'Hits Magazine Interview' - 10th March, 1997
By Bruce Britt...
The latest in what appears to be an inexhaustible supply of innovative alternative dance acts, Sneaker Pimps seem destined to take their place among Virgin Records' crowded staple of pioneering bands. The label that championed seminal techno/club acts like Human League, Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark, Soul II Soul and Massive Attack is now throwing its considerable promotional weight behind Sneaker Pimps, a British group whose creepy electronica recalls their Virgin predecessors, not to mention Tricky and the rest of the burgeoning London club music scene.
The irony of this situation is not lost on Sneaker Pimps' three principal members. Eager and willing to uphold the Virgin tradition, the band admits they want to broaden techno music's horizons. If effusive critical response is any indication, Sneaker Pimps have accomplished their goal. The band's debut album, "Becoming X," combines eerie B-movie melodies with mesmerising trip-hop rhythms. Liam Howe's horrowshow keyboards and Chris Corner's mad scientist guitars contrast perfectly with Kelli Dayton's cooing, come-hither vocals.
As if to underscore their devotion to these forebears, Sneaker Pimps recruited Soul II Soul co-conspirator Nellee Hooper to remix their "6 Underground." But will Sneaker Pimps surface and fade just as quickly as their dance-pop heroes? To get answers to these and other vexing questions, HITS' own two-left footed Bruce "Hail" Britt "Ania" recently visited Virgin Records' Beverly Hills offices to chat up Howe and Dayton.
THERE'S DEFINITELY A SEEDY SEXUALITY TO YOUR MUSIC.
LIAM HOWE: I'm actually glad you said that. Yes, it's quite macabre, sexy and even dirty in places, which has nothing to do with me. It's purposefully conecting to the darker side of sexuality and the difficulties of modern sexuality - the whole fear of sex in the '90s. Music needs to have raw sexuality.
THERE'S ALSO A SORT OF CREEPY ELEMENT.
HOWE: We've done a few mixes using real deep, John Carpenter-like string sounds, with the dramatic cellos grinding away in the background. The whole comedy/horror thing is appealing to me.
I like to think the album has a B-movie feel. The last tune on the album, "How Do," is a cover tune from an old 1973 British horror film called "The Wicker Man." The song actually features a sample from the film with Britt Ekland. We had to ring her up to get permission to use her voice. I've actually got the piece of paper she signed giving us permission to use it.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE "BECOMING X"?
HOWE: We've been going for a year-and-a-half now and I haven't come up with a satisfactory definition. That should be one of the first things you think about when you start a band - what kind of music are we making? In a funny way it demonstrates how we actually survive as musicians. Our music relies totally upon antagonistic definitions. We're influenced by punk and folk. Now most people would say those two forms are fifty feet away from each other categorically, and we see no harm in throwing together diverse influences into one song. The problem with doing that is, when you attempt to define the music, you get into big trouble. You end up naming all the different departments in the records shop.
Hopefully, if everything goes as planned, we'll be defined posthumously. We're kind of living in a definition-obsessed culture and if we wait and see, maybe some decent terms will come out for this kind of music.
KELLI, COMING FROM A ROCK BACKGROUND, WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL IMPRESSION OF SNEAKER PIMPS?
KELLI DAYTON: I had never worked with samples and computers before. I'd always liked the live side of things. I had a fixed image of what computers were like. At first, I thought, this is too tame, too mellow for me. But Liam and Chris took it a bit further. They were writing really great songs. They weren't just making up faceless melodies. I started thinking what I would do with a sampler. Once I started thinking that way, all these possibilities came floating in. So at first I felt fear, followed by this confusion, which mutated into excitement.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE COMPARISONS TO TRICKY?
DAYTON: We've been compared with so many people, so I guess it's the way people sort of relate. That's the way the wold is. What people say doesn't affect me. What we do is make music, and what other people think is kind of superficial.
HOWE: To be honest, we do have a certain shared heritage. I can't deny that [Massive Attack's] "Blue Lines" is one of my favourite albums, a huge influence. The Portishead album was a huge influence as well. So we've certainly paid our dues to those influences, but we've also made a distinct effort to be a pop group, where the others still tend to be more introspective, deprecating material.
Tricky captures that self-pity and absolute despair that comes with living in a modern world. But we steer in a different way. We look at despair in an almost cynical, comical way. We acknowledge that we come from the British Massive Attack/Tricky school, but at the same time we're just as excited about Sonic Youth and alternative pop.
WHAT DID YOU AND CHRIS LIKE ABOUT KELLI"S VOICE?
HOWE: Kelli's very graphic when it comes to interpreting the lyrics. She's fantastic at making up her own images for the songs. She tends to interpret everything in this really strong sexual fashion.
DAYTON: When I sing, I've got a lot of visual imagery going on. It all intermingles with my voice. Since I started working with Sneaker Pimps I think a lot more about the way I sing, because a lot of times it's someone else's words. Being in this band gives me the chance to sing seriously, I'm not expressing inner feelings.
IF TRIP-HOP BANDS LIKE YOURSELVES ARE TO SUCCEED THEY'LL NEED TO BE DRIVEN BY STRONG IMAGE AND PERSONALITIES.
HOWE: That's one of the reasons we stopped playing dance music - it became increasing irritating being anonymous and faceless. We wanted to be in a pop band with a profile, to be on the cover of magazines, and all those childish things everyone dreams of. To be honest, that was one of our motivations.
If people can link a product to an image, then the music becomes stronger. In this post-modern era, it does come down to clothes and haircuts, and to ignore that is being foolish and naive. It's all part of the gambit in pop music to be visual.