Robots in Disguise interview

robots in disguise album

Flipping ‘eck! We interview Robots in Disguise about their new partially fan-funded album (it’s pretty good, so let’s hope you support them and buy it) and talk tea and feminism. We do not mention the silver-thonged manservant, Lars.

Buy Audio CD: Happiness Vs Sadness

Download MP3 album: Happiness V Sadness

Mookychick has been terribly fond of Robots in Disguise for some time. They’re nice ladies with independent spirits who give it large in the music biz – which has has been predominantly a man’s world to date. Although it has to be said that female solo artists are ruling the charts at the moment, so nothing is ever set in stone.

As the Robots are quite into tea, we meet in one of those artsy-fartsy popup cafes that exist for about two weeks behind a wheelie bin in Shoreditch. The girls arrive bang on time for their tealicious detox session. Dee Plume, attired as artfully as any Dodger in a pink and green Nike New Rave jacket, shorts and snakeskin print tights, explains she woke up early and has already eaten a whole Victoria sponge. And, she quickly and sternly points out, is ready for another one. Cripes. We’d better sort out some vicky sponge then. Considering it’s a tuesday morning, Sue Denim has bloody outdone herself in red brogues, sequin rainbow miniskirt and a monochrome mohair spotty jumper. And she’s sporting round glasses. And bluey-green hair. I’m well impressed with the make-up, since I’ve only managed to daub some clownish gunk on my face. How do they get their look? Were they inspired by Siouxie Soux when they were young? “Nah, my older friends in the Girl Guides,” says Sue helpfully. “They encouraged me to wear eyeliner“. Well, there you go. Top tip, readers! Always listen to Brown Owl. Incidentally, Sue is desirous of tea, but easy on the sponge.

ROCK! AND! ROLL! And also, tea. Which is served by a really nice blonde giant who looks disturbingly like that winged chap in Barbarella, wearing permatan and a silver thong and not much else. This being the sort of thing that happens in Shoreditch, he introduces himself as Lars, the cafe owner’s manservant. He serves us lapsang souchong in tiny filigree cups out of a samovar that has, he says, been on the go since 4am, to catch the early market trade.

Sipping fragrant tea, we spend a bit of time talking about the new Robots in Disguise album, Happiness V Sadness. Sue says, “It was funded partly by fans, partly by us, and partly by our small but loyal label, President. It took ages and years off our lives to make, but we love the songs!” And so they should. The album’s really very good. I listened to it on repeat for an entire night, so I’m pretty saturated with its punchy electro pop mix of tight but sliding harmonies on short, powerful tracks that graft musical genres (ska, punk, pop, other) to create a sexy exuberance that – I think – evokes a brave new world. The kind of world I’d like to live in, cheers.

In fact, one of the Robots’ great strengths (apart from their innate understanding of pop sensibilities and freewheeling yet tempered studio crafting) is their harmonies. I puzzle over that. It’s really, really rare nowadays to get bands who can and do go for vox harmonies. It’s rarer still with female bands. How they hell do they get their harmonies so tight? “It’s magic,” says Dee Plume. “When you’ve been singing with somebody for ten years, you can make stuff happen. Like bending spoons with your eyes.” Can they imagine still working those neat harmonies a few decades down the line? “I was thinking I’ll be living in New Orleans, craggy-faced and playing the drums with blue jazz men,” says Dee. “I’ll be communicating with dolphins,” says Sue.

Robots in Disguise have been slapped with the ‘electro’ brush in the past; which is no bad thing. Are they electro? Sue sips her tiny, thimble-sized cup of tea, making cat eyes at Lars. “Nah,” she says. “We’re more handbag.

I remark on how short the songs are, suspecting that the girls are – in that respect – giving props to the classic era of tunemaking. Dee confirms that Robots in Disguise are huge fans of the old skool tradition of the 3 minute pop song. ‘Don’t Go’ is one of the finest and longest songs on this strong album (we’re hoping it’s the next single – in previous interviews, the Robots said it was their vigorous nod to Blur), but even so it weighs in at a nevertheless not-so-hefty 3:52 minutes.

Robots in Disguise do an acoustic version of their new single CHAINS for a Raybans Rooftops session. Yeah. Acoustic. With no editing. Because, like, they can actually sing.

