The Pipettes

The title track from The Pipettes' debut album, We Are The Pipettes, more or less sums up what is so alluring about the Brighton, England, outfit: "We are The Pipettes / and we've got no regrets / If you haven't noticed yet / we're the prettiest girls you've ever met." Oh, and in addition to the looks and the sass, RiotBecki, Gwenno, and Rosay—along with their all-male backing band, which includes group mastermind Monster Bobby—make ridiculously catchy '60s-throwback pop. We Are The Pipettes was released overseas last year, and it's finally making its way to the States later this year via Interscope imprint Cherrytree; if the band's recent SXSW appearances are any indication, there will soon be a lot more people pulling shapes to sounds that will lead their parents down memory lane. The A.V. Club recently caught up with Gwenno to talk about playing a character, touring high schools, and her solo album, which sounds like The Postal Service.

The A.V. Club: What were you doing when you joined the group?

Gwenno: I'd released a couple of Welsh and Cornish EPs on my own, sort of electronic stuff, and I was in the middle of writing a pop album on my own. It was taking a while; I'd stopped gigging and stuff. It was just really nice to see people making pop music in my local venue that was closer to what I was imagining than probably most of the local bands that were happening in Cardiff at the time.

AVC: The Pipettes get compared to a lot of '60s girl groups. Which of them do you consider to be influences?

G: Well, we're nowhere near as sophisticated or as polished as those '60s girl bands, and neither did we ever aspire to be, really. We're probably more influenced by Bananarama, because they're obviously a British band, but The Sharades are probably the closest '60s girl group—they were a couple of session singers of Joe Meek's that sang a few songs. I'd say we're closer, certainly in sentiment and vocal delivery, to those girls than we are to the slightly more professional '60s girl groups.

AVC: So nobody made you go to etiquette school?

G: [Laughs.] No, we didn't, and it's quite clear, I think. British pop has always been about character, and I think that we're certainly in that tradition.

AVC: What other music are you guys into?

G: It varies so much. I'm really into Welsh '70s folk music and contemporary Welsh pop music; Rose is very much into her English singer-songwriters, people like Sandy Denny; and then Becki's really into her riot-grrrl music, Kathleen Hanna in particular. Then the boys, it just all varies as well. The whole nature of the band coming together—Bobby asked everyone to join, so it was never a group of people going, "Oh, right, we just happen to be in a room together, let's make some music." We're a concept, which is why there's such a wide variety of influences and tastes.

AVC: How much of a character do you feel like you're playing in the band?

G: I think we're definitely playing up to characters. We see ourselves as a pop band. I don't have a pseudonym because I don't really need one, because I've got a weird name, but everyone has a stage name, and it's about a certain amount of escapism, really. The songs are inspired by the personal, but because there are seven of us that work on the songs together, they end up becoming Pipettes songs, rather than about any one individual. But I think that gives you a bigger sense of freedom as well, because you can maybe talk about subjects that you wouldn't be completely confident and comfortable talking about in front of a couple hundred people if you couldn't hide behind the mask of the polka-dot dresses and being a character onstage.

AVC: You guys have said your main objective is mass appeal, and conquering America would definitely help your cause. Do you think America is ready for The Pipettes?

G: I have no idea. We're signed to Cherrytree now, which I think will change things slightly, because they might be a little bit more invested in marketing, which we haven't been able to do before. Everything that we've done so far has been so gradual, and the only way that we've been able to measure any sort of reaction is by the amount of people that come and watch our shows. We're more of a touring band than we are anything else, because it kind of all makes sense when we're on the stage. For us, success in America would be having as many people come to see us as they do in the UK and Europe, and I think anything that would surpass that would just be a surprise to us.

AVC: When you come back to America, do you know what kind of bands you'll be touring with? You're like a cooler version of the Spice Girls, but will you be going for more of a pop crowd or an indie-rock crowd?

G: All those decisions we haven't made yet, because we haven't decided on how we're going to tour and which venues we're going to play and stuff like that. We've always played with quite a variety of bands, and I hope that can continue. We've always been a bit of an anomaly in the UK, because we don't really fit in anywhere. It'll be interesting to see how that is perceived to a new country and a new audience.

AVC: One difference between '60s girl groups and The Pipettes is that you're singing about sex more directly. Are you concerned that some people might only like your band because you're pretty women singing about one-night stands?

G: Yeah, I think it's a fine line to tread. Obviously, sex is more openly spoken about than 40, 50 years ago, and I think probably in comparison to a lot of bands—certainly other contemporary pop girl bands—we're certainly not as suggestive. We talk about sex in the way that we would to our friends. As a girl group, I think it was important not to avoid those sort of things either, because it's about confronting people's idea of what women should be talking about and how they should talk about it. There's no point in shying away from subjects like that, because they exist. A lot of what we sing about is very tongue-in-cheek, and we certainly don't take ourselves too seriously.

AVC: Do you have a lot of younger fans?

G: We had the Christmas show, which was at the Roundhouse in Camden—that was all ages, and we had quite a few younger people coming. But the really frustrating thing is, because we are a small band, we can generally only play indie venues, which, until even recently, have been 18 and over. There's been times when it's been 14 and over, and that's been better, but I personally think that we should go touring around schools. I've done that in the past, done like three months of touring around high schools and junior schools, and I think that's always a good thing for pop bands to do. A lot of the pop bands in the '90s did that, like Take That, and I think it would be good for us. But I definitely think that from what I've seen, there are younger people that come and watch us, which is quite encouraging.

AVC: You guys have said that The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones are overrated. Do you really believe that?

G: It's partly causing some kind of commotion because they are hailed as the year zero in pop music, and I think that it's always worth challenging any sort of standardization of anything that's being made. I've bought those bands' albums and I've listened to them intensely, and I've loved songs that they've written, but I think the main idea was to readdress our own popular musical history and trying to find another point of reference and maybe an alternative line in history. And the only way to do that is to sort of dismiss the norm.

AVC: You have a song called "Pull Shapes." What exactly does "pull shapes" mean?

G: You're the second American who's asked me that! Pull shapes on the dance floor, you know? Like when you go dancing: "You want to go pull some shapes?" Or "I was pulling some shapes on the dance floor." I just thought it was really obvious. Some guy once asked me if it was about a guy called Paul Shapes.

AVC: You're working on a solo album?

G: Well, I've got this pop album that I started writing three years ago. Me and my friends just really got into the Postal Service record, and we were like, "All right, this is what pop should sound like," because we always loved pop music. It's just kind of in that vein. It certainly would be nice to, you know, even just put it out myself. It's not hugely ambitious or anything, it's just a pop record that I always wanted to make.

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