Alternative pop band
British popsters Republica blend dance-fueled beats with a definite 1980s-punk sensibility. Fronted by a photogenic lead singer and backed by four musicians with much collective experience behind them, Republica achieved their first success in the United States while earning comparisons with Garbage, another alter-na-pop act with a similar formula to its line-up. Yet Republican success Stateside with their infectious single “Ready to Go” was near-heretical act for a British bands; its sales and the attendant MTV coverage would doom them to the silent treatment in the rabid U.K. music press, but by 1997, the band had attained some grudging respect at home and a favorable review or two.
Republica coalesced around 1994 around the duo of keyboard virtuosos Tim Dorney and Andy Todd. Dorney had been in a band called Flowered Up, which achieved great one-shot success with a 13-minute single called “Weekender” during a brief hippie revival in England. His bandmate “Toddy” had logged in years of experience as a producer and sound engineer for such bands as Adam and the Ants, Prefab Sprout, and Bjork; he had even worked with Barbra Streisand. The two joined forces and, in time, recruited two other members to fill in drum and guitar slots. This other half of República possessed less glamorous, but equally outstanding backgrounds: Dave Barbarossa was also a music-industry veteran, having played with such acts as Bow Wow Wow, Adam and the Ants, and even Pink Floyd. Johnny Male was an alumnus of a U.K. band called Soul Family Sensation and had enjoyed success as a songwriter, most notably with St. Etienne.
Dorney and Todd had written an instrumental song and wanted to just release it as a 12-inch single for the club scene. A friend heard it, though, and suggested female vocals, and even provided them with the name of a potential singer. It was a young woman who was known simply as “Saffron,” a dancer and actress with exotic looks, courtesy of a mixed Chinese, Portuguese, and English background. She even had an interesting past: Saffron had lived in Nigeria as a child until civil war erupted. “We had to leave because people’s heads were getting chopped off in next door’s garden,” Saffron told vox’s Mark Beaumont. Her family settled in the English city of Brighton, and she spent her childhood taking ballet classes, with the hopes of becoming a ballerina.
By the time she reached her teen years, however, any desire in Saffron to sacrifice for her art had disappeared. “They used to beat your feet with spoons, saying you’re not a dancer until you have blood in your shoes, so I started singing and writing songs,” she explained in a press release published on the band’s official Web site. Successes included collaboration with former Sex Pistols bassist Jah Wobble, but she also continued to pursue a career in dance. For a time she worked as a casino dancer in Italy, and did a stint in the London stage version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in the role of the maid, Magenta. It was at this point that she joined República. The group recorded and released two limited-edition promotional discs in 1994, Out of This World and Bloke, that began making the playlists at popular British dance clubs. In time, they were invited to open for larger acts
“We basically wanted to be the Antichrist of anything in dance music,” Saffron told Beaumont in Vox. It was their intention, she explained, the take the drug-fueled tempos of he British dance-club music and pop them up with catchy lyrics. “It wasn’t our intention to bastardise dance music, which I’m sure a lot of the dance community hate us for,” she revealed to Beaumont. “We understand pure dance music in that aesthetic, but we wanted to be in a band that wrote pop songs.” After recording several tracks for their first LP for the Deconstruction label in England, they were offered an opening slot on U.S. tour for Gravity Kills. They accepted, taking virtually no money with them—since they had none and were counting on the label to provide food and shelter—but half of the Gravity Kills tour dates were cancelled due to abysmal sales. República decided to stick it out and find other gigs to play, which necessitated long, grueling drives through middle America. Once, after a van
Members include Dave Barbarossa, drums; Tim Dorney, keyboards; Johnny Male, guitar; Saffron (born in Nigeria), vocals; and Andy Todd, keyboards and bass.
Dorney had been in a band called Flowered Up; Barbarossa played with Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, and Pink Floyd, among others; Todd worked behind the scenes as a producer or engineer for acts, including Barbra Streisand, Altered Images, and Bjork; Male had been in a band called Soul Family Sensation and wrote songs for the band St. Etienne. Formed Republica, 1994.
Addresses: Record company —Deconstruction • Records, Bedford House, 69-79 Fulham High Street, London SW6 3JW. E-mail —www.republica.com.
breakdown in the middle of nowhere, a car pulled over to help them and actually recognized the band.
Still, the American tour did offer some success. At one point someone called to offer them the opening slot for the Kiss reunion tour, but nothing more was heard. “Iggy Pop asked me for a cigarette,” Saffron reported in Vox, “and I was like, ’Iggy, have the WHOLE PACKET!’” She did, however, express dismay at the sexism she encountered behind closed doors. “Some people feel really threatened by me,” she told Beaumont. “It’s like in New York they’re all: ‘Who is she? She can’t possibly know anything about music and she can’t possible be talented!’”
By then “Ready to Go” was charting on Billboard’ Modern Rock lists and receiving airplay on MTV—but this, as vox’s Beaumont explained, can be the kiss of death for any British band that has not theoretically paid their dues in enough small venues at home. A “total credibility blackout,” in Beaumont’s words, awaited them at home when Republica returned late in 1996 from six weeks in the United States. The band, Beaumont noted, “looked for all the world like they’d been concocted in a laboratory in Alabama as part of an experiment to clone the perfect MTV band. They had it all: the scary but seductive female singer; the anonymous backing band with approximately five billion years of experience in the music industry behind them, the proto-Garbage image and, most importantly, the effortlessly digestible pop hook,” he opined in Vox. Similarly, critics gave their eponymous debut, Republica, a mixed assessment. Tania Branigan, critiquing the record for Melody Maker, found it “gorgeously trashy pop…. It’s impossible not to love a band who mix careful superficiality with such hi-speed, haughty songs.” Rolling Stone writer Al Weisel declared the band “have grafted the power chords and hook-laden pop of early ’80s New Wave onto a driving ’90s dance groove.” A Vox review, however, found “Ready to Go” the high point and called Republica, “subtle as an Oasis press conference.” The reviewer, Jake Barnes, went on to dismiss many of the songs for possessing “the sort of testosterone-inducing brutishness” usually found on television promo spots for sporting events, and noted that one American hockey team was already using “Ready to Go” as their theme song.
In Melody Maker, Mark Roland reviewed a live Republica show, and was similarly dismissive. “It’s all there: Saffron’s star potential, the big tunes, the glossy sound, but it’s as satisfying as fast food,” he noted. The show was part of a Fun Lovin’ Criminals tour that spring, another problematic road encounter after one of the New York-based rapsters was arrested in Leeds on charge of making obscene phone calls. Later, in the spring of 1997, Republica made several stops on a European tour, and Roland’s prediction of its lead singer’s possible future: she had been approached by a film director to appear in a major motion picture. More problematically, she found herself the object of desire on the part of deranged fans. Saffron told Beaumont, “When it gets to the point that they phone you up and demand that you go round their mum’s house because they have to tell you something … I’m gonna have to change my phone number.”
Republica, Deconstruction, 1996.
Republica: Drop Dead Gorgeous (2 CD set), Deconstruction, 1996.
(Contributor) Random, Beggars Banquet/Receiver Records, 1997.
Melody Maker, March 1, 1997; April 12, 1997.
Rolling Stone, October 3, 1996.
Vox, May 1997.
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