Brooklyn synthpop trio Au Revoir Simone are back after a four year hiatus, and we were thrilled to have them as part of our CMJ broadcast from Judson Memorial Church. After a lovely walk around Washington Square Park with their young superfan, we stopped for a chat about parenthood, ’80s beats, and the importance of a good support group.
It’s been a while since you’ve had a new album out, and I know you’ve all been really busy — Heather was in school, Erika had a solo EP, Annie had a baby… At what point did you guys know it was time to go back into the studio?
Heather D’Angelo (keyboards/vocals): There was a timing thing, because I had to actually graduate. I was doing my senior thesis, so I didn’t have any time to work full-time on band stuff. But then I graduated last June, so I was able to start doing band stuff again. We had been getting together whenever we had a break, like Spring Break, Fall Break, school has a million breaks. But in terms of knowing when we wanted to make another album, that was an organic process, really. We were diving deep within ourselves to see if we had another album in us, and I think we all came to that conclusion independently.
Erika Forster (keyboards/vocals): It was sort-of the same way that we decided to take a break. It was kind-of like, well, this is happening, so… But it was these “soft” decisions. People were like, “Did you break up,” and we were like, “No, we didn’t break up.” We just let our lives and our bands happen the way they needed to happen.
Did you guys bring anything from your break into the new album? Like, did having a baby influence the way you approached things?
Annie Hart (keyboards/vocals): I think it definitely influenced it. I think having a kid gives you so much confidence, ’cause if you can raise this child — who’s turning out great, and is not dead yet, he’s strong and healthy — and if you can do that, go through birth and delivery, if you can accomplish that, you can do anything. And I think having a kid and seeing their developmental stages made me realize that even I can come back and have developmental stages. It’s incredibly powerful.
I can totally see that, because the new album is definitely the most confident you guys have put out, and the most “woman-power-y.” It’s also the most dancey. There’s more of a groove; it’s less of a late-night meditation like the last album.
Erika: I think part of that was the experience of our last album. We had to take this sad, powerful, beautiful, amazing record out on the road, and after that experience, we were like, “Let’s bring a beat, let’s bring a party, let’s bring more of a fun energy.” And also, it was the place we were all coming from.
Annie: Like, what do we want to do every night? ‘Cause we feel like dancing on stage!
Erika: We were kind-of in a rut with our drum beats, because we were really sticking to our original formula — this collection of keyboards, and this collection of drum machines. And then we realized we can break out of that. I’d never really worked on beats before, but doing my solo stuff, I think I had that awesome naivete of not really being a drummer, and not knowing how beats should sound, but doing my homework and listening and thinking, “What makes me feel the beat? What makes me feel like I want to dance?” and trying to integrate some of those ideas into the new songs.
Heather: And it was really cool that we were all on the same page for once, ’cause I’d always wanted a drummer, and I’d always wanted different beats. I was hoping one of us would learn how to play drums actually, and Annie was like, “I wanna learn how to play,” and she has amazing rhythm. So, when we were writing the songs, we had a few where Annie was playing the drums, and feeling it out.
Annie: And they would guide me, too. I think the beat for “The Lead is Galloping” was this amalgam of a toy Yamaha and rolling toms and snares. We brought that recording from our iPhone to a producer saying, “Can you actually make this sound like music now?”
Erika: So, like getting the feel. And it’s so incredible where these little emphasis beats happen and how it affects the feel and the groove of a song. It was our first time of putting that under the microscope, for us as a band, and being able to make those decisions, take them into the studio, and get these ’80s sounds, ’90s sounds, from our amazing producer Jorge Elbrecht.
That kind-of leads me to my next question actually, because I know that throughout your career, you’ve been more than just musicians, you’re also the muscle behind it, and you’ve always been very hands-on with what you do. Since you’ve become so busy with other projects, parenthood, school, and stuff like that, do you find that you have to step back and let go of some things, or do you actually hold on tighter?
Annie: This is so relevant. We ended up signing to a label, Instant Records. We really liked them because they were hands-on, and open to collaboration. They provided the product management side, getting stuff in the record stores, the stuff we weren’t really doing well in the past. We’re relying on them a lot, but it’s great because we’re still really informed about what’s going on. We’re still incredibly hands-on.
Erika: But because there’s more people that we’re working with, and we have such talented, experienced people, we’re covering more ground, and the machine feels like it has a little more steam. It’s working more smoothly.
Annie: And it’s great because we’ve been a band for so long, that I feel like we’re finally at this place where we’re really confident, we’re psyched with our stage show, we’re mature, we’re ready for this, and we have this support network.
Erika: … Well, I still want a lazer light show. (laughter)
Annie: That’s true! But we’re on this trajectory, and I feel incredibly lucky to have worked so hard and still have the world be so open to us. It’s really nice.