Interview

Indie sleaze icons CSS: ‘It makes me so happy to see all the guys out there with lipstick’

For a few years in the late Noughties, the Brazilian band were the electropoppers du jour. Years later, they chat with Mark Beaumont about their ‘not reunion’ reunion tour, why they disbanded – and the indie sleaze revival upon us

Thursday 20 June 2024 06:00 BST
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Brazilian electropop group CSS: ‘We were so tired after shows, and we weren’t going to do drugs just to go to an afterparty’
Brazilian electropop group CSS: ‘We were so tired after shows, and we weren’t going to do drugs just to go to an afterparty’ (Gleeson Paulino)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

They may not have been the hardest partying band of Noughties new rave, but CSS proved the hardest to party with. Paris Hilton had tried to lure the Brazilian electropop crew away to an exclusive post-Coachella A-list bash in 2007 – after all, their set had included kraut-rave track “Meeting Paris Hilton” – but they didn’t show. Another time, Lindsay Lohan got an equally cold shoulder. And as for Courtney Love, the Hole frontwoman wasn’t able to persuade exuberant singer Lovefoxxx to go up west with her to load up on the best Egyptian gear known to man.

“She invited us to go with her to Liberty to buy bedsheets,” says Lovefoxxx – aka Luisa Matsushita, the visual whirlwind famed for sashaying through sauce-tronic tracks like “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death from Above” in rainbow sequin bodysuits. These days, you’re more likely to find Lovefoxxx, now 40, in a painter’s smock. “I was so intimidated that I would drink a lot just to be able to respond to the email. I was like, ‘Oh my God, if I go to Liberty [with Love], I’m gonna die.’ I chickened out.”

When the six-piece CSS (short for Cansei de Ser Sexy or “tired of being sexy”) landed from Sao Paulo like a glitter bomb dropped into the middle of Britain’s thriving alt-rock maelstrom in 2006, Lovefoxxx was immediately adopted as the queen of the new rave microgenre, one half of the scene’s definitive power couple alongside “super cool sweetheart” Simon Taylor-Davis. Yet, while the glow sticks, garish exercise attire and neon face paint whirled wildly around them, their focus, she explains now, was always on their shows – which clocked up to 300 a year at their peak, earning CSS a plaque for Hardest Working Band in Music from their agent. So energetic were the shows that the band were always too exhausted to rave on afterwards.

“We were very flattered with those invitations,” Lovefoxxx says, sitting beside bandmate Ana Rezende on a Zoom call from Los Angeles, where her three forty-something bandmates are now based (she’s still a resident of Sao Paulo). “But we were so tired, and we weren’t going to do drugs just to go to a party, then have no voice the next day for the show. We were very professional and very adult about it.”

When Lovefoxxx looks back at pictures of the chaos now, all she sees are drug-addled infants. “The people look so young, they look like they’re 12,” she laughs. “It was a scene made by babies. Some of those babies were on drugs. But we never…” She pauses. “We were highly drunk. That was how we damaged our bodies – with alcohol.”

All this is partly why, of all the Noughties indie sleaze reunions underway, CSS’s is the most cautious. For a few years in the late-Aughts, they were the electropoppers du jour, hitting international charts, festivals, and Apple ad campaigns with tracks such as “Let’s Make Love…”, “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex”, “Alala” and “Off the Hook”. With new rave’s last train to the Interzone swiftly departing though, the hype surrounding CSS cooled – and what they now call “bumpy, challenging and unpleasant” inter-band relations saw the acrimonious departure of songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Adriano Cintra in 2011. The party soured; they released their fourth album Planta in 2013 and stopped touring the following year.

In 2019, CSS’s core four – Lovefoxxx, Rezende and guitarist/drummers Luiza Sá and Carolina Parra – were lured out of hiatus to play one show in Brazil, but the pandemic scuppered any enthusiasm for working on new material. Hence why they’re now marking their 20th anniversary solely with live dates, including a recent US tour and, starting this week, their first jaunt across the UK in a decade.

The pair insist it isn’t a “proper” reunion, though, reluctant as they are to give up the individual lives they’ve built for themselves since disbanding in 2014. “It’s very hard to live off of a band when you’re not Coldplay, obviously,” Rezende explains. “The whole band thing that happened to us was very accidental. We had a really great 10 years, our whole twenties, and then we got to 30 and it’s just a hard life. We all felt, in different ways, ‘Oh, let’s explore other things and do other things while we’re still young.’” The appeal of playing again was purely to relive the early joys of hanging out in a van together talking nonsense. “It was very cool to have CSS come back, as in the beginning, as a fun thing to do,” Rezende says. “But I don’t think that CSS will ever become the centre of our lives again.”

Lovefoxxx: ‘We do love making demos and being creative in our own circle but the whole promoting side of it is very tiring’
Lovefoxxx: ‘We do love making demos and being creative in our own circle but the whole promoting side of it is very tiring’ (Gleeson Paulino)

“I hope it doesn’t,” Lovefoxxx adds. “We do love making demos and being creative in our own circle but the whole promoting side of it is very tiring, especially now. We don’t want to have that kind of lifestyle with social media. We’re not savvy. This is a game for the people who are 20 years behind us. You do it, we did it already. Let’s enjoy our lives another way.” That said, she continues, “this band taught me everything I know about everything…” She suddenly becomes emotional, wiping away tears. “I travelled so much, and I was able to see cultures, try foods, and experience life and really find myself in a way that I would never be able to do if it wasn’t for this band. This band is something huge but I’m glad that now it’s just something we’re doing for fun because it’s not for the money, I assure you.”

