Conversations in astrobiology: Discovering (the unknown sides of) Au Revoir Simone

Au Revoir Simone hit the stage at Montreal’s La Sala Rossa on July 15th with songs from their latest record, “Still Night, Still Light”. The girls played a stellar show, performing such fan favorites as “Shadows”, “All or Nothing”, “Sad Song”, and “Anywhere You Looked” to a sold-out crowd. Consisting of Heather D’Angelo, Annie Hart, and Erika Forster, Au Revoir Simone play in a style derivative of dream pop (think Mercury Rev meets Bat For Lashes) that has garnished them street cred in Canada, America, Europe, and Japan (where they headlined their own tour in 2009.) The all-girl keyboard trio are embarking on a European escapade shortly, with August dates scheduled in Paris, Zurich, Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen.

I arrived early and waited for the girls to pull over on St. Laurent Boulevard after a long drive from Toronto’s dreaded 401. Their van looked as if it had come right out of the ’70s; painted stale yellow, but with plenty of room to accommodate the gear. Sala Rossa was a fitting venue for their psychedelic sound with its red lights and gothic chandeliers. The girls have come a long way from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, working on collaborative projects with David Lynch and sharing the stage with the likes of AIR, Camera Obscura, and Ladytron, among other notable acts.The Hoof and the Heel were the first opening act of the evening, so I got to chatting with their bassist and drummer about their current tour mapping Brooklyn, Manhattan, Philadelphia, and Portland, among other American spots. They sounded like a Montreal offshoot of the Swell Season, with a tad more youthful optimism. Alexa Wilding, who followed The Hoof and the Heel, was the first to greet me with a big smile in a blue summer dress. Wilding played a short solo set, showcasing some new tracks from her latest self-titled release. Her acoustic set indicated echoes of influence from Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell.

We hauled the equipment indoors around 7:00 PM and I made my way to the bar while the team continued to unload the van and set up the stage. The minivan was parked directly outside the venue and just as soundcheck was well under way, Au Revoir Simone remembered that they had forgotten to fill the meter in the rush of setting up Casios. Meanwhile, Erika was at the bar with her white MacBook, trying to negotiate a hotel deal for the girls. Soundcheck went smoothly. The girls performed “Shadows” to test out the instruments and the song sounded great, both in rehearsal and during the show. There were some initial setbacks with wedges and feedback, but everything sorted itself out accordingly. Heather began laying down house beats on the drum machine, testing it out before fans filtered in en masse. Apparently, the hotel fiasco was resolved with ease as Erika screamed to the girls onstage, “The promoter found us a hotel!”

I caught up with Heather and Annie while Erika did her vocal warm-ups backstage.

Q: Do you think fashion can be political?

Heather: That’s a good question. Yes, I do, but … I don’t know, the first thing I can think of are Katharine Hamnett’s “Save the Whales” T-shirts she did around ’95, or how Stella McCartney refuses to use leather and any animal products. I mean, I think that people can be subversively political in their own way. Much like the same with music. It’s true that you can write a political song with music, but I find a lot of bands find other ways to be political.

Annie: Yeah, I feel like it’s more message-based with clothes. I guess it could be political not to shave your armpits in certain circles (laughs). I don’t feel like dressing in a certain style is political in any way, shape, or form.

Q: Heather, after graduating from Parsons in photography you went back to Columbia to pursue another undergraduate degree. What is that experience like?

Heather: Well, I’m still in school doing my second undergraduate degree. I originally went into astrophysics, but I ended up switching to environmental biology because I decided I wanted to be a biology major since my ultimate goal is to be an astrobiologist. So it’s a little bit complicated and a little bit convoluted in order to get there, but it’s been really really wonderful being at Columbia.

Q: You girls have repeatedly worked with David Lynch over the years, would you agree with him that your music is “innocent”?

Annie: I feel like our music is very vague, so people can make up the message to be whatever they really want.

Q: What books are you currently reading?

Annie: I’m reading a book called The Pinball Effect, by James Burke, who had this amazing series on the BBC called, Connections. It’s all about how inventions influence the development of other conventions.

Q: What was your favorite food while touring in Japan?

Heather: (Smiles) We just had some really wonderful raw fish situations that were really, really lovely. Oh, and to answer your question about the book: I’m reading M.K. Fisher’s Gastronomical Me, which ties into this question definitely. I’m very much into eating really, really good food, and this book is a memoir.

Annie: She’s quite a foodie! (chuckles)

Heather: It’s a memoir written by M.K. Fisher while she was living in Europe. Basically about everything she ate and the relationships she got in and out of. It’s really lovely.

Q: Annie, you described your side project, “Uninhabitable Mansions”, as both an art collective and a band. You play with Chris Robbie Guertin from “Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!” and other guys in that project. Do you find that gender poses an obstacle for you? Is the creative process different to that of all-girl bands such as Au Revoir Simone?

Annie:  Well, these are the sweetest and most gentle men ever, but they have a weird songwriting method that I can’t get my mind on, which is that they play something once and then it’s sort of over for the day. Au Revoir Simone, and any other band I’ve played in with girls, you play a song ten times in a row before you are done with it. It’s a different process. I’m just like, “Can we please just play this song for another hour?” and everyone’s bored. I don’t get it.

Q: What are your thoughts on the nature of work in today’s economy?

Heather: I think that I come from a background that is such that I have always been encouraged by my parents to follow my dreams, and I know that that is a luxury and it is not something that is impressed upon people whose circumstances are different. I have always had the luxury of dreaming, and you don’t necessarily have to have a good financial background to have that, but you do have to have parents who are willing to tell you that it’s okay to take risks in your life, and it’s okay to dream, and it’s okay to follow your own path. And I feel like that attitude of your parents might have come from their experiences growing up, so I feel very fortunate in that … With work I feel like I don’t really have necessarily, (pauses) not an unrealistic view about work, but a very specific view about work.

Q: Favorite film?

Annie: I like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

To keep up-to-date with Heather D’Angelo and the girls, visit Heather’s blog: www.hellopointdexter.info Or check out the band’s official website: www.aurevoirsimone.com.

Still Night, Still Light