Cruisin’ to Bruise
By Sabrina Carnevale
Dragonette singer/songwriter Martina Sorbara epitomizes the almighty frontwoman role by combining a strong undercurrent of sex and swagger with a slinky, flirtatious style. And keeping true to the rock ‘n’ roll way of life, her music career is reminiscent to a string of sexually-charged relationships—the singer has been involved in numerous projects, both on her own and in group settings.
But this time, she’s promoting Dragonette’s sophomore release. And in true Sorbara fashion, she’s doing it while sporting some pretty fantastic spandex.
“I think I’m the one style and fashion matters most to, because, well, I play with a bunch of dudes and I’m the only girl,” she says. “But I don’t think I’m a fashion-crazed girl who looks online for new trends or anything. I’m a visual person and I like to make sure the visuals that go along with my music match up.”
The electro-pop quartet has officially made their mark on the Canadian charts with Fixin to Thrill, a worthy follow-up to their outstanding full-length debut album Galore. Sorbara, joined by her husband and producer Dan Kurtz on bass, guitarist Chris Hugget and drummer Joel Stouffer, have kept much of what worked for them the first time around, but streamlined things by incorporating more a of glossy, pop sound with an overall higher production value. You’ll also find plenty of acoustics combined with hard, processed beats, up-tempo synths and hook-filled choruses—the perfect Dragonette formula.
The band previously won points for Galore, with its charmingly trashy edge (have you seen the music videos for “I Get Around” and “Take It Like a Man”?) that garnered them a Juno Award nomination for Best New Group in 2008. Musically, however, Sorbara feels this new record has a bit more bite.
“With the first album, [Dan and I] were both writing songs not realizing that this is what we were going to do,” she explains. “We sort of jumped headfirst and had fun with it.”
On the new record, Sorbara says, there is more emotion and sensitivity in regards to the songwriting, while still playing around with similar electronic elements from the first album. “When the Fixin to Thrill was released, I didn’t want to hear or know anything. It’s all been really good, though, and not as scary as I anticipated.”
But don’t expect Sorbara to be first in line to read album reviews, even though feedback on Fixin to Thrill has been very positive. “I’m the most sensitive person in the world; I can’t read reviews or any of that stuff.”
When Dragonette first arrived on the electro-rock scene, they were often referred to as new wave revivalists, but that’s not something Sorbara necessarily agreed with. “I don’t think any of us are reviving new wave, I mean, yes, our sounds originate from that era,” she says, “but our music is based on mostly pop elements.”
Ten years ago, Sorbara explains, if bands weren’t making mainstream pop music, they were categorized into alternate music genres. But in the end, bands just hoped their format got played on the radio. In the last few years, however, people have become more open to pop music as a creative format. “There are a lot of bands now making pop music in a totally creative, open-minded way, just because the format is now more accepted and easier to work with,” she says. “I feel like we make pretty unique music that people gravitate towards because it’s attractive, playful and emotional.”
Fixin to Thrill feels slightly ’80s and neon-lit, especially on the songs “Okay Dolore” and “Big Sunglasses” (expect to hear some Cars influences). But the album is much edgier and brooding than its predecessor. The collection of songs also proves that the band is more than just sex and sass. “Easy” demonstrates how relaxed Sorbara’s voice can be (think a slightly more falsetto Karen O or Emily Haines), while “Liar” is an all-around party track with a classy femme fatale edge.
Believe it or not, upon the release of Fixin to Thrill, Sorbara and the band felt as though the record could end up swept under the rug. “We had felt like ‘Does anybody care? Is anybody listening to our music?’” she says. “I mean, we’re still pretty underground and there’s no real spotlight on us.” But it looks as though their worries were unfounded as Dragonette recently toured Canada, the U.S. and Europe. The band even recently took over primetime television when “Fixin to Thrill” was featured on an episode of CSI: Miami.
Sorbara and the band are often approached by musicians to work together; they’ve already collaborated with both Basement Jaxx and Cyndi Lauper. Most recently, Dragonette lent a hand on French DJ/producer Martin Solveig’s track “Boys and Girls,” which was recorded as part of the promotional campaign for Jean-Paul Gaultier’s latest fragrance, Ma Dame. The video, shot in Gaultier’s store in Paris, even includes a cameo from the superstar couture designer. “That video was really exciting. Jean Paul Gaultier’s store was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen,” she says. “It had the most gorgeous, hand-stitched, elaborate outfits—I just liked touching them!”
Sorbara admits that she doesn’t have as much experience approaching musicians to work with the band. “I try to push myself to do collaborations, it’s not always the easiest scenario; when we have the opportunity, we try to do them,” she explains. “But I’m slowly realizing that I can approach people, too. Just the other day I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute, people ask me all the time! I’m totally allowed to ask them!’”
So who would Sorbara like to work with next? “I’d love to do a duet with MGMT. I don’t know them, nor do they know me, but I like them a lot,” she explains. “Their music is very unique and out there, but still totally accessible and pop sounding.”
As far as the name “Dragonette,” Sorbara explains it’s an interesting word she came up with that combined something monster-like with something dainty. “I kind of feel like that; I’m sort of a total bruiser, but I like to get my nails done,” she explains. “Maybe more like a monster that likes to put on makeup!”