In the back of her tour bus, Lonnie Angle, who, along with Thomas Dutton, makes up the electro-pop duo Cardiknox, tells me she’s “Ready to tackle the fucking world.” She laughs, but then she adds, “Seriously.” One listen to lead single “Earthquake” off their new album, Portrait, and the boast doesn’t seem so far-fetched. We caught up with the band in their tour bus parked outside the Wonder Ballroom, where several hours later, they took the stage opening for Carly Rae Jepsen. Needless to say, they absolutely killed it.
Eleven: So, you were in Seattle last night at the Showbox Market theater?
LA: Yeah. Sold out. One of those, just, magic shows.
11: So tell me a little about the formation of the band. You’ve got Seattle roots. It seems like a lot more synth and electronic music is coming out of Seattle these days.
TD: We really started seriously working on Cardiknox once we were living in New York. I would say actually that New York, as a city, influenced the music more than Seattle. I mean, we spent our whole lives up until that point in Seattle, so it was definitely going to be a part of us. But, yeah, the energy of New York really had a lot to do with the early Cardiknox stuff. We initially met working on a musical together in Seattle and that’s what took us to New York, working on the musical, and then we switched gears to working on electro-pop music. And then we’ve been in LA for about a year. So we’ve really been…
LA: A little transient.
TD: I was in rock bands my whole life growing up in Seattle…
LA: I feel like you can speak to that scene, influencing your earlier stuff.
TD: But Cardiknox for me was wanting to do something very different than I’d ever done before. My younger brothers, they do a lot of house music, like DJ stuff, and they’re pretty into that scene in Seattle, and just the music scene in general, and they’re always sending me stuff and I’m like, “I’ve never heard of this,” and they’re like, “What, they’re huge in Seattle.”
11: I’ve read that the Cardinox sound almost took you by surprise, that when it clicked it wasn’t necessarily where you thought you were headed.
TD: We definitely wanted to make electro-pop music, but that can be a lot of different things, and I had never created that type of music, I had always done rock music, and Lonnie’s background is theater, so she had never made any kind of mainstream music.
LA: I had never been in a band.
TD: I think in some ways we had to test the waters a little bit. When we first met in Seattle I was working in a recording studio, and she had never been in one. So she would come in and we would mess around, record an acoustic song or whatever, but once we were in New York we started messing around with beats and electro stuff. Even the early stuff we released, we were really proud of it, but there was something not fully there, in terms of the vision we had in our mind’s eye for it. And then once we got connected with the producer who worked on our album, John Shanks, that’s really where it clicked and he was really able to elevate it to the level that, oh, this is what Cardiknox has been trying to become.
11: Why was electro-pop the direction you felt like exploring if neither of you had a lot of experience making it?
LA: I think it was just what we were listening to. It was what we loved, and…
TD: That’s what was connecting with us and inspiring us. And I can’t make rap music without being laughed at.
11: The music, to me, plays with bubblegum pop sensibilities, but it is also frequently ferocious. Where did that energy and sound come from?
LA: I think that Thomas and I, first and foremost in our songwriting, try to be true to our storytelling sensibilities. My background being in theater, loving to tell stories, and Thomas being an amazing storyteller and lyricist, it was kind of like we wanted to come together and tap into what our true experiences have been and tell those stories. And that’s something that hopefully sets us apart from just traditional bubblegum pop, or pop, because so often in the pop landscape, you’re listening to a song and you don’t necessarily know if you’re hearing the artist’s story or if you’re hearing a collaboration of six co-writers, or something that was written for this person. We wanted it to connect with a very large audience, but we wanted it to be authentic to our stories.
TD: I’m hugely inspired by rap music and hip-hop, especially the lyrics. They’re able to be so much more candid and raw and seemingly honest in their lyrics than in pop music. So I really try to bring elements of that into our music, like the quieter moments here and there, little nuggets of stuff that feels…
TD: Like you’re reading a line from one of our journals or diaries, or something like that, that doesn’t feel just like a line that sounds pretty or sounds cool, but is really something that is almost scary for us to say out loud.
11: A lot of the album sounds intended to let us know you’re ready to take on the world, but you’re going to do it on your own terms.
LA: You can tell we’re control freaks.
11: Was that theme intentional or was that just the energy you were feeling?
LA: I think that’s the energy we’ve been feeling for two and half years.
TD: Even longer, I think. Bands that I was in, growing up and stuff like that, I don’t know if it’s this hard for everybody, but it just felt like nothing came easy. You really had to scratch and claw for every opportunity and every baby step along the way. At the beginning of working with John Shanks, the producer, we had been in talks with this other major label and it was seemingly going great and they were excited about it and we were so happy and everything and then the whole thing fell through and it was devastating for us. John actually helped us get through that very quickly by saying, “Don’t care at all about the labels.”
LA: Fuck the labels.
TD: They’re going to be banging down the doors.
11: Especially so early into the band’s life.
TD: He was just like let’s just make this record and that will all figure itself out, don’t worry. The fact that he, someone so experienced with these kinds of things, was so confident in it, despite this rejection, was really, really helpful for us, and so I think that set the tone for the whole record, kind of, fuck you, we can do this and no one can stop us.
LA: The night that we got the phone call that we weren’t going to be signing with this other major, we were in New York at the time and the next morning it was like, woe is me. Thomas comes to me and says, “I wrote this chorus, I want you to hear it,” and I’m like, “Okay,” and he plays me the chorus to our song “Earthquake.” I freaked out. It was like all these lyrical themes we had been playing with that hadn’t quite found their way together, came together. It was about this moment, saying we’re not going to let this stop us. We wrote that song that day and then a month later, when Warner Brothers heard the music, we were in the president’s office playing and that song is what got us signed. It was like, well shit, you just don’t know.
The album is out March 11th. Where will you be when it comes out?
LA: Milwaukee. It’s gonna be popping off. I keep hoping I’m gonna say that to somebody and they’re gonna be like, here’s what you gotta do in Milwaukee.