La Roux interview: ‘Where’s the fucking melody?’

Cooler-than-thou musicians, beware: La Roux has returned to bring the pride back to pop. Singer Elly Jackson sets us right about songcraft, splits and the solitary life

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© Simon Procter

It’s easy to pick out Elly Jackson in a busy restaurant. Scan the hairdos, wait till you see a barnet shaped like a frozen wave of Fanta, and proceed. It’s just as easy to flat-out adore the 26-year-old behind hits like ‘In for the Kill’, ‘Bulletproof’ and new LP, ‘Trouble in Paradise’.

She’s the real deal: a smart and canny songwriter with a devastating ear for hooks, who boasts a mean falsetto and sings like she truly means it. Quirky enough to elicit serious devotion from fans, both here and and in America, yet accessible enough for the charts, she’s a proper popstar, with proper popstar hair to prove it.

It’s been a while since le quiff de La Roux has been on show. Since going on hiatus in 2011, Jackson has parted ways with former bandmate Ben Langmaid, lost her voice through anxiety and spent nearly every waking hour of the last two years in the studio. The results are more than worth the wait. The album builds on the electropop of her debut, via excursions into deep, slow and sultry disco. At the same time, all that hard work has created an almost gasping need to talk about the last few years, to the point of some (good-natured) fist-slamming and finger-jabbing of our poor table. As if she didn’t stand out enough.

After the success of the last album, did you consider moving on from pop?
‘Not at all, I like the ambition of making pop. Underground music gets all the respect and critical acclaim, yet the stuff which sells shitloads of records doesn’t. It’s the challenge of writing music that’s quality, but is also pop, that I want to take on.’

What’s your beef with underground music?
‘There are too many underground records! I’m sick of people saying: “That record was so great” and yet it only sells 4,000 copies. I don’t see what’s cool about not writing hooks: if you’re really fucking clever, where’s the fucking melody that I can remember? I woke up today and I forgot your whole album – genius! I don’t get it.’

So what is it about pop that draws you to it?
‘I’ve just always loved it more than anything else. Every song is like a fairground. They have the ability to go somewhere else. Like when middle eights go a bit weird and a little less poppy, so when the chorus comes back there’s that huge relief. It’s what I love about George Michael: his insane ability to arrange, write hooks, riffs and top lines, plus have an incredible voice.’

Does it frustrate you that pop musicians like him don’t get that recognition?
‘That’s the problem. The assumption is you’re a manufactured artist who doesn’t write, can maybe play a few basic piano chords and just sings the topline. No one thinks that you arrange your entire record, like George Michael did and like Prince does. I’d love to be able to say “I’m a pop singer” and not have people reply “Are you one of those singers from ‘The X Factor’?”. That’s the shit bit.’

Maybe work an earnest, acoustic guitar segment into your shows, just to show off.
‘Well, I play all the guitar on my records. I don’t feel like I need to prove it. I’ve told interviewers in the past that I write the synth parts, for example, and they ignore me. They assume because I’m a girl that what I say can’t actually have happened. It’s frustrating, but you can’t keep shouting.’

A similar thing happened recently when people claimed Dolly Parton mimed at Glastonbury.
‘That was just insulting. I hate that people who actually are miming never get done for it. People who are far richer than I am. It’s fucked up.’

‘I love writing lyrics that act as a secret language’

© Simon Procter


La Roux started as a duo, but Ben Langmaid appeared to quit this year. What happened?
‘Ben went to work on other things, stuff like “The Voice”, and I wasn’t particularly impressed. I still don’t understand it. There was a massive age difference between us too, and when some people get older they can get set in their ways. I was the most malleable person ever.’

Why have you played so few live shows since 2011?
‘I didn’t really want anyone to see us developing.  Also, it’s so expensive to get your crap out of a lock-up and do shows. We were fucking broke. I bought a house on radio play but I didn’t make a single penny from record sales. I don’t have much money now, but that’s fine. I only care because it made rehearsing hard.’

Do you relish using your lyrics as discreet messages to certain people?
‘Definitely. I love writing lyrics that act as a secret language. Ben used to say that a song is like a noticeboard: “I didn’t tell you on the phone, but…”. It’s cheeky if nothing else, but the one person you want to understand it always understands it, and that’s quite empowering. But I’ve also written stuff that meant a lot to me and got no response whatsoever. When they play the power game back, you want to kill somebody.’

Being a pop star must make it easy to meet great people now though?
‘You wouldn’t believe how simple my life is; I might as well live in a cupboard. I’m a bit of a loner, which I sing about on [album closer] “The Feeling”. I meet people, they’re lovely, but I’m just done, really.’

You know what’s good for meeting people? Social media! Have you ever thought of cultivating a fan base, like Gaga or Katy Perry?
[Laughs]. ‘No. My fans are delightful, but some want to have a conversation with you 24 hours a day. I’d understand if I’d been like that as a kid, but I’ve always just been happy listening to the CD, reading the booklet, looking at the pictures. I could drift off into fantasy land for three hours looking at Michael Jackson sleeves. I didn’t need anything else!’

‘Trouble in Paradise’ is out now – read our review here and buy the album here.

See La Roux live

Latitude Festival

  • Critics choice

Alt-J, Portishead, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Manic Street Preachers, Caribou, James Blake, Laura Marling, Wild Beasts, Jon Hopkins, The Vaccines, SBTRKT, La Roux, Public Service Broadcasting, Savages, Sun Kil Moon + more. Celebrating its tenth year in 2015, Latitude is among the most successful of the new generation of festivals thanks to its

  1. Henham Park Southwold, Suffolk, NR34 8AN
  2. Thu Jul 16 - Sun Jul 19
Buy tickets


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See La Roux live

Latitude Festival

  • Critics choice

Alt-J, Portishead, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Manic Street

  1. Henham Park Southwold, Suffolk, NR34 8AN
  2. Thu Jul 16 - Sun Jul 19
Buy tickets

Listen to 'Trouble in Paradise' on Spotify

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