Interview – Erika Foster on Au Revoir Simone’s Still Night, Still Light
– by Shawn Conner
Erika Forster, Annie Hart, and Heather D’Angelo formed Au Revoir Simone a few years ago, deciding then to go an all-keyboard route. The result: critical acclaim, fans like David Lynch, and spooky ‘n’ sweet ephemeral pop like that on the group’s second full-length, Still Night, Still Light. The sound; effortlessly pretty and staring-up-at-the-stars sweet.
When I reach the Williamsburg trio, they’re at a Starbucks 90 miles or so outside of Houston, where they have a show later that day. Forster answered my silly questions until she couldn’t take it anymore, at which point she handed the phone over to bandmate Hart.
Shawn Conner: Do people expect you to know French, especially when you’re in Canada?
Erika Forster: No. They seem pleased when we do speak French – our high school French – but they don’t seem disappointed when we don’t.
SC: Who’s the tallest in the band?
EF: That’s me!
SC: And the one with the glasses is the astrophysicist, Heather?
EF: No. Nice try.
SC: So whoever writes the lyrics sings lead, right? What themes do you usually come back to in your lyrics?
EF: Uhm, I would say mine are in the observational genre – I think I kind make things a little more poetic than what’s going on in my brain. Just about being, living, wondering, questioning.
SC: Observational as opposed to confessional?
EF: I wouldn’t say confessional. I don’t think of songwriting as a way of getting everything off my chest or whatever.
SC: That’s what Twitter’s for.
SC: I also noticed [on Twitter] you guys were looking for a Casio MT 70.
EF: Yeah, that’s Annie’s. Her Casio broke. Our producer sent us one of his, then we’re buying one in Santa Clara. It’s funny, we’ve really tried to use a couple of other keyboards and it’s not the same. We found one on Craigslist. We just have so little time where we have Wifi signals, so we posted a notice on the Internet because we know we have so many lovely amazing fans, and people totally came through for us, sending us links from all over the world where these Casios are. It’s a very handy network. Annie says she’s very excited about getting it back. It’s becoming more of a collector’s thing, so they’re becoming more expensive and harder to find.
SC: Speaking of collectors’ items, are you going to have the 10” vinyl of Still Night Still Light with you on tour?
EF: Yes, we are. We just found out. There was some hold-up with printing the labels. We just found out they’re shipping tomorrow so we’re going to have them in L.A.
SC: I bet you have some nice T-shirt designs.
EF: We do. I designed a new one for this tour. We wanted something a little more graphic, so it’s like a stripe-y shirt with gold glitter. We talked with the people we work with for our T-shirts at length about the colour. We’d decided on this kind of champagne white and gold and it’s totally working out. We weren’t sure if the men were going to be buying the purple-flecked shirt with gold glitter, but actually a lot of dudes are buying them.
SC: You guys designed a T-shirt for something called Transportation Alternatives. Is that something you’re pretty passionate about?
EF: That was where Annie used to work, before we quit our jobs. She’s very much into that. But yeah, I really enjoy riding my bike. Heather doesn’t ride.
SC: I just got back from Switzerland, and it seems like everyone rides a bike over there.
EF: That’s what it is. Going to Europe, places like Copenhagen, it’s awesome. They don’t even seem like they’re worried about anything being unsafe. I used to commute to my old job on a bike. And I felt so energized and happier.
SC: What was your old job?
EF: I was a textile designer for a bedding company called Dwell. It was totally a dream job for me. But it’s all been good for me since then too. I went to school for graphic design, and was very obsessed with colours and shapes and old stuff [laughs].
SC: So the band thing just kind of happened for you?
EF: Yeah. Growing up, I was always better at visual arts than music. But it was through art school that I joined the band when I moved to Brooklyn. A friend of mine was playing music. The two things I love about what I’m doing now more than visual art, is it’s a group effort. And when you’re working in a group, if it’s the right group, you can make a stronger product. There’s more back and forth and brainpower going into the decision-making, and I think that makes it stronger in the end.
