Martina Sorbara of Dragonette talks her new solo album, recent song resurgences, touring and playing D.C.’s own Union Stage.
After six years, Martina Sorbara is reintroducing herself with her first solo studio album, “Twennies.” For 11 years, Dragonette was a Canadian three-piece electro-pop group with Sorbara as the frontwoman. After her marriage with ex-collaborator Dan Kurtz ended, Sorbara made a choice to continue Dragonette, reclaiming the name as her own.
Now, the artist is shaking the past and making music that is truly all her own. It doesn’t need to follow a specific formula and it certainly doesn’t need to be a radio hit for it to be good. Her ten-track synthy debut record demonstrates Sorbara’s newfound individuality, with self-aware tracks like “Seasick,” or even the single-girl anthem “T-Shirt.”
Even though the artist is beginning anew, prior to releasing this project, Dragonette has proved herself many times over. Most recently, her most famous collaboration with Martin Solveig, “Hello,” released in 2010, landed back on the Billboard charts last year after being featured in a “Ted Lasso” episode. After collaborating with The Knocks and Galantis and countless other artists, the artist has solidified herself as an electropop powerhouse.
Ahead of her show at Union Stage on March 23, District Fray spoke with Sorbara about her debut album as a solo artist, honest songwriting, going on tour with Teagan and Sara and her own tour for “Twennies.”
District Fray: It’s been six years since you released your last album “Royal Blues” with the band. I wanted to start here because since then, you have worked many different projects and released singles, but this, in a way, is your solo debut. What made you decide to release “Twennies” last year?
Martina Sorbara: I didn’t actually know what Dragonette was gonna be. I spent a lot of the interim years fighting with other people and releasing songs that I’m proud of, and that I love. I don’t know, I thought maybe I’d be a feature artist forever. But when I wrote this record, it felt like the songs were so me and my voice. And at first, I thought, “Oh, is this not Dragonette?” Writing these new songs in the isolation of just being by myself imagining this band, it just felt like I was changing the story in a way that needed to be changed. That I was taking ownership over this thing. I wasn’t really interested in making a Dragonette record that was trying to be a certain kind of electropop, I just wanted to write songs. So, that’s what I did.
What made you decide to continue with the name Dragonette on your own?
This thing I had worked so hard on for 15 years, it felt like I can either walk and let it disintegrate or I could lay this new outfit on it. It’s not even that different. Just for me, the process was different — the feeling I had around guiding and imagining I can do anything I want. It’s just me. It felt so freeing. Like the song “Good Intentions,” that’s the first song I wrote with producer Dan Farber. And I wrote that one quite a long time ago, and I loved it so much. But I was like, “Too bad this isn’t really a Dragonette song.” And so then when we started writing more songs when the band was just my band, and I was like, “I can do whatever the fuck I want.” I just felt beholden to, you know, a different story.
Why did you feel that you needed to stick to like a certain formula for Dragonette?
Maybe it was just a creative dynamic. I’ve literally never told this story ever, but I remember one time, I was writing a song that was what I wanted to do. And my ex-collaborator walked into the room where I was writing, and said, “Why do we write songs like ‘Hello’ for other people and not for us?” Basically kicking the shit out of my creative soul. “Why are you doing that for other people and don’t write us radio hits?” I think previous Dragonette records have a lot of wacky tangents on them. And this one’s kind of the same, but I just feel like this is my record. I think for certain people writing a radio song is maybe totally reasonable pressure. But I’m like, I don’t listen to the radio. I respect pop music. I love pop music. But the kind of pop music I write is not straight down the middle, and trying to land on the radio for me has never worked. And I don’t care.
I wanted to talk about your song “T-Shirt” and your songwriting process. I love the hook in your chorus and I love the way you wrote about intimacy or lack thereof. What does your songwriting process typically look like, especially when writing such self-aware tracks?
It’s depends on who I’m writing with. But a lot of the time you say the words that sound good. And then you feel what they mean. And for me, a lot of it takes my subconscious paying attention to how I feel. And this is the story that’s happening inside of you. I feel like I do write a different kind of song when I’m just me by myself in the studio, because I don’t have to explain what I’m trying to say to anybody.
Your song with The Knocks, “Slow Song,” is getting a lot of attention with 10 million streams since it came out about a year ago. Tell me about working with The Knocks and your songwriting process here.
We had been passing songs back and forth a little bit. And then that song, I had a melody and I worked it out by myself. It started out as the lyrics, “You can play me like a slow song,” and it just didn’t feel true to me. I was trying to fit in the story of like, “I’m gonna let this player play me.” This happens often — the song is playing in the background of everything you’re doing when you’re writing it, like you go to bed, you wake up and the song is playing, and it’s kind of working itself out. Then all of a sudden, I was like, “No, I’m gonna play you.” And it was like in the matrix. All the words suddenly clicked into place. And we were like, “Oh, we’re done. Everything makes sense.” [Originally] it didn’t feel true to me. Like, I was like, “Oh, this is a thing people think about sometimes.” But yeah, it wasn’t true to me. That’s not how I live my life.
Can you tell me a little bit about how that felt to see people fall in love with that “Hello” again after it was featured on “Ted Lasso”?
It was actually more gratifying than the first time. It’s graduated to like, a classic. The first time around, I was like, “Whoa, this is a huge song.” But you know, huge songs come and go, and then they’re forgotten. But to have a song come back and be in the world again, it feels that it’s legit. It’s like classics territory.
How does it feel to solo your headline tour for this album?
It feels so crazy. Like, how different the landscape feels and I don’t even know why. That has a lot to do with how people interact with the bands they love, and social media being so important and people kind of forgetting about live music a bit during COVID-19. I’m excited, but sometimes I’m like, “Am I just going on tour so I can get social media content?” I mean, I know why I’m going: because I f–king love performing. There’s no other options; I can’t get that feeling somewhere else.
You just announced you are opening for Teagan and Sara on their “Cry Baby” tour amidst your own “Twennies” tour. Tell me about that, your relationship with Teagan and Sara and how you’re feeling about opening for them.
I am really good friends with Sarah (not that I’m not friends with Tegan). Me and Sarah just started hanging out a bunch really, really early on in both of our careers. We’ve just kind of been each other’s sounding board for the past 20 years. I’m so excited to be touring with a friend. But I realized I’ve never done that before. I always end up becoming friends with people that open for us, or that we opened for and we had some really hilarious, fun times. And so, the difference is now that we’re already tight, but we’ve never toured together before, which is kind of hilarious. We’ve just heard all of each other’s tour stories for the past 20 years.
Are you excited to be performing in D.C. at Union Stage? How have you liked playing D.C. in the past?
We’ve always had really fun shows there. I’ve always enjoyed myself. I have a memory of very early on going to play there. I think it was our first time playing there, but the venue felt too big. And I just have a memory of being like, “Oh my God, we have an audience here. They’re all here. And they are all loving it.” There’s a feeling of gratification and relief.
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