Five Elements That Shaped the Duchess Says Record 'Sciences Nouvelles'

Five Elements That Shaped the Duchess Says Record 'Sciences Nouvelles'
Photo: Philippe Beausejour
With eyes blazing and fingers flashing as she prowls stages and wades into audiences on the shoulders of fans to deliver the bizarre sermons of a mysterious religion that worships a budgie, Annie-Claude Deschênes is an undeniably charismatic force. Under her guidance, synth-punk outfit Duchess Says has become an undeniable charismatic force.
 
It's been five long years with little new material since sophomore album In a Fung DAY T!, so as the band took off on a world tour with a new album, Exclaim! caught up with Deschênes and discovered five things to know about the band's new album, Sciences Nouvelles, out now on Bonsound.
 
Duchess Says didn't want to play these songs live.
 
Duchess Says are renowned for the frenzied chaos of their live performances, but according to Deschênes, with Sciences Nouvelles, the live show was an afterthought.
 
"We didn't want to play these songs live, really," Deschênes confesses. Instead, she says Sciences Nouvelles was more of a concerted studio undertaking — "It's on purpose that it's more improvisational and studio sound that we didn't test live."
 
As the band has gigged over the past year, those studio endeavours have inevitably found their way into the live show, and as a result, she says "The older songs are more well-structured.
 
"We had time to play and rethink them a bit," she says. "Now we're playing 'I'm an Idea,' but when we were making it, we just wanted it to be a jam. 'Negative Thoughts,' 'I Repeat Myself,' "Inertia,' 'Inertia Part II' — we played them live, so they're more structured. For the rest, it's more experimentation that we made in our studio."
 
That experimentation is legit.
 
"On the album we've got a song called 'Talk in Shapes,' based on a graphic that we tried to illustrate with music. The rectangle would do this sound, and the circle would do this sound. It's really abstract. On 'The Family Physicians,' I was having fun with a scientific magazine, and I read the sentences in the book, which were not so interesting, but I said to myself, 'I have to do something with these sentences.' And that's it. There's no sense in it, just automatic reading."
 
Duchess Says had to build a studio just to make the record.
 
Checking the potentially exorbitant costs associated with hunkering down in a studio to jam out an album, Deschênes says the band ultimately opted to build their own.
 
"We really wanted to do things by ourselves, to be independent and go at our own pace, free to record whenever we wanted — to be able to experiment and take our time," Deschênes explains. Equipped with analog and digital equipment, the band used a mix of both to assemble the album.
 
"We have a board for digital recording and also we have the option for analog recording. So sometimes we're recording digital and then putting it in analog after, or the opposite, so we're playing a lot with analog and digital. We can record the drums, we've got amps and stuff, we've got a booth for vocals. It's pretty cool, it's fun."
 
They all switch roles in the studio.
 
"When I'm in shows, often I'm only singing, but in studio I'm composing keyboard parts a lot. Sometimes I can play drums and Simon [Besre] our drummer can play keyboards. Simon built the analog part of the studio, so he's engineering a lot, and [keyboardist/guitarist] Ishmael [Tremblay] is mixing. We've got another friend that's really close to us that's doing the recording. So you understand, we're all kind of switching. Philippe [Clément] can play guitar instead of bass."
 
There's more work to be done.
 
Counting off the avant-garde explorations of tracks like "Talk in Shapes" and "The Family Physicians," Deschênes ultimately contextualizes Sciences Nouvelles within the scope of a broader, career-long project towards synthesizing visual art and music, also explaining that album single "I Repeat Myself" is based on the nightclub scene from Fright Night.
 
"It's kind of a mission we've been on for 12 years," she says. "I don't think we've reached our goals yet, but we're on it. And that's another reason why we built our own studio. To be able to experiment and to be closer to our ideals. It's just mutating now and it's going into a different aesthetic. But we're trying to mix ideas of science and church stuff with the budgie, so it's a work in progress."
 
Check out Duchess Says' upcoming tour dates, including shows this week in Ottawa and Quebec City, here. Have a listen to "I Repeat Myself" below.