This electro-rock trio may look like they’re all about style, but there’s plenty of substance to their songwriting as well
ontrary to the received wisdom, we find you often can judge a book by its cover. If it’s got a watercolour picture of a nurse gazing wistfully at a strong-jawed doctor, it’s gonna be a romance novel; if it’s got a hideous mask and a rusty sawblade dripping blood, it’s gonna be a horror. If it’s got the words ‘Dan Brown’, it’s gonna be rubbish.
When it comes to bands, however, it’s a different matter. Take for example Plastique, the electro-rock trio comprising Fabio Couto, Anelise Kunz and Gabriel Ralls. One look at those cravats, bodices and eyepatches, and you’ve very possibly already dismissed them as a hangover from a distant new romantic past – a throwback to the days of “nice video, shame about the song”. But that would be a mistake: if you actually listen to them, you’ll find that yes, they’ve got the image – but, crucially, they’ve got actual songs to go with it.
Which seemed reason enough to get them on the phone for a chat…
Two of you are Brazilian, while one (Gabriel) is from London. Can you tell us a bit about how you all hooked up, and about your musical backgrounds before that?
Fabio: “Gabriel and Anelise met first, in London in 2005. Then I met Anelise when she came back to live in Brazil, and then in 2009 Anelise and I came over to the UK and the three of us joined forces. Before that I was working as an art director in advertising, but I was also in bands – I’ve always written songs. I was in a band called The Colors, we did kind of 60s/70s rock with a grunge twist.”
Gabriel: “All my life, I was a huge fan of music… but a rubbish musician. I was into stuff like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher… anything edgy and interesting. And so at college I got into music production and started producing tracks for local bands, and I had my own project called Angelchrome which was kind of a rock/electronic fusion thing.”
Fabio: “And Anelise is an actress, first and foremost. That’s key to the whole concept of Plastique: Plastique is a character, a character played by Anelise.”
Intriguing… tell us more!
Gabriel: “Well it was an idea we had about… you know how you see all the lingerie and perfume ads on the TV, all these ‘perfect’ people in their perfect, airbrushed worlds? We had the idea of, what if that was actually a real person? It’s kind of taking a character who’s only existed as someone’s fantasy, and giving that character a voice. It’s a more theatrical approach, if you like.”
So is it Anelise that comes up with the lyrics?
Gabriel: “No, it’s mainly me, but Anelise does throw in ideas and increasingly it’s a collaborative effort. Writing lyrics as a man for a woman to sing is quite hard. It’s easier because I’m writing for a character, but even so… which is where Anelise comes into her own, because as a woman she can get more inside the character’s head and say, ‘Would she really think that?’ or ‘Would she say that?’.”
Fabio: “It’s like Anelise comes up with the ideas that help glue ours together.”
And how would you describe the end results of
Fabio: “Well, I can see us fitting into the mainstream in a way, but we come from an alternative background. We’re not exactly X-Factor material… we could never fit into that packaged, processed pop thing, we need to be able to express ourselves. The song Blood On The Dancefloor, for instance, it sounds quite pop but really it’s a pastiche of pop music, we’re taking the piss a little bit. So I guess you could say it’s mainstream but credible at the same time; pop with a subversive edge, maybe?”
“Yes, we’re a pop act, but we’re songwriters as well”
There’s certainly a lavish, MTV-friendly aspect to the presentation. Are you not worried that you could be dismissed as just clothes horses?
Gabriel: “I hope not. I hope that the image complements the lyrics: it’s like the image is there to draw you in, to intrigue you. But I hope people will listen to the songs properly, because yes we’re a pop act, if you like, but we’re songwriters as well. The album deals with themes of power, sexuality, insecurity… humanity, basically. Themes everyone can relate to.”
Fabio: “It’s not just, ‘Woo-hoo, let’s have a party’. I think you can have both, though: if you look at some of the artists we admire, people like Goldfrapp or Bjork… they look amazing but very few people would question their artistic merit either.”
You mentioned your (self-titled) album, which came out in 2011, yet you’re being introduced in many quarters as a new band on the back of one single, A Paper Cut From A Paper Kiss. Care to explain?
Fabio: “Well, when we started making music together, Plastique was just a personal project, really – we weren’t really expecting it to do anything. We hadn’t even intended to make an album as such, necessarily, but we ended up with an album’s worth of songs so we put it out ourselves at the end of 2011, and started doing some live shows. And we were surprised how well it all went down, so now we’re like okay, let’s push this, let’s see how far we get.”
Gabriel: “ So A Paper Cut… is coming out as a single with a proper promo campaign and stuff, and now we’re working on another album.”
Okay, if you’re currently working in the studio, then can you tell us a little bit about the Plastique creative process?
Fabio: “I come up with ideas for songs all the time, and then usually I’ll take a bunch of ideas to Gabriel’s studio, and the three of us will pick which ones we think are strongest. Then he’ll work on them from there.”
Gabriel: “Usually I’ll use Logic to start with – it’s very good for getting ideas together quickly – then take it all into Pro Tools at the end and do it properly. Fabio generally supplies the melodies, and the guitar and bass parts, and I’ll add the drums and synths, come up with the lyrics and do all the production.”
So when can we expect to hear the second album?
Gabriel: “When it’s ready! It’ll be a while yet – not least because we have to do it all ourselves. I’m sure we could find a traditional record deal if we wanted but to be honest, I’m not a big fan of record labels. Too many people I knew at college got their fingers burned. Record labels are great for sorting out your marketing and promotion and stuff like that, but too often you end up doing what you’re told. This way, we have total freedom – we can do whatever we want.”
Interview: Russell Deeks
The album Plastique is available through iTunes now. You can watch the video to A Paper Cut From A Paper Kiss below