“Now, I don’t have another person [asking], should we have this song in the album? It’s just me being like I want this song, and this song, and this song” says Martina Sorbara with a lighthearted laugh. You probably know her as Dragonette, the electro-pop band that dominated the airwaves in the early 2010s along with contemporaries like Flume, Disclosure, Mura Masa, and The xx. The pop culture zeitgeist has moved forward from the electronic heavy era and naturally, Sorbara has evolved as well releasing her latest album, Twennies, under the self-coined genre of “electro-acoustic”. After Dragonette’s previous album in 2016, Royal Blues, the original creative partnership that started the band dissolved and Sorbara became a solo artist under the same name. She also experienced the life-altering event of becoming a mother, during a time when the world underwent a global change due to the pandemic, which recalibrated her approach to music.
As she candidly points out during our conversation, motherhood isn’t idolized as an enticing characteristic of a female entertainer. The potential of being young, fun, and carefree is much more coveted and oftentimes tied to the period of success that catapulted a female artist into the spotlight in the first place. The latter persona that aligned with Sorbara in the earlier days of Dragonette, when their hits like the Martin Solveig-produced “Hello” were charting worldwide, couldn’t last forever but that doesn’t mean it’s mutually exclusive with her musical identity either. Decisively, she let go of fear and embraced the opportunity for so many firsts—her first project making executive decisions alone, her first habitual experience of album-focused studio sessions, her first time working with Dan Farber (he was the only producer she worked with), and her first time integrating the folk singer/songwriter side of herself with the electronic sound she refined over the last 10 years.
The resulting project explores genres with more flexibility than previous Dragonette records while retaining elements of the electro-synth pop sound the moniker is known for. It’s a wondrous display of Sorbara’s influences stepping into indie, country, pop-rock, and folk-inflected soundscapes for a dynamic listening experience that spans 10 tracks. Sorbara discusses below the small joys she found in the creative process, why she went back to her sonic roots, and how she overcame the fear that being a mother made her less “Dragonette”.
How was the experience of making this album different from your previous ones?
For the first time in my career, this album feels like I participated in the art of making an album. Not that my other albums weren’t albums [but] they were like, “write a song.” I wrote songs and put them together, which is a reasonable thing to do but I’ve never got into the studio, shut the door, lived, and breathed whatever the vibe was. You know when you spend a lot of time with somebody [and] you start having inside jokes and laugh at stupid things that nobody [else] would laugh at? It’s a singular experience and prior to making this album, it was always very open in terms of a lot of things going on that were not the album [such as] touring and life. I would write songs in my house with my ex-partner so things were coming together but filed in between everyday life.
Were there any surprises you came across you came across during the streamlined approach?
It makes the songwriting easier in a way because you’re not pulling yourself out of everyday life to be creative. You’re already in that mode. It was winter [when we wrote the album] and every day I made us this potion. I would fill [a big Mason jar] with turmeric, lemon, ginger, and cayenne tea. Partly because I was so sick but it was these things that would be habitual and get us in the mind frame [of being creative]. I’m so excited that I finally had that experience because I know that’s how most musicians [make their music, they] go into a studio and write an album. I was like, how much music have I written and [how] many albums have I made and I’ve never actually had that experience.
You’ve said Twennies is a hybrid of your childhood influences and what you’ve learned along the way. Can you give me an example of how that manifested on the album?
My albums historically have had a patchwork of genres on [them]. I started off [being influenced by] folk and jazz—really songwriter-y and strummy. When I started Dragonette, I was trying to dress it up like this electronic pop music. The intention was trying to obscure it with a thousand bells and whistles and it was exciting for me because until then, everything I wrote was very acoustic. All of the decorations on top were exciting and new. Now, what I mean by representing my past and where I came from is not obscuring it and letting it also be there because that’s what I am. Electro-inspired pop music is also genuinely what I am because I’ve spent half of my musical career immersed in that, but the other stuff is also alive and well.
You’ve grown up under the moniker of “Dragonette” and you’ve openly said becoming a mom felt like a different identity that didn’t naturally overlap with your musical persona. How did you figure out the integration of all parts of yourself for this album?
