Over the last year or so, Memoryhouse went from an interesting, little Guelph-based shoegaze project to a Sub Pop-signed, Toronto-based buzz band – and it all started with one little EP Evan Abeele and Denise Nouvion recorded at home. With the Sub Pop release re-recorded The Years EP coming up next week (it’s out on the 13th) and a looming debut album, I managed to grab a phone interview with guitarist Evan Abeele to discuss the band’s beginnings, shoegaze music, and Virginia Woolf.
And if you feel like listening to the new version of The Years while reading this, here it is for your enjoyment:
M: How exactly did everything begin?
E: I met Denise at a concert where she was shooting the band for a magazine. I knew one of her friends that she was with. Then we would just always end up running into eachother at shows in Guelph, where we both used to live. It just kind of started from that. We started hanging out, we had similar tastes, similar ideas about art, and so we felt we should probably try collaborating.
M: I read somewhere that you are a “neo-classical composer” – is that true?
E: I studied it, but it’s not something I actively pursue. It was kind of what I did before Memoryhouse, classical and ambient stuff, but it’s just kind of a side-project for me now.
M: Before Memoryhouse, was that what you wanted to actively pursue?
E: I don’t know, it was just something I wanted to understand a bit better. I don’t always have an interest in that kind of music, mainly I was interested in baroque composition, orchestral type stuff. When I first heard Memoryhouse by Max Richter – which is what we’re named after – I started really considering minimalist and neo-classical music, which is not really about what you’re arranging or what you’re not really arranging, it’s the stages in-between those arrangements. I guess I found that interesting.
M: A lot of people would call the music you guys make shoegaze; is that something you guys endorse? Are you fans of shoegaze?
E: We’re definitely fans of shoegaze, or at least I am. It’s always hard to understand where people come from with shoegaze because to me it’s all about like really, really big distorted guitars and walls of sound. I don’t think we do that on our recordings, but we do like doing that live. That’s something I’m a fan of – just having really sick, reverb-drenched layers of guitar, because I am a huge fan of Kevin Shields, My Bloody Valentine, that whole shoegaze aesthetic. I’m not sure if we really come across as shoegaze. We definitely take it as a compliment when people call us that, but I guess it’s hard for me to associate my perception of shoegaze with other people’s, but it’s definitely cool if you want to call us that.
M: What are your favourite shoegaze bands?
E: I like Slowdive a lot. My Bloody Valentine, obviously. Ride are very cool. I don’t know if Cocteau Twins are shoegaze but I like them a lot too.
M: You guys released this EP, The Years – how did that come about? When you recorded it with Denise was it like, “Let’s try recording some stuff,” or…
E: Yeah, absolutely. The unfortunate thing was that it was us just trying to come into ourselves in a sense, we were just testing the waters. It’s weird to come back and readdress it and reassess it now that we’re on Sub Pop. I guess the idea with the remake/reissue is to make it a more clear statement of intent from us.
M: Why did you call the EP ‘The Years’?
E: At the time Denise and I were reading Virginia Woolf a lot, and a lot of the imagery comes from her work. Like To The Lighthouse [a song on The Years EP] is a Virginia Woolf novel, The Waves – which was on the original EP but not on the new one – was a Virginia Woolf novel, and The Years was a Virginia Woolf novel. But I titled the EP The Years actually because I was reading this play by Samuel Beckett called Waiting For Godot and there’s this monologue about how we’re all kind of wasting our time and waiting to die in a sense. I found that very striking and I think it was kind of a personal mantra for me for a while so I titled the EP The Years because of all the time spent in stasis or spent not really actively living or pursuing anything. The album art for the new version of The Years really represents that because it reflects how time passes on static objects, so you’re seeing just a sun reflect through the window, gradually changing through the day on a static objects. It’s a metaphor for how I perceived my life was going in a way, like I wasn’t really actively pursuing anything or maybe I just didn’t want something enough to pursue it.
M: And how did The Years initially end up getting reviewed on Pitchfork?
E: I guess it kind of got passed around a lot, like a lot of people were posting about it. We just kind of put it online and eventually it got to a few Pitchfork writers who then emailed me some questions about it and then it got on the site.
M: And when you got that email from Pitchfork what was your reaction?
