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Diablo Pussycats interview with Martine Madsen, Marie Louise “Søsser” von Bülow and Trille Sejr

I have been in love with surf music since I was a kid and heard the theme song to Secret Agent Man for the first time which lead me to discover Link Wray and Dick Dale.  It’s hard to find modern surf bands that are capable of living up those early discoveries though, so while I’ve been into surf for almost twenty-five years I don’t keep up with too awfully many surf bands.  Recently though there have been more and more bands popping up that are taking the finely tuned traditions of yesteryear and turning them on their heads with a new found sense of energy and individualized focus.  Diablo Pussycats are one of those bands, carrying on a long and proud tradition of surf-rock music but making it wholly their own and refusing to cave in to the repetitive nature of the surf-beast that consumes so many good bands.  With the release of the We Are The Diablo Pussycats album last year (2013) Diablo Pussycats caught my ear after I heard of a stream of their album and kept finding myself trying to dance in my chair, bouncing around like some YouTube video in the making.  I can hear a lot of really great R&B, funk and soul going on here as well as some jaw-dropping dead ahead garage surf-rock.  La Luz instantly come to mind but Diablo Pussycats are a nearly completely instrumental outfit and tend to push a little harder with more psychotic rave ups and even more infectiously catchy lead guitar lines than they do.  This band might be three chicks but they’ve got balls.  Songs like “The Scarlet Gold Fever Itch” and “Doctor Love” are perfect examples of the soul influences, while there are others like “The Phantom Riders” that are completely Morricone-esque without a doubt.  We Are The Diablo Pussycats had me interested enough that I managed to get all three founding members, Martine Madsen, Marie Louise von Bülow and Trille Sejr to tell me everything that there was to know about the band.  Between busy schedules, sick kids and hard drive crashes this one has been a long time coming but I am more than proud to present to you the rumbling awesomeness that is, Diablo Pussycats!
Listen while you read:

What is Diablo Pussycats’ lineup currently? Has it always been just the three of you or have you made any changes to the band since it first started?

Martine:  The lineup is me, Martine Madsen on guitar and vocal, Marie Louise von Bülow, aka Søsser, on bass and vocals and Trille Sejr, our fragile little flower, on drums and vocals; the same as it always was.  When we play live, it’s only guitar, bass and drums, but on our album, We are the Diablo Pussycats, we added a little bit of organ and bells.

I love playing music connect the dots but I have to admit as much as I love playing games nothing beats cheating sometimes ha-ha! Are any of you in any other active bands at this point? Have you released any music with anyone in the past? If so, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Trille:  Well, we’re not the monogamous kinds…  When it comes to our work and music.  We’re all involved in a lot of different bands and projects all the time, and we’ve made a bunch of records.  At the moment though, I’m mostly writing, working on my first book.  A small collection of poetry, with the working-title Songs of Hai-Medai-Ku.  Sort of a rewriting of short poems I made through the years.

Søsser:  I spend a lot of time touring in Poland with a Polish-Danish act called Czeslaw Spiewa.  We’ve released four albums, and we’re about to record a fifth this spring.  And for the last ten years I’ve been in a lot of different bands, recording and performing live, both as a full blooded member, and as a side-woman.  I love the diversity of working with different people, on various terms.

Martine:  I’ve also worked and recorded with many different bands the last ten years.  Søsser and I have made two records together with a band called SpaB, and I also released an album with my solo project, C’est Tout Martine.  Right now I’m working with an Icelandic girl called Disa while I’m recording with a new band named Norr.

What was the local music scene there like when you were younger? Did you see a lot of shows when you were growing up? Do you feel like it played a large role in shaping your musical tastes or the way that you play today?

Søsser:  I’m from a small and neat suburb of Copenhagen where the local music scene is non-existent.  I think there were two people at my school playing music, and they were my brother and his best friend.

Trille:  I moved around a lot when I was a child.  We usually didn’t stay in the same town for more than a year, so…

Martine:  Okay, I win this one!  I grew up on a small island called Falster in southern Denmark and went to a very small school.  But despite its size, it was a town with a lot of musical and creative people, and I think that everyone I knew played an instrument.  The local music scene was very strong, and the local bands had extremely good conditions.  We rarely had any famous bands coming to town, but the first time I went to a big concert was actually in Falster.  It was Ace of Base the world famous Swedish pop-band.  I was so scared and ecstatic and the same time.  And I had mascara on for the first time in my life; blue mascara!  It was a big day for me.

