For those paying attention, a great mystery in contemporary music is why Toronto-based trio Dragonette have not become a household name. Like their spiritual sister Robyn, Dragonette is the rare electro outfit who can make you cry through your ass-shaking or boogie through your tears. Previous LPs Galore and Fixin' to Thrill were sparkling gems in the glutted ash heap of contemporary dance music, so it makes sense that lead singer Martina Sorbara was tapped to do guest vocals in Martin Solveig's 2010 megahit "Hello."
While Sorbara is synonymous with that track, she is not the entirety of Dragonette, and "Hello" is not the band's high-water mark. That would be the newly released Bodyparts, which finds singer/songwriter Sorbara, her bassist/producer husband Dan Kurtz and drummer Joel Stouffer in possession of some hard-won self-assurance and 12 exciting new tracks.
Bodyparts is book-ended by its two best tracks: "Run, Run, Run," a propulsive opening ode to home, and "Ghost," with its gorgeous admission of infidelity. The rest is slippery in description: Dragonette's grasp of lyrics and mood defy easy categorization into any existing house of dance music. The blast of La Isla Bonita Tropicalia on "Untouchable," the goofy sexuality of "My Legs," the sunny kiss-off "My Work Is Done," and "Giddy Up," the future summer song of 2013: Dragonette knows that there's a lot of ways to fill a dance floor, so why not try them all at once? As Sorbara sang in 2010, "it's easy, hard as it looks."
I spoke with Sorbara via Skype on Aug. 20, before Bodyparts was available to press.
Hey, Martina! What's up? Where are you right now?
I'm in London right now, just packing up the house here. So we're not going to be in London anymore, because I woke up one morning and thought, "Wow, I need to actually rent out my house if I go on tour for a year, because I'm kind of dumb if I don't."
So you're not living anywhere for a year?
Well I accidentally bought a house in Toronto, so... that threw a spanner in my plan. I realized I'm not very good if I don't have a home. I need someplace to fantasize about. When I'm on tour I think of all these things I want to make; I like making things, crafts, building things, making jam, baking, sewing. We knew we were going to end up in Toronto. We found the perfect house. It's got my crafter's room, a studio. It's perfect. We were like, "Fuck, we have to buy this house." We're trying to sell ours now.
I heard you watched a short film called Cakefarts (NSFW) last time you were in D.C. Would you care to confirm?
You showed that to me, you fucking dickhead! I totally forgot about that. I'm glad I remembered. That's amazing. I can't believe I could forget something so significant. That's just stupid. I like it more than "2 Girls 1 Cup." It's more innovative. It's just more interesting.
Are you sick of people calling you and saying, "I just called to say hello"?
No one's done it yet. I think most people have more tact. Just kidding. So many people say, "Your next single should be called 'Goodbye.'" They think that's an original joke, and I have to pretend to laugh. You were original even if you thought you weren't.
Has your has your life changed since the global success of "Hello"?
The song was so blindly appealing. It went so many places. I think a lot of the people who heard it aren't people who follow up on, "Oh, another name is attached to that track. I'll listen to everything they made." It's not a given that the rest of our stuff will be appealing. Our stuff is a bit stranger.
I think the reason ["Hello"] was so big is that it was unique in the dance world. There's just a lot of sunshine and cuteness in that song, which I think is lacking in the world of synth and dance music. It's all sexy and dark.
Do people think that Dragononette is just you instead of a band? Do people say things like, "Can't wait to see her play"?
I get that alot. I see a lot of tweets that are like that. My sister had an argument with a colleague at work who said something about liking Dragonette. My sister was like, "That's my sister!" and he was like, "No, it's not. What's her name?" My sister said, "Her name is Martina." He replied, "Well, her name is Dragonette, so I don't think it's the same person."
While recording Bodyparts, did you feel like you had "made it" in some of the ways you were aspiring to in Fixin' to Thrill? There were tracks on that album, like "Big Sunglasses" and "Let's Pretend That We Rule the World," that suggested you were getting ready for the big time.
I never thought of it that way. "Big Sunglasses" was about delusions of grandeur. Being puffed up by a label and having your eyes opened to the fact that they have no idea what they're doing and all I have to do is pay attention to what I want, what I want to do. It's not disguised. It's plain in that song. Its more about the folly of it, not I wishing I were famous.
Some of the tracks you've put out out since, like "Rocketship," "Volcano" and "My Work is Done," have shown you being way more out there in the world.
There's more security, self-confidence. There is a lot to work through when you have smoke blown up your ass by a label. But you think it's your fault -- "I'm not good" -- then you think the match here was wrong. We didn't have the same picture. Now all I have to do is write songs I think are good. I'm free of that.
But it took a while to shake off. That's what all of Fixin' to Thrill was. I haven't had a lot of of time to get retrospective on this new album. Sometimes it takes a long time to think through the meanings. They come from way back in my mind. It has to settle and circus a little bit.
On Bodyparts' "2 Live in This City" you sing, "This city can't live without me."
That line is from this girl at a show who asked me why I lived in London. I totally thought, "Oh, my god, why the fuck do I live in London?" I can't be fucking arrested there, and it's not where I do my work. So my response was, "I live in London because it can't live without me." That came from self-bolstering.
What should I expect from Bodyparts? I keep hearing it's poised for great things.
I'm really proud of it. At the same time as being totally poppy and aurally pleasing, it's a very strange and quirky album. We got pushed really far in terms of people's perception of us. We had gotten pushed really far into the dance and the club music world.
For the first little while I was like, "Am I supposed to be that?" It's not me. For the first little while of writing this album, I was banishing that pressure, even if it was just in my mind, of, "You're a dance/club band." Coming out of that and just making whatever bizarre whimsy we had took a lot effort. Once we got it going, it ended up being really satisfying. I'm proud that it's strange and unplaceable.
What's an example of a strange, nontraditionally clubby track?
There's a song called "Giddyup." Dan went away for the weekend, and I was trying to fill out the song. I played this harmony recorder part as a joke, and he said, "That is it! That's what is missing!" It's one of those songs that you think is totally demented, and it ends up being one of your favorites. I don't know about the listener, but as the mother of the song, it just warms to you because it came out of such strangeness.
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D.C. residents can hear tracks from Bodyparts Thursday, Oct. 18, at my new weekly dance party, Mr. Radio.