Michael Dracula, “What Can I Do For You? (Demo)” (MP3)
This week: Michael Dracula (a lady living in Scotland making heavy-lidded cabaret)
When I was in my late teens, NYC’s Ze Records held more than a passing fascination for me: James Chance’s curiously asexual dynamic and jagged dance rhythms coupled with a feral yet controlled saxophone: Lydia Lunch (of course), her fuck-you delivery and short, astringent bursts of promiscuous noise and rock’n’roll in Teenage Jesus And The Jerks about as close as I ever came to abject lust; the ice-cool disco queens Cristina and Lizzy Mercier Descloux disinterestedly breaking hearts and cataloguing the dull behaviour of those around. Life was a curious cabaret indeed. I had little time for Was (Not Was) and even the NME-beloved Kid Creole And The Coconuts, realising that irony has no place when hitched to lame haircuts.
It was an obvious fall when I chanced across Michael Dracula’s debut album In The Red, released on a resurgent Ze – apparently, the label’s first for a couple of decades. Not cos I was gonna love anything on Ze (see above), more because Glasgow resident, Emily MacLaren’s deadpan, heavy-lidded vocal delivery and spooky, subtly swaggering, vaguely cabaret, music recalls both Cristina shrugging her way through her torch classic, the Peggy Lee cover ‘Is That All There Is?’, and La Lunch herself, voluptuous and dangerous on Queen Of Siam (among other music, of course).
I tracked Emily down the usual way round these parts (eschew the PR, go for the MySpace route) and we exchanged several searching emails…
How did Michael Dracula come about – am I right in thinking you recorded the album mainly by yourself, but have a live band?
“Michael Dracula began in the winter of 2002, when I started writing songs in the bedroom and finding people to play them. Our first gig was at Optimo [Glasgow club] that summer, and since then there have been five different line-ups, each of which have interpreted the songs differently, and we’ve played everywhere from the basements of dodgy IRA pubs in Ireland to bullfighting arenas in Spain and, most recently, Le Baron, a converted house of prostitution, in Paris. Following the split-up of the third incarnation (after we were barred from our own gig. . . for the third time), I was invited by Michel Esteban of Ze Records to come to his bat-infested villa in the South of France in the summer of 2005 to record In The Red. I worked alone, alongside an unconventionally-talented engineer, Michel Bassignani, though a few former members made cameo appearances. I now have a live band of musicians who concurrently play in other bands in Glasgow, namely Martin Brennan (formerly of Bigface) on rhythm guitar and James Steenson (from Trout) on bass.”
Were you a fan of Ze Records?
“Yes, my first introduction to the music on the label was through Brian Eno’s excellent No New York compilation, which I used to play when I DJ-ed in Glasgow back in 1998-9, and people would look up and say, ‘What is this shit?’, then a few years later Ze released the New York No Wave compilation and the music of James Chance etc was brought to a wider audience. I was also a big fan of Cristina (especially her cover of Peggy Lee’s ‘Is That All There Is?’), The Waitresses and Lizzy Mercier, who all seemed to get by with humour and character, rather than exceptional vocal chords.”
What’s the attraction of Glasgow?
“I came to Glasgow in 1998 to attend the Glasgow School of Art, and by the end of the year I had met so many interesting people I found it difficult to leave. After a year back in the states, I managed to come back on the sly, the threat of deportation always imminent, but eventually managed to negotiate a visa, and have been here since. I remember some friends relating to me a story when I first moved here about them emerging from a party in the middle of winter, asking someone on the street for the time, only to be told it was eight, then realising it was eight pm, not eight am, as they had assumed. I thought, ‘These people are crazy’, but then, I had a lot of growing up to do…”
What motivates you to make music?