I had to be a mom for a little bit. I remember when I got pregnant, I was like, “I have to hide it from the audience or something”. I understand now that there is this obsession and coddling of young females in the industry. When you’re a grown-up adult woman for some reason society becomes less interested in what you have to say and your experience. We’re not idolizing women, mothers, and grandmothers for that matter. It was like the fear of merging those things and fear of what I’d lose because I don’t get to be young and party or whatever it is—even though that’s not inherently what I am but I think I have to represent that. I let go of the idea of being “Dragonette” a bit in order to be a mom. I remember the first post on social media I made after having a kid, I [was like in] Bambi legs, being like, “okay, I’m back, is it okay?” It was me letting myself exist as a mom and slowly, being like this has to be [me] as well. I want to do my part in representing moms and women in my industry. I know there are a lot of us, but I don’t think there [is as much representation] we have to always act like we’re young, innocent, and carefree.
In the song “Twennies” you say “the more I get it, the less I want it”, what are you referring to? Fame? Success?
It was a whole bunch of things at once. The first time that line comes in is “All that attention in the end is a distortion / The more I get it, the less I want it, the more I get it.” It sounds like the more attention I get, the more privacy I want but it’s broader than that. The feeling is like the more I understand what it’s gonna take, the more I get it. It’s referring to the slog of what we [are] as artists, we can’t [just] be artists, we have to be entertainers, filmmakers, video editors, comedians, talk show hosts…etc.
You have another line in “Twennies” that goes “Losing my amusement with the audience engagement”. How would you describe your relationship with social media?
I’m actually having a lot of fun with Tik Tok. I’ve been around since MySpace [laughs]. Unless you’re born in [the] 2000s, everyone’s just keeping up. The thing that I try to do is that I’m not taking it seriously and the amount of anxiety I had felt about posting and the hamster wheel of like, is this the right kind of content? It doesn’t matter. Early in my career, social media was not a key piece, now it’s almost the only piece.
What was the concept for the song “Winning”? It stands out sonically as a fusion of acoustic and electro-pop, there’s a background synth in the chorus that is reminiscent of the 2010s era of Flume, Disclosure, Tame Impala..etc
That synth was an example of me wanting to merge my acoustics and [electro-pop influences]. I remember wanting something strobing and giving that, coming-in-from-a-completely-different angle vibe [paired with] the sound that was acoustic and strummy. That day started with a complete freakout moment. When I got to the [studio] session, I was in such a state and I started writing this song. I remembered Danny was like, “what are we trying to say with this chorus?” And I was like [the sentiment] in “Winning” [of] don’t approach my life, everything is great, how dare you even enter my mind. The song was not getting off the ground at all until like 9 PM. We wrote the song over the Phantom of the Opera synth. It was not good. Then we went out to dinner and things shifted. I was dying of the worst cold, my voice was gone and everything was so hard and bad that it shifted itself from the difficult position the song was in. By the end of the song, we were both like, “look what happened” and we’re all madly in love with it.
“Stormy” is one of the more acoustic-heavy songs on the album and you draw a parallel in the lyrics between natural storms and your own emotions. Tell me about the concept of that song and how it came together.
You write a song and it shows you a thing about yourself. Obviously, you have an inkling, I’m not writing that song if it didn’t occur to me that I have stormy emotions but it really showed me. Especially since I’ve been with my partner, Cory, who is the most even-keeled, chill, [and] never-freaks out [person]. This song “Stormy” is a mirror, like, look at you, crazy [laughs]. I’m very emotive.
Your song “Hello” with Martin Solveig was an inescapable hit from the early 2010s and came out during that heyday of vibey electronic music. In your opinion how has the landscape of music shifted since then? Do you think genres or styles have moments that come and go like the cycle of trends in fashion?
When that song was big, Spotify streaming wasn’t really a thing yet. The advent of streaming has obscured the real eras because radio is not really king [anymore]. There’s every kind of playlist [imaginable], I feel like all the genres exist in their bubbles. It’s a more personalized experience for the listener than radio. Yeah, it’s little silos, which is awesome but it also feels diffused as well. Maybe in ten years we’ll look back to this era and know what the real trends were but right now, I can’t tell you.
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