Lovers Lane
ATT Internet 75

Feature: Little Boots • Alliance with Abba

| December 16, 2021

Victoria Hesketh from Little Boots

Long before she conquered overseas charts with her dazzling 2009 dance-pop debut, Hands, British keyboardist/vocalist Victoria Hesketh as Little Boots worked with top-flight talent like current Adele producer Greg Kurstin, who helmed recordings by her all-girl outfit Dead Disco. And even though she just finished producing her upcoming album herself, she still knows the value of a good pair of ears. Or — in her recent dumbfounding stroke of good fortune, two sets of them, belonging to Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus from legendary Swedish supergroup ABBA, which had not only returned unexpectedly this year with a majestic comeback called Voyage but were undertaking an inventive virtual world tour in 2022 and looking to hire an elite ten-member backing band of like-minded pop practitioners. When she passed the ivory-tinkling audition and got the callback, it was one of those fabled Offers You Can’t Refuse, she sighs. So she wrapped bouncy, New Wave-retro material like her latest single “Landline” and has cleared much of her upcoming schedule to accommodate ABBA, which has had a huge London stadium constructed for a sprawling, months-long residency. Nice work if you can get it, purrs Little Boots, proudly, before catching us up on her team-up with her all-time musical heroes.

IE: I must confess — I’m talking to you on an actual landline. I don’t even own a cellphone — I’m just a caveman unfamiliar with your modern ways!

LITTLE BOOTS: That’s great! And so relevant to the new song!

IE: Have you still got a landline, or is it just a metaphor?

LB: Well, I kind of stay in a hotel at the moment, so there is one. But I’m kind of homeless, so ironically, it’s impossible for me to have one. Well, I’m not literally homeless — I’m living a nomadic lifestyle at the moment.

IE: I’ll bite. Why, and what’s your trajectory?

LB: It’s a long story, but I’m gonna be based in London again next year, playing in the ABBA show, so I  have to be rooted there then for quite a long time, so I thought I might as well make the most of it this year and just keep moving.

IE: Talk to me like I’m five. How were you one of only ten musicians selected by and for ABBA? And have you met them yet?

LB Yeah, Well, I’ve met Benny and Bjorn. The girls are pretty hard to track down in person these days. But Benny and Bjorn I’ve spent quite a lot of time with now, which has been incredible, and we’ll probably have even more time coming up next year. So my friend James Righton from The Klaxons — you remember those guys? I knew James from their New Wave days, so he was putting the band together because he knew someone from the show.  And I think I was one of the first people he called because he knew I was an ABBA mega-fan, and he knew I could be in it. So he just called me out of the blue and said, “Do you want to audition for this secret ABBA project?” And I was like, “Oh, my God! Of COURSE!” So it was crazy because I didn’t know if I’d get it, and I didn’t even know if I wanted it. I mean, I love ABBA, but I was kind of like, “I don’t really understand what this is about,” because it was very cloak-and-dagger at the start. I didn’t understand what it was, and I didn’t understand if I was technically going to be at the level they needed. But from the minute I did the audition, and Benny and Bjorn walked in, and we all played “Voulez-Vous,” I just had goosebumps, and I knew from that moment that I had to be a part of it. Then I got a callback telling me I was in, and they told me all about the show, and since then, I’ve been flying in and out of Stockholm, recording with them. So it’s just an amazing project to be involved with, and I’m looking forward to it. But I’m looking at it as a technical musician, as a kind of futuristic challenge, and I’ll be playing with nine other of the most talented musicians around. I’ll be playing my favorite pop music in the world and playing it for ABBA’s fans— there are so many upsides to this project it’s insane. And it’s difficult. The parts are more difficult than they appear. But I’m gonna be more on synthesizers, which is gonna be great.

IE: Never in my lifetime did I believe that I’d ever hear another new ABBA album. And we have to address the elephant in the room — how stunningly great is that record, Voyage?

