Laika

Beyond rock

Decades ago, pundits predicted that pop music would one day combine computers with live instrumentation in new and novel ways. While this has happened, to a certain extent, the new hybrids often make the mix invisible, which kind of misses the point. Not so Laika, one of the most interesting bands making music today. Formed by American Margaret Fiedler and Brit Guy Fixsen after Fiedler left Moonshake, the band incorporates elements of so many different forms of music that it's ultimately impossible to describe the results. (In fact, the term "post-rock" was coined specifically for Laika.) The Onion A.V. Club recently spoke to Fiedler about the band's ambitions, making music at home, and her role in the current incarnation of PJ Harvey.

The Onion: You've been fortunate that a lot of the people Laika records with have been able to join you live.

Margaret Fiedler: That's the thing. This album [Good Looking Blues] in particular is much more like what we did live. It's something we've been meaning to do ever since we started, which was to play the songs live before going into the studio. I know it sounds like a very normal thing in terms of a rock band, but for a band that incorporates more electronic stuff, it tends to be that you make a very electronic album and then figure out how to do it live. Or you don't, and you just use a lot of sequencers and that kind of stuff. We've never done that. We've never really used sequencers. We do on the album, but not live, so it was a question of getting that energy back on the record. So this album was a very roundabout record, in that we made it at home, a little bit more programmed, but then we went out, played it live, and sort of re-recorded everything more like the way we do it live. Very time-consuming.

O: You have your own studio now, correct?

MF: We do. Although we do most of the stuff here, just in our house, so we can't do things like drums. We did go to a professional studio to do the drums, percussion, and bass guitar, things like piano. We don't actually have a grand piano, or even room for a grand piano. It would be nice to. [Laughs.]

O: When you have so much studio equipment at home, how tough is it to stop fiddling and just say, "Okay, the album is done"?

MF: It's actually really difficult. But though we do take a while to make records, I'm always very happy with the results. And I don't really care how long it takes or how you do it; if you're happy with the end results, then whatever. If it works, it works. This album was a little weird, because the other two Laika records were finished because we ran out of money. When you deliver your record, the finished masters, to your record company, you get the second half of your money. They give you half up front and half when you deliver the masters. So the other two albums were actually finished because we ran out of money, but with this album, we didn't run out of money. We still had a bit of a safety net, even though we knew the record was done. I guess that was sort of nice, to creatively get to the point where we could say, "This album is what we wanted it to be, it's done, let's move on and deliver it," and not just because we had to pay the rent.

O: Do the other two albums [1995's Silver Apples Of The Moon and 1997's Sounds Of The Satellites] sound unfinished to you?

MF: No, not at all. They don't. But it's an interesting psychological thing. You know, how do you know you're finished? I mean, the other albums were finished, but maybe we didn't know they were finished. In hindsight, I can say that of course they're finished. That said, I think we actually compiled the first album wrong. We sequenced it wrong. It begins too aggressively too early.

O: Radiohead suddenly seems to have a strategy similar to yours, at least in terms of recording, though I wonder how they can play some of that newer stuff live.

MF: They do. I know with their other material that they tend to stay very, very close to their records when they perform. Thom Yorke has been listening to a lot of Warp stuff; that's his thing. There's one song that they actually admitted was influenced by us, which was great. [Laughs.] Excellent. I think that's part of what we've realized as a band, as people, with this album. You know, if you're not having fun, don't bother. I don't think we make "good-time" music, but you have to enjoy what you do. There's no point being pained, reclusive artists. Touring is fun. It's good to go to nice places and meet nice people and play shows. A lot of artists stick their heads up their butt for years, and then on tour realize that the other option is a whole lot less pleasant. [Laughs.]

O: Do you think if you had stayed in New York you would have wound up making music like Laika's anyway?

MF: Probably not, no. That's one of the reasons I moved, because I couldn't find people I wanted to work with. Especially at that time. I moved in '89, and this is going to sound so not-relevant, but when I was looking for bands, especially women, it was all this sort of proto-riot-grrrl stuff happening there, and that was the only avenue open. I don't know whether I would have done that, because it was the only avenue, but I knew I didn't fit in and wanted to do other things.

O: There still seem to be very few women involved in electronic music.

MF: Yeah. It's a bit of a cliché, the notion of the male programmer/producer and the female singer. In some way, one of the reasons I wanted to do the PJ Harvey thing was because I'm a musician, really. It's funny. You so rarely get asked about the music; you get asked about the lyrics. I'm like, "You know, I do write half the music," and they're like, "Yeah, yeah, can I talk to Guy, please?" [Laughs.] I do write all the lyrics, and people want to talk to me about that, and that's fine. But it's interesting talking to Polly Harvey, because she said the same thing. She said, "You know, nobody asks me about the music. They just ask what my relationship with Nick Cave was like." Or, "How was it to have Thom Yorke sing on your album? And, oh, by the way, if he sang on your album, are you going out?" It was like, "No, we're not going out!" [Laughs.] You don't ask those questions to men, and I know it sounds so obvious and silly, but it's amazing how some journalists come across. Do they really know what they're saying? How can they be so reductive? You just wouldn't ask the same questions to a male musician.

O: What did you do before Moonshake?

MF: Basically, I was doing sort of solo stuff, and I had a band with Moby, funnily enough. So it all goes around about.

O: So, were you dating Moby?

MF: I was.

O: I was just joking.

MF: No, I was. [Laughs.] Why, were you as well? [Laughs.]

O: Well, everyone's dated Moby. He's very open-minded.

MF: Well, I bet they're lying. We had a very tempestuous relationship.

O: Was he a militant vegan back then?

MF: No. Actually, I was a vegetarian first, and I made him a vegetarian. I have many claims to fame. I've been on the fringes of a bunch of stuff, and though I'm going to damn myself by saying this, it's actually a bunch of fun.

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