Low lights and trick mirrors distort the truth. They blur images, cloud realities, twist reflections. And boy, do London's Maria & The Mirrors know a thing or two about misdirection: their Warhol-inspired moniker has the unmistakeable gloss of a cutesy sixties girl group, but onstage they're a terrifying sight of ghoulish visages decked out in seedy clobber. With two-thirds of the trio comprised of drummers, they make a hellacious racket, too, with new EP 'Travel Sex' being a bilious mixture of sleaze and scree. Yet here they are slurping coffee, unfailingly polite and disarmingly charming.
“The track 'Travel Sex' is actually about travel sex,” says diminutive drummer and singer Keira Fox in her itsy-bitsy voice. “It's a literal thing. It's about travelling…”
…and having a lot of sex? “Yes,” she giggles. “It's quite dirty.”
Keira started the band with her old teenage friend Chrystabel (stern, wry and apparently without a surname) before they were later joined by Charlie Feinstein (bubbly, enthusiastic and with a fondness for composing Hebrew raps, which he later demonstrates). There was a fourth member who pre-dated Charlie, but she quickly lost interest. “She'd turn up at rehearsals and say, 'This is shit,'” says Chrystabel. Or, as Charlie quips, “She'd just start reading books instead…”
Undeterred, they ploughed on as a three-piece and started moulding their sound: comparisons to Factory Floor will be rife, but their aesthetic is gaudier than your typical noise band. Instead, 'Travel Sex' is more reminiscent of the nightmarish swirl of colours and off-kilter beats of Gang Gang Dance. Lyrics are culled from largely made-up words and unintelligible speech, with the spoken-in-tongues dialect making it seem all the more alien.
With the EP out now in all its eardrum-eviscerating glory, and amidst talk of new 12”s, collaborations with UK funky producers and, in time, a debut album proper, the Quietus caught up with Keira, Chrystabel and Charlie to mull over chauvinist soundmen and disconcerting pop monikers.
How did the dynamic change when it was just the three of you?
Keira Fox: It's evolved, and it's become a bit more dancey. It was maybe noisier before… Well, it's still quite noisy.
Charlie Feinstein: We just wanted the audience to stop weeping. We were playing in Catch once and I looked around, and this girl was stood there just having a cry.
There's a strange disconnect between the band's image – quite lurid, garish, colourful – and its sound – bracing, stern, rather unsettling. Do you think that's disconcerting?
KF: I think it is. We don't really look what we sound like. We thought it would be a good idea, to throw people off.
CF: It does make it more interesting. A lot of my friends expect us to be electroclash or something. If you can be put onto the back foot a bit, and just be slightly surprised, then it can make you more receptive.
KF: I guess if we all wore black it would be a bit… trite.
What can you tell us about the Travel Sex EP?
Chrystabel: We tried to record it in one day, because we thought that was how things worked.
KF: It didn't really go that well.
C: We didn't even have enough drums when we got there, so we had to back home and get them.
CF: When we finally got it cut, the wave forms were just blocks – the man mastering it kept shouting [adopts gruff Cockney voice] 'It's not gonna cut, it's not gonna cut! You're taking me out of my comfort zone.'
Where does the name come from?
KF: I found it in a book, in an Andy Warhol book – it's a passage about Maria Callas, and there's just a passage saying 'Maria and her mirrors'…
CF: [adopting Warholian voice] 'I was always coming back to Maria and her mirrors'. Loads of pictures of Maria Callasand tinfoil.
Like with the style, is it purposefully incongruous to your sound?
C: Not really…
CF: I've enjoyed that part of it – there is a 60s girl group feel to it.
KF: It might be off-putting to some people, because they get the feel that we're just 'that' sort of band…
C: That name was always flirting around before we started, though.
What musical background did you have before you started Maria and the Mirrors?
KF: I played violin at school.
C: I was terrible at the piano for a while.
KF: We [her and Chrystabel] taught ourselves how to play drums. I mean, we don't really 'play drums' in a normal way.
C: [Rolling her eyes] We've had many people come up to us and say that we need to sort out our style or whatever…
KF: ... and change the settings. I think these people miss the point. Especially the men. They have a fixed idea of what it should sound like.
Why mostly men?
KF: It just seems like it is.
CF: There's still a lot of chauvinism, I think.
C: There are women doing our sound…
KF:… But generally, it is men.