Reunited Nations: Ladytron on their return
After an unplanned five-year hiatus, Ladytron were further apart from each other than ever – both musically and geographically. Now, they’re back to soundtrack our turbulent times
You might have been forgiven for wondering if there’d ever be another Ladytron record.
After 2011’s Gravity the Seducer, their fifth LP, the Liverpool four-piece went to ground as they took a long-planned break; real life and new musical projects beckoned. What might have been a layoff of a year or two ended up drifting, as side ventures became all-consuming and the individual members spread out geographically. From the outside looking in, it didn’t appear if they were in any sort of rush to return to Ladytron, and by the time singer Helen Marnie was readying her second solo album in 2017, the hiatus had gone on long enough – six years, by that point – that questions about the group’s long-term prospects became entirely reasonable.
By then, though, they were already on the comeback trail, albeit quietly. A brief July 2016 announcement that "another chapter in Ladytron’s story is about to begin" was yet to be consolidated with any new music. The band’s members were all committed to a return, and there was no question of a line-up reshuffle, but it was more a case of chipping away at new songs and sending ideas back and forth, especially with Ladytron now a truly global outfit. Since Gravity the Seducer, synth and guitar man Daniel Hunt had relocated to São Paulo, with fellow electro botherer Reuben Wu decamping to Chicago. With Marnie still in Glasgow and Mira Aroyo remaining in London, band meetings at the drop of a hat were an impossibility. Instead, their re-emergence would have to happen glacially.
Eventually, in February of last year, they announced their sixth LP in conjunction with a Pledge Music campaign, releasing their first new music in almost seven years in the shape of the sharp, driven The Animals at the same time. That it’s taken another 12 months for the record to actually turn up is a testament to the methodical, deliberate manner in which it was constructed. "You only get one chance at a self-titled record," says Hunt, a man apparently unfamiliar with the oeuvre of American Football or Weezer, "so we wanted to get it right. Since we were coming back from so long away, this felt like a good time for it."
To say that they’ve failed to pick up where they left off with Gravity the Seducer would be putting it mildly; Ladytron is a different beast entirely – more pointed, more aggressive, heavier both musically and atmospherically. It’s a sprawling affair that sounds like the spilling out of years' worth of ideas, and yet, as Hunt tells it, its gradual gestation was by no means by design. "I actually found some old notes the other day that said we’d maybe planned to have something out by the end of 2013," he laughs on a call from his new Brazilian base. "I think it’s fair to say that didn’t go to plan. Life got in the way, I suppose. We all kept busy, with Helen making solo records and me producing for other people and working on some film scores. We started on Ladytron in June of 2016, so it feels like it was a five-year gap, rather than anything as dramatic as seven or eight, but we never thought we’d have more than a couple off when we first took the break."
The creative relationships between the individual members of Ladytron have never relied on them all being in the same room, or even on the same continent. "We’ve never been the sort of band to say, 'Hey, wanna get together and jam?'" is Marnie’s take over the phone from Glasgow, with her intonation suggesting the idea would be preposterous. Even so, there was still some concern about rust in the early stages of making the record; as closely tailored to their own way of working as their dynamic is, the group hadn’t actually utilised it in a while. "We did some comeback shows at the end of last year – three hometown gigs in Glasgow, Liverpool and London," recalls Hunt. "We'd been gone for so long that, personally, I was thinking it was going to be really difficult, and then after literally ten minutes in the rehearsal room, I couldn’t believe I'd felt that way. It’s not that difficult, getting together and playing music. It sounds counterintuitive, but if anything, it's been more straightforward this time around than it ever has."
Marnie has her own theories on quite why that proved the case. "It was as if we’d hit reset by going away," she explains. "It simplified things creatively – there was more clarity between us. In the past, there was always a sort of trajectory between the albums, where we’d take elements that we liked from the last one and extrapolate them on the next one, but the slate was clean this time around. Plus, the confidence that my solo work gave me – to know that I could stand on my own two feet and make something worthwhile – that meant I was more confident in putting my ideas across. I realised that I always know a Ladytron song when we come up with one; what I was doing on my own was a very different proposition."
She wasn’t the only one approaching Ladytron with plenty of creative juice in the tank; Hunt, too, talks about how it feels as if there’s more 'content' on this release than previous efforts. "I think I’ve probably been influenced by Brazil, having been working with a few different musicians here and getting involved in the scene in São Paulo," he says. "We got Igor Cavalera from Sepultura in to play drums on a few tracks, so that obviously helped to make things feel a bit heavier. We were aiming for that; we wanted something more danceable than Gravity the Seducer, something that we could thrash around to a little bit. I think making an album that feels darker is a fair reflection of the world around us at the minute, anyway."
Ladytron is never overtly a political record; the slow-burning nervous drama of The Island, which simmers with post-Brexit anxiety, is about as close as the band get to making that kind of statement. It does, though, feel thick with foreboding in places, and Marnie confirms that it serves as an accurate summation of their collective mindset during the writing of the album. "It’s less about the lyrical content and more a sort of feel that the record has, I think. It’s quite personal. Apart from just the political climate, it’s about fear and loss, and relationships, too. A lot of the lyrics feel almost like a dreamscape, in that they came to me through imagining scenarios in the same way you would in a dream."
Anybody hoping for Ladytron to hit the road to soundtrack what’s shaping up to be a turbulent 2019 may yet be disappointed. "At the end of February, we’re going to Mexico and California, and a lot of people have been assuming it’s the start of a big tour," says Hunt. "I don’t think it will be, though. We’re trying to keep the shows to short bursts; we’re not 25 any more, and the idea of spending nine weeks on tour without being home in all that time – and we did that once – doesn't appeal any more. We’re glad to be back, but it feels like we're still whirring into gear."
Ladytron is released on 15 Feb via !K7