La Roux’s Elly Jackson is done with the ’80s
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Though you might not know the name La Roux right now, you’re probably already familiar with the musical duo in two ways. If you’ve watched television in the last year, you’ve likely seen the Bayonetta ad featuring La Roux’s breakthrough hit “In For The Kill” a few dozen times. Chances are you’ve also noticed that hairdo—you know, the blown-out, ginger Morrissey pompadour that couldn’t possibly be worn by any rational human being after 1986. That song and unmistakable hairstyle belong to Britain’s La Roux, led by 22-year-old androgynous singer-songwriter Elly Jackson. Before La Roux’s show this Saturday at the Ogden Theatre, Jackson spoke with The A.V. Club about the three different identities of La Roux, getting over the ’80s, and people in England copying her ginger quiff.
The A.V. Club: How did you and co-writer/co-producer Ben Langmaid come together?
Elly Jackson: We met through an old friend five years ago. We were at a party at a bar in Brixton, where I live, on New Year's Eve, and I was in the back office upstairs sort of messing around and fucking about and thinking in the corner. And this guy said, “I like your voice." I said, "Fair enough.” [Laughs.] He asked, “Do you sing?” I said, “I do sing, but at school. I don’t call myself a singer.” He said, “I think you should take it further. You should hook up with my friend Ben.” It was pretty simple after that. I didn’t have to tear through producers.
AVC: Is there a reason that Ben stays mysterious and doesn’t perform live with the band?
EJ: La Roux has three sections. There’s me as a kind of solo act, because the personality of La Roux is something I’ve created. The duo is me and Ben. [And then there’s] the band and me that tours. He’s very incorporated in what happens in La Roux. The reason he isn’t doing that stuff is he isn’t interested in going on tour. He likes coming out and seeing what we're doing and how we’re progressing, but he’s not interested in the limelight. He just wants to write songs and make music.
AVC: Are you interested in the limelight?
EJ: I wouldn’t say the limelight was a dream of mine, or to be famous or a celebrity. When I was a kid, more of the dream I had was, I listened to records and thought, “This is the coolest thing you could ever do.” It wasn’t about being famous, and it certainly wasn’t, “I want to be a pop star.” If you asked me then, I definitely would have said no. I always wanted to be a songwriter; from the age of about 5, that’s what I wanted to do. I thought songwriting was ridiculously cool. I played guitar and stuff for years. It wasn’t about being onstage, it was about being in the studio. I’ve always been fascinated by the industry and the instruments.
AVC: Do you still feel the same way now that you have a record of your own?
EJ: Yeah. I’m extremely proud of what we did. With [songs like] “Bulletproof” and “In For The Kill,” it’s like history. It’s like writing a book—it’s always on the shelf. It will always be on iTunes. We had a No. 1 in the UK. Anyone who pays any attention to music knows that’s already a massive achievement. I’m already working on the second record. I’m very happy.
AVC: Like those two songs you mentioned and “Armour Love,” from your self-titled record, a lot of the songs have a militaristic, offensive/defensive theme. Did you feel especially guarded while writing this record?
EJ: Definitely. I suppose the only person I expressed that to is Ben. All the stuff I was going through when I wrote the record with Ben, he was the only one I spoke to about it. I let off steam. I didn’t talk to my parents about it—it’s not their fault, they are amazing people! [Laughs.] There are certain things I didn’t talk to anyone about. At the time he was outside all of that and he was an objective viewer. I didn’t know his girlfriend or friends but we were like best friends, at times like brother and sister. I still tell him things I wouldn’t tell anyone else, even people I’m in love with or my parents. Sometimes we feel we are completely different people, sometimes we feel separated at birth. The album is very much about being guarded but trying to understand that way of feeling. “Armour” is about someone else. I’m extremely open. I used to tell random strangers things about myself. [Laughs.]
AVC: A lot of critics blindly slap the '80s-revival label on your music. How would you respond to that as someone who didn’t even grow up in that era?
EJ: I think it's weird. I didn’t grow up in '80s. I listened to soundtracks—they really made sense to me then. I look back on them now and they are full of synths. I didn’t remember that when I was younger. I’m so far away from that now. I still love a lot of aspects about then, but different aspects. It’s less Erasure-y [now]. I like massive things of the '80s, the '90s, and the '50s. [My music] is not just '80s, it’s from 50 years of songwriting. The '80s sound comes from 10 years of music.
AVC: So you aren’t just attached to synth electro?
EJ: People talk about it—like Depeche Mode—if you read our lists of influences and listened to them it would make more sense. If people listened to other stuff maybe, it’s not just Depeche Mode. That would make us really boring, and way too reminiscent of the '80s. [Laughs.] I wanted an homage. It's a shame because I'm just making tiny waves here. As far as I’m concerned, the '80s resurgence is over. If I released this record in a year or a year and a half, it wouldn’t be received in the same way at all. It happened to catch the industry at a good time. There will still be elements of that first record in the second record. I wouldn’t listen to Depeche Mode or Erasure. I’ve gone off The Human League. My tastes have changed.
AVC: So what will come next? A total genre shift?
EJ: It’s funny. Ben and me hadn’t sat down musically with each other for quite a long time, maybe 18 months, and we got together a couple weeks ago to play stuff for each other. We didn’t have time to write, but I played him some stuff and we both sat down and realized we made each other the same playlists. We had been listening to not just the same artists or genres, but exactly the same songs, like rare disco tracks that we got on vinyl from DJ friends. It’s fucking weird. [We were listening to] funk, Italo-disco, natural bass. My vocal style has changed naturally when I’m writing at home, like the tone and texture and where I place my words. There is always an element of going, “I love this about this,” and trying to get it into records. We’re already really on our way, and we’ll bring it together in August when we get time to sit down.
AVC: Much is made of your androgynous look. Is that a concerted effort on your part, or some statement on gender roles?
EJ: I have very strong views of gender and androgyny. I kind of never really felt or wanted to belong to either gender. I love aspects of the way boys behave and move and dress and I love aspects of the way women are. I can’t explain it; it’s this very specific thing that probably makes sense to me but not on paper. I suppose there’s been an element of, I don’t really feel like either gender and don’t really want to. I can be attracted to anyone, it doesn’t make any difference. I can be in love with anyone. There’s a massive majority of people that feel the same way. Some people don’t feel gay or straight. I don’t feel like I belong to a group and I never will.
AVC: Are there people in England copying your hairstyle?
EJ: Yeah, it’s really fucking weird, actually. I remember when Lily Allen’s first record came out; people were wearing prom dresses and trainers, which was her thing. I thought, no one wants to look like me. I thought I’d stay underground. The character of La Roux can look serious and moody; people think that’s me, but it isn’t. People take it way too seriously. [Laughs.] It’s just pop music. Its not like Lady Gaga is like that all the time or Prince is always like he is onstage. It’s a kind of art—I don’t want to call it that because that sounds wanky. A lot of girls—unless they’re gay, to be honest—don’t go there because it’s not encouraged to dress like that. [Laughs.] But they do copy the hair. I was on holiday with my parents around Christmas to give them a treat for looking after me. In the airport, there was a girl getting on the plane that had my quiff! It freaked me out. She didn’t dress like me, but she had my hair. I walked past Topshop on Oxford Street, this enormous store right in the center of London, and in the window there were six mannequins with my quiff! Six ginger quiffs! That’s really mad.