By Jim Schutze
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By Anna Merlan
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By Alice Laussade
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Lizzie Bougatsos, singer and percussionist for genre-defying New York-based band Gang Gang Dance, is an artsy girl with lots of high-profile New York scenester friends. So maybe it should not have been a complete surprise to find Chloe Sevigny working the band's merch table when they played Lola's Saloon in Fort Worth back in 2008.
"Oh yeah," Bougatsos says with a giggle, recalling the scene. "Right!"
You get a lot of giggling in any interview with Bougatsos, like maybe someone is tickling her while she's trying to talk. Regardless, it's a charming, infectious trait.
Good thing, too, since Gang Gang Dance is back on tour, this time in support of Eye Contact, their recently released fourth album that finds the band both more experimental and paradoxically more focused than ever before.
Explaining the leap in the sophistication of this release, Bougatsos cites several factors: "We had more time to work on this album, and we stayed in a lot of different landscapes while we were writing," Bougatsos says of the two-year process. "We started recording the songs in the desert, and finished them in the woods."
More important, though, is that Bougatsos' lyrics and vocals have been elevated in the mix for Eye Contact. On past releases, the vocals often seemed like simply another instrument in a complex murk. Now they stand as a featured element — one that serves as the binder for the ideas at work in each song.
Confesses Bougatsos: "I had my own producer for my vocal melodies, which was really cool."
She describes working apart from the rest of the band, on her own time in the studio with producer Alex Epton (more commonly known as XXXchange), as a freeing experience. It allowed the band to do their endless equipment fiddling, while Bougatsos kept busy and productive on her own front — a development that also led to more experimentation. On Eye Contact, her vocals have been pitch shifted and layered much more than in past releases. Considering how affected the Long Island native's vocals already sounded on past releases, it's a big change, but a welcome one.
"I have a Greek background, although my grandmother was a Turkish beauty queen," Bougatsos says, explaining her vocal influence. "I grew up listening to ethnic music from the Middle East and Greece and Africa. And before I became an artist and a musician, I was a dancer and was exposed to a lot of African music with the dance troupe."
These ingredients combine into one of the more beguiling voices in rock — a fact that makes finding collaborators with Gang Gang Dance a rather easy feat. The band features a guest vocalist or two on all of their albums, and Eye Contact is no exception: The song "Romance Layers," for instance, features the distinctive voice of Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor.
"Alexis and I are friends," Bougatsos says. "He emailed me asking if he could contribute to the album. We sent him what we had, and got his vocal sent back to us the next day. It was perfect."
She giggles again, recalling the ease of that collaboration.
Then again, it's all come fairly easy for her. And, with friends like Sevigny willing to work the merch table at past shows, and Alexis Taylor clamoring to work with her, there's no telling what might be in store for their appearance at Dada.
If nothing else, she'll at least have that infectious giggle at the ready.