Au Revoir Simone
Photography Caesar Caberto Jr.
Words Zarah Cheng
The black pleather couch I’m sitting on inside Brooklyn Bowl is slightly vibrating as Au Revoir Simone rehearses “Somebody Who” during their sound check. As they wrap up, Erika Forster, Heather D’Angelo, and Annie Hart of the Brooklyn-based three-piece make their way towards my area. Each greets me warmly as sound techs bustle about and the next band begins their sound check. As we chat about their upcoming July shows as headliners for the NYLON Music Tour presented by Wildfox, our conversation eventually veers off into a Google search of Pete Burns and how Au Revoir Simone came up with their band name thanks to Pee-Wee Herman.
You guys have been touring the world! What’s it like being back in Brooklyn?
Erika: It’s great! It’s always nice when you know where to find stuff and run into friends. And we’ve played most of the venues here in New York so many times at this point that we’re going into something that’s slightly less unknown, something more familiar.
Heather: What’s nice about Brooklyn is that you get to be reunited with friends. And I recently moved to the West Coast so I’m excited to just go and get something really simple like a Van Leeuwen ice cream cone. I’m like, “I’m going to have an ice cream cone!” So that’s what I’ve been up to lately.
Where did you move to?
Heather: San Francisco.
Oh cool! I’m from Vancouver.
Erika: We love Vancouver!
Heather: I love Vancouver, I really do.
Erika: We’re going there for this tour. We’re playing at the Biltmore Cabaret.
I think that’s where we played for Halloween weekend.
Heather: I think that’s true.
You guys played your first show on the NYLON tour last night in Washington. How did it go?
Erika: It was fun. We have never done a sponsored tour before but the people from Wildfox and NYLON are awesome. The other bands are cool. It’s nice to meet another band from Brooklyn. And the other band is from Portland.
Move in Spectrums (September 2013) was your first album in 4 years. What did you guys set to accomplish going into the studio?
Heather: I think making another keyboard album is difficult, or [rather] it was challenging because we are an all-keyboard band and we had already had three keyboard albums. So I think we just wanted to refine our sound and have dancier beats. We used some of the same instruments and we bought new instruments, there were some changes. But yeah, [we] just kind of kept developing the album and exploring it.
Do you do anything differently musically in a live performance that you didn’t do in the studio?
Erika: I would say there is a little bit less [laughs] because there are only three sets of hands. But mostly when we’re writing, we’re usually playing live instead of writing loops on the computer anyway. So most of this writing is just with the three of us playing live anyway and we tend to be able to represent the song pretty true. And also, our drum machines are from the same collection that we use on the album so they tend to sound pretty similar to the recorded stuff. But a live show is always louder, more in your face, more about filling up the space anyway. We have a really incredible sound engineer that travels with us. He’s more like a sound artist. He helps us shape our sound.
How do you usually collaborate when writing songs?
Erika: We have songs where someone comes in with a seed of an idea and songs that really need input from the others and other songs that are the most finished but they end up transforming. We always say we put them through the dream crystal and we put our three heads together and try to make something sound good and fill a space and stuff like that. Every song is a different creation, comes from a different place, and gets finished in a different way. Even when we’re recording, sometimes a song will be done for the most part and other ones will be meandering and take a lot longer to figure out.
You guys said in an interview once that Au Revoir Simone started as a keyboard club. What exactly happened there and how did that evolve into a band?
Erika: We kind of say that to communicate that it was very casual at first. We didn’t have very great expectations or think about being a band or traveling the world or even being accepted in the music community. It was just an activity or hobby. But then soon people asked, “Do you want to play a show?” or “Do you want to play an open mic?” As soon as these opportunities were presented to us we were like, “Yes, we want all those things.”
You guys explained once that the band name, Au Revoir Simone, is actually a quote from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. What’s the story behind that?
Heather: Thank you for checking that out and asking us where we got our band name [laughs]. It was really random. We needed a band name because we had a show coming up and that weekend, I happened to watch Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Our homework was all to come up with a band name. Then we had band practice one day and we were going through everything we had thought of and Au Revoir Simone just stuck. And I had no idea at the time that Annie was a huge fan of that movie as well. I think it just stuck because it was unique-sounding and we liked the sentiment behind it, which in the movie was about following your dreams because the waitress was going to Paris.
Erika: And it comes back around. While we were setting up today, the sound guy asked me, “Is your band name from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure?” It’s nice. When people get it, it makes us feel like they’re in the club. Like they grew up in the 80’s and loved Pee-wee.
When I was a kid watching Pee-wee, it actually kind of freaked me out. And I love the aesthetic of the movies, but Pee-wee is a pretty weird dude.
Heather: It’s a very weird movie.
Erika: It’s definitely weird. There’s a lot of media in the 80’s that is a lot weirder than what is out there today.
David Lynch loves you guys. Did you actually get to meet him when you played his Paris retrospective exhibition in 2007?
Heather: Yeah, he’s great! He’s a really cool person. He’s super supportive of our band. He always has really great advice about our careers and yeah, he’s just a really caring person and so, we’re big fans of his.
His movies tend to be very dreamscape-y and your music evokes a similar mood at times. Was he ever an influence at all?
Erika: I mean, people love to ask us if this influences your music and I feel that the only honest way to answer that question is: I think everything in one sphere becomes part of your subconscious and becomes part of your vision of the world in the same way that there will be movements in music that will all happen at the same time or suddenly there’s a new sound. And it’s like, “What? Were all these people communicating to create this?” But no, they were all just culling the same influences and they’re all part of the same generation and they created this together. I feel like all of the art and music and everything we consume visually becomes part of our influences. But we never say, “Let’s write a song about this movie!” or let’s write a song about anything specific in that way at all. It’s just much more abstract.
Who is your dream collaboration?
Heather: I was just thinking about this. I mean, Björk would be crazy – she’s probably my number one.
Erika: I don’t know who but I would love to collaborate with a visual artist, either a choreographer or a filmmaker to do something more abstract, less pop song-oriented, sort of soundscapes.
Who are you listening to right now?
Heather: I actually just discovered this guy. It’s like the weirdest thing because the first time I heard it I was like, “Ehhh I don’t think I’m going to like this.” His name is Patrick Watson. And lately I have just been listening to his album, Adventures in Your Own Backyard. It is such a beautiful album and it’s very orchestral in a way that almost reminds me of Sufjan Stevens. But it’s weird because there are all these turns that are kind of cheesy, but all of a sudden it just gets so beautiful. The song “Lighthouse” I’ve listened to 500 times on repeat.