounge-room, we'd sound much more like we do on this record than we did on the last one." Anthony Carew [Tuesday, March 23, 2004]