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A Quietus Interview

Kicking Against The Pricks: Uffie On Sex Dreams & Denim Jeans
John Doran , July 15th, 2010 02:47

Uffie's got something misogynists can kiss says John Doran, who is not, like, that bothered that she used to date her producer, or whatever...

Uffie, many will probably be disappointed to read, comes across as a relatively likeable person. Not particularly dense or craven or snide… just, you know, someone releasing a pop record slightly later than expected. Sex Dreams & Denim Jeans is a very enjoyable rather than earth-shattering debut with the oldest song ‘Pop The Glock’ being one of the least satisfying tracks on offer. Outshining this are the Pharrell collaboration ‘ADD SUV’, the title track which is based round an audacious Velvet Underground sample, a cover of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ ‘Hong Kong Garden’, a great Rapture collab ‘Illusion Of Love’ and the drop dead smooth, power ballad riffing ‘First Love’. She doesn't know where the sample from 'First Love' comes from. But she freely admits it and obviously doesn't give a shit. (It's from F.R. David's 1987 stateside hit 'Don't Go'. I didn't know either until I asked someone on the internet.)

But it’s this kind of detail, added to the fact that she’s from money, has moved round a lot, is young and good looking and signed to hipster label Ed Banger, that is being used to justify an unpleasant amount of vitriolic misogyny being aimed in her direction.

It’s interesting that she’s covered ‘Hong Kong Garden’ as in a way, Uffie comes from the same stock as Siouxsie Sioux: both started as middle class, hipster dilettante, trendy club kids. Except Sioux was begrudgingly given enough room (by the old boy network of the music press) to prove herself a true star, brushed lightly with genius. Now, I’m not claiming that Uffie is likely to make a similar mark (in fact I think it’s highly unlikely) but it’s pretty shocking that she'll never be granted the oportunity. In fact it's pretty shocking to see how much ground has been lost since the late 70s; and not just in terms of the popular reach of feminism but in terms of plain common decency as well. Who cares if she used to date her producer Feadz? (This is a rhetorical question: google reveals that quite a lot of people, some of them critics, care about this.) Is this really a good enough reason for painting her as some Satan-grade, devious, cum-crazed, hell bitch?

Probably not, we'd politely suggest.

And while she’s no Lady Gaga, she certainly stands to be compared favourably to Mapei or Amanda Blank and also, currently, to obvious influences Peaches and even Chicks On Speed.

Born Anna-Catherine Hartley in 1987, Uffie (nick-named after the French word for egg by her dad) is a Miami born, Hong Kong raised, Paris based electro pop brat who specializes in obnoxious, studiously lazy club bangers that sound like Tao Lin’s Shoplifting From American Apparel and Brett Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero being intoned through autotune by Peaches and Crookers. Which, y'know, you're allowed not to like. But last time we checked it doesn't give you carte blanche to start talking about her like she's Imelda Marcos crossed with Mata Hari and Margret Thatcher. . . .

Hi Uffie, how are you?

Uffie: I'm great how are you?

I'm just starting on my second mug of espresso today, so I feel fucking great.

U: Me too. I've had three venti Starbucks today already.

That's the one. So, first of all I wanted to say that I'm enjoying the album. It's been a long wait...

U: Definitely. But it was worth it?

Definitely worth it. A lot of surprises on there. I wasn't expecting to hear Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Velvet Underground on it.

U: Yeah.

So I guess first of all, why did it take so long to come out?

U: Many reasons. Mainly touring though. We were on the road pretty much non-stop so it was hard to even get a day or two off a month. And 'Pop The Glock' was the first song I made so I needed a bit of time after that to 'find myself'! And then I had a baby which takes a good 9 months...

How is being a young mum and R&B/pop star? How do you juggle those two things?

U: It's pretty rough with the touring because it's so hard to see the child. But it is pretty nice because it brings some balance into your life. Some normality. [laughs]

Where did the album title come from?

U: The whole album for me kind of represents my youth. So the title kind of said everything to me…

When you're laying down a track like 'MCs Can Kiss' these days, how far away emotionally and spiritually have you travelled from being a young girl who sings or raps in her bedroom. Are you still the same person or are you totally different?

U: Oh, yeah I'm completely the same! Well, maybe a bit more organized now...

