12 Rounds

12 Rounds Duo Shooting For Higher Ground

Dynamic trip-hop duo converges opposing styles to come out with a strangely dark sound on upcoming LP.
Contributing Editor Teri vanHorn reports:

LOS ANGELES — Claudia Sarne and Atticus Ross are sitting in bungalow # 4 of the legendary Chateau Marmont Hotel, discussing their forthcoming June release under the band name 12 Rounds.
But the duo are not just talking about an album, they’re describing the origins of a living thing. And suddenly it’s clear why My Big Hero begins with the steady sound of a heartbeat.
“It became a direct result of the two of us marrying what I do and what Atticus does together, and this thing was born,” vocalist Sarne says of the mix of moods and the teeter-taw of mediums that comprise the LP, due out in June. “It physically felt like giving birth — we almost had to name her, but we didn’t go that far.

Carrying both organic and electronic traits, the album’s erotic, trip-hop blues is clearly a product of its eclectic parents.

Ross attributes the album’s provocative, predominately dark feel to his darker sensibilities, making it sound like a demonically possessed child. Sarne “created a sort-of malicious character,” he says. “I think that a lot of girls sing from the ‘I’m-so-wronged’ perspective, and not many sing from the ‘I’m-capable-of-doing-wrong’ perspective. That’s the irony, I think — the mood’s kind-of dark, but it doesn’t wear the pain as though we were on our cross.”

Dressed for a photo shoot, Sarne, 28, is wearing a black dress with hot-pink fishnet stockings. At the moment, she is weirdly beautiful, with her short, black hair slicked back and chartreuse-green eye shadow entirely encompassing her blue eyes. “I don’t usually look like this,” she says in an apologetic tone.

The 29-year-old Ross, however, looks more earthly, dressed in black pants and a gray, button-down shirt. The Londoners are in Los Angeles for a quick visit and some media exposure as they search for a director for the album’s first video, the arresting “Come On In Out of the Rain”.

Formerly a trio, 12 Rounds had limited exposure through Polydor before Sarne and Ross, who are romantic partners as well, decided to become a duo in 1996. “You had to be much more democratic in a three-piece, and you get some pretty weird dynamics when there’s two girls and a guy,” Sarne said. “It’s an old thing that triangles just don’t work, and for us, it was true. It started out pretty well, and then it just degenerated. None of us were growing as artists, or musicians, or programmers, so one of us had to fall by the wayside.”

Jeff Anderson, who signed the duo to Nothing Records, said My Big Hero realizes the potential he felt for the band when he first heard 12 Rounds as a trio. “The minute I heard them, I completely fell in love with their music,” he says while stocking the fridge to prepare for the duo’s party that night. “As I got the new music, my gut feeling about them was confirmed.”

My Big Hero’s potential success might lie in that it crosses over the warmer, organic sounds and the more cutting edge of electronica while never pushing either sound too far. “We put equal emphasis on the programmed side as the live,” Ross says. “The treatment of the guitar is like, use a guitar and keep it a guitar. I don’t like it when a song records a guitar and then processes it until it doesn’t sound like what it is anymore. We let the electronics and the string section exist each in their own right, but no song is one or the other.”

When it comes to the album’s use of unusual instruments, such as the chainsaw that cuts through “Bovine” and the fly that buzzes around on “Something’s Burning,” Ross is a bit more vague. “It just felt like it needed it,” he says.

Ross and Sarne talk about My Big Hero as though it were a dramatic test of faith. “It was literally like looking at a fucking sea, and saying, ‘I know I can get to the other side of that, but I don’t know how to get to the other side of that,” Sarne says, pointing and squinting as she stares in the distance.

For Sarne, building that bridge became a matter of gaining confidence — while losing a little self-consciousness. “At the beginning I was scrutinizing everything so closely and I wasn’t feeling confident about my writing,” she says. “About midway through, we both kind of said ‘fuck it’ and let go a bit, and that’s how it all came together.”

Many of the lyrics were written almost subliminally, with Sarne letting them come to her in a stream of consciousness as she sang. But a lot of that inspiration, she adds, comes from suffering and loss of direction. “You know, when you loosen your control on the reign a tiny bit — just enough so you can still feel the pull — you can take a step forward without being paralyzed by your own fear, without confining yourself to the things that you know. I don’t think that any growth is born out of not having any pain.”