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Interview: The Pipettes

9th September 2008

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For all the right reasons, The Pipettes are an unusual outfit.
A kind of salmon of pop music swimming against the flow that travels in the direction of boring, and oddly enough they’re doing that by investing in retro girl-band pop.

The PipettesThe Pipettes are living out the paradox of being an essentially underground but authentic/manufactured band, though technically, of course, they’re not really manufactured at all.

For three years Becki, Rose, and more recently Gwen have been beguiling the UK from their base in Brighton, launching an album this summer and already have two top 40 singles under their belt.

In the press their name is bandied about with the word ‘lovely’ so often that it’s hard to tell whether it’s actually part of the band’s name or not.

The girls identified the fact that the charts of today are sorely lacking in real feel-good music, the girl-band fun-pop of yesteryear, and decided to take immediate action to remedy the situation. Despite the fact that the girls have a tendency to throw about names like Girls Aloud and the Spice Girls they’ve got considerably more intellectual and ideological clout. More Phil Spector than Pete ‘n’ Carl, their mission is to produce music that people will dance to.

Becki points out, “We figured we couldn’t expect people to dance unless we were dancing ourselves,” and so dance they do, utilising synchronised 1950’s teenie-bopper moves in retro polka dot dresses.
All this began three years ago, and where else but the pub. “Our guitarist Monster Bobby had been DJing loads of girl-band music around Brighton, and had noticed how people were dancing to it all the time, and thought ‘Why don’t people make music like that?’ It’s so instant the way that people dance to it, it seems strange that we’ve forgotten about it. So he went for a drink with Julia, who was our original member (to be replaced by Gwen), who’d been reading Bill Drummond’s ‘Manual’ at the time, and between them they decided it’d be amazing if the band could create a kind of pop-hits-machine like Pete Waterman did, but based on pop music in the old sense. We had this concept that we would work through an idea, starting at a very specific point in music.”

“Since the early nineties music has slowed down a bit, and we’ve realised just how great the top 40 was back when we were teenagers.”

“We’re kind of like the Supremes, we don’t have one lead singer or anything, but the whole point was that we wanted to encourage people to dance more at gigs. He approached us all individually, and we were basically all the people in Brighton who he knew who weren’t already in bands, and that was how we were formed. Bobby and Julia had this idea of being a manufactured pop band, with dancing, dresses, but not really fake.”

Whilst playing the indie circuit the girls are vehemently opposed to the snobbishness of the scene, and in defiance of genre boundaries. “We wanted to be popular and we wanted to change the perception of pop music in this day and age. We all grew up listening to pop music, we loved nothing more than a great hook. A lot of people feel that they can’t say ‘I love Girls Aloud, I think they’re brilliant, I don’t care that they don’t write any of it,’ when someone’s always going to list endless indie or rock bands. Just because someone hasn’t written something, we don’t feel that it’s worse - but we do write our own stuff and we want to make that kind of pop music, so let’s see if we can change people’s perceptions by being a real band.”

“It’s about playing with conventions and making people see that music isn’t black and white, or real or fake, but that there’s a whole area of grey in the middle. I think there’s a kind of nostalgia for a time when people had more values about the way that they were performed but people are always influenced by the society around them. In the fifties there was a boom time with the creation of the teenager, and the freedom to do things after the years of depression.”
“I think that’s come round where that freedom is apparently there but everyone still wants to just do the same thing. It’s just gone back to Barbie versus Action Man days, where boys just want to be in a rock band and little girls want to be blonde and beautiful.”

“At our gigs you get young indie boys alongside grown men dancing about like idiots, and I’d really encourage that. It’s a great feeling bringing people together. We got brought together when we realised that we all wanted to be part of this thing, and we wanted to make music for people like us.”

“We just encourage people to let go of their inhibitions and have a good time - if we can do it on stage then so can they! Luckily most people do well with that!”

“About a year and a half ago Julia decided that creatively it wasn’t really what she wanted to do any more so we got Gwen in and that’s where we are now.”

Gwen was previously a Welsh language TV presenter in Cardiff, and, having bumped into the girls whilst they were supporting The GO! Team, was press-ganged into joining up.

“We all wanted to have these images of ourselves within The Pipettes. We’re a bit like the Spice Girls in the sense that we play these very slightly exaggerated characters and we have a kind of persona.” Becki herself goes by the moniker of Riot Becki.

“Firstly I love the Riot Grrls and everything that that stands for and because I tend to get into arguments- I’m quite opinionated! But it’s more rrr-RIOT than I am a riot! I could probably argue about anything, and so could most of us in the band, we just like arguing, we’re passionate people. We argue with each other all the time. It’s about stupid things, but you get rid of a load of stress and energy, and then it’s over with. We don’t need therapy!”

Meanwhile Monster Bobby took a film influence to heart and produces, promotes and plays under the name, though he introduces himself simply as Bobby.

“It was to do with a film... He’s told me a million times!”

The band is very conscious of avoiding naming anyone as the lead singer to avoid the trouble and recriminations of having a Diana Ross versus the Supremes style stand-off.

“Some of us might say we wrote one thing, but it’s not really about that, it’s not about ego - without The Pipettes nobody would have written any of the songs we have.”

“We usually come in with a melody, or lyrics and we’ll work through it and the boys will get the music and the girls will get the vocals, and any one of us can say ‘Why don’t we do this’ and it’s all very nice. We love touring and that’s why we do it! I find that if I have a couple of days off it gets really boring unless you can get on with what you’re doing, whether it’s writing or recording.”

“Touring’s what makes a band, a band, we can’t wait to get back out there, with as little time off as possible until the point where we might get to killing ourselves- but we’ve never got to that point yet, and hopefully we never will.”

Though fronted by the three girls, the band in fact has seven members, including four instrumentalists, including Monster Bobby, who are dubbed The Cassettes.

“We’re a girl band and we wanted it to focus on the vocal element. Some people get confused by the name thing and think that the boys aren’t the same band, and say ‘Oh, it’s very good of them to play as a backing band!’ We like the romantic idea of calling your band ‘the someone and the somethings’, like Martha and the Vandellas, so we call ourselves The Pipettes featuring The Cassettes.”

“They’re not a shy lot, but having seven people in a picture is just a bit much, and nobody really cares what the drummer or the bassist has to say!”

So what’s the future of retro-girl band fun pop?
“Next summer we’re going to get properly started on the second album. It isn’t at all retro, or anything like that! The second album can be a bit more experimental, because you’ve done the first album, and you get to the point where you’ve toured it so much that you desperately need something new. I’m really excited about the project, of locking ourselves away in a studio for a few months and seeing what happens. It’s as if we had a weekend off we’d say ‘Quick guys, lets go and record the album!’”

The Pipettes haven’t run out of steam yet, and it’s pretty certain that they’re not going to stop any time soon, the one defining thing about them being their considerable energy for all things pop.

And so The Pipettes are destined to strive onwards to bigger and greater things.


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