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Little Boots - Queen of the Night

Issue 63 Feature: Little Boots – Queen of the Night

With second album ‘Nocturnes’, Little Boots takes us on a smooth journey to the end of the night. Featherlight house and faded glitter disco combine to form one of the surprise best records of the year: surprising because, after her label nightmares and compulsive baking, it might not have happened at all. Click here to buy Issue 63.

 

WORDS / Michael Cragg
PHOTOGRAPHY & STYLING / Aaron Francis Walker
MAKE-UP / Liz Martins using Mac Cosmetics and Liz Martins Lash Enhance
HAIR / Cathy Ennis using Bumble and Bumble

 
Towards the end of 2011 Victoria Hesketh started baking. What began as quite a nice thing to do to pass the time soon turned into an odd compulsion and when I remind her of this obsession over a cup of tea in a pub in north London, she looks almost haunted. “What was I doing” she asks rhetorically. “I should have been making hits, not baking cakes” (To be fair her biscuits were delicious). It’s now been nearly four years since her debut album as Little Boots, Hands, and a lot has changed; Hesketh is no longer signed to a major label, she’s swapped big name pop producers such as Dr Luke for the likes of DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy and seems to have given up on proper singles in favour of drip-feeding buzz tracks like there’s no tomorrow. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is her almost nerd-like love of pop music, reflected in her almost comically-delayed second album, Nocturnes, which pulses beautifully to a mixture of featherlight house and Confessions On A Dance Floor-esque disco.

Before Hesketh was Little Boots (so named because she has size 2 and a half feet, FYI), and before she topped the BBC Sound of 2009 poll, she was part of electropunk trio Dead Disco. Driven to gigs by Hesketh in a hired van, the band swiftly built up enough of a name for themselves to get studio time with the likes of James Ford and Greg Kurstin. In fact, it was with the latter in LA that Hesketh suddenly realised she didn’t want to be in a band and started to demo some of the songs she’d written for herself. “All the time I’d been hiding my own songs and finally I had to make the sort of music I actually wanted to listen to,” she told The Times in 2009. “Before I used to always think…’What would the band do?’ Now it’s so easy because it’s ‘What would I do?’” Ultimately this independence was short-lived and while she’s a fan of most of what became her debut album, there’s a feeling that the question of ‘what would I do?’ quickly became ‘what does the label want me to do?’. You sense she’s constantly been trying to claw back the decision-making process ever since. “It was a very overwhelming time for me and I was very naïve,” she says now. Did you feel like you had to compromise on what you wanted Hands to be? “A lot of it was ‘if you don’t do this then things might fuck up’. It was strange and just so busy that there wasn’t really time to just stand back and think about it all and consider it.”

Once the whirlwind started to dissipate, however, she experienced what she calls “a massive comedown”. “After Coachella in 2010 that was when things wound down and I ended up back at home sat in front of a keyboard and a computer again and it was very weird. I’ve obviously taken quite a long time to do this new record and there were moments where I was pretty fucking depressed to be honest. This isn’t a job, it’s you, it’s so personal,” she says. “If I’m honest about it, there were times that were really shit and I look back and think ‘I did this wrong, I did that wrong’.” The first album also outlined a slight identity crisis for Little Boots, the pop star. “I think there are some great songs on the album but I wish it sounded more coherent,” she explains, gulping back a swig of tea. “It didn’t stick to what I was about from the start and it kind of went all over the place, so you had songs produced by Joe Hot Chip sat next to a song by RedOne. But in some ways that sort of sums me up as they’re the two things I’m trying to straddle, it just wasn’t done very well.”

Little Boots has always seemed to dance delicately around the cavernous authenticity vacuum that has sucked many a pop star down into its darkened depths. Yes she writes her own songs and is involved in the production, but at the same time she’s a massive fan of pop stars who care not a jot for putting pen to pad and simply ooze pop star quality. Luckily, Nocturnes isn’t some blog-friendly album to scare away her fans, more a refinement of what she’s always done. “I think it’s quite a funny time because everyone’s now obsessed with credibility and artistry and everyone’s like ‘I write and produce all my own songs’,” she laughs. “People who – I’m not going to name names – quite obviously don’t do that. I write for other people now and the artist always has to be in the session even if they don’t do anything, just sit on Facebook in the corner. It’s because they want a writing credit. Everyone’s really glamourising it now and saying that if you don’t write your songs you’re a pop write off. I don’t think it’s all about that. I like the era in the 90s where there were just loads of pop stars who didn’t write their own songs. For me, I always wanted to do both. I think I’ve got a lot more comfortable with how I fit now and I know I don’t have to compromise.”

