Here There Be Dragonette
The New Deal’s Dan Kurtz embraces his fire-breathing Dragonette
“I would imagine there are more than a few TND fans who think Dragonette is the Yoko Ono of The New Deal.” The words are Dan Kurtz’s, and while they’re laced with humour, the feeling is bittersweet.
Dan Kurtz is (or perhaps was, depending how you look at it) the driving, grooving bassist for the livetronica trio, The New Deal. But more recently, Kurtz is half of the electro-pop outfit, Dragonette, that is currently taking the UK by storm.
Despite the fact that Dragonette has not yet released their first album, the buzz surrounding the sexy pop-rockers can be felt across the Atlantic Ocean. Recently, Perez Hilton, Hollywood’s gossip celebrity talked them up on his website, Ryan Stasik lauded them as the band to watch in 2007 and their video on YouTube was one of the most watched videos. Meanwhile, the band is signed to the major label, Mercury Records (a subsidiary of Universal) and they have already toured with none other than Duran Duran and New Order. It is the stuff that movies are made of, the stuff that rocker-kids dream of.
An unlikely beginning
Dragonette was unintentionally spawned by a hiatus. In this case, The New Deal (TND) intended it to be just that, a break. Together with Darren Shearer and Jamie Shields, Kurtz embraced the opportunity for a musical break, in the hopes it would re-inspire. He explains their thinking. “The decision TND made a few years ago to substantially scale back our touring, created a big swath of spare time in 2004. All of us got really burned out on the road and weren't really having much fun playing in TND by 2003. So we'd decided to play just the number of shows that would keep us focused and excited to be playing together, which is what we've been doing ever since.”
That big swath of spare time became the fertile creative space for the then-unnamed Dragonette to grow. “Dragonette started at that coincidence of that hiatus in 2004 and my marriage to Martina the previous summer. I had little to do musically after producing a record for Sarah Slean in March 2004. I built up a little studio in our house, where after messing around with a New Deal-y kind of track I asked Martina to try writing and singing on it. I'd kind of been hoping that she and I would be able to make some music together, if not for the simple reason that I wasn't all that keen on the two of us having two separate musical careers that would keep us apart for the better part of our lives together.”
It wasn’t the first time Kurtz had collaborated with his partner. Martina Sorbara, is no newcomer to the music world. Prior to meeting Kurtz, Sobara’s sweet strumming earned her a label deal with Nettwerk. It was through her singer-songwriter career that Sorbara met Kurtz at an East Coast festival, where both were performing. It was an unlikely blend of girly folk and beat-heavy dance-music, but serendipity must have had a hand because Sorbara went on to contribute to TND’s 2003 album, with the possibly ironic title, Gone Gone Gone.
That is the fear of TND fans – that the bassist, Kurtz who is currently embracing his inner pop-diva, may not return. Many fear that it means the end of TND or at the very least, with a different bassist, TND will never be the same. With every new success that Dragonette enjoys, Kurtz slips further away from TND.
Success at a fiery pace
The successes have been fast and furious for Dragonette already. Kurtz laughs when I express my astonishment over their good fortune. He attributes it to having a good sound but also acknowledges their good luck. Indeed it seems so. The right time and place is the elusive hand dealt only to a fortunate few. In Dragonette’s case, industry connections and a commercial sound were nicely thrown into the mix.
From their basement in Toronto, Sorbara and Kurtz wrote their pop songs, sending them to Neil Harris, an old friend who had originally signed TND with the label, Jive Electro.
TND on Jive was a flop – they ended up having much more success going it alone with their custom TND label, Sound + Light Records. But for Dragonette, a few years later, that connection with Harris was the big push that got the ball rolling at an uncontrollable speed.
Harris, who was no longer with Jive, immediately liked their sound, agreed to manage them and mentioned them to his colleague at the UK’s Mercury Records. And when Duran Duran came looking for an opener for their North American tour, after having Harris’ other band, Scissor Sisters open for them in the UK, Harris was happy to pass along Dragonette’s promo EP.
