Table scraps.. Dragonette and the conundrum of cool

OK, I get it. I’m lousy at regularly updating this blog. And even worse at consistently providing ongoing “series” (Remember “This one time I..”). But this time it will be different, I (sort of) promise.

As you may know, I do a lot of interviews with a lot of different people for the stories that I write. And quite often, due to space constraints, word limits or a piece’s thematic arch, terribly interesting bits of info are left out from the final product. And, also missing from that end product, are all the “hazards” of the trade. The strange, awkward, unexpected moments where a story source asks me to send pool-side, nude photos along with a link to the final story. (Yes, that really happened.)

“Table scraps..” will share those stories. Think of it like a DVD extra. Or surprise morning sex. Enjoy!

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In mid-October, I was fortunate enough, thanks to the fabulous people at High Rise PR, to interview Martina Sorbara and Dan Kurtz, the king and queen of electro-pop outfit Dragonette, for EDGE just before they were set to headline a wicked evening of debauchery at the now-closed Sonotheque.

Sorbara and Kurtz getting their fix.

First, it was to only be a simple 20-minute phone interview with Sorbara, just a fun little question-and-answer thing to preview the show and continue my dream of interviewing as many of the names responsible for the tunes constantly streaming through my iPod. I’ve loved Dragonette since I first heard a remix of their seminal jam “I Get Around” via a friend’s mix CD in early 2007, when the band was just beginning to take wing.

Now, they’ve released a second album, Fixin to Thrill, which is equally stellar. And, at least in my book, they are worthy of some major cred for their danceable, remix-ready pop gems. I was psyched for the interview, had done extensive research, listened to every track they’d ever released and thought my prepared questions would create a fool-proof golden interview. It would grace the RSS feeds of indie music blogs the world over and add ammo to my quest to one day write for Paste, Rolling Stone or [insert noteworthy music publication of the future here].

But alas, I knew from Sorbara’s sparse response to my first question that those things remained far away. Yes, she was sweet, kind and apologetic for her head cold… But she wasn’t giving me much content of note worth the quote during an afternoon break before her Calgary show that night.

The complete Dragonette crew.

Fortunately enough, I was able to chat a few days later with Kurtz, while he and the band sat in their room in Portland’s Jupiter Hotel (room 131 of this crazy tricked-out “boutique hotel” if you’re ever in town and want to soak up some of the pop brilliance). And this guy came ready to spout off, as we spoke for a half hour, twice as long as the 15 minutes I’d asked for.

Just after confiding that his wife had tossed the piece of “processed cheese” from her knitted hamburger (made of merino wool) in his face, Kurtz provided this answer to my question of what musicians he’d like to collaborate with. His answer was surprisingly frank, slightly bitter, but incredibly refreshing in a world of recycled agency-fed “talking points” and marketing plan-inspired drudgery.

Me: Who would you like to work with on in the future, remixes, collaborations or otherwise?

Kurtz: “I don’t know … I think I’d like us to work in another genre of music with somebody who can really teach us something new. I know that sounds really vague and whatever … But for example, I’d love to learn how to write a great country song. To work with Dolly Parton or Willy Nelson, that’d be great and entirely outside of our element, not that I even like country music.

Me: You were quick to add that caveat! Honestly, that’s surprising to me, you all don’t strike me as fans of the ‘twang, per se. Though the banjo on “Gone Too Far” off the new record is certainly moving in that direction.

Kurtz: Well, it’s Tina who brings that. She’s the fountain of country music in our scene. It would be more of an intellectual exercise than anything. As Dragonette, we’ve existed so far outside of … If I could tell you the number of times the achingly cool music group du jour have been offended by the question “Would you like to remix Dragonette?” It’s just always seemed like we had to fight really hard to get respect in this “town.” I think it’s a bit outside the realm of possibility to work with the “achingly hip” people, so we’ll maybe just go to some old-timers to write stuff, people who truly know how to make music.

And that’s a zing against you daily special bands out there. Next, I asked Kurtz, given the band’s recent exposure on shows like CSI and The Hills, what television shows or films he foresaw his tunes playing during. And again, he had some interesting words about the industry’s hip types.

Me: What television shows or sorts of films would you like to see Dragonette tunes featured in?

