Universal Music Canada
It’s a strangely voyeuristic experience, listening to “Galore,” the debut album from Canadian electro-pop band Dragonette, almost like you’ve accidentally overheard a conversation between singer Martina Sorbara and one of her best friends about her love life.
Apparently, that’s what Sorbara was going for. Speaking to Blast in the midst of a four-date mini tour of New York and Los Angeles prior to the U.S. release of “Galore” on October 28, the pixie-ish frontwoman described herself as a “different kind of feminist” who writes with her female listeners in mind.
“Feminism is such a weird word right now. I guess you have to not be afraid of using it,” she says. “Nowadays, it’s like, you have to be sexy in‚ this‚ way. Women are liberated and can work all these jobs, but you’d better still look like Paris Hilton.”
“The songs aren’t like, “ËœOoh, baby, I’ll do anything for you,'” she explained. “It’s more of a bedroom slumber party kind of sexy.”
Sorbara’s confessional lyrics lend credence to that description, forcing the listener to assume the role of her confidante. The subject on most of the songs on “Galore” is her relationship with bandmate, songwriting partner and husband, Dan Kurtz. The pair met at a Canadian musical festival where they were each performing in their own musical projects, and when Kurtz was romantically involved with someone else.
Sorbara peppers her tunes with cheeky turns of phrase and sultry innuendos, flaunting her and Kurtz’s dalliance on songs like “I Get Around” and, most blatantly, the sassy, salsa-tinged “Competition”: “She’s got no idea where you’ve been / No idea what you’ve been doing … Your girlfriend’s the competition / Goodness I like this, bein’ your mistress.”
Chronologically speaking, Kurtz and Sorbara’s romantic partnership took off before their musical one. Kurtz continued playing in electronic band The New Deal while Sorbara released solo material. Dragonette was born in 2004, almost by accident, according to Sorbara.
“We wrote a song as a joke, actually, for a friend of ours,” she recalled. “It sounded like Avril Lavigne.”
After that, they tooled around with an early version of what would later become “I Get Around” and sent the demo to Kurtz’s manager at the time, who gave it the thumbs up and offered to sell it to another performer. But the couple decided to keep it for themselves and see what else they could come up with.
While Kurtz leans more toward electronic influences, Sorbara said she’s more swayed by jazz, folk and old country music (“I love old stories,” she says, citing Nick Lowe, Tom Waits and Ani DiFranco as lyrical muses.)
“Neither of us would get to the end of a song without the other one,” she says of their songwriting process. “It’s definitely like a half and half thing.” Eventually, they recruited drummer Joel Stouffer and guitarist Will Stapleton to round out the lineup.
The band’s first foray into the United States came in 2005, when they were tapped to open for Duran Duran on the “Astronaut” tour, at a time when they only had about seven songs under their belt.
“We were so young,” Sorbara said. “Not in age, but in band years. It seems like a whole other world away. … It was almost like an experiment. We had no idea what we were doing.”
Apparently the band members are fast learners. Fast forward to the present, and Dragonette has already toured extensively behind “Galore” in Canada and the UK, where it was released last year. First single “I Get Around” cracked the Canadian Top 20, and Jazz Age-sounding “Get Lucky” (which Sorbara originally penned as a solo song) has been used in several advertising campaigns in the U.S.
As they were writing the songs that would become “Galore,” Sorbara said, she and Kurtz shied away from the minimalist aesthetic of the Toronto indie rock scene.
“It was like, I want to be the opposite of bare minimum,” she explained. “Pop music was like our indie. It was like going out on a limb. … I think we really went there with “ËœGalore.'”
She said coming across the Norwegian singer Annie (whose first single, perhaps not surprisingly, is called “I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me”) was a pivotal moment.
“I had just kind of discovered that pop music didn’t necessarily mean Britney Spears,” she said. “I realized you can do this music and not be a dipshit.”
At the same time, Sorbara admits that some detractors might see the band’s fun, dance-able sound as a sign of “Ëœselling out.’
“Some people won’t respect something that’s not introspective,” she said. “To me, it was just like breaking free.”
“(Songwriting) is still a craft,” she’s quick to add. “Every song is autobiographical. … The songs mean a lot to me. Just because I’m having fun writing them doesn’t mean it’s meaningless or disposable.”
Sorbara isn’t the only one having fun. She leads the listener into temptation with her on “Jesus Doesn’t Love Me Anymore,” a gospel-sounding song that would give any clergy member angina with its giddy refrain glorifying “Sex, drugs, rock “Ëœn’ roll.”
“Got a little bit o’ dirty down in my soul,” she sings. Being bad never sounded so good.