Interview: Dragonette’s Dan Kurtz

Dragonette is a brilliant Canadian band that released their second CD, Fixin to Thrill last September. Their music, first showcased on the debut CD, Galore is lively and luscious. I admit that I just discovered them last year, and am now addicted to Competition, I Get Around, Pick Up the Phone, Take it Like a Man, Easy and Black Limousine. Their collaboration with Martin Solveig, Boys & Girls is just super. Martina Sorbara’s vocals are darling without being cutesy and this is, simply put, the kind of music I love. Bassist/songwriter/producer Dan Kurtz talked with me from his London home the other week about Journey, pancakes and the upcoming tour with Little Boots. Dragonette appears in Seattle at Neumos on Friday, March 6th.

Dagmar: How did you decide to play the bass?

Dan Kurtz: I bet everybody who plays the bass gives this answer, which is: I really wanted to be in a band and all the other instruments were taken. I remember reading that’s actually how Paul McCartney ended up playing bass in the Beatles. I didn’t play guitar at the time either – I played violin. Some kids get pushed into playing instruments [but] when I was four, I went to see an older kid in my school play the violin and I was so impressed – I was like, mom, I really want to do that. I got a violin for Christmas and I was so thrilled. I don’t have the same joie de vivre that I had while I was doing it but it was pretty rad.

D: How do you and Martina share the lyric writing?

D.K.: Martina writes the lyrics and she writes the melodies. I do the rest. I write the music. It used to be a separated process [where] I would write music and Tina would sing over it. Now we’re much more collaborative, which is a mark of maturing and mellowing in our creative relationship.

D: When you first got to know each other did you decide you’d make music together?

D.K.: We got married first and the second courting phase was convincing Tina to do some music together. I liked the idea of us working together and Tina had never worked with anybody before, she was a singer/songwriter who worked on her own. It took a bit of convincing.

D: You both grew up in Canada?

D.K.: For the most part. I started in Brazil but for most of my life I lived in Canada.

D: Was it a big shock moving from Brazil to Canada?

D.K.: Kind of but kids are way better than adults at adapting. When I moved to England it was way harder on me.

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DragonetteDan Kurtz is second from left

D: Pancake Tuesday was a couple days ago – did you celebrate it?

D.K.: That is amazing that you bring that up. I did not participate but we do a lot of cooking when we’re here, then it feels super like home. Martina went over to our friend Dan’s house and did Pancake Tuesday. We make pancakes all the time, and as good Canadians we bring maple syrup and Tina makes them from scratch. The Brits are like, you are fucking crazy, eating pancakes for breakfast on a Sunday. Tina tried to slide a couple of Canadianisms of pancakes into the celebrations yesterday and they weren’t having it.

D: I read an interview where you mentioned Journey as a band you really like. I love Journey too. Why?

D.K.: Journey is just one of those bands that write amazing songs. Luckily they got to do them at a time when you could be nearly operatic and really dramatic. That kind of rock star doesn’t exist anymore, a guy like Steve Perry that doesn’t have to dress like he’s on the fucking Hills. And just be a guy who sings really well. He’s like anti-rock hero who just wrote great songs and sang them. Wouldn’t it be great if more of that existed in super-popular music? You have to be something now in addition to being a songwriter. Except for maybe Michael Bublé, he’s kind of in the world of Journey. Dramatic. Still he’s clean-cut. I like the fact that Journey were like a jam band who happened to get a lead singer that took them out of total obscurity into being a massive arena band. I saw them not so long ago before they got the Filipino guy that sounds exactly like Steve Perry and looks like him – even does that shoulder thing. They were great except the singer looked like a real hair band kind of guy. I like Styx.

D: How’d you get set up on the tour with Little Boots?

D.K.: We met her in her previous incarnation when she was part of a band called Dead Disco. I remember talking to her and telling her she was really good at songs. We were going to do a U.S. tour just around this time and we have the same agent and we thought why not do it together? A fun super chick, super electro time.

D: You’ve had some pretty cool photo shoots. Is there anything they’ve come to you with and you’ve said, no way.

D.K.: There are photo shoots that I feel, in retrospect, we definitely should have said no I don’t want to do that. Sadly you can’t change time and take every damn low res .jpg off the Internet. I’m sure there will come a time where I’ll be able to do the right thing and say, no fucking way. Tina’s getting good at knowing what she can and can’t do. When you enter the game there’s all sorts of things you don’t know anything about. Like, you started writing music in your basement, why does that mean that you should know what you should look like in a photo? Or how to make a video? Everybody makes mistakes and you get past them. But some of them are fatal. So far we haven’t made any fatal ones.

D: How did you come up with the titles for the CDs?

D.K.: Fixin to Thrill was easy because that was the name of the song, Fixin to Thrill. I think what Tina was conveying in that song was that I’m hopefully going to rock your socks off. Galore – you could substitute it with the word everything. It’s every part of our life, because it was at that time. We stopped everything else in our lives, moved to London and made a record. Maybe that’s kind of post-rationalizing it all but [the CD] sounds like galore to us. It’s big and shiny.

D: I really love these CDs. I hadn’t heard of Dragonette until last October.

D.K.: The songs are new to you but it seems like a long time ago for us. It feels like these songs are getting a second life in the sense that with most songs it takes a while to get them out to people. It makes us love them again.

D: Are you still working in your other band, the New Deal?

D.K.: Yeah. I’m actually playing five shows in Chattanooga. The pinnacle of the New Deal and Dragonette coexisting in my life is on one leg, during the end of the Little Boots Tour, Dragonette plays and then I run across town and play a show with the New Deal. That’s in Washington. In Philadelphia, I think, the Dragonette/Little Boots show closes out the venue and then a very, very late night show comes in and the New Deal plays. Fun, and tiring.

D: It’s nice to have two different projects.

D.K.: They’re actually really helpful to me. Musically you get thrown around and you come up with cool ideas for both things. I think it’s very difficult for people to stay creative when they’re only working on one particular thing.

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