What was your household like when you were growing up? Was there much music? Were either your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved or interested in music?

Martine:  My mother’s also a musician.  She plays the accordion and works at a church playing the organ.  My brother plays trumpet.  There was always a lot of music in our house.

Søsser:  Almost everyone in my family is a musician, except for my mom who’s a mortician.  My dad used to play and sing a lot of music with me and my brothers and sisters, they were often improvised songs that we recorded on his reel-to-reel tape recorder.  He taught me how to play the piano as well.  I used to play a lot of music with my brothers and sisters, now we only play together at family gatherings.  But it’s still fun!

Trille:  I had an uncle, Åge, who dreamed of being a shaman, and we always performed all kinds of weird music and sang together.  He was my hero.

What do you consider to be your first real exposure to music?

Trille:  Åge!

Søsser:  Going to see my dad play concerts.

Martine:  I don’t recall a time when music wasn’t a big part of my life.

If you had to pick one defining moment of music, a moment that opened your eyes to the infinite possibilities of music and changed everything for you, what would it be?

Trille:  When I was seven years old Åge, who used to call himself Tåge Åge which means Foggy-Åge, took me to the woods in Sweden.  We spent three days living in the woods, making instruments out of whatever we could find in the forest; logs, old bones, grass and even using the water in the lake as an instrument.  It was mind blowing for me.  When I came back, I begged my parents for weeks to sell the apartment and move to the woods.  Instead, we just moved to a new city and a new apartment.

Martine:  I’ve played music all my life.  When I was a child, I thought “Yeah, this is fun.”  Then, when I was twelve years old I started playing the drums and electric guitar, and suddenly it wasn’t just “fun” anymore.  It was all I wanted to do.  I still play the drums, for example with Disa in the recording project I mentioned before, but the guitar is my true soul mate.

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music? What brought that decision about?

Søsser:  I wrote my first song when I was five.  The song was about my favorite kind of day, riding a bike with my mom and going to the Tivoli.  It’s still a number-one hit at my birthday.

Trille:  I started writing poetry when I was about ten years old but I didn’t start writing music until I met the girls.  Before that, improvising was the only way I wrote music.

Martine:  I started writing songs when I was twelve.  But it was a big secret, no one knew about it.  For some reason I was embarrassed about it.

Søsser:  Really?  I did that when I was about twelve too.  And then one day, my mom found some lyrics I’d written but forgotten to hide away.  I denied everything and said that it wasn’t mine.  Why was that so embarrassing?  That’s fucked up.

Martine:  Yeah!  Anyway...  Two years later, I started playing in a funk band where everybody wrote songs, and I started writing for real.  Since everybody was doing it, the shame suddenly seemed stupid and I’ve been writing music ever since.

© Julie Scheuermann

What was your first instrument? When and how did you get it?

Søsser:  When I was growing up I played different instruments.  Then, when I was sixteen, my dad died and I was the lucky one to inherit his beautiful old double bass and I started practicing every day.  That was the first time I felt a real connection to an instrument.  I loved the sound and the feel of it, I couldn’t let it go.

Trille:  My first instrument was a homemade bamboo flute that my grandmother made for me.  I was five years old and I carried it around my neck, day and night.  It was about that time my uncle took me in as his “trainee”.

Martine:  My parents really wanted me to play music, so from the age of three I played the flute and percussion.  When I was eight I started playing the violin.  That’s when I started looking at myself as someone who played an instrument.  I was very proud and practiced a lot.

What led to the formation of Diablo Pussycats and when was that?

Søsser:  Martine and I met at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in 2002.  It actually took a few years before we became friends, but when it finally happened, we started a folk/pop band together, SpaB.

Martine:  Then in 2008 we went on a trip to Chicago and we met Trille on the plane.  We both knew her by name and had heard she played some killer drums, which proved to be true!

