"Let's Go Big, Bigger Than Ever!": An Interview with Au Revoir Simone
Although many think the notion of the "keyboard band" has come and gone, Au Revoir Simone are keeping the notion very much alive, and in talking to PopMatters, they spill all about their new album, Daft Punk, and writing sci-fi.
The ladies of Au Revoir Simone have been making music for almost ten years. They arrived into an indie pop scene that was pretty much all over the place and with their dreamlike synth-pop carved a sonic path for themselves that few bands have equaled: their music is instantly recognizable. Drawing inspiration from influences like the Beach Boys, Belle and Sebastian, and David Bowie, band-members Erika Forster, Annie Hart, and Heather D'Angelo, came to the rescue of the once thought-to-be-lost notion of the keyboard band, and in albums like The Bird of Music and Still Night, Still Light, they have perfected their melancholy-by-way-of-the-dancefloor sound.
Their combination of sweet (but never twee) melodies and poetic lyrics have made them David Lynch's favorite band and a darling of electronic artists who tend to find endless ways to spin their songs through inventive remixes. Their last two albums have been accompanied by respective remix records featuring tracks by the Teenagers, Pacific!, Aeroplane, Neon Indian, and Jens Lekman, among others.
Earlier this year, the band announced the release of their fourth studio album titled Move in Spectrums. The record's first single "Somebody Who" features a retro beat that makes you think of Phil Collins by way of Ella Fitzgerald, it's a remarkably well thought-out teaser that show us how creative the band is in terms of their soundscape, while reminding us why their sound always feel so fresh in a world drowning in Auto-tune. The rest of the album (co-produced by Violens' Jorge Elbrecht) is equally good, with songs that range from the endlessly sad, to ethereal confections that would sound as majestic in a giant arena as they do in the privacy of your earphones. The band spoke to PopMatters about how they choose the themes in their albums, our shared past, and one of the members' predilection for fantasy novels.
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Listening to the album I couldn't help but notice how sad and intense some of the lyrics are. In "The Lead Is Galloping" there are mentions of being pushed to extremes, in "Boiling Point" you make countless mentions of wanting to hide away from someone. To me this felt like a perfect album to encompass what it feels like to be insomniac. Is it safe to say that Move in Spectrums is your most vulnerable album to date?
Annie: From my perspective of understanding, knowing the meaning of all the songs we've ever written, this isn't actually our darkest vulnerable album. Many of our songs are dark and vulnerable but people tend to give them whatever meaning they want. For example many of our songs which are actually about horrible breakups and never seeing persons again, are songs that some people think of as romantic and even get married to.
Erika: In fact, I feel like -- meaning wise -- this album is much more direct, much more difficult to misinterpret.
Do you come up with a concept for the album before you write it or do the songs just set the overall tone?
Erika: It just falls into place. The concept really comes out of all our lives and the intersection between three of us. We never choose a concept or a theme, although once we step back and look at it we often discover there are definitely threads binding all the songs together.
Oh, Erika, before I forget, I meant to tell you that my friend Mercedes [lead singer of garage-rock band Las Robertas] says hello.
Erika: Oh right, my Costa Rican doppelgänger! Did you know that one of our co-producers [Elbrecht] in this album is actually from Costa Rica?
Oh really? Small world!
Erika: Yes, there is such a rich musical scene going on in some unexpected places at the moment. Latin America for example has a cool indie scene, right? We keep listening to great tracks coming from all over ...
Indeed, which reminds me: the opening of "Just Like a Tree" made me think of Madonna's "Burning Up", and "Love You Don't Know Me" reminded me of the Alan Parsons Project and other progressive rock bands. Melodically, I heard things in this album that I'd never noticed before in any of your other music, like sonic references to New Order, Ladytron, etc. As you grow as a band, do you find yourselves wanting to create a unique sound or do you feel more comfortable allowing your influences to be noticeable?
Heather: I think we take a more experimental approach. We play keyboards and are a keyboard band, so anytime we are writing a new song we are putting everything through the filter of just using keyboards. We try to imagine that even if we end up sounding a bit like "Burning Up" [giggles] that having a different sound is the deal with us. We don't sound like anybody else, so that comes with the territory.
