Almost four years after her debut record Hands propelled Little Boots into the limelight, electro-pop songstress Victoria Hesketh has returned with a new album Nocturnes.
Produced by Tim Goldsworthy of DFA Records fame and featuring a host of collaborations that include Andy Butler from Hercules and the Love Affair and Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, Nocturnes is the most personal and “meaningful” statement of Hesketh’s career. With a love for analogue synths and a record bag full of 80’s disco Hesketh has fused her passion for the retro dancefloor into an expansive and distinctly modern pop sound.
With a full video interview for The Vinyl Factory on the way, we thought we’d give you a little preview ahead of the album’s full release on May 5th. From the “craziness” of releasing a successful debut LP on a major label to wrestling control back to start her own for the second, via a worldwide DJ schedule and months of intense studio time, Hesketh charts the story behind Nocturnes and reveals just how important that famous Tenori-on really is.
The Vinyl Factory: It’s been close to four years since your debut album Hands was released. What have you been up to all this time?
Victoria Hesketh: Since the first album came out I’ve been writing a lot. I’ve got so many songs that aren’t on this album which is kind of frustrating in some ways. I’ve been DJing a lot as well. We’ve been touring still, we just toured South America last year for the first time, done some stuff in Asia, you know a lot of the places you don’t get time to go to in the first crazy years, so it’s been cool doing lots of that stuff and seeing those places.
It took me a little while to find the sound and the direction for the album and find the right people to work with, because I wasn’t just going to do the first thing as last time. It was a whole new thing and it takes some trial and error and some time really for things to come together and to kind of collect your head after you’ve been touring and had all this craziness. I’d never put an album out before so I wasn’t expecting any of that stuff. It’s kind of a crazy journey but a good one.
Did all that travelling have an impact on the way Nocturnes has turned out?
I think once you’re in a studio, there’s no windows, you know it’s just like a dark room with another dude, so what’s important is the connection between the two of you, not necessarily where you are.
We recorded the whole album in Bristol and that was really important to get a really cohesive feel and I think you with can hear that it’s recorded in the same place with the same people, drinking the same cups of tea for six weeks. Well, not the same one, but you know… doing the same things and you all get in the same zone.
I didn’t do that with the first record so it was quite important for me to do that this time around so that even though there are all these influences from writing these songs all over the place, it’s all brought together and I think that makes it feel a bit more timeless and a bit more meaningful.
You mention being in a dark room with another dude, but that wasn’t just any old dude, that was Tim Goldsworthy. What was it like working with him?
It was amazing working with Tim [Goldsworthy] and Bruno [Ellingham] as well who worked on the record. He just really understood where I wanted to go with it. It was a very random bunch of demos – you know some of them are super pop songs – and it took a lot of imagination for someone to hear them as they were. If you hear them as they are now some of them have come a long way and so much credit to them for that, that they could hear these songs that maybe didn’t really make sense at the start, and hear where I wanted to take them.
It was amazing and the studio was just like this mad laboratory with all this old analogue gear everywhere, some stuff I’d never even seen or I’d heard a legend that this synth existed and there it would be under this dust and Tim would start patching it in. It was really cool getting to use all that stuff and to see how he reacted and how he finds sounds and where he draws references from – lots of places that I wouldn’t think of – so I was really, really lucky to have worked with those guys and to produce the whole record with them.
Along with all the analogue gear that Tim had in the studio, you’re also surrounded by synths and keyboards here. What equipment do you use to write and record with?
In here this is very much just my home studio, so it’s more an ideas place than a serious recording place. I have my little bits and bobs, but I love toy stuff. I’ve got a lot of old Casios and things that were probably designed as toys. I never really like anything that’s too clever or trying too hard or got too many buttons on it. I like things you can touch and feel. You know I can’t work with those soft synths on Logic that everyone has. It’s not really me, I like to be able to touch stuff.
I’m a big Korg fan and these are all Korgs actually. This is an old PolySix which is kind of like a Juno but meaner; it sounds like a nastier more Russian version without quite being a Russian synth. Here’s my Tenori-on which I got quite known for playing, but I usually just use it as a clock in here if I’m really honest, because it’s not a very practical writing instrument. Most of the time I just write from piano and put some little vocals down and it’s more for just sketching ideas in here.
You’ve started your own label On Repeat Records to release Nocturnes. Why did you decide to avoid going with an established label this time around?
I was with a major label for the first record and the whole reason I’m not now is because they didn’t really support the direction I was going in and there were quite a few times during the first campaign where I felt a bit out of control and maybe wasn’t totally happy with everything. I mean there was a lot of good stuff, but sometimes I felt like I made compromises and I’m just not that kind of artist I don’t think. When I look at all the artists that I respect and I admire, most of them are really independent and just go with their gut and their creative instinct.
Over the last few years I’ve really been trusting myself a lot more and finding that confidence and when it came to label stuff, I could have gone with another more traditional label but after coming out of that set up it just felt like going back into the same thing didn’t really seem to make a lot of sense for me. There didn’t really seem to be a label that would really fit what I wanted to do, [and] I don’t think in the UK there’s a really interesting pop label for example.
Kobalt, who my label runs through, they’ve just done Nick Cave, they’re doing the Pet Shop Boys, they’re doing Maya Jane Coles, some amazing records. I think it’s so artist friendly, you keep all your creative control and all your rights, it’s kind of like a no brainer when you really think about it.
Nocturnes is released on May 5th on On Repeat Records with a limited gatefold vinyl edition due on May 6th courtesy of The Vinyl Factory. Click here for more info and to order a copy.
Look out for our extended video interview with Little Boots next week in which she discusses the records that have had the biggest influence on her new album Nocturnes.