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Au Revoir Simone: “Our albums are just like a portrait of a time”

Au Revoir Simone: “Our albums are just like a portrait of a time”

22 October 2013, 15:30


In 2009, the idyllic sunshine pop of Au Revoir Simone’s third album Still Night, Still Light was their biggest success to date, spreading their peppy keyboard-led charms further than ever before. In the light of this breakthrough, a four year wait to produce a follow-up might seem a rarity – but for the Brooklyn trio, it was simply a good time for a well-earned break.

“We were actually touring until 2010,” Erika Forster explains over webcam from her Brooklyn apartment. “Like up until the end of the year, and then we started working on this album at the beginning of 2012 – so we pretty much just had two years where we weren’t doing band stuff”, she continues. Joining the chat from her own home, Heather D’Angelo quickly chimes in in agreement. “Even though everyone is saying it’s four years, it really wasn’t, because we put a lot of work into Still Night Still Light. We put in a full album cycle… and we’ve been doing the band full time since 2003.”

After a decade of band life, getting back to real life seemed a necessity, and the band used this time to work on various extra-curricular pursuits – be it solo projects/collaborations (Erika), starting a family (Annie Hart), or completing previously abandoned studies in Environmental Biology (Heather). That distance seems to have been beneficial, with their new material sounding re-energised and markedly bolder than before, even if the band themselves are reluctant to ratify such an assessment. “I think the big change on this album was that we worked with a different producer,” Erika elaborates, “so I feel like that’s a big part of why this album sounds the way it does…” She pauses for a moment, before qualifying that “…our demos are more similar to like the old demos, there is sort of a constant thread of what our sound is”.

That distinctly Au Revoir Simone sound is still present; with the elegant melodies and layered harmonies still dazzling in the foreground, but the taste of something a little less sunny is beginning to reach the surface, after the band’s ten year career. There is a darker sort of maturity stamped throughout these more considered and patient songs, but putting a finger on what else has changed is difficult for the band. “It’s still kinda this “all for one and one for all” dynamic which has been around since the beginning, which is really nice to be a part of,” explains Heather. “And we have a lot more keyboards! That’s the backbone of our sound, so by having new keyboards and new sound spectrums to play with it changes the whole feeling of the songs, the whole energy of an album.”

“We also did a lot of recording just at each one of our apartments, when we were doing demo-ing in preparation for our first wave of recording,” Annie explains, “and we ended up kind of falling in love with those sounds of the keyboards, and the direct sound. We tried a bunch of different production techniques on those sounds – thinking you know, we really just wanna go back to the original demo because it sounded so nice….a kinda typical demo-itis. Jorge was able to help us polish those sounds, but kinda have the energy of them a feel little more homemade.”

The man in question is Jorge Elbrecht, the producer behind Move in Spectrums and a gent with an impressive cult pedigree. As Erika explains, “ he had a kind of a cult New York speed/pop band called Lansing-Dreiden, and now his current band Violens. He’s also been doing some work with Ariel Pink, but we’re friends with him and it just felt like a natural thing. We felt like we wanted some of that magic that we felt he had, and just to experiment with that kind of pop aesthetic.”

The pop aesthetic in question is far more lithe and expressive than some pop has a want to be, particularly in the production style which is encourage to breathe, rather than being compressed and deadened. “For the last one we were constantly mic-ing the room and then re-amping the amps,” explains Annie ,”so the sound ended up being really full because of using a lot of the room sounds. This one is so much more clean and direct, and we did most of our manipulations on the computer rather than in the room. I just think it made feel more stripped down when it’s not actually that different.”

This approach has inadvertently birthed their most fluid and cohesive album to date, however. “When we first had those 12 songs together I was like – ‘this is a nightmare!” says Erika. “This is just gonna sound like the most schizophrenic album in the world! We’ve got like dance songs, and you’ve got like these sad dirges, so I didn’t think it was gonna fit”. She continues, explaining that “all of our albums, as we’re creating them, they don’t feel cohesive, but then when you have a little bit of space from them and you look back – they’re just like a portrait of a time. I think because of that, they do have a cohesiveness – because they’re all connected by that thread of where we were at that time.”

“We’ve had that experience of like doing a cover or something, and being like ‘how are we gonna make this sound like an Au Revoir Simone song?’ You then swiftly realise that you can’t make it not sound like an Au Revoir Simone song, because we just have our thing that we do, and even though we sort of stretch our boundaries and try different things, it’s still coming from us and still has that kind of shape to it.”

The discussion comes round to their favourite songs on the new album. “My favourite is ‘Let The Night Win’. I listen to it often. Like as a song that I like, that I just happened to be involved with making,” proclaims Heather, “…it’s good that I’m not singing, it’s hard to fall in love with a song that you’re singing because that’s just insanely narcissistic! Like – ‘oh I love how this song sounds’ – but as Erika is singing on it, I can enjoy it and not just feel self-absorbed!” As Erika and Annie debate their own choices, Heather suggests that actually “the better question is which songs do our parents like, because all of our parents have like the most outrageously opinionated over the top things to say about the album. And they write these long e-mails like – ‘No girls, I don’t really know what you were trying to do with that one song, it just doesn’t sound very good!’” Laughter breaks out as Annie says, “My parents tell me this in person, they don’t send e-mails. As Erika replies “My parents love everything!” Heather responds jovially – “Well, Erika’s parents are the only ones who are actual musicians, so I just prefer to take their compliments, rather than my mum’s insane rambling. She is our harshest critic…”

While there might be some harsh critics in the Au Revoir Simone family, it’s difficult to imagine the album attracting any ire beyond that. It’s a finely-tuned synth-pop collection which effortlessly combines a slick surface with the kind of home-made charm which defined their earlier work. It’s well worth the wait.

Move in Spectrums is out now via Moshi Moshi.

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