Still Night, Still Bright: Au Revoir Simone

Everyone say hello to Angeliska Polacheck from Austin, Texas! Angel attended SXSW earlier this year to cover some of the festival’s more enchanting performers for Coilhouse. First up, an interview with Au Revoir Simone. ~Mer

A.R.S. in Austin, TX for SXSW, 2009. Photo by Angeliska Polacheck.

The keyboard-playing trio Au Revoir Simone makes dreamy, lo-fi electro-pop music with wistful lyrics and dulcet harmonies that Spin Magazine aptly describes as “make-out music for your inner android”.  The band’s name is a line from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, which makes them even more lovable! Heather D’Angelo, Erika Forster and Annie Hart have been together since 2003, recorded three albums, and recently completed tours with Air, We Are Scientists and Peter, Bjorn and John. Their latest album, Still Night, Still Bright, is the perfect late night/early morning soundtrack, filled with introspective melodies guaranteed to soothe a buzzing brain or keep one company at sunrise.

Chatting with the girls during SXSW last March, I was utterly charmed by their sweetness. Despite having played a whirlwind of shows over a handful of days during the festival (the Moshi Moshi Records showcase, the Brooklyn Vegan & Agency Group showcase and to a packed rooftop at Maggie Mae’s) they were remarkably serene. Peaceful respite from the hubbub was found in a hedge-maze on the haunted grounds of the French Legation, where we discussed kindred spirits, darkness, haircuts, and David Lynch.

A.R.S. press packet photo. Photographer unknown.

Coilhouse: I’ve been listening to your new album Still Night, Still Light a lot lately, and have fallen in love with it.  What’s the title about?

Erika: We just came up with it in our practice space. We were asking ourselves, “What are these songs to us?” and we thought about the feeling of 5am, and the sort of clarity that happens when everything is quiet around you, and the stillness. It was free association, and just yelling out words in the practice space. Pretty much everything happens that way for us –our band name, our song titles– everything always happens that way, where we just kind of throw stuff out. We look around at each other and as soon as we’re all smiling, we know we’ve found the winner!

Heather: It’s hard enough to get two people to agree on something, so getting three people to agree… it’s never a fight, but if somebody’s like “hmmm” then you don’t feel as good about it.

[Interview continues after the jump.]

Photo by Rod Sherwood.

Annie: The meaning of the album: it’s about the time of the day, it’s that feeling that you get either when you’ve stayed up all night working on a project that you’re really inspired by, or you’ve been walking around in the woods or camping or something and you wake up super early. It’s just that amazing sense right before the sun comes up that is new and old, and there’s that whole hopeful feeling, and just a freshness. As far as the music goes… I think our music on this album is a little more aggressive and a little less bubblegum than our stuff has been in the past. It sort has a darker side. I mean, I guess in the past our lyrics have always been sort of dark, but this time a lot of our lyrics are really hopeful, too. So it’s nice that there’s the night, but there’s also the light side of things… our picture for the album cover I think really embodies that same feeling of nature, and the power of life, and that contrast.

Coilhouse: You guys have been playing together since 2003- did you know each other well before the band formed? How did you find each other and decide to embark on this project?

Annie: We were acquaintances who wanted an excuse to hang out together!

Erika: It was kind of like the perfect storm. I think all of us were sort of going through something in our life at that moment where we just weirdly found each other and reached out to each other, and it kind of filled the hole. I was unemployed, collecting unemployment from the gallery I had worked at that had just gone bankrupt, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I think all of us were kind of in that situation.

Heather: We all had this energy of… I don’t want to say desperation, but we were all kind of scrambling, and we all wanted to be doing something important. We knew that we had something to give, and we wanted to make it real.

Video for “Fallen Snow” from Au Revoir Simone’s album The Bird of Music.

Annie: Our exit from Erika’s living room playing our Casios to where we are now was so gradual. Our very first show was… (laughter) Our keyboard teacher invited us to play a concert and Heather –who never does this– was drunk at the show! She had never performed before! We gave her tequila shots!

Heather: You know what’s funny, though? I had never performed in a band, but when I think about it now, I was in choir in middle school and I used to compete. We were called The Chanterelles, another French name! Before that, I took dance lessons from ages 6 to 11. So I had been on stage a lot, as a child anyway! But being in a band felt way more intense.