Trille:  I’m scared of flying, so I had been drinking a few(!) cocktails.  And when I drink cocktails, I talk a lot.  So I was telling the girls about my passion for surf music and told them how cool it could be to make a band with three chicks playing bad-ass surf-rock.  I was really just babbling, but it didn’t take more than a few minutes before Martine and Søsser started planning the set list for our first gig
Søsser:  Yeah, and we played our first concert a few months after that.

Is there any shared, creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band lives by?

Trille:  Do not forget the rose wine!

What does the name Diablo Pussycats mean or refer to? Who came up with the name? How did you go about choosing it?

Søsser:  We actually use a title-consultant for our music, Simon Beck.  He also came up with the name Diablo Pussycats.  At first we were pretty skeptical about the name, because it refers to the fact that we’re all women and the “woman-band” concept has always been something we all avoided.  It seems so silly for us that music should be about gender, but suddenly we found ourselves in a woman-band without even really realizing it.  Until Simon came up with the name.  What the hell though, the name is one you remember and it tells you a good deal about the band; it’s feminine, it’s mean and we’re not to be messed with!

Where’s the band currently located at?

Martine:  Copenhagen.

How would you describe the local music scene where you all are at?

Trille:  Variety.  There’re a lot of musicians in Copenhagen, and I think people are quite good at experimenting with new constellations in all kinds of crossover music.

Søsser:  But the Danish people, as an audience, are too scared I think.  They don’t go out much, and when they do, they go after the music that they know.  And you can count me in on that unfortunately.  I play a lot of different music, but when I go to a concert, it’s usually to see some of my friends.

Every time that I try and describe the way that a band sounds I just feel like I’m doing them a grave disservice for reason or another. Rather than me making some awkward attempt at describing it, how would your describe Diablo Pussycat’s sound in your own words?

Martine:  Reckless, old school, psychedelic surf-rock.

Trille:  The sound of desire.

While we’re talking so much about the history and kind of the makeup of the band, I’m curious to hear who you would cite as your major musical influences? What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?

Søsser:  Well, as a band I would say The Shadows, The Sonics, Dick Dale, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and The Ventures.  Especially The Ventures in Space.

Trille:  What about Hawkwind?  And their concerts where they locked the doors, pointing a strobe light at the audience, who was locked in, playing extremely loud, while a naked woman covered herself in paint?  I mean, what’s not to like?

Martine:  Only, we don’t have that kind of extreme live-show.

Trille:  …yet!

Can you tell us about the songwriting process with Diablo Pussycats? Is there a lot of jamming and exchange of ideas that takes place when you all get together to play or is there someone who comes to the rest of the band with a riff or more finished idea to work out and compose with the rest of the band?

Trille:  It depends...  Usually one of us will bring an idea, big or small, to practice and then we work on it together.  Sometimes we merge several ideas and end up with one song.

Søsser:  Our music isn’t just about the melody, or the chords, or the lyrics.  Half of it is about the sound and the energy.

Trille:  And making room for unexpected things to happen.

Do you all enjoy recording? As a musician myself I think that most of us can appreciate the end result, holding that album in your hands knowing that no one can ever take that away from you. Getting to that point though, getting everything worked out and recorded can be a little bit complicated to say the least. How is it in the studio for you all?

Søsser:  We all love the recording and mixing process!  Everything between mastering and release though, not so much…

Martine:  We’ve all worked a lot with recording and mixing before, so we do most of the recording ourselves.  Trilles’ brother has a studio where we stayed for a week while recording the album.  It’s easier to focus on the music if you don’t have to leave at 6 o’clock to go somewhere else or go home.  So when we record, we just play all day and all night.  It works for us.

Do you do a lot of preparatory work before you head in to record getting things worked out and sounding just the way that you want them? Or is the recording process a little bit more flexible, where things have room to change and evolve a little bit?

Søsser:  Before we go into the studio, we get together a lot and work out the songs but there’s still a lot of room for experimentation and for evolution when we finally meet at the studio.  We record guitar, bass and drums at the same time, in the same room, but we still improvise and try out different stuff.