Kurtz: I suppose I’d go with the shows I like to watch. I’d like to see my own song pop up on a show like Weeds, Mad Men or Breaking Bad, or one of the big fuck-off British TV shows like the Jeremy Clarkson car show. That’s top-tier. If we moved off of TV and into movies, I’d pay money to have a song in a Wes Anderson movie. We do, perhaps, really like his movies, but then again we’re probably not hip enough for that. The last time we saw him, he was with some very hip people. He was sitting with Clive Owen at some club while we were in town. Oh well, you can always dream!

And here’s hoping they don’t stop dreaming anytime soon. And please, someone, tell them they’re still “cool” – Kurtz seems on the verge of a borderline inferiority complex. Meanwhile, enjoy the download below, a sexy remix of one of my favorite tracks off Fixin To Thrill.

Download: Dragonette ‘Easy’ (Buffetlibre remix) (mp3)

The modern mix tape: What’s the perfect match?

“Trying to find the perfect match between pretentious and pop” goes the lyric from the Los Campesinos! song “It Started with a Mixx” – clearly a sentiment understandable to those of you who have ever taken to the task of creating a mix tape, CD (or flash drive?) or a friend, loved one or potential boot-knockin’ buddy. But is it really worth all the fuss? Does a carefully, artfully and intuitively compiled mix truly create something larger than the sum of its parts? After a recent glut of mix CD creations, with many more on the way, I had to wonder why it’d become such a personal obsession of mine.

"Encoded title doesn't give away as much as it should."
"Encoded title doesn't give away as much as it should."

The mixtape, described by author Geoffrey O’Brien as “the most widely practiced American art form” is far from a modern invention, as it turns out. That said, the ease of digital sharing has certainly made it a whole lot easier to mass distribute faux-personalized compilations of tunes. The original mixtapes weren’t actually homemade as they are today, but were instead bootleg 8 track tapes often sold at flea markets or truck stops. In the ’80s, cassettes became popular as their quality increased and voila! Soon, teenage lovers and tech-savvy 20- and 30-somethings were communicating their feelings and thoughts by using other peoples’ feelings and thoughts. And yes, it is just as tricky as it sounds to have that work out.

Personally, I’ve been creating mixes for friends, lovers and whoever will listen for well over a decade now. They’ve ranged from the casual (“I just threw a bunch of songs on a disc to listen to in the car on the way to -road trip destination here-“) to the thinly-veiled flirtatious (“These 19 songs represent the 19 that come as close as physically possible to saying ‘I want in your pants’ without actually saying it”) to the esoteric (“This CD represents the progression of a modern relationship between a man and a woman; the songs are in conversation with each other – alternating between partners – and coalesce in heartbreak and eventual acceptance”).

They say hello, they say I miss you, they say I want you. Or, it could say “I searched for every possible name of a color on my iTunes playlist and these are the best that I got!” (No, it was not all Joni Mitchell covers.) No matter what the message, it’s the process of creation and sharing that becomes ultimately enjoyable to me, as the maker. It’s a joy that I hope is matched by the listener’s experience.

So, I ask you, why do you create mixes? Do you recall the best mix you’ve ever received? What about the strangest? What is the favorite mix you’ve created?

Coming soon to a meaningful mix CD being converted to your laptop's library?
Coming soon to a meaningful mix CD being converted to your laptop's library?

And finally, the question of the hour, what’s the secret to a “perfectly matched” mix? Because, despite all the years of practice.. I still truly have no idea. Is it all about a seamless build to a lavish finish? Is it about juxtaposing the unusual with the familiar? What about a mid-mix instrumental break? Can ABBA (Flower power/’Fernando’ ABBA not wedding anthem/’Dancing Queen’ ABBA) still be enjoyed ironically, or are Swedish disco acts passe?

UNPRETENTIOUS (BUT STILL “ARTFULLY THOUGHT-PROVOKING”), POPPY (BUT NOT TOO POPPY) JUNE JAMZ

Download: Jarvis Cocker ‘Fuckingsong’ (mp3)
Download: Patrick Wolf ‘Hard Times’ (Jack Beats Remix) (mp3)
Download: School of Seven Bells ‘Half Asleep’ (mp3)
Download: Marina & the Diamond ‘Obsessions’ (mp3)
Download: Dragonette ‘Marvellous’ (mp3)
Download: The Spinto Band ‘Summer Grof’ (mp3)
Download: Shugo Tokumaru ‘Rum Hee’ (mp3)
Download: Passion Pit ‘The Reeling’ (Miike Snow Remix) (mp3)