By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Genre is a four-letter word. Ask Ladytron, whose first EP, Commodore Rock, and long-player 604 got the internationalist Liverpool quartet lumped into the nascent electroclash movement. With no one bandying about the E-word anymore, the band's third album last year, Witching Hour, had some listeners marveling at its new neoshoegazer bent. Only trouble is, many of the disc's presumed guitar sounds weren't.
"To be honest, there's not as many as people think," says Ladytron founder and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Hunt from a New York hotel room. "A lot of the time, it's just synths. We had the same thing with the last album. If you overdrive anything, people assume it's a guitar, like if you've got an overdriven organ or an overdriven monosynth or whatever."
People don't often recognize an electric guitar as the machine that it is, Hunt says. "This is our attitude with guitars as well--once you stick guitars through modulation and drive and delay and everything, it's a synth anyway. Especially if you're playing it with an E-bow, it's just a tone generator."
Hunt says the group resists definition even within the ranks. For instance, they won't make a distinction as to whether they're a pop band or a rock band. He does allow an interviewer's comparisons with Blondie and Siouxsie and the Banshees, who also resisted formula. "Maybe not stylistically," he says, "but in that kind of place where you can make a different kind of sound track on track. We'd be happy to be in that position."
Hunt also "just got the parts to about five Blondie tracks, 'cause we're doing some remixes for them." He's at his most passionate and excited discussing Debbie Harry and band, who are his first musical memory. "So strange to root around in those multitracks. It's like archaeology, strange demo guide vocals by Chris Stein and things like that."
Blondie's meld of style and substance resonates in Ladytron tracks, even if some observers miss the levels of humor and thought in something like "Seventeen," which examines the human cost of aging and changes in fashion. "I think it's fair to say that if we gave one of those songs to another band on the sly and they did a version of it, it would probably be taken a hell of a lot more seriously in some quarters," Hunt says. "Another thing is--it sounds pathetic--but it's a female vocal as well. There's so many people who don't listen to any music with female vocals."
For a while, it seemed female voices had disappeared from American "modern rock" radio. Though that's not necessarily the case anymore, a lot of the action for women has been in R&B. If so, that's a loss for modern rock audiences--especially as long as Ladytron pushes against pigeonholes, insisting on cutting its own path to the dance floor.