Canadian electropopsters Dragonette ’fixin to thrill’

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday November 1, 2009

Canadian electropopsters Dragonette, headed by singer-songwriter Martina Sorbara and her husband-bassist-producer Dan Kurtz, might just be the gayest (and best) thing you're not listening to.

Having gotten their start touring with names like New Order and Duran Duran, these masters of synth know a few things about catchy pop music, as shown in their one-night stand anthem "I Get Around," a hit single off their 2007 debut album Galore.

With their sophomore effort Fixin to Thrill, out this week in the States, Dragonette have strived for a deeper sound beyond the "sex band" label they've sometimes faced. The lyrics are more personal but the beats continue to pulse, beckoning the remixing treatment of DJs worldwide.

During a rare lull on tour, EDGE had a chance to chat it up with Kurtz and Sobara on their new record, favorite Halloween costumes and why you'll like them better than Nickelback.

On the road again

EDGE: How does it feel to be back on the road playing songs from the new record?

Martina Sorbara: It’s been amazing. The record is only a few weeks old and the audience has been singing all the new songs, so it’s sort of surprising. I’ve never experienced the "follow-up record" thing, so it’s been a really great energy.

Dan Kurtz: When we play now, everything feels much "righter" than it did before when we were trying these songs on for size. Playing live now, I feel like this is my song, this my band and this is how we do it. I didn’t know how to do that with the last record.

EDGE: Speaking of the new album, Fixin To Thrill, how do you feel it has built on your past work?

DK: I think we’ve actually become the band that has grown out of Martina and I writing songs in our basement in somewhat of a vacuum. I think with Galore, we did a lot of the work to grow and build an identity from those songs. With Fixin to Thrill, we’ve re-emerged knowing what we do a little bit better and I’m sure we’ll continue to grow as we keep writing records.

Watch the Dragonette’s video of "Fixin to Thrill."


Outing an album?

EDGE: Martina, what about you? You’ve said before that this record is a boy, while Galore is a girl. What did you mean by that?

MS: I don’t know, I guess Galore felt almost like playing dress-up and, while Fixin to Thrill has feminine qualities, I think it’s a bit more rough.

EDGE: So, let’s be honest - I’m looking for an answer - is Fixin to Thrill gay? Bi? Straight?

MS: I’m not outing the album, it will come out when it’s good and ready! Let’s just say this music’s not in the closet.

EDGE: You’re certainly not a closeted band - a recent story referred to Dragonette as "still having its sass." What do you think of the band being described as sassy?

DK: Well, I like that word better than "sex band." I think the sass comes off of the naturally coy expression on Martina’s face ... Depending on the use of the word, I think if that just means playful and maybe sometimes a bit challenging, then great. But I increasingly have no patience with those who write us off as a one-dimensional sex band. We’ve all put so much time into so many of these songs.. It drives me mental. If it’s that, then fuck off, but if it means we have a sense of humor in our approach, then I think it’s pretty accurate.

EDGE: Maybe that sassiness is part of what has attracted and held the attention of your gay fan base. Do you think that’s it?

DK: I think it’s no surprise to me that the gay icons in pop music are female pop stars or women fronting bands, the alternative is so often this dip rock paradigm - guys singing about chicks, being guys, trashing hotel rooms and pissing on each other. If I were gay, I wouldn’t be able to identify with. The chips are so stacked against women in the rock world, especially fronting a band instead of being a strummy singer-songwriter person, that it’s like cheering on this little woman that could break through convention in excel in a world owned by men. I think there’s more kinship to be had for a gay man with someone like Blondie or Martina than with Crad Kroeger from Nickelback.

EDGE: Speaking of more "mainstream" bands, your music has gained exposure being featured in many TV shows including the Hills, Grey’s Anatomy and CSI. Is that strange to you? Have you ever had to reject a show or commercial’s request to use your music?

MS: I’m not overly judgmental or anti-commercial about it that we’ll just say no, but if we’re really against a product or it’s just really lame, we’ll avoid it. We’ve kind of been lucky to have gotten a lot of good offers.

EDGE: You’ve even created a few of your own "offers" - including a commercial for UR In, a fake fragrance. How did that come about?

MS: That was from an idea I had, where we were laughing about Sarah Jessica Parker’s perfume - Lovely, is it? - and imagining our own celebrity perfume. That launched it. My friend Drew Lightfoot directed it, and we had a crew, extras, dancers and everything. Some people were confused and didn’t understand, but the smart ones got it.

Watch the Dragonette’s video of "Pick up the Phone."


Favorite Halloween costume?

EDGE: Has anyone shown up at a show looking for perfume samples of UR In at the merch table?

MS: No, but if they want one I can give them one.

EDGE: You’ve also had some pretty amazing collaborations you’ve worked on lately, including writing songs with Cyndi Lauper and Tom Jones. How did that impact your own songwriting process?

DK: I think the exercise of writing with other people has meant that I can say to myself that if these guys like what we do enough to work with us, it must mean we’re good enough to be doing what we’re doing. The experience working with Cyndi was amazing, it was great that she liked the song and put in on her record. She’s an affirmed pop star and that showed we can write at that level.

With Tom Jones, we never met him, we just wrote the song and did production on it. When we walked up to him at a Killers show in London, he wasn’t so into it, but that’s cool because my name is on a Tom Jones record. It gives you confidence.

EDGE: What other artists would you like to work with?

MS: If Prince called us up right now, we’d have to say yes. That’d be a dream come true, maybe a bit unrealistic, but you can hope.

DK: I’d like to try working in another genre of music with somebody else who can really teach us something new, like 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.

EDGE: So you guys are coming into Chicago for a show on Halloween at Sonotheque. Do you have your costumes planned out? Do you have a favorite past Halloween costume?

MS: I don’t know! Hopefully we’ll have some time to figure it out, but we don’t have much free time between now and then, but I do love dressing up so hopefully we can find a thrift shop somewhere along the way. As for favorites, last year I was an oil-baron trophy wife and that was fun. I’d just "gotten" a nose job so I had a bandage on my face, big sunglasses and a blonde wig. I looked pretty good.

DK: I don’t have one picked out, but the best one I’ve had was as this rosey-cheeked, probably bi-curious French sailor costume I wore a couple of years ago. I had a curly mustache and it pretty much turned everyone on.

EDGE: That sounds very John Waters inspired, yes?

DK: Oh, definitely.

EDGE: Martina, speaking of costumes, you in particular have worn some pretty zany things in some of your videos. Do you ever get to keep the clothes? That’s a nice perk!

MS: Yeah, not all the time, but often you do, except when it’s a fancy designer who’s lent you something then generally you don’t get to. So, I don’t always. I’m sure Lady GaGa or Beyonce get to keep whatever they want.

EDGE: Is that your goal?

MS: The eventual goal is free clothing? Maybe.

Dragonette conclude their North American tour with stops in Chicago, Saturday, October 31 @ Sonotheque; Boston, Wednesday, November 4 @ Great Scott; New York City, Thursday, November 5 @ Santos; and Washington DC, Friday, November 6 @ DC9. (For more information on the band, visit their Facebook page.

Watch the Dragonette’s video of "Gone too Far."


Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.