The Courettes first hit our radar back in 2018. We told you back then that, once you’d heard them, they would be your new favourite band. Three years later we’ve been proven more than right as their third album, Back In Mono (Damaged Goods), flew rightfully so into many end of year charts. In our first article on the band, we said that the duo from Denmark (via Brazil) were, and hell!, they still are “a blazing hot combination of raw garage punk, ’60’s girl group melodicism and cool kitsch imagery.” We caught up with them as they were settling in for Christmas after finishing a whirlwind Europen tour to find out how they were doing after an amazing 2021, how Back In Mono came together and what plans they have for 2022.
LTW: Hi Falvia and Martin. First up, congratulations on an amazing year. How are you doing after these last 12 months?
Flavia: We’re feeling great, but tired. I think we’re now going to enjoy the Christmas break, actually. I mean, it’s been a fantastic year. We don’t want to talk about “oh, we’re tired.” We’ve been doing so much because the year started so bad with the lockdown, and nothing happening, no concerts. So it all just took off in June, hundreds of kilometres an hour. So I mean, we cannot complain. It’s been a wonderful year.
LTW: It must have felt great coming out of all the restrictions with a great album in your hands ready to get out on the road.
F: It was a big exclamation mark at the start of the year, you know. We had all our shows cancelled, we had a big agenda with shows all over Europe. And then we didn’t know if we could actually release an album, if we could tour again. So it was a big uncertainty. And then things started to look right around June. We decided, yes, we’re gonna release the album. And, and the reception was just fantastic. You know, it was just the perfect time to put out an album. And we could just make this UK tour. In October, it was just opened up a little bit. So it’s just perfect timing. The reviews were great and we’re so happy and proud about it because we know it’s our best album so far and we put all our hearts and a lot of energy into doing this album. We did it with a lot of dedication and love and research about sounds and experimenting. So we put a lot of time in, in our hearts on this album so that people can see that. We’ve been in the best albums list, I think three or four lists of the best albums of 2021 in the UK, in Europe. So it’s just like a Mission Accomplished feeling and the people can see how much love is in this album. So we’re just really, really happy and proud and that we actually made a fantastic year out of a year that was just looking like crap. And so we were just really lucky. And we worked hard for it too. We could just be at home complaining, “Oh, no, we cannot do anything.” But we went there and it was a no, we’re gonna keep booking and see what happens. And I mean, if you take chances, then you get some good results.
LTW: It’s interesting you talk about the sound and the investigation of it because on the first two albums you kind of had that soul r&b vibe to it, but it was still a lot more garage sounding. But on this record, I think you took a swing a lot more towards that soul and r&b vibe. Was that a conscious decision or was it something that happened naturally?
Martin: Well, there’s many things in it actually. It’s always been we’ve always been super fans of Spector and the girl group stuff and the direction and even then the band name is influenced by the girl groups.
F: The Ronnettes are marvelous.
M: We have been all the time laying breadcrumbs of where we also wanted to go, especially on the second album. We start putting in you know how playing drum beats, Spector’s drum characteristic drum beat. Yeah, we leave out breadcrumbs on the second album especially for what is coming on the third.
F: I think Back In Mono is the sound we always wanted to make, the music we always wanted to do as much as that even the band name you know, The Courettes, is influenced by the girl groups. Well, we didn’t know exactly how to record it and you know, we were also concerned about the overdubs. Can we make overdubs in the studio? Can we use the studio as an instrument because we have to make the songs also work as a duo when we perform live. On the first record, we were like, okay, minimal overdubs, because that’s the way we play live. We cannot fool people when putting orchestrations and this and this and then when we’re live, absolutely different. But I think we were growing on it, developing because in the second album we put some overdubs, and we don’t miss them at all when we play live. So that’s also a test of a good song. If if a song is good, you can play it alone on the piano and a guitar or you can play with 20 musicians. It still has to work as a song.
LTW: I think it definitely worked in your favour to treat the album and live shows as completely separate ideas. I guess it gave you more freedom to delve further into that sound.
F: With Mono we allowed ourselves also to play at the studio and be free at the studio. I made the 1000s of overdubs on Back In Mono, we played it all ourselves. And with Søren (Christensen), who was the producer, he played a lot of keys too, piano, and so we were just three musicians and just playing around in the studio overdubbing and being free to use the studio as an instrument. And to be more clear that this is our album, our studio album. Then we do it live in another way and that’s okay, you know. So I think it was a development first for us as songwriters. We had been digging so much, you know, kind of studying the good songwriters, writers of the ’60s like Bert Berns, the trio from Motown, Holland-Dozier-Holland and all these good songwriters we like and we’ve been digging and studying and so I think we were better songwriters now. And also that we are allowing ourselves to experiment in the studio, and that we finally found the perfect mix between garage and girl groups, which have always been our two biggest passions in music. So I think that’s what we always wanted to do on Back In Mono. And I’m so happy that the old fans who were more into the garage scene also dig it. We were kind of worried about “what about the old fans? Are they going to be disappointed because maybe it’s not so edgy as the first albums?” But you have to take chances and I think we were just lucky people still can dig it. The garage heads still can dig the new album and we got more people in.
M: We wanted to do this girly group record but we’re also a garage band and we have a big bleeding heart for the garage. So it all came to all came through to a higher level. We wanted this Gold Star Studios, Phil Spector sound. But we needed the connection to the garage especially to make it reach a higher unity. Yeah, it all comes together because we found out later on that Here Are The Sonics was recorded in the same studio as Spector was using, it’s recorded in Gold Star Studio, so it’s there is a bridge, always connected. It all came together because it has connections, the whole theme of Back In Mono, and it has connections to all the stuff we love.
