Interview: The Prettiots talk ukelele, collaborative songwriting, and suicidal literary heroines
Ukulele-driven indie-rock duo The Prettiots find song inspiration in various aspects of modern life: boys they dated in high-school, suicidal literary heroines, and tough-on-the-outside-slash-softie-on-the-inside Law and Order Special Victims Unit investigator Elliot Stabler.
In a few short years, songwriters and dual singers Lulu Prat (bass/guitar) and Kay Kasparhauser (ukulele) have taken their act as far as South-By-Southwest, and even played a 2015 NPR Tiny Desk Concert (which generated nearly 100,000 views on YouTube). Last week, the New York City duo dropped their debut LP, Funs Cool, via Rough Trade Records, and today welcomes the arrival of their new video and single, “Move To LA”.
Vanyaland caught up Prat and Kasparhauser through a conference call recently to talk about their musical beginnings and the process by which their debut album was recorded. The interview was to also hype their upcoming appearance at the Middle East in Cambridge on February 9, but that show, as well as others on their February tour, have since been postponed. Stay tuned for rescheduled dates.
Jennifer Usovicz:: How did The Prettiots form?
Kasparhauser: I was making music on my own, and it was like kind of weird and experimental and not that great and I started playing with a drummer and she introduced me to Lulu and we started writing together about six months after we started playing together we started writing together and the rest is history.
Are you originally from NYC?
Prat: I’m from Brooklyn and Kay is from downtown Manhattan.
Your song “Suicide Hotline” makes reference to famous literary figures who have committed suicide like Sylvia Plath and Virginia Wolf. Are those writers who have influenced your lyric writing?
Kasparhauser: I mean I don’t think stylistically. I think they are much more advanced writers than any of my lyrics, but sentimentally I am more inspired by the darker female writers, any female growing up in any kind of depression. They’re important female figures to read and learn about as like an emotional teenage girl with hormones.
When you wrote the songs for the album Funs Cool, what was your song writing process?
Prat: So for the first part of the album Kay had written half of it, and then brought me in to re-record. We were in a studio and found that we meshed really well as far as songwriting goes. So we started writing songs in the studio. Now we try riffs and musical doo-dads until its something that is relatively formed and then we go into the studio and figure out harmonies. We take lots of voice memos [of song ideas] walking down the street to the grocery store.
Do you play any other instruments on this album? Is the ukulele electric and acoustic?
Kasparhauser: We both play a bunch of different instruments. Lulu is quite a jack-of-all-trades, she plays bass, sun machine, and guitar.
Prat: Kay plays mandolin, piano, keys; we both play the keys, I play the left and she plays the right.
Kasparhauser: I play both an acoustic and electric ukulele.
Prat: We also had her record in the bathroom with an acoustic.
Do you use any effects pedals with the ukulele? Like on the song, “Boys I Dated In High School” there seems to be effects added to either the bass or ukulele?
Prat: Kay has reverb on the ukulele. A pinch of distortion, a pinch of tremolo, and the twangy sound is post-production. So we had limited access to those first songs, adding tones. So we did a lot of post-production effects and work in order get the sound that we wanted. There is an effects pedal on that; I think I use a reverb pedal for guitar on that.
Last year you guys covered the Strokes’ “Someday” for a Rough Trade session. How did you decide to do that cover?
Kasparhauser: We’re definitely both really big Strokes fans. It was Rough Trade thing, and they wanted us to do a Rough Trade artist, and we both really love that album.
When did you first start learning to play an instrument?
Prat: I don’t even remember I was so young. I was super, super young, I was probably like 12 when I played bass, and I was playing other instruments and someone needed a bass player for a show, and I learned and I ended up loving it.
Kasparhauser: I randomly bought one on eBay when I was drunk and like 17 and then I broke my ankle and I had nothing else to do except learn how to play ukulele.
You used to play with a drummer as well, have you considered adding a drummer or other instruments to your line up?
Kasparhauser: We have a drummer; he’s just not a part of the writing process. We’ve definitely thought about adding different aspects as far as rounding out the sound. But it’s really important to us to find the perfect person, and we can make it as a three-piece, but we are definitely interested in broadening our live sound.
I also saw the temporary tattoos that you drew, and they are really cool! Had you pursued drawing before?
Kasparhauser: I went to art school and I do drawing and that stuff. I think it started as a joke and I made the one that said co-dependent for Lulu and it became a fun little treat to include in the pre-orders.