token girl: like a girl, but better

Monday, 18 May 2009

RETURN TO NEW YORK: Interview with Nancy Whang - electroclash muse, jumpsuit ambassador and icon of NYCool


Nancy Whang, today in YSL sweater and carrying not one, but 2 slouchy bags at Bar Italia in Soho is very much still the coolest woman of the international electroclash scene 2002-present. Muse to many, she's the stage-right star of LCD Soundsystem, the voice of Soulwax's Nite Versions and now the perfect pop accompaniment to The Juan MacLean's retro/disco revival. Their new record is about to be my 'sound of the summer' album. Nancy’s currently on tour with Juan and the band doing keys and choruses, but she usually resides in Brooklyn NYC.

Because we only had about 20minutes for the interview after their soundcheck at Madame Jojo’s [where they apparently played an amazing extended version of the already-extended ‘happy house’] and I didn’t have my Dictaphone with me, I forgot to ask her some very important questions, such as, where do your lyrics come from? And you inspire the music, but what inspires you? And can you recommend any jumpsuit outlets?

But never mind. Let the Nancy traxx speak for themselves: [Singing isn't even her real job either! how cool is that.]

Top 5 Nancy traxx!
1. losing my edge with LCD 'i know what you really want'
2. e-talking with SOULWAX 'it's not you, it's the e-talking'
3. happy house with THE JUAN MACLEAN 'launch me into space'
4. NY excuse with SOULWAX 'this is the excuse that you're making, you're making'
5. one day with THE JUAN MACLEAN 'one day baby... i'l
l tell you
what you wanna hear'

How long have you been working with The Juan Maclean?
Well I worked on his first record [Less Than Human, 2005], which was like a solo project for him and there were a couple of tracks that he wanted to have female vocals on so he asked me to sing them. I remember listening to the record again after it was made and thinking, 'Oh my god I'm actually on a lot of that record!' So actually I think I'm on it a lot more than I remember being on it, but that [the first album] was a kinda different thing [to the new one], it wasn't so much singing as being like this 'other instrument'. And then we played a couple of shows together, but that was around when LCD started getting busy so I couldn't really do that much... Then a couple of years ago we started on this record - Juan wanted it to be more pop songs with more of that kind of singing on it and a pop structure.

How did you get into playing music in the first place?
It was through LCD really - most people want to be in a band but I never even played in high school - never wanted to!

How did you get into LCD then? From LDN, Brooklyn in the early 00s looked like the most exciting scene ever - parties and people and bands.
Yeah, well it was a bit like that, but I mean, you know, it was, fun and cool, but it wasn't all concentrated in New York. It was a much smaller group of people and there was also lots of other stuff going on too. Basically I met James (Murphy) years ago through friends and he put together a live band and wanted friends to join him. We were just gonna play a couple of shows maybe over a couple of weekends...

Was it like formal nightclub shows or friends' parties?
The first ever show we played was in London at the Great Eastern Hotel at a Return to New York party. It was crazy, in this amazing hotel and all the people that were there, that we met that day, we've stayed friends with over the years. All of us started out at the same time. [You can read an NME review of one of the early RTNY parties here].

What do you think of your Soulwax collaborations - how do you see them now, in retrospect... after all, they're still the party classics, right?
Well, I don't know really... I can't really listen to 'NY Excuse’ now - the sound of my voice on that is grating to me, but it was really fun to make and you know, for sentimental reasons. But I always hate that song, I don't know why... For the remixes on the Nite Versions, I wasn't there for the recording and they ended up so far from the original versions... [my recording of this bit of the interview on my old mobile phone was really difficult to decipher, but Nancy appears in the Soulwax film Part of the Weekend Never Dies where she speaks about the making of E-Talking and lots more. I can thoroughly recommend it].

I don't even think of the Nite Versions as a remix album now... When they did Any Minute Now, it was really hard for them and they'd been working on it for a long time. They were djing a lot and playing live, but when it came to the record, it was complicated to go back to playing as a rock band - when they were djing...and making dance music... and Any Minute Now is a really good rock record, but Nite Versions was the album they should have made... and they couldn't have made NV without AMN.

What of your musical accomplishments are you most proud of?
Just that I'm doing this at all, really! It wasn't really on my agenda to make music, I think I was just really lucky - met the right people at the right time.

All of these boys (DFA crew, 2ManyDJs, Juan Maclean) dj, don't they? But do you?
I don't - but I think about it all the time. I have a moderately large record collection, but I think I have a kind of mental block against it...hmm I don't know that I could do it... I really don't think I should! I talked to my friends about it and they were like, 'Yeah, it's so easy' and I'm like, 'I don't think it's easy!' I think it's one of the easier things to do for a living, but I don't think it would be. And the other thing is that Juan is a great dj - all these people, all my friends who dj are GREAT djs and I can't even try to do that - and I don't want to because I know that I could never be a 'great' dj - I mean, I might be a GOOD dj, but it's a really different way of listening to music.

On the new album - [which i'd only been able to listen to once by this point...] I hear the The Human League in there, lots of 80s pop references...
Yeah, that was our framework - The Human League were obviously an influence and Kraftwerk are always in the back of our minds and Grace Jones, always.

Did she inspire your jumpsuits as well?
Yes and no. She definitely has amazing style, and a great look and the personality, but actually my friend Mandy made me a jumpsuit first of all. What happened was, I was working in a woodshop building sets and I got tired of having to wear dirty clothes all the time, so then I started changing my clothes when I got to work every day, but that was annoying too, but then I was like, why don't I just put on a coverall and I really enjoyed being in a coverall because it was just one piece, a complete outfit. Then I started looking in second hand shops for jumpsuits to wear on stage.

What were you making?
I was making window displays for stores... So yeah, powertools!

What's been your favourite gig?
We've only been playing a bit - last year we toured for a couple of months, I feel like we're still practising, so I think it's gonna take a few months to get into it. We're not playing Sonar this year, but maybe next time.

Do have to keep your 'day job' too?
I haven't been working - I could go back to work if I wanted to but I don't really want to but it's nice to NOT work. I may go back, but my job before, when I was a set designer was great because I could be away for a year and come back to it.

Are you a native New Yorker?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon, but I've lived in New York since 1995.

The home of riot grrrl, right?
I never got into that scene even though I was in that region of the country. And I,um, liked boys.

More Juan Maclean: website & myspace

My photos from their brilliant art-rave show in the foyer of Queen Elizabeth Hall at ETHER on 21 April here.

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