Street interview with...The Imogen Styles
by Victoria Elaine Russell
Its Friday, its cold, wet, drunken lads are trying to get their laughing gear around burgers and Hen parties are falling out of crap bars; it’s a stereotypical Manchester evening. Thankfully though, I notice my prey looking ultra smooth and glam outside The Dry Bar, the fantastic, overly talented duo: The Imogen Styles. Both dressing like they mean business; Mr Styles, in a suave suit and pint sized beauty Syma in sultry but formal gear.
It’s difficult to accept Style’s (Main Vocalist) reply of “Yes!...Yes I do!” when I ask if he suffers from nervousness before performing as the stage seems his home where he double claps, pouts and hip shimmies; he’s a born entertainer. A quick chat with Syma (Vocalist and best hip wiggler) confirms my research about her obsession with Madonna is true. She instantly lights up and gushes about her idol (including how she once randomly bought tickets for a Madison Square gig without even batting an eyelid) and I can’t help but admire her love and adoration for this (once upon a time) Pop Queen.
Eager to find out more, I block the entrance to the venue and begin picking their pop brains...
I’ve heard that you’re influenced by bands such as Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys and Human League is this true?
Mr Styles: “I would say from listening to the songs and the influences come through that its very much true ‘cos of our major use of synths and drum machines and I’ve always been attracted to the more darker, lyrical side of bands like Soft Cell the seedy side of life and the melancholy of The Pet Shop Boys as well as the more upbeat things those bands have been known to do”.
What music where you both brought up with?
Syma: “Motown. I’m am a huge disco fan, anything disco, anything remotely connected, but not cheesy disco, you know, like real old school New York disco.”
Mr Styles: “We had a bit of a disco fest before we left the house didn’t we today.”
Syma: “Yes, a bit of Madonna”.
I’ve read a lot that you are obsessed?
Syma: “Oh I know what you’ve done!”
Me: “I’ve been researching you two!”
Syma: “Yes, hugely, hugely and erm I don’t think that she’s influenced me or us musically in anyway but I suppose erm showbiz wise ...”
Mr Styles: “The way she conducts herself and reinvents herself constantly it’s all relevance you know, how many years on.”
Syma: “So Madonna”.
Mr Styles: “For me erm...it was a bit of everything really, Michael Jackson, Queen and then when I was old enough to buy my own stuff it was things like The Pet Shop Boys and Kate Bush and Erasure, a lot of the synthy electro stuff that er...made you dance but also the lyrics where often a bit down beat, interesting with the sole juxtaposition of the happy sort of dancey club music and miserable as a more seedy side”.
Syma: “Songs with narratives”.
Mr Styles: “Yeah songs with narrative are always interesting yeah”.
So do you think those influences show through the music you produce now?
Mr Styles: “I’d say our stuff is a bit more stream of consciousness maybe rather than a direct narrative generally speaking”.
Syma: “I think the videos are defiantly influenced by that MTV era really.”
The duo has a well known track called “Stuarts Missing” so I had to ask...Have you found Stuart yet?
Mr Styles: “Sadly, still looking...still looking...”
Me: “You haven’t found him yet?!”
Mr Styles: “Think we’ll be looking for him for quite some time!”
Me: “Ha ha yeah? And what’s that song about or...can’t you say?!
Syma: “Dun dun dunnnn”!!!
Me: “What have you done with him?!”
Mr Styles: “Well its influenced by a story many years ago on the news and I was trying to think of a song that Syma could front ‘cos it was mainly me doing the vocal, so I sort of played around the themes of a missing child which is often quite an upsetting er...well its always upsetting for the parents involved. But made it into a darker sort of...like almost like an open question really, does it actually ever get resolved? The way that Syma fronts the song, are you wondering whether she’s had anything to do with experience of this Stuart, who is Stuart to her? There are lots of things you can read into it...my mother does.”
Syma: “Number one fan!”
Where does the band name come from?
Mr Styles: “Erm again I started the band on my own, a few years ago and it was just me on my own. And er...like Mike Skinner, it was just his name initially as a singer/songwriter; he then gave himself a band name The Streets so I decided to do the same thing when it was just me on my own. And then eventually Syma joined in and that’s what happened”.
So why did you want to bring another person into the band?