Your stage name comes from a nickname your father gave you because you were a rowdy child. Are you still rowdy now and who gets it in the neck?

U: My manager. His life must just be hell. I'm definitely rowdy on tour but not so much at home any more.

Was it because of you and your behaviour at school that you and your father moved to France?

U: No, he actually moved to France because of his work. I came to visit him for a holiday and loved it so I stayed.

How much of an influence has he been on you creatively? What specific examples can you give me?

U: Ammmm. Well, the main thing is that he has always supported anything that I've wanted to do. And musically I grew up around albums by people like Greg Lake, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd. And he was into Rammstein so I guess he gave me a little edge with that.

How was growing up in Hong Kong? What were your friends like? It's a very big city isn't it? What are your memories of the place?

U: Well I guess it must seem strange but it wasn't for me because it was the only thing I knew. But it's a really lovely city, probably my favourite. I remember going out to the markets when I was a kid and being fine. It's really beautiful. There are islands around it, so you can escape out of the big city and the pollution if you need to.

It's very safe for somewhere that big isn't it?

U: I think so yeah. I mean, my parents let me run around there but I don't know.

Was the inclusion of Siouxsie and the Banshees' 'Hong Kong Garden' in anyway a tribute?

U: Ah... well, I love the song anyway, so I chose it because of that... and it always surprises me how few people know it, so I thought it would be fun. And I also wanted to play something from the rock side and I thought this would be good. And also... it's a tribute to living in the city.

It's very interesting that you split the vote completely. People either love or hate Uffie, there's no in-between with you.

U: It's rarely in-between.

Definitely. I was actually interviewing Siouxsie Sioux last year and in a weird sort of way she actually comes from a similar kind of background to you. She was written off by great sections of the press for being a hipster or scenester... little more than just a noticeable fan of The Sex Pistols. Does the hipster tag annoy you...

U: Totally.

...and are you always working to shrug it off?

U: Definitely... When I came out people were always saying: "You're the queen of the hipsters" but I didn't even know what a hipster was. I'm like the nerdy, uncool person, so it's kind of annoying when people are like: "Yeah, one of the cool kids."

Oh do come on! I'm not having that... You're not really nerdy at all!

U: I think I am.

I do think, to be fair, it's next to impossible to define what a hipster is...

U: Someone who shops at American Apparel I think.

You see Uffie, I'm old enough to know that American Apparel's shit clothing is nothing more than this year's United Colors Of Benetton. Those who don't learn from history's mistakes are forced to repeat them Uffie right?

U: ...

So how do you know Pharrell and how was it working with him on 'ADD SUV'?

U: I think when I was 19 I did a show with him in Japan and he was super awesome and he's been one of my favourite artists for a long time... since I was a teenager I guess. And when I was working on ‘ADD’, he was my dream collaborator so I thought 'Well, why not ask. It can't hurt.' And thankfully he did because he did an awesome job! But we weren't able to go into the studio together unfortunately.

Pharrell's a really interesting guy. I like the fact that even though he's taken seriously in hip hop quarters, making beats for Clipse and being part of N*E*R*D, he's also almost like this sensitive indie guy. Like there's something of Morrissey about him almost.

U: Yeah, he's known for this commercial bling hip hop but there is something very arty about him.

But given that 'ADD SUV' is supposed to be poking fun at materialism and that commercial hip hop lifestyle... you know, isn't he a member of the Billionaires' Boys' Club?

U: Oh yeah, that's funny! But I think he banished the bling. I think the guy has gone back to his roots. That's what it feels like. He wasn't wearing any in the video and that's for sure.

So he's retired all of his gold chains?

U: I think so.

So one of the chaps from The Rapture, Matt Safer, is on the album. They were a cool band but they've been away for a while, were you into that whole punk funk scene?

U: It's more like he was one of the first friends that I met who made music. I needed to sample his voice. He's like a little white kid but he has such a soul voice. So this track was really missing something and I knew his voice would be perfect and thankfully he was in town and I just had to call him.

And from the same time a very similar artist to you aesthetically rather than sonically, would be Peaches. Was she an influence on you?

U: Not really. I like her music and I think she's great but not so much an influence.

Who do you see as female role models?

U: I honestly don't have one. I'm the kid who never had posters on their walls and never had idols.

In that case what sort of music do you listen to right now when you're at home?

