Photo by Stephen Dowling
Joker’s Daughter remains a mystery on The Last Laugh
By Laura Leebove
Published: April 7th, 2009 | 4:30am
It comes as no surprise that Helena Costas grew up reading books like Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Even though Costas, who performs as Joker’s Daughter, says stories from her childhood have influenced her music mostly on a subconscious level, it’s clear that her onstage alter ego is living in a fantasy world.
After failures on behalf of Skype and then my home Internet, Costas and I are stuck chatting via instant message — me from a nearby coffee shop, her from her friend’s house in London. It’s not, by any means, a first-choice mode of communication for an interview. But aside from her face popping up on my computer screen for a few seconds at a time, it did make Costas and her music seem more mysterious. It also is rather fitting when considering that most of her debut album, The Last Laugh (Team Love), wasn’t done face to face, but instead through e-mails back and forth with producer Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley fame.
After all, mysteriousness is Costas’ game, and she plays it well. Costas says her stage moniker comes from wanting to be dark and playful at the same time, and that it allows her to recreate herself. “(Joker’s Daughter) was originally a song lyric I wrote, inspired by a packet of cards,” she says. “I liked the idea of it being the wild card out of the pack — that it was special, and original, and mysterious at the same time.”
The Last Laugh, out April 7, does indeed throw Costas into a sort of wild-card category, both musically and lyrically. Throughout the 14 experimental folk-pop tracks, the London-based musician explores mythology, food, and sometimes what happens in her sleep. The song “Lucid,” for example, stems from a combination of three separate dreams. “The lucid parts were flying dreams that I had where a giant troll was chasing after me. There were huge rabbits and owls everywhere and it was a bit like Alice in Wonderland,” Costas says. “Then the other dream, I was flying to different countries, one of which I thought was Mexico.”
Then, instead of learning what it’s like to write a song while on drugs, Costas picked a different poison: the round, spongy, orange jelly–filled, dark chocolate–covered biscuits known as Jaffa Cakes. “The sugar rush just made all sorts of things pop into my head so I just wrote them down — even if they didn't make sense,” she says. “Yes, there is a huge influence from food (on the album).”
Even though it’s easy to make connections between Costas’ explanations of her songs’ back stories and the actual lyrics, there still is plenty of room for other meanings, which she says is the goal of her writing. “I don't tend to over divulge in the lyrics, as I like the idea of people making their own interpretations and to allow room for different perspectives,” she says.
On the music end, Costas takes on a number of instruments, including guitar, violin, bouzouki, synthesizer, and vibes. Among Danger Mouse’s contributions are electronic beats, percussion, and more synths, and other instrumental elements include string and horn arrangements. Costas’ partnership with Danger Mouse began a few years ago when a friend of his saw her perform and put them in touch. “I sent him over material that I had written and recorded myself and he would tell me if he liked them and ask for the music parts to work on, and it just went on from there,” she says.
Though the two did meet a few times in London and laid down a couple of tracks during a week in Los Angeles, most of the work was done remotely. “I couldn't have done it without having a computer and learning how to record,” Costas says. “I remember my brother making me my first computer and I think since then it has been a lot easier to share and collaborate.”
Considering she’s been through undergrad and a master’s program, I estimate Costas is in her late 20s — but when I ask her at the end of our conversation, she probably did get the last laugh, as she responded, “A joker never tells her age.”
To find out more information on Joker’s Daughter, check out her MySpace.