With so much happening so fast, Dragonette was caught off-guard. They didn’t even have a band name yet, having played their Toronto gigs under the forgettable title, “The Fuzz.” Kurtz describes the hurried process of naming his band, “Dragonette got its name just before the Duran tour (in part because we needed a real name by then!). And though it feels meaningful to us now, I have to confess that the name came simply from Martina inadvertently naming her iPod "Dragonette." I liked how the word looked. It now makes sense…Martina's a fire-breathing lead singer in a rock band, but we didn't think of it at the time!”
After their high profile Duran Duran tour and a signing with the pop-loving British label, the husband-wife team packed up shop, embracing the opportunity to live in the UK and convincing fellow Canadian and drummer, Joel Stouffer to move with them. After recruiting guitarist Will Stapleton, whom they met in London, the band played a few highly acclaimed gigs and headed straight into the studio. Almost immediately, Dragonette became major-label royalty, with a team of almost 30 people working for them booking, planning, promoting. By the sounds of it, the only thing Dragonette had to do by themselves, was hold on to their accents.
Sex, pop and good looks sell
Dragonette, the now live pop phenomenon, has Martina, the fire-breathing vocalist, as its focal point. Embracing the glamour, the band dives into the visual aspect of their performances, complementing the fun, racy lyrics with fabulous outfits, ultra-suave boys and a white-hot glittering Sorbara, front and centre.
For Kurtz, writing pop songs with Sorbara, after his years in TND’s instrumental electronica, is a refreshing reprieve. Add that to talking, writing and singing about sex, and you can understand why Kurtz hasn’t turned back. “Witty songs about sex are really fun songs to write and perform. People like them for any number of reasons, whether they’re explicit or innuendo. And for Martina, lyrics are critically important to her because she comes from loving country music, old-school Dolly Parton songs, which are smart and tell stories. It’s coming from an authentic place, with an easy subject to write good songs about. Its fun and it’s challenging. It has worked mostly in our favour but sometimes people get offended.”
Their first single, “I Get Around,” is a good example. The catchy synth-stormer is hook laden with blatant lyrics about a one night stand. To top it off, the androgynous suggestive music video was filmed at Toronto sex club, Wicked. Both the song and video, are overflowing with deliciously naughty ideas. It simply will not go unnoticed.
The same goes for their press photos, one featuring a barely dressed Sorbara (if gloves count) with three understated band mates. While the band is clearly having fun with it, Kurtz is concerned about finding a balance in their image. “I think we’re actually sensitive to not being a band that is just about sex, because it’s really not that way at all. We’ve actually thought about toning down some of the pictures just to avoid having people write us off as a band with a chick who wears next to nothing But it has been fun, dressing up and being somebody else for a night sometimes.”
Dragonette plans to release “I Get Around” this month and the album Galore in July, 2007. Together with those big plans are also a second single and music video later this year and hopefully, a North American tour. In the meanwhile, over the coming months, Dragonette will spend its days touring radio stations, charming photographers and interviewers and its nights playing shows or losing sleep.
Alongside Kurtz’s excitement over Dragonette’s future is a concern over the uncertainty of TND, a band that has been a large part of his life for almost ten years. “I was trying to fit in TND as much as I could into my schedule. I actually just had to cancel all those California shows in May which was really, really tough for me. We’re figuring out how to resolve that. I think that the guys may play with somebody else them till I can come back.” [Editor’s note: this has indeed happened as Jamie Shields and Darren Shearer will perform with STS9’s David Murphy as The Join].
Kurtz plays it safe when asked his dream for Dragonette. Unwilling to forecast too far into the future, he laughs when I suggest a private jet and opts for something a bit more attainable. “The dream for this year would be that we play to a large room full of people who know all the lyrics to our songs.”