Memoryhouse on Beach House Comparisons and Bummerless LPs
Little more than a homemade demo, Memoryhouse's The Years has snowballed, and its sweeping cinematic soundscapes have rolled with increasing heft and purpose ever since. Barely out of their teens, the Canadian duo of vocalist Denise Nouvion and classically trained producer Evan Abeele's lo-fi amorphous-yet-resilient recordings got them inked to indie biosphere leader Sub Pop. Not bad for an act with less than a year experience together and a vocalist who never even took to a microphone before forming the group.
The two met while attending university in the Toronto area, where Nouvion was a photography major and Abeele studied English. They struck up a friendship whilst attending local concerts and started hanging out. On one of those dreadfully dreary Canadian winter days, Abeele began strumming Jackson Browne's oft-covered classic "These Days" on his acoustic guitar, and Nouvion began singing along. Abeele became so transfixed with Nouvion's lush timbre that he coaxed her into recording that song and eventually a few originals on wax. Before they both knew it, they had recorded the windswept opulent sounds of The Years -- a metaphorical bedroom tapestry of ambiance that's exactly what you'd imagine would come out of the mind of two art students.
Nouvion's vocals resonate like the pros on the record, easily drawing comparisons to the Cocteau Twin's Elizabeth Fraser or Broadcast's Trish Keenan. Memoryhouse is currently hard at work fine-tuning its forthcoming Sub Pop full-length debut, due out the first half of 2012. County Grind was lucky enough to snag a couple of minutes from Memoryhouse's production maestro Abeele and speak to him about lightning-rod success, nostalgia, and his forthcoming gig at Lake Worth's newest music hub, Speakeasy Lounge.
County Grind: It seems like success came your way relatively quickly when you guys put out The Years EP. Did it ever feel overwhelming?
Evan Abeele: It did happen really fast, which was a mixed blessing. It is interesting that we are able to take our music so far in such a short amount of time, but it also made us grow up fast in the music industry. We decided to step back and take our time to figure out what we wanted out of it, and ultimately we decided to not keep rushing ahead into things. That is how mistakes are made and how you end up with a bummer LP.
So, considering you are now in the mastering process of your debut LP, do you think you are avoiding recording a "bummer"?
Yes, we took the LP in a different direction than The Years EP. It's a real clean-sounding record with a lot of depth to the music. I guess visceral would be the best way to describe it. I am really excited about the outcome. The LP has a certain physicality to it which is definitely something we were aiming for in the studio.
In The Years, with songs such as "Sleep Patterns," "Quiet America," and "To the Lighthouse" I picked up themes of insomnia and water imagery. Is that accurate?
Yeah, I was going through a pretty intense period of insomnia at the time and was experiencing extreme neurotic dreams about drowning, so that kind of seeped its way into that record.
What themes do you have coming up for the new album?
We wanted to the explore the act of misremembering and how we have this internal bias towards history, mostly towards how we look at history in our favor. The big theme that runs through is how we misplace ourselves in these historical perspectives.
Whoa, sounds very heady?
In reality, I suppose it does come off as heady. It is just from the headspace we are coming from currently. I think people kind of misinterpreted us as being very nostalgic and obsessed with the past. I think what we are trying to do is make sense of the past. I do not think that we have any special affection towards it.
So what you are saying is that with this new album, you have kicked to the curb that "nostalgic" tag that critics align with your music?
I feel we definitely dropped [it]. We had a lot of fun with the lyrics and addressing certain tropes that get associated with that. This record is very self-aware in that sense; basically it says: "I know what you guys think we are, but we are more than that." It's kind of what you want to do with your LP: You want to broaden your palette and not paint yourself in a corner.
So how would you say your musical brand stands out from the plethora of bands lumped together in the genre known as dream pop?
We purposefully tried to pursue a different kind of sound in the LP because, I think, the dream-pop sound has reached its apoptosis. There is just nowhere else you can take that sound, I feel. We are very consciously trying to evolve our sound and not fall into those neat little categories in music.
Do Beach House comparisons irk you?
It is always perplexing to me when we get compared to Beach House. People that are interviewing us bring up the fact that we were "obviously influenced by Beach House," but we are the same age. How could we possibly be influenced by Beach House? They were not making records in the '80s and '90s when I was a kid and truly being influenced by music. It's very incidental.
Understood, but considering that you both cross a similiar musical terrain, both have the word house, in your name, signed on the same label (Sub Pop), and are a duo consisting of a male doing the production and an engaging ethereal female singer, could you at least acknowledge where those comparisons came from?
I think largely it is due to the fact that we both have the word house in our names. Our female singers have vastly different timbres. I consider Victoria [Legrand] from Beach House to be a tenor and Denise a contralto. These are very different voices, so I really cannot see a similarity. I love Beach House to death. I think they are an extremely talented band, and there is definitely no rivalry between us, but I find these comparisons so tenuous and shallow because there is just not a lot to go on except for the fact that there is a boy and a girl and some music.
So the name Memoryhouse came from German-born British experimental composer Max Richter's debut album, Can you explain?
Yes, I liked the idea behind it, not so much the nostaligc part of Memoryhouse, but the classical essence. I guess it relates to the fear of the past and the demons lurking underneath. I think I always tend to write towards the darker side of things. I think a certain gothic element was embodied in his classical music that I really wanted to adapt in my own work.
So, for South Florida fans, how does the live Memoryhouse experience translate?
We have a really fantastic drummer that really beefs us up our sound a lot more than in the studio. He is the one of the most exciting parts of our show for sure. Denise plays the guitar and synthesizer live, so she is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. The focus, always, rests squarely on her shoulders, and she always rises to the occasion.
Memoryhouse, with Guy Harvey and the Band in Heaven. 8 p.m. Friday, October 28, at Speakeasy Lounge, 129 N. Federal Highway, Lake Worth. Tickets cost $8. Click here.
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