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The separation between band and life is most important for Lovefoxxx. It was her compulsion to paint that brought on the band’s 2014 hiatus in the first place. “It was something that was very closeted inside of me,” she says. “I would start crying. I needed to paint. I don’t even consider myself a singer; I’m a visual artist. I came to the girls, and I was like, ‘I need to paint and I don’t know how much time I need.’”

Tired of touring and increasingly eco-minded, she sold all her possessions to live off-grid on a plot of land that she bought in the Brazilian countryside and studied at the Earthship Biotecture Academy in Taos, New Mexico, where she learnt to build “crazy-looking” ecological houses. Then she volunteered on Earthship projects in Argentina and bio-construction schemes elsewhere, before cashing in her CSS-accrued air miles and flying to Australia to study permaculture. Meanwhile in LA, Rezende began working in TV and advert production; Sá fell into sound mixing for films; and Parr became a tennis coach.

CSS: ‘We’re doing this reunion for fun – not money, I assure you’
CSS: ‘We’re doing this reunion for fun – not money, I assure you’ (Gleeson Paulino)

Now back on-grid in Sao Paulo, Lovefoxxx has bloomed as an artist. Having previously worked on exhibitions of ceramic jaguars in San Francisco, she’s now represented by a Sao Paulo gallery where she sold every one of the striking abstracts displayed at her first show, and has a waiting list for further work. “Painting is my whole life right now,” she beams, but it’s fair to say she’s no new rave Ringo. “It helps that she’s really good,” says Rezende proudly. “The paintings are really amazing. It’s nice to have a friend who creates these things, and you actually love it.”

Naturally, the demos that CSS briefly worked on around 2019 had more of an ecological bent than a hedonistic one. “We have songs talking about petroleum and plastic,” Lovefoxxx says. “We have songs talking about beauty standards and domestic rescue cats, talking about losing faith in man, as in the species of humanity. But in a CSS way.”

Her spell off-grid gave Lovefoxxx a belated perspective on her time as a sci-fi pop princess. “I could really process CSS, the whole trajectory, what it was,” she says. “You don’t understand too much when you’re in the middle of it… We played a sold-out Brixton Academy show and in my mind that was like ‘OK, so for the next album we’re going to play two nights at the Brixton Academy’. I thought you’d always go up and up and up.”

“The trajectory was so fast upwards that it felt like, ‘oh, that’s what happens to bands’,” says Rezende. “We thought we were living a normal band life.”

It’s hard to live off being in a band when you’re not Coldplay

CSS look back on indie sleaze (“the best name this era has ever had,” Lovefoxxx enthuses, “it embraces the whole thing”) as perhaps the last turned on, tuned in DIY idyll. “There’s something great about it having been the last few years of people not being obsessively online,” says Rezende. “It was more a live-in-the-moment situation. That was the last time.”

Lovefoxxx similarly recalls a more carefree attitude to fashion, music, and self-expression. “People would dress ugly and not care too much about it,” she says. “It was very DIY, like stuff that you buy at the stationery store, it was more creative. That changed in the 2010s with the It Girl blog culture. People wanted to look better, to be more attractive.”

CSS are still very DIY, albeit in a different way: Rezende does the tour admin, Parr the technical stuff, Lovefoxxx the posters and artworks. They are, though, very aware of the unpredictability and fragility of pop success. Which made it all the more wondrous when their recent run of US shows were greeted like the mother of all Trump conviction parties.

CSS: ‘It makes me proud to see so many women doing gay stuff in music now’
CSS: ‘It makes me proud to see so many women doing gay stuff in music now’ (Gleeson Paulino)

“All the shows were packed, and everyone was really into it,” says Lovefoxxx. “We felt very welcomed, accepted, and celebrated. I feel like I know how Janet Jackson felt when she got pregnant around 50 years old or something. Because it feels like a surprise pregnancy – if I were a person that wanted to be pregnant.”

It’s a more CSS sort of landscape that they’ve returned to, as well. “The environment is much better for women now and LGBTQI+ people, which is so great,” says Lovefoxxx. “It makes me so happy to see all the guys with lipstick and everybody looking crazy weird. I love all the weirdos out there.”

“We’re a 100 per cent queer band and we’re all women,” Rezende adds. “Back when we were touring, it was sort of just us. Nowadays you see boygenius and you see Billie Eilish… there’s so much gay stuff there and women doing gay stuff.” Lovefoxxx giggles. “A gay protagonism. It makes me feel proud to be a human at this moment.” The CSS effect coming to fruition, I ask? Lovefoxxx swells with pride. “We’ve inspired so many queer people around the world. I know that because they talk to me, and we cry together, and they tell us how we helped them to recognise themselves. But we stand on the shoulders of L7, of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Bratmobile, Elastica. So many great women and queer artists have paved the way for us [but] I’m so proud to be part of it.” Call Paris Hilton: the party’s back on.

‘It’s Been A Number Of Years Tour’ begins in Glasgow on 22 June and finishes in Porto on 7 July; all dates and ticket available here

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