F: I think it’s important to say that Back In Mono was only possible because we built our own studio. It’s recorded in our own studio [so] it was also more possible to spend time there to hang out in the studio and be more free. So I think it’s a big part of the production that, and it’s a very conceptual album.
LTW: It definitely comes across like you were using the studio as another instrument. Talking about that blend between Soul R&B and garage, it always seems to work so well when I think about groups like The Detroit Cobras, The Dirtbombs, El Gobierno. Why do you think that mix of styles always seems to work so well together?
M: Because the old soul and this stuff also had the edge. The recordings are very much in the red all the time. It has overdriven sound, the crunch. The microphones they mainly used in the 60s, they were all overdriven in the voices because everyone wanted to push the seven inches to the max. It was all really loud when it went to the pressing plants. And so it has a lot of the same sound.
F: It has attitude and edge.
M: Yeah, it has attitude. You’re totally right.
F: And we’re talking about the ’60s and ’60’s R&B because some people call American pop artists R&B, but the R&B we refer here, both you and us and I think those bands you mentioned, it’s R&B from the ’60s and the girl groups and the garage. It’s everything from the same time capsule there. So I think it was a wonderful time in music and where music had the guts to be edgy and dirty and so I think that’s why fits so well because usually a person who digs garage rock can also like the girl groups. And some bands cover, I mean, we think about The Beatles, they covered The Ronnettes. And I think even the Rolling Stones, I mean, they hung out with them, the two of them. So I think it’s all the same time capsule, so it just works perfectly fine because that’s what was happening in the ’60s.
M: I think that’s to do with the tone of everything because we like the pop of the ’60s, we like the soul of the ’60s. We love the garage. The whole tone is the whole sound of that decade. Because if you like The Sonics or if you like Ike and Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Young, etc, it’s a lot of the same tone. There’s something with the decade and the sound there. Yeah, sounds better.
F: And of course, The Beatles covered The Crystals, not the Ronettes, but they dig that. You can see in their composition, elements everywhere. So I think it’s just finding bridges between the styles. As you said, with the Sonics recording in the same studio, you know, just bridges. The Ramones, a punk band worked with Phil Spector. Spector connects a lot of different bands and styles. So I think there are bridges between these three styles; garage, soul and R&B and girl groups, four styles, so it’s a blend of it all.
LTW: If I had to push you to kind of think of one R&B song and one garage song that would really kind of sum up where you guys are coming from, which songs would you choose?
M: Have Love Will Travel by The Sonics, soul and garage summed up into one.
F: Be My Baby is the obvious choice. I still remember the first time I heard the song in my childhood. It just really hit me like a bomb, you know, her voice and the drum sounds and the echoing drums and everything. I think Be My Baby is just so iconic. So I think it’s it’s a mix of the Sonics and the Ronettes so Have Love Will Travel and Be My Baby. I think that would be a very good mix of choices.
LTW: On your previous albums you worked with Kim Kix from Powersolo. What made you make the change for this album, to change the producer?
M: We talked to Kim about it in the very early stages. Kim is an excellent producer, but he was not the right for making this record. He’s more rebellious and this has more like a recipe of sound and instrumentation and things. We were starting working with Søren on this album and he was totally right. And Søren has also been a part of building our studio and stuff. So he knew the studio really well and, and also has all the right references.
F: And he is also our songwriting partner. Before the first record, I was the main songwriter, then Søren and Martin started songwriting in the second album, and we already had four partnerships. And so with the new album, we started writing songs with him again, I think it’s just Hop The Twig and Trash Can Honey he’s not in. So I think it was just the obvious choice, you know, because he already knew the songs and he already knew the studio, he was building the studio, giving advice while we were building the studio and, and I think when we only had the concept, because Back In Mono started as a concept. We wanted to do a girl group meets garage in an echo chamber.
I remember discussing this and he was like, “I don’t think I can do this sound”. We all agreed that maybe Kim was not the right person to do this album. But it doesn’t mean we cannot work with him again in the future, you know, because he’s a great producer and I think he’s had such a big part of the work in the two albums, you know, we all owe him a lot in the sound. And actually, he was the one who made us go to the studio for the first time because he saw us live in our first show and he said, “Wow, I love you guys, I want to record you next week”, something like that. So if it was not for him just coming and offering maybe the first album would have waited six months more to even happen, because we thought we had just had the band in for six months and we only had eight songs we’re not ready. He gave the first push for everything to happen. But Søren was absolutely the right person to work as a producer and as a musician, extra musician, and songwriting partner and the studio builder. So he was an obvious choice.
LTW: You’ve announced some tour dates now for next year over in Spain. What are the rest of your plans? Any more UK dates booked?
F: Yeah, 2022 has already I think 61 concerts booked until June. So it’s gonna be a wild ride again. I mean, if we can do that because uncertainty is knocking at the door again and here in Denmark we have restrictions. In the last month, we got five concerts cancelled in Holland and also cancelled in Germany and Belgium. So I mean, who knows, but we start going to Norway, and then we go to Sweden. And in March we have the Spanish tour and Italian tour but we’re probably coming back to the UK in June. I cannot say more but it’s going to be a cool one long tour.
And with that 2021 is over for The Courettes. With a fantastic album in their back pockets and momentum building, 2022 (restrictions pending) will no doubt be another amazing year for them. Catch them whenever you can.
Back In Mono is out now on Damaged Good and available here.
Interview by Nathan Whittle. Find his Louder Than War archive here.
Band photo: Morten Madsen
Live photos: Jeff Pitcher