Every spring since 1987, acts from across the musical spectrum – blues, country, singer / songwriter, indie-rock, metal, rap and everything in between – have converged in Austin for the annual South By Southwest Music and Media conference hoping for the chance to be the next “new thing.”
Ironically, some of the biggest buzz last March was generated by The Pipettes, a group that, on the surface, appears to be a blast from the past.
The trio of Brits in polka-dotted dresses backed by four guys in matching sweaters sing tunes that sound fresh from the Brill Building. That is, of course, until you listen carefully to the lyrics. Then it becomes clear this septet has dragged the girl-group kicking and screaming into the 21st century and transformed it into clever, modern indie-pop.
Even with that important distinction, some might dismiss the group as a novelty. Paradigm’s Steve Ferguson, the band’s agent, said anyone who’s quick to write The Pipettes off should think again.
“I don’t look at them as being a novelty act,” Ferguson told Pollstar. “I don’t look at them as being just the one-off, aren’t-they-cute, disposable pop that some other people might view them as. I look at them as a relevant musical act that could be around for a long, long time.” The Pipettes is three wickedly sly gals – RiotBecki (Rebecca Stephens), Rosay (Rose Dougal) and Gwenno (Gwenno Saunders), plus guitarist Monster Bobby (Bobby Barry), bassist Jon Cassette (Jon Falcone), keyboardist Seb Cassette (Seb Falcone) and drummer Jason Cassette (Jason Adelinia). The four male musicians are known collectively as The Cassettes.
Dougal told Pollstar the initial idea for the group came from Barry and original member Julia Clark-Lowes in 2003. “They came up with the idea of perhaps creating a pop band based on 1950s and early ’60s girl groups re-implemented in a modern context,” Dougal said. The singer said she and the other members of the band all knew each other from the Brighton music scene and jumped at the chance to “put an end to stodgy, standardized boy rock by embracing their love of classic Brill Building pop and polka-dot dresses.” Dougal is quick to point out that although the concept originated with Barry, this is not a typical girl-group situation. “Despite Bobby initiating the idea for the group, it’s definitely a very democratic process. All seven of us are equally involved in the way in which the music is formed. “I think probably a lot of people have made that assumption that Bobby’s the Svengali of the band, but actually it’s very much a group effort,” Dougal said. She attributes some of the more modern touches in The Pipettes’ songs to the fact that all seven of the band’s members are songwriters. “We have a very broad cross-section of influences between the seven of us,” Dougal said. “All seven of our musical tastes sort of filter into the way we make music. “We’re not narrow-minded in our approach to music in the slightest. We’re not fetishistic about this five-year period in history. We look from music hall to musical to those girl bands that have the clearest references, and then through to ABBA, Bananarama and contemporary pop artists.”
According to Ferguson, those broad influences paired with the band’s intelligent approach to the music business put them on the cutting edge, even when it comes down to who they tour with. “When they’re choosing support acts, they’re not looking for something that’s very similar to them. In many ways they’re ahead of the curve on what’s coming up, because that’s what they’re about.” The group’s subversively catchy tunes have scored them a number of hit singles in the U.K., including “Dirty Mind,” “Pull Shapes,” “Judy,” and “Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me.” The band has been sharpening its high-energy live show over the past couple of years, opening for the likes of Sleater-Kinney, Maximo Park and Amy Winehouse, and winning raves from the U.K. press. Ferguson said everything really comes together when The Pipettes hit the stage. “Musically it’s very similar to the record, but obviously there’s an urgency to a live show that doesn’t exist on a recording, as much as you might try to capture that feel. “You have to see the band play live because of the interaction with the audience. There’s a style that augments what you hear on the record that makes the live show a lot of fun and makes people want to come back and see it again.” After a pair of well-received performances at South By Southwest, The Pipettes sold out shows across the U.S. this summer during a mini-tour that accompanied the release of an EP, Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me. The band is getting ready for a month-long swing through the U.S. and Canada timed to coincide with the North American release of the group’s full-length debut, We Are The Pipettes. Ferguson said depending on the timing, he’d like to follow that up by pairing the band with an act with a broader following so he can expose The Pipettes to a whole new audience.