U: Right now? Franz Ferdinand is on repeat. It must be driving my neighbours crazy.

And who is the best MC at kissing?

U: Oooooh! Hmmmm... You know, I don't think I've ever made out with an MC...


U: You know, when I go on tour I'm going to ask everyone this! I'll find out on tour, maybe make some kind of competition about it.

That sounds like a good idea. Now we've already talked about how you split the vote musically. Personally, I'm a fan of very shiny sounding, futuristic pop music but I can also understand how colleagues of mine who are fans of more 'authentic', gritty sounding hip hop music...

U: [laughing] That's their fetish...

...don't like it.

U: This is all about the gloss on it.

Do you feel like you get competitive heat from other female rappers who get easier press than you? People like Amanda Blank or Mapei?

U: Not really. I mean the thing you have to remember is that I'm not the one who's said that I'm a rapper. Other people have said that. We're in the same scene maybe. Amanda I've known for a long time, we've toured together a lot. All the girls have stood by me.

That's interesting. Do you see yourself as more of a pop artist?

U: No. Definitely not pop. I think I make weirdo music. I'm a weird person and I make weird music. Too me it is way more alternative than pop or hip hop.

Do you spend most of your time in Paris?

U: Yeah. Well, that's where my closet is. That's where my shoes are!

[fire alarm goes off]

Ah, someone's burned the toast downstairs. Sorry about this.

U: [laughs]

The French have a very nationalistic and restrictive radio airplay policy, meaning that have to play mainly French speaking, home grown music on air. Now you're a non-national, English speaking woman, do you still get any radio play?

U: Not so much. Not on the big stations anyway. We were actually discussing this the other day and they [Ed Banger] told me that they didn't want to play Justice [French electro outfit] in the beginning. And things are starting to pick up a little. They are very slow on the radio. Because they have to play something like 90% French music on the air right?!

Yeah, it's crazy. I mean if I'm in France and I listen to the radio I'll like any of the dance music and some of the metal I hear but I'm not too keen on French indie or pop!

U: Yeah, I don't think I want to listen to that all day!

And what we've been discussing today in the office the most: is that really you playing saxophone on ‘MCs Can Kiss’?

U: [as if addressing a simpleton] Of course not!

[laughing] That's such a shame. It's so mad, I thought it might be!

U: Well, live we've got all that on a keytar and I play that live...

A keytar? Well that's even better in some ways. How difficult was it to get a Velvet Underground sample licensed for the title track and do you know if anyone from the band such as Lou Reed has heard the track?

U: Yes he has, he had to clear it. And it was a very not nice experience dealing with him, I have to say.

[smoke alarm goes off again]

[shouting] Well, you do surprise me! I interviewed him a few years ago and he is one of the most miserable bastards I've ever come across...

U: [laughing] I don't know what this guy's problem is but on the credits I think it even says something like he wrote it. He gets everything. [Ed’s note: I couldn’t get a confirmation or denial from Ed Banger and would suggest this statement be taken with a pinch of salt]

[laughing] He is such a fucking cunt!

U: Yeah. I was like, 'I hope I never hear this song again!' afterwards. It was fucking difficult because by that stage I couldn't not use the song. It was difficult but at least he let me use it. And I guess I should be goddamn thankful for that.

After I interviewed him, I felt like I had just come home from a war zone. Like I had post traumatic stress disorder...

U: [laughing] That does sound pretty traumatic.

You've already told me why you've been away for a few years but while you were away do you think the gap of your absence has been filled by other artists such as Lady Gaga... and I have to stress that I don't think they've ripped you off or bitten your style but that you may have created a need for an artist like you to be there?

U: Umm. I think definitely. I was really nervous that I'd missed the train. I definitely think I missed a big opportunity not releasing it much earlier but at the same time I changed the sound of it, evolved it and matured so it's kind of in a new category and I've kind of left that girl group thing behind.

And what should we expect from you in the future? Do you have anything new on the go?

U: I'm actually already back in the studio with Miraz. We've only just started now but you won't have to wait too long.

And how's that going?

U: Awesome. Oh, and I'm making a collection for Diesel so look out for that.

Ok, well it's been a pleasure talking to you.

U: You too. Bye!

Sex Dreams & Denim Jeans is out now on Ed Banger

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