Interview : Politique

13 Apr

Establishing a presence among listeners, critics and peers, Ottawa’s synth-driven Politique has helped to further define the Canadian electro-pop landscape, drawing comparisons to the likes of Blondie and Stars for their genuine talent and female-driven vocals.  After releasing their debut to positive reviews last year – including a personal endorsement by Stars front man Torq Campbell – the four-piece began staking their claim on stages across the country, appearing alongside fellow Canadian heavyweights Young Galaxy, Ruby Coast and Wintergloves (to name a few), and earning accolades for their authentic dance-punk vibe that mimics the earnestness put forth during the original punk and new wave movements.  Dirtbag Journalism caught up with Roland Marckwort and Mallory Giles to talk comparisons, what sets them apart from their synth-driven forefathers, and whether “scenes” still exist.

Dirtbag Journalism:  What are the most surprising comparisons that have been drawn to the band and your sound?

Roland Marckwort: Some guy thought we were Motorhead once because we played in a venue that had a gold-lame M.Head backdrop. Then they figured out Lemmy was nowhere to be found, so we were probably someone else.

Some comparisons have been made to like-minded artists we admire, and that’s okay because it’s a compliment.  We love Ladytron, Metric, Presets and Depeche Mode, but that’s only a starting point – I’ve always felt we have so much of our own thing to say,  it would set us apart from other groups, while at the same time coming from the same place style-wise.  Really everything has been done by now musically, all we do is imprint our personality and experiences on it.  I used to be influenced by others when I started out, but now I just focus on what we’re doing.

Mallory Giles:  None of the comparisons have been that surprising to me.  Pretty obvious though, we’ve been compared to Stars, Blondie, Human League – anything kind of dancey, kind of 80’s with a woman on the mic.  I find it’s a very natural tendency to draw parallels between new and old – it’s indirectly one of the first things I do without even thinking about it, while listening to new stuff.  I’ll pinpoint references from different parts of the music and at the end of the record, I can usually tell the songwriter’s influences. And then after my third or fourth listen, the music takes on its own personality and the similarities start to fade away.

DJ:  Well speaking of comparisons, having been compared to the likes of Stars and Blondie, how do you find the use of male-female vocal dynamics help convey edginess or emotion?

RM:  I think that may have been the case with older songs, but we’ve grown in many ways since two or three years ago.  I always really liked the way our voices sounded together – like telling two versions of the same story – but it’s more Mallory now, and it feels right having her totally upfront.

MG:  It’s definitely a helpful use of range since Roland hits the low notes, and I’ll hit the medium ones (the high notes we leave to the synth).  We tend to see our guy/girl dynamic as more of an instrument than a means of conveying romantic perspective.  I’ve always loved songs where the second verse kicks in and it’s suddenly a girl – it’s a good way to break up the song, too.

DJ:  Having been branded as an updated form of new wave electro-pop, what do you find sets today’s music apart from yesterday’s sounds?

RM:  I think the directness and rawness sets the vibes apart from the 80’s stuff especially.  I love that so much can be thrown into the mix now – not just the same old straight four-beat kick and high hat pattern.  To me, it’s about writing material that’s moving and emotionally driven, then finding cool synh sounds to make that bigger.

MG:  Categorical stamps like “wave” or “grunge” are all about the message – like punk in the late 70’s was about using raw power and aggressive music as a way to basically tell people to fuck off.  Wave and new wave is a bit sexier, a bit more emotional, but in a sad, less angry way.  It’s about the artist channelling society and culture.

DJ:  Why do you think audiences are increasingly drawn to synth and dance-pop?

RM:  Because people love to feel the charge and the “sex” in music – be it in the lyrics, the vocals, the beats or the sound of huge bass moving through your bones from a PA in a club.  It’s never gone away really, and I love using electro vibes in an indie-based format.  I just got so bored with the repetition of strictly dance floor based music, and DJ-ing didn’t fulfill my needs either – so the marriage of the two is super exciting.

MG:  Dance music has a longstanding reputation as party music – stay up all night and get messed up music.  It’s fun, and at the end of the day, that’s all we want.  That’s one of the things we really took into consideration when working on this new record.  It became more and more important for us to try and find balance between amazing big live sound and recordings that people can listen to anywhere, connect with and hopefully take something away other than, “yeah, let’s go nuts tonight!”

DJ:  Hailing from Ottawa, has it been a challenge to align yourselves with a “scene”, or does living outside of those cities work to set you apart? Do you think the idea of “music scenes” is still relevant?

RM:  Yeah, scenes will never disappear, it seems – and that’s okay.  We’ve played with some amazing bands recently, but the scene thing never comes up.  Mind you in a small city like Ottawa, when you do something that isn’t punk or folk, people either listen up or are disinterested, so you can set yourself apart, but your options are limited.

MG:  Well, I think there are some major advantage to living in bigger cities like Toronto or New York since artists have a larger surrounding of like-minded peers who support their lifestyle and it can be easier to succeed. I often find myself a little jealous when I see how many shows my friends’ bands are getting in Toronto and Montreal, and it’s just like, “Damn – why don’t we live there?”

The thing with Ottawa, though, is that it’s a small family, we all know each other, and in a way, we kind of all try a little harder to be cool because I guess sometimes I feel like we have something to prove? As for scenes, I’m not good with that because I love all music and art, so I spread myself pretty thin when it comes to staying true to any particular crowd.  I do, however, find them extremely relevant.  Scenes will always exist, people need people to share common interests with.

Posted by : Anne T Donahue

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