Chew Lips - Lip-smackin' electro

The female-fronted London electro-pop trio Chew Lips made a big noise at this year's SXSW festival in the USA. Tigs, their singer, tells Elisa Bray they are 'a show-off and two geeks', and that she is unashamedly the show-off
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The Independent Culture

It's 10am and the singer of electro-pop band Chew Lips is explaining the fine line between performing a captivating show and enjoying oneself a little too much. The London-based trio know lots about the former, having quickly established themselves as a must-see live act leading to them being one of the buzz bands at this year's SXSW festival. Singer Tigs gives the gigs a raucous edge, as she brings their catchy synth-pop songs to life. But they also learned a perilous side of things when they supported The Killers at Hard Rock Calling last summer.

"I've stopped drinking before shows," she says. "The turning point was when we opened for The Killers. We were all in a terrible state. The show was at 2 o'clock so we thought no-one was going to be there, but it was just rammed. I came off stage feeling it was the best gig ever and Craig our manager said 'how do you think that went?'"

The next day Tigs was called into the manager's office to see just how well it went as he played back the show, filmed by Channel 4. "It was not what I thought it would be. It was hideous," she grimaces. "The main thing was, sonically, I was not bang on. There has to come a point where if you want to get to the next level, you have to rein it in, otherwise you'll be that band that plays the Dublin Castle [a well-known London venue] for the rest of your life."

The band formed in springtime 2008 with Tigs's friend James Watson and his friend Will Sanderson, both multi-instrumentalists, responsible for the Eighties-sounding beats and synth melodies. Instead of booking their first gig after they had several songs completed, they arranged the gig first. After persuading a friend to hold a house party where they would perform, they had ten days to come up with some songs. That night they ended up playing to an audience that included the Mighty Boosh. A year later they were releasing their single "Solo", on the hip Kitsune label, and this January their debut album, Unicorn, came out.

Now 27, Tigs was born to a Spanish father and Dutch-South African mother in a quaint village outside Stroud, Gloucestershire, moving to London so that she and her brothers could pursue a good education. Her brothers went on to become scientists – one is a primatologist and the other is a zoologist and taxidermist who was Damien Hirst's assistant for four years. Tigs abandoned her A-levels and chose the life of an impoverished poet.

"I always remember singing, but I'd never wanted to have anything to do with music. When I was about 19 I got into writing poetry. Then I got really into Patti Smith and the New York rock scene before it was termed 'punk' and how people were fusing music and poetry and that's when I thought, 'maybe that's what I want to do'."

Recognising Tigs's immense voice which recalls Karen O, a friend of her brother, who was working at EMI at the time, suggested she could be a singer. So Tigs started writing songs instead of poetry, and within a year she had signed a deal with Universal. It was a difficult start in the industry, as her relationship with Universal disintegrated with the first album, and she was forced to sack her band because of poor sales. "It's funny", she reflects. "I've had a failed solo career before my slightly more successful band."

Having played guitar-driven music, Tigs wanted to try something different. But little did the Chew Lips trio know that in eschewing an already burgeoning indie scene, they would fall into another saturated market. "When we started we didn't really know what we wanted to sound like. The only thing we knew is what we didn't want to sound like – post-Bloc Party, post-Foals, guitar-y jerky and staccato-y. Because that was and is a saturated market. Little did we know that in the year we were making our record the whole electro thing would be ridiculous.

"I just think it [our music] really sounds apart from the stuff that came out last year," she states, though she admits being annoyed by some of the comparisons. "For a start it's been a big year for female electro artists – none of them are in bands. We write as a band, perform as a band, and our shows are almost like a rock gig. It's not controlled or terribly pop – it crosses the line between. It really gets to me being compared to solo manufactured products."

Their high energy shows and compelling frontwoman could be what sets them apart in the electro-pop scene. Performing is in Tigs's nature. "We're two geeks and a show-off. I'm not going to stand on a stage and look surly. I know what I want when I go and see a band. If I want to hear a perfect rendition of a record played by people who are standing still, I'd put the CD on at home. At a show I want to be blown away and entertained."

Chew Lips tour the UK from tomorrow to 15 May. The single "Karen" and the album 'Unicorn' are out now on Family