Everyone I’ve spoken to namechecks different songs on ‘Happiness vs Sadness’ as their favourite – always the sign of an interesting album. For myself, I’d have to plump for the anthemic ‘Don’t Go’, and the sheer assassin sleaze queen vibe of ‘Lady and the Flies’. But at least 8 of the 10 songs on the album are standalone single-worthy electropop crackers. The band have been together for years; they know each other’s musical strengths inside out. They can prep to some degree, but like to leave some of the final magic to chance when they hit the studio for recording sessions; as Sue puts it, they “collaborate with chance“.

Regular fans of Robots in Disguise will know they put a lot of effort into their inventive, low-fi videos. Whether it’s the girls roleplaying warring hairdressers, or swaying on the underground in giant and somehow mournful papier mache heads, the videos never fail to disappoint. I haven’t seen the pop vids for ‘Happiness vs Sadness’ yet, but Dee confirms that ‘Chains’ is her favourite. But, she says, the video director’s gone AWOL…

I wonder if this sort of thing happens a lot in the Robots’ world. Sue smooths down her sequin rainbow miniskirt and leans forward with the air of imparting a great truth.

We like to go and ask for boring things at the hotel reception, nude,” she says in a confiding manner. “Things like “can I have a wake up call?”. Okay, we’ve only done it once. But it was the most fun you can have at a Travelodge reception…

As she blows on her tea to cool it down, I feel she’s pretty much answered the question.

We’re running out of time, so we enter the Mookychick BAM round, where we fire some quick questions at the Robots and they say the first thing that comes into their heads…

Are you laydeez in a man’s world? Do you get gender prejudice? Do you fight your feminist corner?

Dee: Yes, of course. The music biz is where the boys are. I’m fed up of negotiating. If somebody’s gender prejudiced I cover them in gunk. I carry a gunk gun in my purse.

Sue: Sometimes I’m a bit gender prejudiced myself. Positive discrimination…

This question’s a bit gender prejudiced because we wouldn’t ask it of a man, but, hey, positive discrimination. Do you listen to much female-fronted music yourself? Kathleen Hanna? Shonen Knife? The Bangles? Yeah Yeah Yeahs?

Dee: Yes. I like female vox and spirit. It keeps me sane, listening to Lydia Lunch…

Sue: Yeah, a lot. I’m all for positive discrimination! At the moment, amongst other stuff I listen to Tender Forever, Lykke Li, The Slits, Yo Majesty…

You’re allowed to change society with one new law. What will your law be?

Sue: For one year, only music made by women may be played on the radio! Gender prejudiced again… I’m not sure it would change SOCIETY as a whole, but I reckon we’d sell more records! Hmmm – bit censorious though. Ah well, never mind..!

Out of interest, what does feminism mean to you?

Dee: Freedom.

Sue: A fight.

You guys make a solid tag team. But who would you fancy collaborating with in the future?

Dee: Sexy men.

Sue: Yessir!

Dee: A syrupy duet. With Peter Andre. ‘Endless Love’.

What’s your favourite type of gig?

Dee: One with an audience. With people who like to have a good time and grab my legs when I’m singing…

Although it’s probably about lovestuff, let’s imagine the first single off the album (‘Chains’) may be about you both. How would you feel about being linked by a shared hairstyle of 8ft long dreds woven together?

Sue: Pass the hairbrush!

Dee: Everything is shared. It’s like being a twin. I’m just glad we can be separated…

Worst jobs you’ve ever had?

Dee: When I worked as a runner on a videoshoot. I was treated like a dog. WOOF.

Sue: dressing up as a furry dinosaur. Actually, it wasn’t too bad – just very, very HOT.

Sue Denim… Dee Plume. We’ve always dug your names. Is having a nom de plume a liddle bit liberating?

Dee: I’m incognito. Anything I’ve done I blame on her. I’m reverting to my first name now…

Robots in disguise as… what?

Sue: Lemon trees and the solar system

What have you got lined up?

Sue: 20 different varieties of tea.

Is there something we really should have asked you but were too selfish to consider?

Sue (eyeing the samovar): Whether we’d like another cuppatee…?

What lovely girls, eh? You’ve probably heard their stuff before (Mookychick recommends the tracks ‘I’m Hit’ and ‘La Nuit’ as tasters). Regardless, if you’re a fan of strong female vox, give Robots in Disguise your support and check out the latest album, Happiness vs Sadness. Help keep these talented chicas in tea. You know you’d want someone to do it for you.

Buy Audio CD: Happiness Vs Sadness

Download MP3 album: Happiness V Sadnessrobots in disguise album

Buy Audio CD: Happiness Vs Sadness

Download MP3 album: Happiness V Sadness

Download MP3 single: Chains