Mr Styles: “Well initially I brought two people into the band because I was aware that it was a very still quite, an unusual proposition in the recent scene of Manchester anyway in that we don’t have a band, it is just us two, a projector and a laptop, a smoke machine and some banners. It’s a Top of the Pops type fortress erm... so to be able to pad out the stage a bit, because it was exhausting trying to structure the stage on my own, I thought if I brought a couple of people in that would be an idea so we had Syma and our friend Tim but he decided to leave the band...he wasn’t forced! But no Tim’s still playing things he just decided that being a keyboardist in a band wasn’t really for him. We haven’t actually got a musician as such in the band anymore; no instruments on stage anymore and I quite like that”.
Syma: “I like that”.
Me: “Yeah I like that”.
Mr Styles: “Thank you!”
Are there any artists you like but too ashamed to publicly admit?
Mr Styles: “Never be ashamed of music taste...never ever. I mean if people laugh at you then it’s only due to the culture of their own tastes themselves more than likely”.
Syma: “I mean you’re the sum of your own experiences aren’t you and every time you listen to something or are influenced in some way...”
Mr Styles: “Even if you think I never want to hear that record again...”
Syma: “It alters you on a molecular level I think”.
Me: “Good answer!”
Mr Styles: “That’s why she’s in the band!”
Have you ever sacrificed anything to be a singer/artist?
Mr Styles: “Well apart from time and money!”
Syma: “Your virginity we had to sell a few times”.
Mr Styles: “Quite a few times yes! At this sort of level, were lucky enough to be getting headline gigs in Manchester, the only things you are sacrificing are you know, your free time to be able to make your set as good as possible and if you’re not willing to make those sacrifices then you probably wanna think whether you want to be in a band. You’re not going to make any money on this level it’s not about making money, it’s about doing it for the love of it and also trying to get people onside and hopefully widen your fan base”.
What would you be if you weren’t a singer?
Syma: “Erm...I think I’d be a bra fitter for Miss World”.
Mr Styles: “She probably would be...and I’d be employed as the photographer for the bra fitter of Miss World so we can re-live the moments over and over again”.
Me: “Ha! Good...that’s...good”.
Where do you see yourselves in a year time?
Mr Styles: “Well next year we’re hoping to release our first debut single, so were writing that at the moment, quite excited about that. It all depends really, if we’re still getting the reactions that we are when were performing and people seem to be into the music, hopefully play larger venues than this”.
Syma: “And different cities”.
Mr Styles: “We want to try do London as well”.
Syma: “And Berlin as well”.
Mr Styles: “The music we play on the synths is pretty much tailor made for electro clubs...who knows!”
What do you think of programmes like The X Factor?
Syma: “Oh I don’t watch it”.
Mr Styles: “I’m all for it in that it’s not about music, it’s an entertainment show; it’s like panto. It is what it is. For instance with the whole fag ash breath incident, that was panto; it was nothing to do with music or constructive criticism it was two people fighting on TV, but it is entertaining. As long as you know you are watching it for that reason and not thinking you’re are going to find the next world super star, its fine, it has its place.”
Syma: “The worlds certainly big enough though for a range of taste isn’t it”.
Mr Styles: “The only danger is that is the world’s biggest music show on telly; we don’t have Top of the Pops anymore”.
Syma: “Or Opportunity Knocks”.
Mr Styles: “Erm...What else, we’ve got Britain’s Got Talent I suppose but there isn’t really enough platforms out there for bands of our level really to try get their music out there and it’s an uphill struggle but that’s what we do”.
If you had to have a meal with three singers who would they be?
Syma: “Oh my...erm ooh I’d like to have a conversation with Kate Bush!”
Mr Styles: “Right so we’re having Bush. Jarvis Cockers always good value isn’t he? Who we gonna have as a third?”
Syma: “Well you know who’s got a key to my door any day of the week”.
Mr Styles: “And Madonna then”.
Syma: “Breakfast, lunch, tea...whatever she’ll stay for actually”.
What’s the worst gig you’ve ever done?
Syma: “Probably the first one at The Fringe”.
Mr Styles: “Yeah the first time we ever played a gig as a trio as it was then. We explained what we needed, a projector etc, a lot of stage stuff and we weren’t given any space to set up and we had about a square meter each to stand on ...I almost fell of stage a couple of times”.
Syma: “It was a nightmare”.
Mr Styles: “But again because we are such a unique band no one actually believes you when we say we need a lot of space”.
Syma: “We had some comments as well from some instrumental players”.
Mr Styles: “Saying here’s some real music!”
What do you like most about performing?
Me: “Good wiggle too”.
Mr Styles: “I like...the alcohol afterwards. Between us we’ve practised and written these songs and it’s just good to be able to give them a live airing just to be able to let them develop. When I recorded a demo and we stopped working on it, it completely develops the more we do work on it”.