Martine:  We decided when we started the band that it wasn’t going to be a daily-work kind of band.  The most important thing was that we have a good time.  And we do.  We drink a lot of rose wine, smoke a lot of cigarettes and have a lot of fun trying out every crazy idea that we come up with.  And the process is just as important as the final result.

Can you share some of your memories of recording that first album? Was it a fun, pleasurable experience for you all? When and where was it recorded? Who recorded that material? What kind of equipment was used? 

Trille:  Oh, this is my favorite part of the interview!  We used, of course, ribbon microphones and a Sennheiser MD 421.  An old Studer mixer, Universal audio 6176 and Gyraf Audio Gyratec preamps and I also think we used the Avalon AD2044 compressor.  Oh, and of course a Space Echo RE-201.  I could talk for hours about this…

Does Diablo Pussycat have any music that we haven’t talked about yet? Maybe a single or a song on a compilation that I might have missed?

Martine:  In 2011 we made the title-music for a Danish TV-show, Zulu Love Champs.  The song “Love Champs Song” was never released, but can be found on our Facebook page and we also have a track on a newly released surf-compilation, Monsters of Surf along with twenty-one other bands, there’s some very good stuff on that comp!

With the release of We Are The Diablo Pussycats not too long ago at the end of last year (2013), do you have any other releases in the works or on the horizon at this point?

Søsser:  We’re in the middle of planning our next album, which we hope to release by the end of this year.  But right now Martine is expecting her second child and we have this tradition, which you might have noticed, of drinking a lot of rose wine when we record.  Which means that we have to wait until the child arrives before we can go to the studio.  Martine’s orders!

Where’s the best place for our readers to pick up your music?

Martine:  Well, for now you can buy it on iTunes, or you can write us if you want to buy the vinyl which includes a download code but we hope to be able to distribute the vinyl through a European label soon.

And where’s the best place for our readers to keep up with the latest news lie upcoming shows and album releases at?

Trille:  Facebook. 

Are there any major goals that Diablo Pussycats are looking to accomplish in 2014?

Martine:  Hopefully we’ll play a bunch of concerts this summer.  But other than that, we’re looking forward to recording the next album.

Do you remember what the first song that Diablo Pussycats ever played live was? Where and when was that?

Søsser:  I think it might have been “Guitar Man”, by Duane Eddy.  We played our first concert one or two months after we met, on a hippie farm outside of Copenhagen, and we only played covers.  The Ventures, Dick Dale, good old stuff.  We still sometimes play some of the cover songs.  Right after that gig, we started writing our own music.

Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road? Do you enjoy touring? What’s life like on the road for Diablo Pussycats?

Martine:  Actually, we don’t play that many concerts, but we do love to play live!  I think some of our favorite concerts were in Poland, where we went on tour a few years back.  Nobody knew us, and every night when we came out on stage, the audience would look at us like we were some kind of weirdoes and they wouldn’t make a sound.  But from the first note we played, they would go crazy, simply crazy!  Jumping up and down and dancing all through the concert.  Maybe they were very drunk, I don’t know.  But it was fucking great.

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?

Trille:  The Danish band, Bazaar.  They’ve existed since 1976, and they play a weird kind of mix of improvised jazz and world music with bassoon/clarinet, organ and percussion/drums.  You should check it out.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

Trille:  David Bowie.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?

Søsser:  My favorite moment is when we played at a funeral.  Some guy who’d seen us at a concert, wrote to us asking if we could play at his granddads funeral.  We thought, “Oh, they want us to play something soft and mellow”, but oh no!  Apparently the dead guy loved surf-rock, and they wanted us to play “The Boardwalk L.U.V.”, a fast and energetic tune from our album, which is actually kind of “happy”.  We played while they carried the coffin out of the church.  It was so extremely intense and beautiful.

Do you all give a lot of thought to the artwork that represents the band like flyers, posters and cover art? Do you have a go to artist for that kind of thing? If so, who is it and how did you originally get hooked up with them?

Søsser:  The artwork for our album is by a Danish guy named Mikkel Sommer, who lives in Berlin.  I met him a few years back at a concert in Loppen, Christiania, a famous self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood, within the city of Copenhagen, and we got to talking.  Turns out he’s an artist and makes really amazing drawings!  Old-school and very expressive.  A perfect look to match the sound of Diablo Pussycats.

