Published May 23, 2009The Au Revoir Simone formula has always been a simple one: three women, their keyboards and some drum machines. Sure, it's nothing earth-shattering, but the straightforwardness has served the Brooklyn trio well enough during their young career, and perhaps best on the group's latest effort Still Night, Still Light. Produced by Thom Monahan (Little Joy, Pernice Brothers), this follow-up to 2007's The Bird of Music strays far away from any of the distracting busyness found in some of the group's older work, and instead lets little stand between triple-layered harmonies, minimalist beats and a stark blend of organs and keys. It's definitely a much more introspective Au Revoir Simone than we've heard previously, and it's one that comes showing more than a few signs of heartbreak. As the group were gearing up for their North American tour, the band's Heather D'Angelo chatted with Exclaim! about their new stripped-down sound, Au Revior Simone's very own Venn diagram and jam sessions with Jarvis Cocker.
So your new album Still Night, Still Light is totally in the bag. How are you feeling about the record you've come out with this time?
Well, we're really happy with it. We finally feel that we've made the record that we always wanted to make this whole time, but for various reasons couldn't.
To produce this record, you got Thom Monahan, who's worked with a lot more acoustic, folky type bands such as Little Joy and Vetiver. Were you a bit worried about that since you guys are so synth oriented?
No, not at all. He's a complete gear head and synth nerd. He's the most knowledgeable person about keyboards that I've ever met. He was actually really perfect for the job. And what we really liked about him is that he's produced so many folk albums and we were kind of trying to go for making an electronic folk album. And that's pretty much what happened.
In your mind, what sets this record apart from the last one, 2007's The Bird of Music?
I think this new record has a more direct intention. I think it's taken us a while to really find what we were going for. We used to be kind of all over the place, with different styles and expressions, and just sort of scattered. And there was a lot of frustration with the last album. We knew how we wanted it to sound but we didn't know how to articulate it. It was a lot of trial and error, and a lot of songs on Bird of Music didn't really come out the way we wanted them to, because we weren't sure how to do it. But Thom instantly understood our weird language of how we want something to sound. The process was really open, and we didn't feel rushed to put anything down. There are a lot more amps and pedals on this new album that we didn't really use in the past. And there's actually a lot less keyboards on this album, and really there's a lot less of everything. We found that by actually stripping down the instruments we ended up getting a fuller sound.
What made you decide to go in that starker, more minimal direction?
Well, that's what we were trying to do with the last album, but it didn't really work. We've always tried to make things sound organic and lush and warm, but unfortunately with the last album, we thought the way to do that would be to keep adding more keyboards, more strings, more this, more that. And it just ended up getting too over the top and bombastic in a bad way. Really, in the end, those songs just sounded flat. So with this one, we got the quality of space we were looking for by stripping everything down.
Other than just finding a fuller, stripped-down sound, what else do you think you were trying to achieve here with Still Night, Still Light?
I guess to find a real cohesion of style. The three of us are really different people, with different stylist and aesthetic interests. So it's kind of like a Venn diagram: where we meet in the middle is how our band sounds. And I think our circles have closed in a little more and become tighter. I mean, I come from more of an appreciation for electronic music, liking people like Björk, Stereolab, Kraftwerk and Electrelane. Erika [Forster] has a strong folky background, and Annie [Hart] has a strong punk background. And I don't necessarily like that sort of stuff, but where we meet overall is that we all love keyboards, obviously, and we all love melancholy and orchestral-sounding music and emotional-sounding songs and introspection. And there are songs on the record that are more one of us than the others, but we do all write the songs together. As soon as one of us brings a song to the practice space, it's not yours anymore, it's the collective's.
Would you say there is an overreaching lyrical theme on this record?
Yeah, but it wasn't intentional. We spent the last two years together, 24 hours a day, every single day. So we've been experiencing the exact same stuff. I think when it came time to write lyrics, we all ended up writing about the similar things.
So what did you write about then?
Well, I hate to be a band that talks about touring, because I know it's really cliché. But being on the road is heartbreaking. There's a lot of time alone to think about your life and a lot of introspection, a lot of having to deal with loss and priorities. You really get perspective on things because you aren't caught up in the day-to-day crap of taking out the trash, doing the laundry, etc., etc. Everything becomes really sharp and focused, and it can be harsh and emotional. And with that, we went through a lot of changes with our home life, so there were break-ups, getting together with new people, gypsy life, a sense of homelessness. I think we were all processing those things passively and that's why the album has that feeling to it.
This is a bigger, overreaching question, but how do you think your vision for the band has changed over the years?
Well, it has definitely changed. I mean, in the beginning there was no vision for the band, which really used to be more of a club than a proper band. It was just three bored girls that had day jobs and looking for a way to make new girlfriends, relieve stress and do something funny after work. We weren't even planning to play shows in the beginning. We would just meet up at Erika's house with little Casio keyboards and try to learn covers of '80s songs, drink tea and talk about relationships and gossip. I never, ever in a million years imagined that I would be a professional musician. It was never my intention. Then eventually we did start to play shows and we named our little project and one day I just woke up and it was like, "Oh my god, I'm in a real band." Now, by this time, we've been doing this band thing long enough where I know the sacrifices it takes and it makes you take the whole thing more seriously.
I saw a posting on your blog where you posted about Au Revoir Simone working with Air's Jean-Benoît Dunckel.
Yeah, we just did a music video with him in Paris for this song we recorded together. It's not a song on our record, nor will it be a song on the next Air record. I'm not really sure what we're going to do with it, but I think it's called "First Morning Light," though that might just be a working title. It's also definitely a collaboration, which is a very dreamy, strange song that definitely sounds like Air meets Au Revoir Simone. It's cool, though.
I also saw on your blog that you recently did a little jam session with Jarvis Cocker.
Yeah, that was unbelievable. Erika's is friends with this guy in his band and he told us all about this Jarvis Cocker jam session thing, and it just sounded like a fun idea. I didn't think we'd actually be invited, but we ended up on stage together and it was really, really cool.
So ultimately, what do you hope people take away from this new record that they might not have with your previous work?
I think it would just be nice to be taken seriously. It would be nice if people were like, "Oh, this little novelty band where there's these three girls and their keyboards actually makes good music."