When I used to paint, it was like you could do one thing and that might would ruin it; with music, there’s this wealth of melody and sound that’s not limited and doesn’t go away. I’ve come up with these amazing songs as I’m falling asleep and I forget what it is and it’s gone forever but I never get the feeling that it’s really gone. I just feel like there’s always more melody and beautiful sounds to play around with. It doesn’t feel limited.
SC: You don’t keep a pad of paper by your bedside?
EF: Well now I keep my iPhone there. I do get sad when that happens, so I have this recorder on my phone. It’s fine when you’re home, but it’s funny on tour. I’m usually sharing a hotel with Caroline these days, and I feel bad when I wake her up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom down the hall and sing in the phone. Before my iPhone, I used to have paper and I’d try to figure out which notes I was singing. It’s much easier to have a recorder.
SC: I haven’t read it, but isn’t that what David Lynch’s book Catching the Big Fish is about, tapping into that subconscious well of creativity?
EF: Yeah. It’s a great book for anyone doing anything creative. He talks about how natural the process is and how it’s just about having an idea and making something happen, and it’s not anything more than that. The day we met him was when he was on a book tour, and we were part of an event someone curated for the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. When he was giving his talk we played as his soundtrack. It was very inspiring to hear his stories, and setbacks, and hear about his passions and finishing the projects he has in mind.
SC: It seems like touring would be very antithetical to meditation.
EF: Yes, it’s true. We’re at Starbucks right now, and the more coffee I have I’m realizing the more unsettled my brain becomes. It’s definitely a drug. But you get what you need, like you can find a patch of grass or a bench. A lot of times it means putting in your headphones or earplugs, basically.
EF: I think David Lynch introduced Justin to our music.
SC: And that’s your Mandy Moore connection, ‘cos she was in that movie. Do you have a Jared Leto connection?
EF: I don’t think so.
SC: I’m just kind of obsessed. [goes into long-winded story about the time Leto and his brother seized his recording device during an interview.]
EF: This is coming up so often. We just got interviewed on the CBC Jian Ghomeshi, who did the Billy Bob Thornton interview. So… aggressive. When we were there [at CBC] we were like, Oh my God, this is the guy.
Video – Billy Bob Thornton on Q:
SC: So you guys didn’t pull a Billy Bob Thornton.
EF: Oh no. Jian was very nice to us so there was no reason.
SC: Have you ever lost your temper with an interviewer? Before now, I mean?
EF: [laughs] I think the only frustrations have come out of language barriers. It becomes hard to get anywhere or share any information. Can I put you on hold for 10 seconds? Actually, probably for like thirty seconds. Hold on. Actually, I’ll put you on with Annie for a sec.
[Annie gets on the phone]
SC: So you guys are at Starbucks. What’s your drink?
Annie Hart: Oh, you know what it is? I usually get a hot water with soya milk. I bring my own Irish organic breakfast tea with me. Also, I’m a health nut, and I get these organic soups with rice noodles from the health food store before I go on tour. Then I have them fill up this container with water so I can make it myself. I try to be as healthy as possible on the road.
SC: That’s gotta be tough.
AH: It’s kinda fun, ‘cos you don’t get to cook on tour. This is the closest approximation to cooking I can find.
SC: At what point in the tour do you break down and buy a bag of Funyuns and a six of Bud?
AH: Oh, maybe day two.
SC: You performed at Robert Normand’s fashion show in 2007. What other fashion-world activities have you been part of since then?
AH: We did an event for Kate Spade. And Kate Spade is flying us to Korea to do a show. Do you know the Finnish designer Ivana Helsinki? They’re two sisters from Helsinki, they do amazing fashion design, and they had us play their show in Paris. It’s really fun, it’s really different to be playing for a seated audience watching this parade of clothing rather people who are watching you. You get a totally different feeling because you’re more of an observer than the spectacle, but you’re still playing music.
SC: It’s probably a lot more glamourous than playing the usual round of indie-rock clubs.
AH: Yeah, but I think the quote-unquote usual indie-rock clubs we play in Europe are pretty glamourous in and of themselves. We get treated kind of like princesses. I mean not really, we still carry gear and stuff, but people make sure you have your exquisite dark chocolate and your nice red wine. Touring in Europe is definitely a different experience. I think at this point we’re playing venues that are a little more respectful of the artist. But we’re still playing dive bars from time to time.