Say Lou Lou - once Saint Lou Lou - travelled the world with their debut, an effortlessly infectious blend of artful pop tropes.
Initially disliking LA and it's cavalcade of plastic fame, the half-Swedish, half-Australian twins became more and more entranced with its dichotomous vision of deadly glamour.
Basing themselves in the City of Angels for their second album, the group became channelling everything from film noir to trip hop, Bond themes to supple electro pop.
Out now, 'Immortelle' is a remarkable return, a succinct - a mere seven tracks - but incredibly detailed album, one that makes its point with deadly impact.
Miranda and Elektra Kilbey landed in London a few weeks ago, and Clash caught up with the duo to chat about their new record, Los Angeles, and the detailed mood boards that lend a visual air to their sonic creativity...
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It's been three years since your debut, did you have a moment where you drew a line under that project? Or is creativity an ongoing process for you?
Miranda: I think creativity definitely is an ongoing process. Our first record was kind of a weird one. By the time it came out it was a collection. All the songs were across a number of years, rather than one body of work written from start to finish. I think when we came out of that process we wanted a clean slate. So we disconnected ourselves quite actively from what happened before, took a breather, and took stock before we went on to the next thing.
We took some time away, sourced what we wanted to do, and asked ourselves: why are we doing this? What is the point? What do we want to say, and what should it sound like?
Is the new record more tightly defined as a result?
Miranda: think so, yes.
You recorded the new album in Los Angeles, why pick this city?
Elektra: At the end of the tour we were doing we did the last date in LA, so we went to visit some friends for a few weeks. It was a good vibe, a good energy. Something about it felt like I was inserting myself into a community there, and I think that was something we were searching for – both in London and Stockholm. A sense of community. When we ended up in LA I felt a sense of belonging, in a way. Which was strange, because the first time I went to LA I hated it – we were doing the typical major label writing trip, which a lot of young artists do.
It’s pretty spread out…
Miranda: It’s so spread out! And you’re always in cars. It’s like, where is everyone? We ended up there, and really felt a sense of belonging. We met one person, it led somewhere else, and we met the people we ended up doing the record with. We had this sense of being at home, and it felt really right. It was all on instinct, and I felt the most creative I’ve felt since we started Say Lou Lou.
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There is something toxic but also addictive in that...
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In the press note you mention your initial moodboards, including film noir cinema. Did that come from LA? That sense of light and shade?
Elektra: Definitely. There’s something weird about LA. Miranda: There’s this eerie air of 100 years of the entertainment industry, old Hollywood glamour; decadence, and sad destinies lingering in the air. We recorded in Laurel Canyon, so there’s the Manson Murders, and all these weird events, people going crazy.
It’s a place which is so hyper-creative but also so fucking fake. So much intelligence and talent and creativity but also greed. There is something toxic but also addictive in that, and I think that definitely inspired the old Hollywood approach to the string arrangements. But then that doesn’t feature on the rest of the music. A lot of the melodies, and a lot of the production elements, are actually quite lo-fi.
How developed was the moodboard? Are these concepts tightly defined?
Miranda: It’s inspiration points. We always start off by saying, like, this is the world. We get quite specific – like, there’s a woman walking in the street, this is what she looks like, rain is falling on a cobbled street. Then we like to put on films, and mute the sound, and then play stuff while looking at it. Things will grow from there. That will be the starting point, but then we end up in a completely different scenario.
With us, it’s good to have some reference points, and to be really specific – especially with the people we’re working with, as they are our hands and our ears in so many ways. They’re in that feeling as well – we’re trying to paint that image to them. Moodboards are really helpful in that way – music is so different for everyone. When I say ‘dark’ or ‘fear’ it can be so different, so when you combine image with sound it really helps.
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The dichotomy of Los Angeles is very apparent on the record – did some songs begin in a light place, for example, before sliding somewhere dark?
Miranda: ‘Anna’ was the first song we wrote for the record, like a starting point. Then we wrote a few more that we in that world, and we were like: OK we need something to counter this, we’re not all this, this is just one part of our personality, one part of our world. ‘Golden Child’ came about when we were in Laurel Canyon, and we thought: oh so many bands have been living here, and it feels really organic and alive but also politically charged. We had those songs to counter the dark, with something that felt more organic.
How did producers Trent Mazur and Dashiell Le Francis help to achieve that organic feel?
Elektra: They can play more or less anything when we’re writing. They both play all the guitars on the record. After that we brought in amazing bass players, amazing drummer, strings, brass… we brought people in to fulfil their vision or execute their vision better than they were doing on the demos.
It was indulgent. We needed 12 string guitar, so we bought a 12 string guitar. We got half-way through the record and realised we wanted to do way more electronica, so we had to go buy a Moog, a Prophet. And the producers were like, go do it! We wanted to do everything on tape, but they only had one channel tape so they had to sit for days and put every single track through the tape record. We had a lot of those ideas where you realise half-way through that you needed something. It was like: stop everything, we need to go and get that!
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It feels really organic and alive but also politically charged...
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Were the songs flexible enough to enable you to turn a guitar song, say, into an electronic song?
Miranda: Yes! Almost all the songs had a very clear identity in terms of the musicality. I think so many of the songs, just on piano, tell you everything that you need to know. The mood is there. The challenge was to make them come alive and not to feel limited to that mood – I wanted them to feel that there is a dynamic in them, so it wasn’t just a minor key Bond-sounding song. We wanted to add so many more elements, whether that was warm synths or guitar or distorted vocals, to make you feel like it wasn’t just one thing.
Where does that central identity come from, then?
Elektra: It comes from us! All the songs share some sort of common denominator throughout the music. Us cheering that musicality on. Every time we would sit down, the three of us at the piano we would sing something and that would egg him on to go into another space. A shared vision of what our musical world was. We’ve never really spoken about it, it’s just the three of us had this inner feeling that this is where it was going.
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A shared vision of what our musical world was...
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You could have self-produced, why did you want to employ an outside voice?
Elektra: I think to me what a good producer does… obviously I really love working with producers who are really fantastic musicians and instrumentalists, because it gives you so much more freedom in the studio. Dash is an amazing vocal producer because he’s an amazing vocalist himself. And that’s been really, really helpful to us as well, to have someone who can come in the room with us and knows how to vocal produce because he can sing himself. The three of us have been able to develop the vocal sound, the harmonies together.
What I think a really good producer is, is managing people. Managing energy. And being like: this is not good energy we need to start over, or ‘you need to leave!’ It’s about managing. Something I’ve read about Quincy Jones, is that it’s about managing interactions, and how energy is flowing in the room. Knowing how to extract or add in to people and make them the best versions of themselves.
Sometimes you’re not even aware of that.
Miranda: No. I’m not aware of it. Sometimes they would tell me to leave, and let you sing on her own. It’s almost like you need someone from outside who is also in it to give you the cues.
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'Immortelle' is out now.
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