Interview – Claire England of Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head
– by Shawn Conner
Obnoxiously catchy, smart-assed but about subjects like beard growth and ponytails, Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head formed while its members were still in high school. The ink had barely dried on their graduation certificates before the Seattle band recorded its debut, Glistening Pleasure. Team Swam released the album, which features the song/video/laff riot “Sophisticated Side Ponytail”, last year; it’s music for the ADD set, sort of along the lines of Los Campesinos! but with more of a Super Mario feel. I don’t know what that means but if you listen to the record you might understand. Then again, maybe not.
The Snipe caught up with Claire England – responsible for “bass, vocals, handclaps” – at home, where we interrupted her afternoon reading.
Video – Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head, “Sophisticated Side Ponytail”:
Shawn Conner: What did we catch you in the middle of?
Claire England: Reading.
SC: Reading! How noble. What’re you reading?
CE: Well it’s kind of embarrassing. I was reading Twilight.
SC: No! I was going to say that. What’re you doing with that trash?
CE: I don’t know. I saw the movie and had nothing else to read. But before this I was reading Jane Austen.
SC: Are you now a Robert Pattinson fan?
CE: Uhm, not particularly. He’s good-looking. There’s actually a picture of me on the tour we just went on, our merch girl got a copy of J14 magazine, and it had this big picture so we were having a lot of fun making him kiss things. So there’s a picture of me kissing his picture. I’m much more of a Harry Potter fan. That was more my age group. Twilight‘s a little too new for me.
SC: You guys are just kids!
CE: Well, as of today, I’m the only who is under 21. I’ll be 20 in August. Today is Luke [Smith, “vocals, guitar, keyboard, drum programming, claps”]’s birthday.
SC: Is there a party for him, or you guys don’t socialize when you’re rehearsing?
CE: We’re going to do something today. I think he might still be asleep from last night because he had to go and do the midnight bar thing. Shaun [Libman, “vocals, maracas, shakers, tambourine, claps”] and Liam [Downey, Jr., “live drums, 808 claps, devil lock”]’s birthdays, we had them on the road, so we were playing shows and packing up while they were turning whatever, so we’d go have shots at the bar. And David [Price, “keyboard, guitar, vocals, claps”] went out on midnight on his birthday, so I guess they just wanted to take Luke out and keep it going.
SC: So what happens with you, you’re not asked for i.d. ‘cos you’re in the band?
CE: It’s different everywhere you go. Sometimes they don’t care and sometimes they’re very diligent.
SC: So you’ve never been turfed out of a bar you’re playing because you’re under-age?
CE: The only state that’s done that is Washington. The liquor laws here are a lot stricter than most places. When we were a smaller band even than we are now they would tell us “you have to get out 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after.” Like that was the only time we could be in the club. They’d make us just wander around the neighbourhood at night.
SC: ‘Cos that’s so much safer. Now, so you’re the only girl in the Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head. One question I have is, were you kidnapped and brain-washed or are you a willing participant?
CE: I’m a willing participant.
SC: So this wasn’t a white slave trade kind of thing, or they won you in a poker tournament.
CE: No no. They were just friends and it sort of grew. Shaun and Luke started the band, then when they couldn’t play what they were doing live they got David and they got me. But we had classes together in high school.
SC: Did you start singing with them immediately?
CE: I don’t remember how it was… I had like some background singing parts immediately. But it took a little while before we added “Ponytail” [“Sophisticated Side Ponytail”].
SC: That’s the only song you sing lead on?
CE: Well, now we’re adding more to the Glistening Pleasure album to release a beefed-up version of it. And there’s more of me singing on it.
SC: This is going to be for a different label?
SC: Can I ask which?
CE: Yes. Warner Brothers.
SC: When is that going to be released?
CE: We’re still working on it. But probably beginning of next year.
SC: How are you beefing it up and why not record a new record?
CE: A lot of people haven’t heard this record yet, and we want to take full advantage of it. We think it can do more than it has. We are eager to put out a second record, but when you sign it becomes collaborative decision-making. We’ve got one new song and we’re beefing up some of our favourites, we’ve had them re-produced with Jon King, he’s worked with the Beastie Boys, Beck and Tenacious D., to make them sort of better. A lot of our songs were kind of not what you would play on the radio, so we wanted to give them the best chance to get out there.
SC: I guess the first record was recorded on a pretty small budget.
SC: I was on your Myspace page and you know how they have the genre of music in the corner, and yours reads “pop electro grunge.” And then I wondered if Myspace just automatically puts “grunge” in there when a band is from Seattle.
CE: No, we put it there ourselves. We want it to read “Nu-grunge.” With umlauts.