LB: I love it. I just think it’s fabulous. And I heard five of the songs back in 2020, so it’s been very difficult to sit on all this time. I mean, I nearly cried when I first heard “I Still Have Faith in You“ in the studio. Benny played it for us, and honestly, I was so emotional, and it’s such an emotional song anyway, to hear it by Benny just putting it on for us and going, “What do you think of this?” At that point, I’m hearing the first new ABBA music anyone’s heard in 40 years played to me BY Benny while he’s talking to me about it IN their studio! It was just nuts on so many levels! And I’m just so glad that it’s a positive record, and it doesn’t feel throwback in any way. I’m so glad that they haven’t tried to jump on any bandwagon or tried to modern and collaborate with anyone like Giorgio Moroder or something like that. Because they all do, but it’s just classic songwriting and a classic album. It’s great

IE: I like the one song that’s the strangest thing — it opens with “You’re asleep on the couch with Tammy…” And you’re like, “What?? Huh?” But Tammy is the dog who sort of narrates the tale.

LB: I know! When we first heard those, we all came out, and we were chatting, and we were all like, “What was the one about the dog?? That was weird, but also kind of genius! It really sticks with you because it’s so sad.

IE: And who but ABBA could write a gorgeous pop song that seems to be about bumblebees while it’s actually about the pending extinction of mankind?

LB: Exactly. Exactly. And it’s typical ABBA, you know? It’s just so them. And with a couple of the new ones, it’s going to be very exciting to be the first people to play those songs live. It’s going to be very cool!

IE: It’ll be interesting what you’ll be able to do on piano for “Just a Notion” because when that barrelhouse kicks in on the second chorus, everything just goes up a notch.

LB: Well, for piano, I think hologram Benny is playing the piano. So I’m more on the synths in these arrangements.

IE: What have you learned from them in the short time you’ve been working with them?

LB: I learned from Benny a lot about songwriting, really in just sitting with him and going through the songs and the sounds and the structures. And I learned to kind of write in a different way. You know they wrote in a very linear way — they wrote in the studio, and they were recording full tapes, which was how you had to do it then, really. But these days, everything is copy and paste, especially in the pop production world — you copy and paste your chorus, you copy your beats into a loop that’s copied. So Benny was showing me how little tiny things like the harmonies would change with every chorus, and that’s what kept things interesting — the constant layering of stuff that always changes so that every song is a journey. And in building the songs, these layers are never the same twice. So when I was writing my new record, I really made an effort to not just copy and paste the choruses, which is so easy in software these days. So I went for absolutely full takes, and I think from the songwriting point of view, I tried to push myself. So if I wrote something I liked, I wouldn’t settle —I’d then say, and now what can I add? And now where can I go?” Rather than just jumping from verse to chorus, like in a regular song. So I think it did push me to up my game, especially on a production level, because I’ve never produced a record before.

IE: Is your album completely done?

LB: Yeah. It just got finished today, like half an hour ago. I just signed off on it — it’s called Tomorrow’s Yesterday, after the last song. And the record is very uplifting, but it’s kind of forward-looking as well as being nostalgic. It’s this idea of future and past coming together, and that applies to the whole album. I actually had [the title] voted on on my Patreon, just to see the reactions, and there were a few (title) options. But everyone agrees that that was the best title.

IE: Patreon is huge now for artists, right? And you actually sell subscriptions, too, and get new songs and demos every month?

LB: Yeah, and it’s kind of crazy, but it really worked because when all my shows got canceled, that was really my main income, especially with DJing — that was quite a big loss for me, so I was really surprised how people adopted Patreon. I mean, not thousands of people, but you don’t need millions of people — you need a few hundred really dedicated people, and that, in many ways, is more powerful than having ten million Spotify streams. It’s really changed my whole model of business, and it’s been really inspiring, and it’s a real community. And it’s like the perfect sounding board for anything new because I have my mega-fans here that I’m in a direct conversation with, so I’m like, “Hey! Whaddaya think? Which artwork?” And they know me, and they get me, and they kind of know me better than myself in some ways. So it’s been this really, really cool experiment, but whether it will continue, if they’ll keep subscribing after the album’s out, I’m not sure. So it’s coming out sometime in March, but we’re not sure exactly when because I only signed off on it an hour ago.

