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Self-made pop star Little Boots, the musical guise of 25-year-old Victoria Hesketh, has gone from typically fleeting YouTube fame to serious chart success in her native United Kingdom. She signed to a major label largely on the strength of posting web-cam originals as well as covers of songs by Annie Lennox, Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper and emerged as a star in her own right with the debut album Hands. Hesketh’s synth-propelled electro-pop anthems are widely accessible and arrestingly catchy, while retaining her idiosyncratic charm. It’s pop, but pop the Little Boots way.
“The fact that people can be a lot more hands-on is pretty exciting,” says Hesketh, citing the now-commonplace tools GarageBand and MySpace. “The way people make music and find music is being revolutionized.” Yet she admits it has a downside: “It means there’s a lot more stuff, and a lot more bad stuff. But it’s easier to be creative. You don’t have to save a thousand pounds to go into a recording studio.”
Once poised for the big time, though, Hesketh did enter a recording studio—on the label’s dime. She recorded Hands throughout 2008 with various producers in LA and England, including Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and the Bird and the Bee’s Greg Kurstin. Both choices make sense: Kurstin helmed a single for her former band, the college-formed Dead Disco, and she had covered Hot Chip’s “Ready for the Floor.” Aided by London producer Kid Gloves, the song “Symmetry” wound up with guest vocals from Philip Oakley of Human League, rivaling that band’s own iconic duet “Don’t You Want Me.”
It says a lot about the strength of Hands that “Symmetry” wasn’t even released as a single. Instead came the fizzy album opener “New In Town” and the breathy kiss-off “Remedy,” each cracking the U.K.’s Top 20. Having already seized the British popular imagination for the past nine months, largely thanks to the smash single “Stuck on Repeat,” Hesketh is now expected to conquer America. And there’s a pretty good chance of that happening. Hands came out in the States March 2 via Elektra, and there’s been considerable buzz about her remixes—her favorite is the Golden Filter’s elongated take on “New In Town”—and the successful tour dates she’s already done here. And again, there are the songs.
“If you write a really great pop song, it can appeal to all different kinds of people,” Hesketh says. “It’s really unrestricted.” The singer/songwriter has deep respect for pop as a leveler in today’s niche-crazed musical universe. And she doesn’t condescend when tackling the genre. “I like all kinds of pop. I don’t really care if it’s deep or sophisticated. I just try to write stuff I find interesting, really.”
On her debut, Hesketh’s voice is fairly straightforward, if perfectly vulnerable when it counts. But it’s her tightly coiled lyrics and splashy synth melodies that seal the songs. She began taking piano lessons at the age of 5, and although Hands is dominated by synths, the hidden title track isolates just her voice and ivories. Hesketh’s early training enabled her to reinterpret so many other people’s songs, which in itself has been educational. “If you break a song down into building blocks,” she explains, “then you’ll understand how it works.”
Touring nonstop and landing such high-profile activities as dueting with Gary Numan on British TV, Hesketh hasn’t had time to write much new material since Hands. When she has gotten the chance, the results have been more stream-of-consciousness than calculated. “I write for fun, not really thinking about direction too much,” she admits. “Just seeing what happens. After this tour is finished, I’ll probably sit down and focus and get some songs together. I’ve only got bits of time, so you have to take what you can get and decide what you’re in the mood for that day.”
If there’s an elephant in the room when discussing Little Boots, it’s the recent wave of synth-wielding female songwriters, from Lady Gaga to Ladyhawke to La Roux. Predictably, Hesketh isn’t fussed about the competition. “The media are obsessed with comparing us just because we’ve got a keyboard and a vagina,” she says. “We’re quite far away from one another, really. I don’t think about it; I just get on with my own thing.”