Annie: Because it’s yours!

Au Revoir Simone performing at Maggie Mae’s, SXSW 2009

Coilhouse: The three of you have suddenly become Jane Birkinesque style icons with the long brown hair and bangs and sweet little frocks. What would happen if one of you wanted to make a major change? Does it drive you cuckoo to be mistaken for each other?

Heather: We were just talking about how it’s kind of freeing [to be mistaken for each other] because we’re of a genre of girl. In Williamsburg everybody looks like this. Or here at SXSW! You could just point and say, “Hey you! You could be in our band!”

We’ve spent so much time together over the last four years that we do kind of have this collective experience. I mean, we are definitely individuals, and have our own lives, but we have a shared understanding of how we look at the world that’s very tied into each other. But anybody who knows us personally knows that we are totally different people, who are interested in totally different things.

There’s no band rules, like “DON’T cut your hair!” I’m thinking about dyeing my hair blond, just for fun… but not too blond.

Annie: I had a shaved head that was dyed all different colors –purple, pink, green– for about 8 years. My hair is my preciousness now. I get so freaked out about the idea of cutting it off at this point! My husband begged me to grow my bangs out, though, so we made an exchange. He had to do something for me.

Photo by Imma Varandela.

Coilhouse: I know that recently you collaborated with David Lynch, playing the soundtrack during one of his readings. Since then, you’ve become one of his favorite bands! How did he get turned on to your music? What was it like working with him?

Annie: That was a really great and fortuitous meeting. We kept being asked by Barnes & Noble to do this little event that they have where an author reads and then a band plays. I come from a pretty punk rock background and had worked in the indie bookstores and stuff, so I was like, “No way! Barnes & Noble? I can’t stand for this. We’re not doing it!” but they kept offering us these great gigs and when they eventually came up with David Lynch, it was like “Arrgh! All right! I’ll get through my politics and do this.” It’s funny because you know, when it comes down to it, a bookstore’s a bookstore. The older I get, the more I realize that information is not going to be controlled by one person. Yeah, so we decided to do it, and it was crazy because it was a madhouse, a total zoo! The whole bookstore was just filled with people, and people were grabbing onto us and saying, “Take me to David! Aaaahhh!” But as soon as David came in the energy just changed. He can just transform the energy in a room. He’s a really amazing person, in what he gives to the world. His dedication and vision are really powerful.

Filmmaker David Lynch talks about the importance of music in film making and praises the group Au Revoir Simone for their fresh and edgy style. Excerpt from an event held at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles on January 21st, 2007.

Erika: And then after we were done his assistants told us how much he really liked our band. We couldn’t really believe it! He ended up using one of our songs at his wedding!

Heather: It’s funny though… we were more familiar with him personally before we really got familiar with his work. I had seen Blue Velvet, and it was very dark, sure. But it wasn’t so fucked up that we thought “this guy’s gotta be some kind of monster!” He’s just this really sweet guy, so nice and connected and full of peace and love and warmth and light, and just a really bright light… Then we watched Twin Peaks and we were like… “what the?!” How does this sweet man have this ability to make something so disturbing? I wasn’t allowed to watch it, growing up! We watched it on tour together and all became insanely addicted. It’s actually really frightening! It’s so demented, especially at the end…

Annie: He can see darkness in everything. I think appreciating your dark side is a really important element.

8 Responses to “Still Night, Still Bright: Au Revoir Simone”

  1. Fritz Bogott Says:

    You would likely also enjoy Astronaut Wife if you’re not already into them.

  2. greenpencil Says:

    I like when Coilhouse does interviews. Your questions are actually interesting and well thought out.

  3. DJ Velveteen Says:

    Their cover of Bowie’s “Oh! You Pretty Things” is divine.

  4. Peechiz Says:

    Ok, I’m hooked.

  5. Jessica Says:

    Oooooh, they’re wonderful! Great interview too, thanks for the treat.

  6. Emera Says:

    Great interview! I’d seen photos of the band before, but never actually listened to their music, so I enjoyed both the Q&A and the videos. Really liked the lyrics to “Fallen Snow,” and might just have to buy their music later. :)

  7. Sue Says:

    The music of Au Revoir Simone is refreshing!
    Wonderful interview!

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