Erika: Also, we're developing as artists. Our production is more advanced on this album, compared to our first album which had more of a DIY feel. As we get to work on these huge pop projects, we will probably be more compared to this classic pop music with advanced production styles.
Aside from the melodies, I also saw a different approach to how you sing and write lyrics. In "Somebody Who", for example, there is a delicious rearrangement of syllables and the way we usually talk, but it has a great effect and works wonderfully in the larger scheme of the song. When you write do you find yourselves working with the music or melodies first?
Erika: The way that I came to a lot of songs for instance is that I write words that came into my head already accompanied by a melody. Sometimes the words that came with the melody don't make any sense, but the result is good because it makes you think. Maybe you can add something backwards or strange that you wouldn't do in normal speech.
Annie: Wasn't it the Beatles' "Yesterday" that used to be called "Scrambled Eggs"? [laughs] It doesn't make the lyrics any less meaningful.
Heather: In "Somebody Who" we ended up writing the lyrics together, we decided to arrange the lyrics differently, using elements that can come in that can be written when the music is being written. We took in consideration the sound of instruments, the chords, etc.
Besides its title, "Gravitron", needless to say so has very sci-fi undertones. Listening to it I was constantly reminded of A Clockwork Orange because you use the keyboards in a very cinematic way. A few years ago you performed in David Lynch's club and he's a big fan of yours. Have you ever given thought to scoring a movie?
Heather: Oh yeah, we'd love to do something like that, our music is used in soundtracks for movies and TV shows, so creating original music for movies seems like a natural progression.
"Let the Night Win" reminded me of what I like most about your songs and it's that structurally, the listener never knows where you're going. Your songs have twists and turns that feel like dramatic arcs. Are you interested in storytelling through other mediums?
Erika: That's flattering because we do try to stay open when we're writing, we let the songs guide you. Two years ago The Yeah Yeah Yeahs made this opera and it was such an accomplishment, I love the integration of live theater and music. So yeah, to not stay limited by all the conventions of the media would be really amazing, especially because there are many people interested in theater, so there would be an audience for that right now. We'll have to think more about that. [laughs]
Annie: I took courses in creative writing and always had a hard time inventing things to say [laughs], I have so much to express within myself, but I do it with music which gives me more of a cathartic release of emotion. I can't even begin to consider the idea of making something else, even if i keep trying and trying ...
Heather: I actually love working on fiction, sci-fi and fantasy stuff, maybe I'll put something out someday ...
The finale of "Gravitron" is exquisite and made me think it has more of a stadium feel than anything you've done before. When/if you tour with this album are you interested in doing bigger venues?
Heather: Definitely! That was one of the things we all talked about when we started work on this album, "let's go big, bigger than ever!" so we really hope we can bring that concept to larger venues.
Erika: Yeah, I already see a light show, to go with the live show, it would be a great step forward for us.
You've always been a keyboard band and through the years you've slowly been introducing more instruments to your repertoire. Do you find that you're straying from your original path or just evolving?
Annie: It's definitely an evolution, we still all have a big pile of keyboards that we use and I think we're anchored in being primarily a keyboard band, even if we all dabble in other instruments. I feel it's the instrument we feel the most comfortable in, it defines our sound, and it also gives us freedom of experimentation. This album has a different sound, because I bought a classic keyboard that makes the songs sound moody. Having other keyboards can completely change the sound, same mechanism with the sounds. So rather than starting, let's say broadening.
Your remix albums are wonderful and it made me wonder, have you ever given thought to full out releasing a dance album?
Erika: We get asked to collaborate with a bunch of electronic artists and it's always been fun. I love dance music, I'm extremely obsessed with the Daft Punk record and I love disco, so I try to include that in the music I make on the side. Remixes are fun because they are reinterpretation. The music we make together is not sad, but we truly enjoy listening to songs in a different context, plus dance music makes people happy and that's always a great goal.