That’s not to say that the process of making Nocturnes was a simple one. Eager to please her then label, Hesketh teamed up with various different songwriters, a lot of whom had written for massive pop stars, and set about making the songs she hoped would convince them to release a second album. Slowly, things started to unravel as songs were submitted and rejected. This constant to and fro meant that deadlines were missed, which lead to Hesketh constantly having to defend herself against a hoard of frustrated Twitter maniacs. “I felt so frustrated too. I felt so guilty,” she sighs. “I was so pissed off with myself and so frustrated with the label for not sharing my vision and just dangling this golden carrot of like ‘if you make something that sounds like this it will get on the radio’ and then saying ‘oh no, this is getting on the radio now, make it like this’. I’m frustrated at myself for not having enough faith in myself to just go ‘this is what it is, shut up’.” In order to keep the fans happy, she started to drip-feed new songs, including the pounding Shake in late 2011. “I kept putting things out there because it was driving me nuts. I couldn’t sit on all this music. It felt like people were thinking I was just dicking around going on holiday, like in the Bahamas with a Pina Colada,” she giggles. “I was working my arse off. I felt bad about it and it was difficult to communicate it to people, especially when it was so up and down with the label.”

Eventually, after the release of another single, the Groove Is In The Heart-esque Headphones, which doesn’t appear on the new album, Hesketh and Atlantic parted ways. “I guess with the amount they spent, it didn’t add up for them,” she says calmly. “There were times when they were a great label – well a good label – but I was in a shitty deal and I just got sick of it. They took everything I owned and they kept control of everything so it was lose lose for me.” With this constant thirst for greater independence finally in reach, she set up her own label and started re-working the songs she’d already started. “What had happened was I’d written all these songs with all these writers all over the place, trying to write a big pop song because that’s what I love, but also to try and please the label to get them to go ‘okay, let’s go with this’ because I was getting so frustrated. But then when I finally parted ways with them and kind of got the keys back to the car if you like, I just listened to what I’d done and I really believed in the songwriting, but sonically it was all over the shop.” So she called in Tim Goldsworthy who started to craft the songs into a more coherent whole. “We got all these songs and then we had to go over them and produce them, so what you hear is some of the demos but most of them are new versions,” she explains. “It was a real backwards way of doing a record and quite a challenge. At that point the album was supposed to be out in October [2012] and it really needed to come out then and I knew making that decision would delay it by another six months. It’s probably the first big decision I’ve made on my own, just trusting myself, so I’ve got to hope it bloody pays off. I knew it had to happen or I wouldn’t be able to do these interviews and talk about an album I wasn’t happy with.”

Thankfully the risk has paid off, with Nocturnes full of beautifully constructed songs that take the energy of Hesketh’s recent DJing stints and marries them to melancholic lyrics mainly influenced by her recent record label travails: “Most of the lyrics are not personal in the way the first one was – they’re not about my relationships. Now I listen back, a lot of the things I was going through with the label not releasing things and feeling really up and down about stuff, I can really hear that in the songs now.” So where does she think her music fits in with the constant deluge of EDM and Rihanna soundalikes that make up pop music in 2013? “I’m not Rita Ora and I’m quite comfortable with not being Rita Ora and I’m comfortable with making songs that I like,” she states. “I don’t feel comfortable doing the EDM stuff so I was like ‘where do I fit in the dance pop world’ and I don’t really. I started writing really downbeat songs and then it was just me realising that pop music is a genre, it’s not just what’s at Number One at the minute. It’s a way of writing songs that are structured and melodic and there’s a certain way to approach the lyrics. It’s all the things I love.” She smiles broadly, finally happy she’s been able to talk about an album she properly loves. “Right now I feel really empowered and happy that I’ve done something creative that I’m pleased with. I’ve tried to write cool songs but I can’t do it – they all just sound like ABBA.” Finally it feels like she’s realised that’s more than enough.

 

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