DRAGONETTE with KILL THE LIGHTS at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), tonight (Thursday, December 8). $10. 416-777-1777, 416-870-8000.
If you want to be a big, flashy pop band and sell a trillion records, it can't hurt to have some role models to show you the limo-riding, champagne-swilling, behind-the-velvet ropes.
Sometime strummy songbird Martina Sorbara and partner Dan Kurtz (of the New Deal) got to learn from the kings of new wave themselves when, less than a year after forming their new band, Dragonette, the glam disco-pop outfit was asked to join Duran Duran for a string of dates this past summer.
"It was pretty surreal," laughs the delightfully outspoken Sorbara. "We'd go to after-parties and see Simon Le Bon surrounded by at least eight girls, 'accidentally' putting his hands on their tits and 'accidentally' kissing them on the lips."
Kurtz chimes in. "Those guys are like royalty. People still love them in exactly the same way they did way back in the 80s. People liked Martina, but you had fans there who'd been at every single Duran Duran tour from the beginning. It was pretty mind-blowing.
"Then we'd have a normal conversation with one of the members and those walls would tumble down. One time I was kinda drunk and told the drummer I was surprised cuz his band was way better than I'd thought they'd be. As soon as I said it, I felt like an ass and waited for him to punch me in the face, but he smiled and said, 'Hey man, thanks! That's really nice. '"
Aw. Even former Tiger Beat pin-ups are hungry for affirmation from their peers.
Clearly, something about the popstar lifestyle took, cuz with Dragonette, Sorbara and Kurtz are accomplishing something that always eluded them with their previous projects: getting the hell outta Dodge.
The day we talk, they're hanging out in Palm Springs after playing Miami's fabulously flamboyant BANG dance music fest. But instead of basking in the sun, the two are hovering over Blackberrys, fax machines and separate phone extensions, anxiously waiting to see whether their swank Toronto pad has been sold.
The long-time Ontarians are ditching everything familiar and starting over again in London, England. Turns out that, like the Scissor Sisters - with whom they share management - there's way more interest in Dragonette's brand of brazen big-room dance pop in the UK than in North America.
Their new label, Mercury (which, like the Scissor Sisters' label, Polydor, is a subsidiary of Universal), is slated to release Dragonette's upcoming full-length debut in the UK.
"The ridiculous thing is, we sent the same songs to Martina's label way back when, which they rejected because they 'didn't hear a single,'" recalls Kurtz.
Sorbara says her former label, Nettwerk - "I managed to convince them to let me out of my deal, though they'll insist they dropped me" - wanted her to replicate the meek singer/songwriter stuff she'd produced when they signed her in the late-90s Women & Songs heyday, and had no time for the buzzing electro-pop of Dragonette.
Rumour has it, Kurtz's motivation for Dragonette's aesthetic had to do with his experience producing Sarah Slean's most recent record. Apparently, one reason Slean's album took so long to drop was that the folks at Warner kept sending it back. They wanted a poppier, more radio-friendly sound. Kurtz, pissed off by the back-and-forthing, decided his next project would be the biggest, glossiest mega-pop Fuck You he could muster.
Kurtz laughs hysterically when he hears my version of events.
"Oh, man, that's a great story. That's not true,though it was a pretty harrowing experience producing that record. Dragonette was like a giant release."
You can hear it in the recordings on their self-titled EP (available at Soundscapes), on which Sorbara does her best sassy, slick pop diva act, cooing about stuff like stealing other girls' boyfriends over top of thumping drums and massive synths. It's total guilty pleasure stuff, but of the classic No Doubt rather than the Backstreet Boys variety. (Note that Kurtz confesses to seeing both the Boys and Britney in concert.)
"We spend a lot of time trying to balance that tension between pure bubble-gum and making sure a character emerges out of it," explains Kurtz. "We want to flesh out the lyrical and sonic character for the listener. That's the difference between useful pop and useless pop - we want to make music that's more like the old No Doubt stuff than Gwen Stefani's sad solo stuff. "