IE: I find it ironic that in the “Silver Balloons” video, you’re walking around in a silver hazmat suit that everyone will probably be wearing in the near 12 Monkeys-like future.

LB: Ha! The song is about your plans getting canceled in lockdown, all your shiny, beautiful plans and parties and things just bursting apart in front of your face because that’s how it did feel. And I remember at the start we kept kidding ourselves and being like, “Oh, you’ll be FINE to have a birthday in May!” Or, “You’ll be fine to have this or that in June!”But they all came and went, and then one by one, you just have to let everything blow up in front of your face. And all you could do was just hold onto each other and hope you were gonna get through it. So it was that song, in particular, that was quite a lockdown-inside song. But I don’t think it’s a negative song. Even though a lot of the record was written in lockdown, I think it sounds quite hopeful and positive in some ways. It’s kind of yearning, yearning to get out of the situation.

IE: Who were you sheltering in place with and where?

LB: I spent a lot of it with my parents in the North of England, in Blackpool, which is actually where I wrote a lot of the first album, so I had this real full-circle mode, where I kind of had nothing to do but get my old keyboard out of the loft and then play covers to the Internet, which is what I started out doing in my mum’s garage 12 years ago. So there was a real sense of coming back to that place, just writing and sharing for the sake of it, not with some grand masterplan, because we didn’t know what was going on or if we were ever gonna get out of it. So it was nice to come back to a kind of limited setup and that sense of the unknown, you know?

IE: Can you believe it’s been over a decade since Hands?

LB: And it’s been more than that — it’s been like 12 years. But you know, I can, actually. It’s been a long journey, but I finally feel like, at this place I’m at, I’ve made peace with the rollercoaster I’ve been on. And it’s weird because there definitely were some bumpy moments around the middle. But the fans who’ve stuck with me have stuck with me for all that time and even the people who have been more fair-weather followers? This time ‘round, they’re like, “Actually, hats off to you — you do what you do, and you do it well, and you work really hard.”

IE: When was the last time you DJ-ed?  I can’t imagine wanting to spend all night in a sweaty, thumping nightclub in this era.

LB: I DJ-ed in the summer at a club, and it was one of the first ones back. So it was kind of joyful because everyone was like, “Wow! We’re dancing in a room together!” But it was also kind of…people were looking at each other nervously, going, “I’m not sure if this is safe yet — can we go home now?” So that was kind of a strange one, but also since then, I did some live shows last month, which were great, although I did feel like people were still nervous about small venues, and there was still kind of a strange feeling.

IE: You and I are both Tauruses. How was your birthday this year? And where was it?

LB: Well, it certainly wasn’t in a sweaty club with thousands of people. I was in Belize, actually, where I’ve kind of partially been living, so it was pretty nice to have a good birthday here — you just go to the beach and hang out. But next year, I need to live near the ABBA stadium in East London. The show doesn’t tour — it stays there because the technology is so advanced. So it’s 3,000 people a night, and a fully-immersive hi-tech, 3D crazy journey.

IE: There’s a lot of darkness in ABBA that people don’t seem to understand.

LB: Yes. Particularly the older stuff. A lot of people really do take it on a surface level or maybe watch the movies, and they don’t realize that kind of depth that’s there, and I think there’s a sadness there, as well —  it’s that tears on the dancefloor thing. Fusing the happy and the sad, and it’s real, with cutting lyrics that are kind of devastating at times and Agnetha’s sad eyes in the video. That’s why it’s real, and you can go that place and get that darkness and depth. I did an event the other week, kind of an ABBA talk with some mega-fans, and people were kind of upset that there isn’t enough darkness in this new record — they thought it was more quite happy and nostalgic. I thought it was kind of funny that people were like, “More darkness!” But I think it’s actually there because it’s certainly not a straightforward positive record, although it’s certainly nostalgic and all about reminiscing. But it’s quite age-appropriate, which I think is cool. Cool that they are like, “Yeah — we’re all in our 70s and singing about being grandparents.” That’s fucking real, and I love that!

-Tom Lanham

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Featured

About the Author ()

Comments are closed.