UK duo La Roux are one of the more unlikely musical success stories of the year. In a market saturated with preening pop starlets and self-aggrandising rappers, that a duo fronted by a somewhat sullen, banshee-voiced young woman could produce one of the biggest hits of the year seemed to take everybody by surprise.
That hit is the synth-driven, so-’80s-it-hurts In For The Kill, and the woman is 20-year-old Elly Jackson, who, along with musical partner Ben Langmaid, has experienced a meteoric rise to the top of the British charts. But as Jackson explained to Sydney Star Observer, despite her young age, La Roux’s success felt a long time coming.
“I’ve been working on the album off and on for five years, so it doesn’t feel as fast to me as it must for everyone else,” she said.
“What’s weird is that things take such a long time. I remember last year I was moaning, ‘When’s something going to happen?’ I was so dying to be busy and to have something happen. I’d get told in August, ‘You’ve got a photo shoot in October’. Now this year, I’m gagging for someone to tell me I haven’t got anything to do until October. That’d be fucking brilliant,” she sighed.
The success of In For The Kill — the third-biggest selling single in the UK so far this year — led to a number-one debut for follow-up single Bulletproof. Jackson admitted her initial expectations were much lower.
“I thought In For The Kill would drop out of the charts really quickly. The week it was released, I got a text from Lily Allen, who I was on tour with at the time, that said ‘You’re number 17’. We’d gone out the night before and gotten really pissed, and I woke up with such a bad hangover that I didn’t even remember my single was out.
“So I’m looking at this ‘You’re number 17’ text and thinking, ‘In what? What’s she on about? What’s number 17?’
“When it climbed to number 11 the next week, I started to realise it might be one of those tracks that sticks around for a while.”
That it did. The success of the song also meant La Roux had effectively escaped the hype that threatened to crush many of the acts featured in the BBC’s Sound Of 2009 poll, a widely-publicised list of the year’s hottest new musical discoveries in which the duo came fifth.
Other acts — including poll winner Little Boots — have so far failed to live up to the enormous hype piled upon them.
“I kind of ignored that poll to be honest, because I think it’s a pile of bollocks. They do tend to predict what’s going to be big that year, but I don’t know whether it’s because the artists have been in that poll that they’re big or not — that’s what I can’t figure out.
“I think if I wasn’t in it, there were a lot of people who wouldn’t have heard about me. I mean that poll was on BBC News the day it came out — I was on the news.
“So that’s an enormous amount of exposure on that one day, but then of course it gives you an enormous amount of hype and pressure to rush what you’re doing when you’re not ready yet. Nearly all the people in that poll hadn’t finished their albums yet — myself, Florence and the Machine, Little Boots — so you think, ‘Fuck. I’ve got to release something now, everybody’s waiting.’ I’m quite against that poll actually, now that I think about it.”
Jackson was never going to be rushed into releasing her and Langmaid’s labour of love. Their self-titled debut is an unashamed break-up record, the bruised-yet-defiant lyrics of songs like I’m Not Your Toy and Bulletproof directly referencing the traumas of a five-year on-off relationship Jackson went through as she wrote the songs.
“I think the best thing about songwriting is that when something shit is going on you can write about it. Then halfway through writing it, you start to forget about the shit because you’re creating a song. It’s like being on a high. Suddenly you’re flying and you’ve forgotten about the shit that made you want to write the song in the first place,” she said.
Jackson is reticent to discuss her working relationship with Langmaid, who shies away from all publicity duties, but will say, “We’re very childish. We revert to eight-year-olds when we’re together. We pinch each other and chat shit. But it’s a mixture of that and really, really, really intense conversations. Then we go back to being stupid again.”
The duo derived their name — French for ‘red-haired one’ — from Jackson’s trademark ginger quiff, a haircut that’s starting to inspire its fair share of lookalikes.
“There have been a couple,” she confirmed. “I haven’t seen anyone with exactly the same hair, I’m yet to see that. Although [queer tanty-throwing singer] Patrick Wolf’s hair is actually looking quite like mine at the moment.
“I’m noticing it’s getting more like mine — I don’t know if that’s a subconscious thing or what he’s trying to do there…” she trailed off and, perhaps realising another few words could kick-start a pop feud, changed tack.
“What’s weird is, I’m a ginger, but I’ve never fancied a ginger person in my life. I’m really gingerist!”
Her distinctive, androgynous looks weren’t always an asset though — Jackson found herself an easy target for bullies when she was in high school. Happily, she’s now become something of a poster-girl for fellow freaks and geeks.
“One of the most rewarding things anyone’s ever said to me happened a few weeks ago. I was out at a club in London for my friend’s birthday. I was in the bathrooms and these girls came up to me and said, ‘I don’t want to sound like a weird fan, but you looking like you do and being who you are makes me and other girls like me feel like we can be ourselves more.’
“I just thought, ‘Wow. That’s fucking amazing’. I never intended to have that effect on people — I don’t walk out of the house looking like I do and think it’s going to have an effect on anyone. So to have that happen as a knock-on effect is lovely.”
info: La Roux’ Gaelic Club show on September 29 has been moved to the Enmore Theatre. Current ticket holders who bought their tickets via Ticketek do not need to exchange their tickets. Simply turn up on the night with your existing ticket to gain entry. Current ticket holders who bought their tickets via MoshTix will need to collect their tickets from the Enmore Theatre box office on the night of the show. Remaining tickets on sale now. La Roux also play the Parklife Festival, Kippax Lake, October 4.
Details: www.ticketek.com.au (Enmore), www.parklife.com.au