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Interview: Evan Abeele of Memoryhouse

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Memoryhouse became popular seemingly overnight after the indie duo released its debut EP The Years earlier this year. Still in school, Canadians Evan Abeele and Denise Nouvion were overwhelmed by the extremely positive responses to the four-track set that balanced an ambient and pop minimalist sound. Evan was able to chat about the upcoming full-length debut and the influences on music.

How has been working on the full-length been? What can we expect from it?

It’s been an interesting process. There is this great fear I have, that if we were left to our own devices, we would get too self-indulgent, or too precious with our recordings; The Years wasn’t overstuffed, or excessively worked on, but that was due mostly to a lack of options. Now that we face a little more flexibility with where and how we choose to record, I’ve found it really crucial to scale things back somewhat.

I want to be able to capture really grand moments, elevating what was really just a blueprint or rough outline on The Years, but everything must remain very deliberate and relatable. It’s kind of like writing a novel or sitcom or something, everything we write needs to be believable, though we’re always trying to come up with a more nuanced definition for what a “believable” Memoryhouse song is these days. Essentially, I don’t want to over-stuff our songs with complicated arrangements and a plethora of instruments just because we can now, we’re focused on keeping things really organic.

In a recent interview, you mentioned that you two are using more strings instead of synthesizers. Other than violins and guitars, what strings are you currently using and which strings (or other instruments) would you hope to use in the future?

I was never very good with synths. I’m not very technical with equipment, and truth be told, a lot of what people have come to think as synth sounds on The Years were just heavily processed guitars — an instrument I’m far more comfortable with. There will be synths on our new material, but I like to use them as a way of bringing definition to the more concrete arrangements in the songs; quietly adding texture I suppose.

I go through phases with cellos, and I think I’m in the middle of one right now. I was using a cello for some final overdubs on my solo record, and I thought it’d be interesting to swap some bass tracks out for a cello on some Memoryhouse songs. I remember reading an interview with Max Richter wherein he explains that a lot of his strings are processed through a vocoder, which I thought was really interesting, so I’ve been feeling my way around that technique as of late. Aside from that, I’ve been all about the Roland Space Echo lately.

MemoryhouseWhere does that leave the use of synthesizers in the overall composition process?

Weirdly enough, the only thing I ever improvise on records are the synth phrases. A song like “Lately (Troiseme)”, which has this strange, warbly synth phrase running through it, was done in a single take, with no real forethought. The original arrangement for “Lately (Troiseme)” was much faster, and had a guitar echoing Denise’s words, but we decided to scrap it and take a different approach. We’re happy.

It is tough balancing an ambient and a pop sound? Does one sound dominate to the point where you might have to walk away for a bit or even restart?

I think ultimately it is; I’m obsessed with texture, so there is a lot more work that goes into writing a Memoryhouse song because it has to retain its pop sensibilities while trying to elevate it to some other, more dream-like plane of existence. If only there was a genre name that could accurately describe this sound.

How has living in Canada shaped your music? Do the urban and rural environments affect your mindsets differently?

Canada is interesting; there is a greater emphasis on “live” music. Bands break-out from touring the country extensively, so for better or for worse, your internet cred doesn’t cut it here. I think I prefer it this way, it seems more genuine. Of course, it also means we are cripplingly unpopular here.

How have the sights and sounds of traveling and touring affected you?

We’re definitely grateful to have had such an amazing experience touring; to be honest, I assumed I would get shot or come down with a case of malaria at some point, and only one of those things happened so we consider ourselves very fortunate.

You mention Virginia Woolf as a big influence. Are there other writers that have been similar influences?

James Joyce has been on my mind for a long time, and I think he is really coming out in the way we conceptualized this next collection on songs we’re releasing. Aside from that, being a 20-something suffering from mild depression, you will find your requisite David Foster Wallace references sprinkled throughout some songs (and song titles)(!).

Much of your music sounds like aural versions of Ansel Adams photographs or Monet paintings. Does art have an impact on you? Or do literature and film have larger impacts?

Visual art has always had an impact on our music. Denise’s photography in particular has been a huge inspiration, though I also quite enjoy Eggleston and Minor White. If I’m aware of the fact that these wankerly references paint me as the kind of burnt out English major that works at your preferred Starbucks, is it still true? Well it is false; I do not work at Starbucks.

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