"A BUNCH OF GIRLS WITH TOY KEYBOARDS"

An Interview with Erika Spring of Au Revoir Simone

Erika Spring is a third of Au Revoir Simone—an all-girl synth-pop group which happens to be a favorite of David Lynch. She is also a chanteuse in her own right, frontlining a few solo projects. I caught her during a bustling tour schedule; we were able to drink tea, talk about music and compare recycling strategies.

—Oona Haas

I. SOMEBODY’S GOTTA SAVE THE ROLLER RINK

THE BELIEVER: My first introduction to Au Revoir Simone was in Dairyland (upstate New York) where you and the band were filming the music video for “All or Nothing,” off of the all-keyboard Still Night Still Light. You transformed the place we were staying into this new-age refuge—you and the girls simulated this candlelit séance, creating reflections with glass prisms and crystals. Fast-forward five years, I see you guys on Grand Street filming the “Crazy” music video (a homage to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours) in a far more urban, frenetic environment. That new album, Move in Spectrums, uses other instruments, besides the keyboard. What happened between then and now?

ERIKA SPRING: That’s so cute, that it evolved in those two experiences, and that you were there for both of them! It’s funny looking back at trends. There was a kind of softness that we were trying to embrace with Still Night Still Light. With the new album, we shed that skin a little bit; we were feeling braver and more ready to play with different instruments. The guitar, you can really shred on and play on in this emotional way. A keyboard doesn’t really have that reaction, but I think the parts and the drumbeats that we selected created a different, emotional environment. When we were making Still Night Still Light we were thinking, “Ok, our vision is this: you’re in nature, and it’s like five in the morning right before the sun comes up.” Things are asleep, or closed, and there’s less stimulus around you. You become hyper-aware of sounds, and what is there and awake with you. It was that kind of stillness and that power of observation that inspired the album. The new album is more like, “it’s three a.m., the city is still buzzing; people are still out.” There’s more of that city desire, more heat, more crazed, more like anything can happen.

BLVR: Do you think that has something to do with living in New York City for a longer amount of time?

ES: I don’t think so. I moved here in 2002, but the other girls had both gone to college here, so they had put in their time. New York is constantly changing though. When we tour, and leave for a month, we come back and there are all these stupid changes—new businesses cropping up, friends moving. All of these little things do create a different experience each time.

BLVR: Been there. When I was researching questions to ask you, I ended up in this weird corner of the internet—

ES: Been there!

BLVR: I found you on this YouTube channel, Weird Vibes. The video I’m referencing was from this amusing PSA series: “It’s hard to be in a buzzband.”

ES: Oh yeah!

BLVR: And you were going through the questions you didn’t like being asked [in interviews]. One of them was, “Why does your band think you’re in The Virgin Suicides?”

ES: [Laughs] We couldn’t tell if that question was lost in translation. I think, at the time, we got compared to The Virgin Suicides constantly, but the interviewer actually asked, “Why do you want to be The Virgin Suicides?”

BLVR: I’m not sure anyone would want to be those characters…

ES:  But I thought it was a good bad question.

BLVR: Probably a better question to ask would be this: what kind of literature, or any other non-music media, has inspired Au Revoir Simone?

ES: I don’t know. We’re three different people, and we never really have the time to “go there” with each other. When we met, we had this connection and just felt that we needed to make this project happen. We were of the same kind of DNA! I guess when we did communicate about stuff it would mostly be about music, and we would sometimes have overlaps and sometimes not. [My bandmate] Heather made a band required reading of the Sting autobiography.

BLVR: That’s great. Like a band book club!

ES:  Yeah. We definitely pass books around. But in terms of the songs, it’s more about what we’re experiencing in our lives at the time.  When we were younger, it was all silliness most of the time. We took our music very seriously, but, for example, I saw this movie on daytime TV about a bunch of kids getting together to save a roller skating rink. And I was like, “Let’s write about that!” 

BLVR: That’s a great premise for a song. Or even a short story.

ES:  It is actually a timeless story: “Let’s throw our differences aside because somebody’s gotta save the roller rink!”

BLVR: Speaking of movies, has there been any further collaboration with David Lynch?

ES: Yeah, he actually just did a remix for us, which we just put out as an EP. We were kind of shy about asking him but he was like, “of course!” He just puts such amazing, atmospheric and cinematic elements into his music. The tracks have this kind of galloping [sound]—you instantly get a sense of these open, wide spaces from the West. He loves collaborating, and he loves collaborating with cool, younger artists.

II. SECOND LOOKS

BLVR: Apart from making music with the band, you also have a solo project. Could you tell us more about that?