Syma: “It takes on its own persona”.
Mr Styles: “And I’m sure some stuff we do tonight will eventually be tweaked and changed again, it’s all about developing what we do”.
Syma: (Sarcastically) “He’s not precious about the music at all”.
Mr Styles: “I’m protective but I’m not precious, if anything needs to be changed it can be changed for the good of the song”.
So do you write all the songs or do both of you write?
Syma: “He writes all the songs”.
Mr Styles: “Well, so far I write the songs, do the videos, the websites, do the promo and Syma brings the eroticism”.
Syma: “It is my only job”.
Mr Styles: “It’s hard work! It’s time consuming but it’s something that I enjoy”.
What’s the bands favourite song you’ve written?
Syma: “I really like Support the Arts actually”.
Mr Styles: “Ermm as a piece of work I like Stuarts Missing but as a pop song I like Daddy was a Dancer. But we’ve got some more coming up which I’m very excited about, got a new one tonight called Debbie , first song so yeah we’ll see how that goes”.
Are you listening to any bands at the minute?
Syma: “A bit of Gossip actually”.
Mr Styles: “I’ve been listening to a lot of Citizens their debut albums very, very good, erm...Pop song wise erm...A.M.E song Play The Game Boy is excellent and Britt Love single that’s released on SoundCloud that’s fantastic as well”.
OK last question then I’ll leave you alone! Who would play you in a film?
Syma: “Definitely not Madonna!”
Mr Styles: “I haven’t really thought of that one at all! Erm...Ralf Little?! Ha ha!”
Syma: “Eva Longoria!”
Me: “Ralf Little?!”
Mr Styles: “Ha! I suppose he’s got the sort of slightly gorky expression ha ha ha!”
Mr Styles: “Is that alright for you Vicky?”
Me: “That’s brilliant thanks so much”.
I had to hold onto the railings to stop myself doing a Wayne’s World style praise to them as I just LOVE how their gig starts. Picture this: smoke machine, a projector and two large banners (with “The Imogen Styles” printed on them) at either side of the stage and these two little entertaining gems hidden behind them. Drop in an intro of someone repeating “The music’s all on tape, it’s just pop music” with a perfectly timed concoction of: an old school electro track and a well spoken female voice saying the words that appear on the boards the pair are holding, some being: “Its Dark pop” “English pop” “Lit pop”, “Dance step”, “Hot sweat”, “Clit pop”, “Dick pop”, “It’s New wave” “Nu rave” “Get wet” “Reset”....I think they like their pop. After all the “pop” the pair appear in a mist of smoke and Chris’ loud voice (that could awaken The Lost Boys) fills the room “We are The Imogen Styles”! They kick into their new track “Debbie” along with images of Debbie Drake working out 1950’s style behind them. Within seconds I’m singing along “D...e...b...b...i...e”.
Watching these is like watching a darker late night version of Top of the Pops; they’re a powerful pop beast with speckles of amusement and glints of influences from the Pet Shop Boys and Human League. But don’t be fooled by their initial bubble gum pop appearance, yeah they’re beautiful and intriguing to watch but their seemingly light hearted “poppy” songs are dark layered; especially “Stuarts Missing” which will NOT get out of my nugget. They’re very much “Oooh who are they?” like one of those bands you come across whilst watching Beavis and Butthead. They’re pop genius’ that have it right on the mark; its erotic, incredibly entertaining and with the deep throbbing, chest thudding electro bass it’s actually impossible to not be moved by their curious, unique performance. I’m a big fan of watching performers get carried away with their music and this is a first class, gold star, double clap, prime example of this. Although I want to chain them to The Dry Bar and cherish them always I do feel they would fit in nicely in a deep dark club in Berlin.
When Style’s informed me he does e-v-e-r-t-h-i-n-g with regards to: writing the unbelievably catchy songs, producing the music videos, creating all the promotional work and designing the stage settings, it was hard to not admire their determined and ambitious brains for putting all their pop filled souls into everything. Not even falling into a tub of molten metal would stop this eager pair; they’re a combination of Dolly Parton and the Terminator; wired and never stopping.
I leave the venue with a soggy notepad and a huge grin. Days have passed and I’m STILL humming “Daddy was a Dancer” around the house to my confused looking housemates. This is one of the...in fact, if not THE most entertaining bands I have seen in a long time. I strongly recommend catching them and checking out their Facebook Fan page and website for details of their gigs in the New Year.
Magazine unless otherwise stated.
All Interviews by Alex McCann unless otherwise stated
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