"L.A. Girlfriend is cute, but with a knife in its hand," is how Sydney Banta describes her musical alter ego. She's not kidding. L.A. Girlfriend - whose sweeping, British-influenced, throwback electro-pop makes L.A. sound like a rare sunny day in Manchester - is contrast city.
On one hand, Banta says, L.A. Girlfriend is "all about glorifying rejection." Things do get dark lyrically ("I post a lot of photos of cupcakes on social media to combat the sadness"), but the tunes themselves are irresistibly danceable, hook-driven to a point where heartache is reduced to a calmingly relatable refrain like, "Gentlemen beware/Of the things you say/She might confuse you/For somebody else who could've stayed." L.A. Girlfriend live is designed to be a warm embrace, explains Banta, who describes her music as Romantic Nouveau (think New Order meets Ladytron). "I want to make an experience where everyone is in the moment with me. L.A. Girlfriend is this person I've always wanted to be."
Sydney Banta's role as Los Angeles' sequin-clad New Wave queen has been a delightful surprise to the 23-year-old, who started L.A. Girlfriend as a thought experiment. "I got serious about music after I graduated high school in 2008," she says. "L.A. Girlfriend was everything I wasn't and everything I wanted to be. I didn't have a boyfriend in high school. I didn't dress up and do the girly girl thing. But I knew that one day I wanted to become that awesome strong kickass lady who everyone wants to be friends with."
L.A. Girlfriend went from being Banta's bedroom recording project to a three-piece band. Of late, the project is back to being a solo act featuring Banta on vocals and, occasionally, guitar. "The connection between me and the audience is everything," Banta says about playing live. "Interaction is a big thing with me. I'm L.A. Girlfriend. The girls' girl and the guys' girl. I want everyone to feel included in the party."
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Last year, Banta released her first album, Viva, whose stellar tracks "Gentlemen" and "Valentine," Banta says, are always crowd-pleasers; shows reach a fever pitch, especially when "Gentlemen" is played. At a warehouse show downtown last year, Banta had a transcendent experience in which she was invited offstage by an audience member and carried on performing in the midst of the crowd. "There's an unspoken rule about protecting the L.A. Girlfriend at shows," Banta says about the loyal fan base that turns out for every live date she plays.
"Live, I do have a raw edge, but I'm also bouncing around in four-inch platform shoes and sequined tops." That constant contrast is exactly what makes L.A. Girlfriend's music so kinetically compelling to Banta's already sizeable audience.
At the concert she performed in the thick of her fans, Banta says, "They all knew the words to my songs and were singing the chorus parts back to me. I'll probably remember that forever."
Catch L.A. Girlfriend, Plague Vendor, and Flaamingos at the Echo this Wednesday.