ES: My solo project always feels a few steps behind [Au Revoir Simone], because the band’s been going for so long. The level of professionalism and size crowd that we play for, everything is different—the solo project is just new. I’m still figuring it out though. It’s really fun to have that possibility of adding a guitar player or having a whole band—just trying to figure out what sound I want. I love playing with an actual live drummer; that’s pretty important when creating dynamics in a live show. I think Au Revoir Simone sometimes struggles from that, from not having a live drummer.

BLVR: Really?

ES: Yeah, especially when we first started. People didn’t really get it—every person from every label. Still, we decided not to go that route and now there are a lot of bands that don’t have drummers who use laptops or whatever! But I could see my solo project having more of a band, so that really changes what happens live.

BLVR: I almost prefer your solo performances because of the spaces themselves—the venues are often more confined, but intimate.

ES:  I enjoy seeing those size performances, too. It’s very rare for me to go to a big concert.

I think it also changes the experience for the performer. When we’ve gone on tour with AIR, or Broken Bells, we were on a tour bus and playing these massive venues. We weren’t necessarily gonna go and talk to people after the show, which we always like to do. It helps in a touring situation to feel grounded and to actually feel like you went somewhere.

When I did my record release, I was starting to envision what the record release party would look like and all the venues just felt so masculine to me. It’s not like I wanted the inside of the space to be painted pink, but there’s just this quality that I feel can overpower. It’s something you already know and understand, like this kind of thing belongs here, this kind of music should be played there. I think Au Revoir Simone got a lot of attention for that reason—we didn’t belong in these dirty clubs on the Lower East Side. We were a bunch of girls with our toy keyboards. We got a lot of second looks for being who we were. So when I was trying to envision this record release party, there just wasn’t anywhere. But my friend had this shop and, even though it was a clothing boutique and I had to bring in some speakers, it was a welcoming space where people were really open to discovery. People weren’t going in thinking, “OK, this is a rock club.”

III. BEETS AND EGGSHELLS

BLVR: You recently hosted a recycling teach-in at The Deep End Club. What made you go for the teach-in as your approach to promoting environmental literacy?

ES: I’ve always been really into environmental issues, and they can easily take a back burner, because life gets busy. Tennessee [Thomas] had her store on First Avenue and wanted to use it as a community, multi-use space. It’s also been used for crafts—people who make things coming together. Also, there was a bunch of community stuff happening within that same group around the anti-fracking movement. I feel that all of these issues are so obvious, and if everyone knew what was going on, they would be in this room right now trying to fight against it. But life’s just so busy, and there wasn’t necessarily an outlet to share that information.

BLVR: I learned so much from your teach-in alone.

ES: Really?

BLVR: Yeah! For example, the bicycle that generates energy is patented. That’s shocking! Because I had that suggestion for Soul Cycle to self-power with their bikes…

ES: Yeah! And me too, I learned so much. It was partially inspired by the changes that New York City has been making, which have been really amazing. When I moved here I was shocked about the limits on recycling, and the fact that nobody seemed to care or sort their trash. It seems like the most fundamentally easy thing to do, but all the offices I worked in didn’t even recycle paper. Many years have gone by and New York City is finally getting its act together. There are really good programs in place for composting. They’ve expanded plastics recycling—it’s become mandatory to recycle all the things that are available. It seems like they really woke up because of financial reasons; maybe they realized they were sitting on this crazy resource, recyclable material, which was just getting thrown away. So that’s great. However it happens, it doesn’t matter, just as long as they aren’t trucking it to a landfill anymore. I started composting maybe two years ago and started doing workshopping at the local farmer’s market, just trying to not use as much stuff. As soon as I started composting, I realized how little trash I was actually making because most of it was going in the recycling, and then, you know, that’s my norm—a lot of people aren’t doing this but it’s so easy and fun and rewarding!

BLVR: Yeah? I’ve tried to get my dad into it. I don’t know how he’s responding though.

ES: Is he like, “eggshell?” Like asking you what he can put in there?

BLVR: Yeah, I get text messages about garbage often now.

ES: I take pictures of mine sometimes. Sometimes it’s really beautiful! I haven’t been juicing much but when I used to, the compost would just be this beautiful mix of beets and eggshells, like little brown eggshells, just all this stuff. It doesn’t seem like trash because it’s often so pretty—it doesn’t belong in the bin!

BLVR: I’m surprised there isn’t an Instagram dedicated to compost.

ES: We should start one.

Oona Haas freelances as a writer but moonlights as an insomniac. Follow her at @valley_uncanny