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Interview: Theoretical Girl

9th October 2008

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According to WIKIPEDIA: The term theoretical is sometimes used to describe a result which is predicted by theory but has not yet been adequately tested by observation or experiment. It is not uncommon for a theory to produce predictions which are later confirmed or proven incorrect by experiment.

Theoretical GirlBy that token, it’s hard to form an accurate theory on Miss Amy Eleanor Turnnidge, AKA Theoretical Girl. On one hand she is petite, doe-eyed and demure, producing the kind of delicious, melancholy-tinged pop tunes that bring about adjectives like ‘twee’ and ‘lovely’, and sublime acoustic tracks that will melt your heart. On the other, she also makes the kind of electro-post-punk stormers that invite arty muso mags to use words like ‘jagged’, ‘angular’ and ‘banging’.

Indeed, on first observation she seems perfectly innocent and unassuming. She’s engaging, self-deprecating to a fault and every inch as lovely as so many interviews, reviews and Myspace comments would suggest. A theory that is soon shattered as she explains the story behind previous single, ‘Red Mist’, the story of an errant boyfriend and a little too much white wine…

“White wine turns me into a bit of a lunatic. My boyfriend of the time was surrounded by a big group of ladies who he’d been talking to all night and not to me. I was a bit drunk, I got a bit jealous and I ended up hooking my arm round his neck, pulling him off his chair and dragging him along the floor. It’s so embarrassing, I’m not that sort of person, but the red mist literally did descend over me and it just happened. So yeah, I’m not lovely. Not on white wine, anyway. (laughs)”

On closer examination, Amy has a somewhat contradictory personality. One need only look so far as forthcoming single ‘The Hypocrite’ - with its sinister yet honey-smooth vocals speaking of a relationship’s double-standards, poured over a pounding backbeat that screams indie-dancefloor-classic-in-waiting - and compare it to B-side ‘Never Good Enough’ - a pared-down, xylophone-backed ballad where all menace has given way to fragile melancholy.

“The bare bones of it were recorded in my bedroom,” she says of the process. “But then Al (O’Connell - The Rapture, Mystery Jets) and then Seiji (Bugz in the Attic) took it and made it sound good, basically.”

It’s a leap forward on only her third single release, her first on XL’s Salvia label, despite having been making music and gigging for around three years. Until now she has been more than happy to oversee all aspects of production and hold tight creative control, having dissolved a previous band to go solo for just that reason, and openly admitting to being a control freak, in a musical sense.

“It makes me cross, actually, because it makes me wonder why I didn’t let other people get involved before. I never really thought the previous singles were great anyway but now it’s shown that I shouldn’t really be producing. I should just leave that to somebody else.”

Saying that, though, when it comes to performing on the record itself, she is perfectly confident and forthright.

“No one else ever plays on the records, only ever me. That’s my one rule that I definitely will never change,” she states frankly. “I think with everything I’m really laid-back, but when it comes to songwriting, that’s when I become a bit of a dictator, that’s when it has to be my way or no way.”

“Her way” of song-writing and approach to performing is also experimental and wide-reaching in its influences and aspirations. The format of her live shows vary widely, whether performing solo with backing track, acoustic, accompanied by backing band The Equations, or even with brass or strings section. While she’s happy to continue playing the musical field, she does worry that it may be detrimental in a record-buying sense: “The main thing I want to do is keep developing. I don’t ever want to get complacent and think ‘I’ve found my formula and I’m just going to stick with it,’ I always like to try new things. I don’t know if that’s being harmful or good because I think people are a bit confused by me, because I do have these different bounds and different styles. It’s developing, it’s experimenting and it’s trying to bring in all of the things that I love - classical music, Motown, I want everything in there and yeah, it’s probably a bit confusing!”

More harmful in an artistic sense, she feels, could be the fact that she sits at the crossroads of three very popular scenes at the moment - a female singer-songwriter, playing electro post-punk and hailing from Southend-On-Sea, home to such “so-hot-right-now” scene kids as These New Puritans, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly and The Horrors. Surely this should be a help rather than a hindrance in raising her public profile?

“I don’t think it’s ever helpful to be part of a scene,” she asserts, matter-of-factly.

“All those things can just come and slap you in the face, because one minute they’re cool, and the next minute the worst thing you could possibly be is a band from Southend. Whenever there’s any kind of scene you know that just around the corner is going to be the backlash. Maybe that’s why I never settle on one kind of sound or one kind of song, because I don’t want to be part of that.”

And it’s a system that has stood her in good stead so far. Having never had to ask for a gig or send a demo, the 8-track bedroom demos that she has put on her Myspace are the backbone of her whole career to date, with promoters, press and record companies all coming to her. In the last year, on top of a new label signing and the numerous experimental gigs, this has also given her the opportunity to tour in Europe and a coveted support slot on Maximo Park’s latest UK tour, culminating in a dream gig at London’s Brixton Academy.

“It was absolutely, unbelievably amazing,” she says, almost misty-eyed. “The Maximo Park crowds were so nice, really welcoming. I think they probably hated us, but they were just so polite!”

With such fervent activity in a short time and an exponential increase in exposure, it’s been quite the learning curve for her.

“I think I had really high expectations last year. I think I’ve learnt a lot about how the music industry works this year, and I think that’s made me a bit more cynical. Last year I thought that by now I’d be signed, I’d have an album out, I’d be doing all these great tours - but I’ve learnt that it’s actually not that easy.”

And so with 2007 disappearing swiftly behind us and 2008 already motoring on apace for her in terms of writing, recording, video-making, rehearsing, DJ-ing and more, how has this education affected her outlook on the year ahead?

“I think I’ve changed my views on what I want over this year. Originally, I thought, ‘I want to be a pop star and I want to make this album and I want everyone to love it.’ Now I’ve changed, my wishes have changed, and I’m just going to do it. If people like it they like it and if they don’t then I’ll just keep doing it anyway!”

So, to conclude, what have we learned about Theoretical Girl? She’s unassuming but determined. She’s down-to-earth but she’s got high aspirations. She’s laid-back but she doesn’t take any shit. All these things inform both sides of her music. And if you’re still trying to form a theory on her, simply refer to how she describes her own sound:

Sounds like:
Black or White.
Dark or Light.
Punk or Pop.

‘The Hypocrite’ is released on limited edition vinyl and download on February 4.

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