When Toronto’s Dragonette first began making waves with its shimmering brand of electropop back in 2007, they did something unusual: they left the country.
The husband-and-wife team of Dan Kurtz and Martina Sorbara, who – along with drummer Joel Stouffer – comprise Dragonette, high-tailed it across the Atlantic and settled in London as soon as the ink was dry on their contract with Mercury Records U.K., the label that signed them at the time.
The relocation was about more than business.
“We lived in London for seven years, and our relationship with our label ended two years into that move,” recalls singer Sorbara. “One of the reasons we stayed there is because we needed to prove to ourselves that we weren’t there because of the label, but because we wanted to be there.”
Dragonette had their work cut out for them when it came to promoting and exploiting their music. Radio formats in Europe and Asia are very fragmented, and Dragonette were reportedly blacklisted by the BBC, so things weren’t easy.
“Writing songs is the most daunting thing that we face,” says Kurtz. “It’s an endless chasm of fear and self-loathing.” – Dan Kurtz
“What made our career work was that we axed Canada out of the deal that we had with Mercury in the U.K., so that made us be able to release the record [ourselves in Canada] and actually continue working as an indie band,” Sorbara explains, adding that it was imperative for them to be perceived by the rest of the world as standing on their own two feet. “I think Canada really supports its artists in a way that is amazing, but at the same time… I think it feels like when you go out of the country, you’re taken at face value.”
Dan Kurtz, whose credentials include producing Feist’s solo debut album Monarch (Lay Your Jeweled Head Down) and being the co-founding bassist of The New Deal, said a number of factors were key in helping the band survive their formative era.
“We started with a cushion of money that was our advance from our U.K. record deal, which we let trickle out so that it supported all of us for three or four years,” Kurtz explains. “That got us to the point where we were able to capitalize more on the songs that had gotten licensed into some big TV commercial campaigns and a couple of movies [included ads for Jacob’s coffee, Dell computers and Vicks medicinal products, all using “Get Lucky.”]
“There’s always been the one dream gig that’s come along at the right time… A license or a show that’s kept the band in the black and trucking along.” – Dan Kurtz
“There’s always been the one dream gig that’s come along at the right time, whether it’s a license or a show that’s kept the band in the black and trucking along. We did take advantage of the internet, and when our record Galore came out in Canada, “I Get Around” got radio play. The grassroots thing has basically been the backbone of what we are, with the exception of some great radio play in Canada in the anomaly that is ‘Hello.’”
Ah yes, “Hello.” The high-profile collaboration with French electro music DJ Martin Solveig has paid handsome dividends, landing the band its first Juno Award in 2012 for Dance Recording of the Year. On the heels of “Hello,” Dragonette’s constant touring, appearances at two crucial 2012 festivals – Lollapalooza and Coachella – and a spot on ABC’s Good Morning America have all generated a buzz for their third album Bodyparts. It debuted at No. 17 on Billboard’s retail-driven Dance/Electronic Albums chart.
Which was a great relief to Sorbara, who writes the melodies and lyrics, and Kurtz, who originates the bed tracks, since both confess they’re very slow writers.
“It’s the most daunting thing that we face,” Kurtz admits, calling it a process of “pulling teeth” and “an endless chasm of fear and self-loathing.” The duo started writing Bodyparts in Rio de Janiero, but after two months they’d only finished two songs. “We wrote two beautiful songs – ‘Run Run Run’ and ‘Lay Low’ – but we felt like we weren’t getting anything done,” says Sorbara. “I’m really precious with my own stuff and I agonize over it. I know I’m trying to represent something real and true inside of me, so I’ll go to whatever extent I can to make sure it feels true.”
As the couple relocates to Toronto, Kurtz is hoping to build on the duo’s creative momentum. “I don’t want us to take another 18 months to write another album.”