E: Um, I don’t know, I guess I thought it was pretty cool because obviously they’re hugely influential. At first I didn’t really care, it was like, “Oh, some writer from Pitchfork is emailing me about The Years.” I guess I didn’t really process it until I saw it on the website, then I was like, “Oh, it actually got there.”
M: So you guys signed with Sub Pop a while ago – how did that happen?
E: It was a similar situation to the Pitchfork writer. They emailed us and when I saw that it was a Sub Pop email address I didn’t lose it. We were talking to labels at the time but seeing that name attached to that email, it just wasn’t the same because they’re obviously such a hugely influential label and just a label that meant a lot to me personally. I adore their releases. It was pretty crazy. We got to talking and talked about our plans for the next couple years and Memoryhouse ended up signing a contract with them.
M: Can you explain a bit what you mean when you say Sub Pop is a label that means a lot to you personally?
E: Well, they introduced the world to Nirvana and obviously Nirvana’s Nirvana, and they were hugely influential. They’ve released classic albums like The Shins’ Oh, Inverted World and stuff like that. They’ve just been that label with that kind of reach that affects you in your day-to-day life. It’s not just something transient like other labels. Sub Pop really know who they are and they really know the musicians that they’re working with. It’s really special to be working with a label that has that kind of cache.
M: You recently added a couple members to the band, what made you guys decide to do that?
E: We definitely knew that we wanted to find a more organic space, especially live. I’m not an electronic musician and I really have a very novice understanding of electronic music. I’m a big fan of listening to it but I just don’t have any formal training with it so it’s always just something I’m not going to have a great grasp on. With the initial release of The Years it was just two people working in a small home studio and we didn’t have studio drums at our disposal so having electronic beats and synthesizers made sense in that context, but we want to move away from that. The “Caregiver” single was the first step towards making a more organic space both live and in the studio, so we hooked up with our drummer Daniel (Gray), and Warren (Hildebrand) – who is the lead guy in Foxes In Fiction* – and right now we’re playing as a five-piece. It’s been really cool to see the new songs come life, because they were all written with a five-piece band in mind. They’re a more playable set of songs rather than having electronic layers and textures that were harder to translate into a live performance.
M: So what’s going on with the album you guys are working on?
E: It’s pretty secret right now. We have all the songs written, we’re done pre-tracking and we’re going to work on it for the rest of the summer. It’ll be out I guess first quarter 2012.
M: Are you working with any producers?
E: I don’t think we’re quite at liberty to say just yet but he’s a Toronto-based musician/producer. He’s really, really talented and kind of an auteur, that’s why we sought him out. It wasn’t like a predictable choice where you get a buzz-y producer that’s going to make you the next Vampire Weekend or something. We wanted someone that releases very nuanced, specific material and we really wanted to capture that kind of feel.
M: What’s the story with the song “Heirloom”?
E: “Heirloom” is one of my favourite songs. We originally intended it to be the A-side of the single but everyone said that “Caregiver” was the more clear A-side, which I would still contest to this day. It was our first really upbeat song, which is cool because the LP has a lot of those uptempo numbers, it’s very balanced. It definitely was a very positive turn for us because it proved that we could write upbeat numbers but still retain our own identity in them.
M: Final question: what is your relationship with My Bloody Valentine’s “When You Sleep”?
E: When we decided to cover “When You Sleep” we were on tour and we were staying at this place in the UK, in Notting Hill actually, and they had this cool upright piano that was like super out of tune. I would just mess around on it because we’d have these long stretches of time off when we were touring Europe so we’d hang out and write songs. We knew that we were going to be doing a video with Yourstru.ly when we landed in San Francisco so we were trying to decide what we should do for that performance. I guess I just decided that it would be interesting to reinterpret “When You Sleep” as a ballad, just completely strip all the idiosyncracies from that song and insert Memoryhouse into it. That was the general idea.
As a listener, it’s a really epic song. It’s really cool. It’s kind of about confusion and misinterpretation and that’s definitely something that I’m a fan of myself in writing. I always tend to go towards the more obscure feelings and sentiments. I definitely think that’s something that My Bloody Valentine are masters of. I guess it’s something very easy to relate to on a very visceral level. And it’s also just a really awesome song.
Photo: Derek O’Donnell
*Warren Hildebrand has since left Memoryhouse