“Boredom and loss. If I can really get inside a song, it provides the brief salvation of distraction. I’m not musically trained (I only learned what the notes were called a few years ago), so usually I just think, ‘What would I want this song to do?’ and then try to play that, rather than ‘writing’ anything. Sometimes I’m motivated by a visual image, as well. For example, the last song I wrote a week ago was, to me, the sound of someone confronting a room that’s a total state: broken windows, furniture turned over etc, and rather than cleaning it up, they just kick fuck out of its contents. Whereas for a song like ‘Two Wrongs’ (off In The Red), I pictured the last song played on the jukebox in a dour Midwestern bar, with the last two barely-conscious stragglers uniting for a slow-dance while the barman does the sweeping-up. Though I find you can’t just automatically create a song. I think of it like vomiting: sometimes you want to, or think you need to, and you try, and try, and it just sounds awful. Then other times an idea comes to you without warning and it all comes out at once.”
When did you first start singing?
“I’ve been playing guitar since I was 17, but I only started singing really when I started Michael Dracula. I’ve never thought of myself as much of a singer. (I was hidden away in the shower of the upstairs bathroom for the vocals for In The Red. If you isolate the vocal tracks, you can occasionally hear plumbing circulation punctuated by a wine glass being clumsily removed and replaced on the ceramic soap dish.) But I like writing lyrics and playing with words. I’m a bit tone-deaf, but then so are Mark E Smith etc, though it’s a bit more difficult for women to get away with it. As a listener, I tend to find vocal gymnastics, pitch-perfection, or singing corrected with auto-tune, totally bland. There’s no human behind the vocal performance. So I console myself by thinking, at least I mean what I sing.”
Why were you barred from your own concerts?
“For quite banal reasons, actually. I’d love to say it was for setting fire to myself onstage or causing a riot. The first was a gig in Edinburgh, where my Aussie playboy keyboardist (since dearly deported) was caught dispensing a controlled substance in the boys toilets. The second was a gig in Glasgow for which we weren’t given a fee or a rider. We were all skint, so had brought a bottle of vodka with us, and when the bouncer spied it poking out of my bag he grabbed me and my friend and threw us down the stairs and out the door. I was stranded in an alleyway in a prom dress and heels in the pissing rain, with my guitars and amps still inside…The final gig was again in Glasgow. My keyboardist, a Basque beauty named Leyre, threw Irn Bru over the crowd due to their lukewarm reaction, then they started throwing their drinks at us. I had a pint chucked over me and I didn’t miss a note on the guitar! By the end of the set, half the crowd were cheering for us and half were booing. We were swiftly escorted from the premises…”
Do you feel kinship with anyone performing today?
“If I had to pick one, a real unsung hero of modern music, it would be Ben Wallers aka The Rebel, formerly of The Country Teasers. If you follow a musical train of thought from The Shaggs, Big Star/Alex Chilton’s Sister Lovers and Like Flies On Sherbet, and The Fall, it should eventually lead you to him. We were fortunate, after being stranded in London due to an aborted recording session in 2003, to have had Ben record us in the living room of his old house in Walthamstow.”
Do you tend towards obsession?
“The only thing to which I can admit to having an unyielding obsession is music: it’s the lover that never leaves you.”
HUGS AND KISSES TOP 5
Five seven-inch singles that Everett True adores
1. ANNI ROSSI, “Wheelpusher” (Too Pure). Minimal, breathless, fragile object d’art that effects not-there percussion and the occasional shred of viola to some effect: from recent Electrelane tour support.
2. PRINZHORN DANCE SCHOOL, “Crackerjack Docker” (DFA). This is, like, the first obviously No Wave-influenced band I’ve heard since Yeah Yeah Yeahs that I love as much as I once (and still) loved Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Brusque and way more smart than you.
3. DAVID CRONENBERG’S WIFE, “I Couldn’t Get Off” (Blang).
Some folk still recall the mid-Eighties, post-Nightingales period of (John) Peel listening as one of this country’s finest eras. Some folk would be near correct.
4. PETE AND THE PIRATES, “Knots” (Stolen)
Damn it, even the NME are picking up of thee engorged, open-hearted, fascinatingly droll guitar melodies of Stolen Recordings. Isn’t it time you did?
5. VERA NOVEMBER, “Red Dream” (Too Pure). Viola, piano, heartbeat electronic percussion – it’s the debut solo single from Electrelane singer Verity Susman. Next week, fuck it, I’m going to burn all my CDs. Who needs them?