With all of the various methods of release that are available to artists today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the mediums that they do. Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music? What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music?

Trille:  Vinyl.  Always vinyl.

Søsser:  We released our own album on vinyl.  First of all, because we like the vinyl, and secondly, it’s the only true way of listening to old school music like ours.  A lot of people today don’t have a turntable though, so we also included a download code with the vinyl.  That way they can put it on the computer while looking at the beautiful big album cover.

Martine:  I sold all of my CDs and vinyl.  I love vinyl, and I always will, but it’s too much trouble.  So I’m an all digi-girl now.

Trille:  Well, well, that’s some kind of statement, Martine!  Do you consider that to be good promotion for our album?

Martine:  Sorry, but it’s the truth.  I still believe that vinyl is the only right medium for our music, though!

Do you have a music collection at all? If so can you tell us a little bit about it?

Trille:  I lived in Italy for two years, and when I was there, I fell in love with Italian fusion from the 70’s and I spend all of my money on records.  My favorite is Area.

Søsser:  I have a big collection of Danish pop and folk music from the 70’s and 80’s.  I can get very sentimental when I listen to it now; makes my heart bleed

Martine:  I used to have a small, but good, collection of Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, before I sold it.  But now I have an even bigger one in iTunes, ha-ha…

I grew up around my dad’s collection of music which is exactly what’s inspired my love in physical music. I was encouraged from a very young age to dive into the music and listen to whatever I wanted. I would just wander up to these enormous shelves of music when I was a kid, pick something completely at random, kick back in the beanie bag, read the liner notes, stare at the artwork and let the entire experience transport me off to another dimension. As a result of those experiences I don’t know if I’ll ever shake my addiction to physical music; but that’s okay with me ha-ha! Do you have any such connection with physically released with music?

Søsser:  Well, that’s the beauty of vinyl, isn’t it?  It’s almost like playing an instrument.  It stimulates your ears and eyes, your whole body and your imagination, in a way digital music never will.  It’s another tempo.  I listen to a lot of digital music but it’s so easy, that it often makes me wanna skip to the next tune before the first one has ended.

As much as I love my music collection there’s no denying the ease and portability of digital music and when you team that with the internet you have a real game changer on your hands. People are being exposed to an entire world of music that the otherwise would have never known existed and it seems to be levelling the playing field somewhat for artists willing to promote and harbor a strong, healthy online presence. On the other hand illegal downloading is running rampant and it’s harder and harder to get noticed in the chocked digital jungle out there today. As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Martine:  I’m totally in to it.  The world is so much bigger now.  As a listener, you have amazing access to all kinds of music, from all over the world.  And as a musician, it gives you a world of opportunities to spread you music globally.

Trille:  I agree.  Except that mp3s sound so crappy, it makes me wanna cry.  Mp3s are too big a compromise, in my opinion.

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can but with all the amazing stuff that’s going on right now there’s just not enough hours in the day to keep up with even one-percent of the awesome stuff out there! As a result I rely on people like you to be my eyes and, well I suppose mostly my ears ha-ha! Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard of before?

Søsser:  Monkey Cup Dress, WhoMadeWho and Cliff Waters.

Trille:  Ooh, they have a really cute lead singer!

What about nationally and internationally?

Martine:  Last summer I heard a band at Roskilde Festival called Unknown Mortal Orchestra; so cool!  And right now I’m also listening to a Japanese band called Nisennenmonai a lot.  They’re fantastic.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me! It’s been a real pleasure getting to know the band and so much about you all. I know this wasn’t short and I don’t assume it was too easy to remember all of this stuff so thanks again. Before we call it a day and you all ride off into the sunset, is there anything that I might have missed or that you’d just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or my readers about?

Trille:  We dress sharp!

Martine:  Thanks for your time.  It was a pleasure talking to you!

Søsser:  Hear, hear!

(2013) Diablo Pussycats – We Are The Diablo Pussycats – 12” – Gateway Records
(2014) Various Artists – Monsters Of Surf Guitar – CD – Dingdong Records (Contributes the track “Square Head Round Peg” from We Are The Diablo Pussycats)

© Julie Scheuermann

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
© Copyright

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