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Daughter: TAS In Session

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When London's Daughter visited FUV and The Alternate Side last October, the band members — three self-professed perfectionists — were still working on their debut album, If You Leave, still tweaking their 10-track collection.

The critcally-acclaimed album, which tempestuously shifts between stormy confessions and whispered ruminations, was finally released in March on Glassnote Records in the States and 4AD in the UK.

Daughter wraps its first lengthy (and mostly sold-out) North American headlining tour this Wednesday in Los Angeles. However, singer-songwriter Elena Tonra, guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella will be back Stateside rather quickly. The trio tour with The National this summer, beginning August 4 in Indianapolis, IN. They'll be tirelessly making the rounds of UK,  European, North American and Japanese festivals as of next month, bounding from Glastonbury to Fuji Rock to San Francisco's Outside Lands.

In addition, Daughter have, much to their surprise, found themselves with an unexpected YouTube hit, going viral a few weeks ago with a melancholy cover of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," recorded for BBC's Radio 1, which has already registered over 1.2 million hits. They gracefully deflected shouted requests to play the song again during their Bowery Ballroom show on May 1, but haven't completely ruled out the possibility of bringing the cover into their set at a future date.

When Daughter passed through New York a few weeks ago, Haefeli and Aguilella stopped by for a conversation with The Alternate Side (Tonra was battling a cold).

Listen to the interview, including performance highlights from Daughter's fall 2012 TAS session, this Friday, May 24, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.

UPDATE: Listen to Daughter's session now in the FUV archives.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-8HYHQq7_8]

Kara Manning: Last time you were touring the States you didn’t have an album out and now you do. Can you discuss the steps that were made in altering and shapeshifting your sound from your EPs to your debut If You Leave?

Igor Haefeli: I don’t know if it’s shapeshifting, but it’s definitely carving and fine-tuning what we wanted to do sonically speaking. For us it’s been a progression; we’ve mutated in lots of different ways. It was sort of a goal and we went step by step with each EP. His Young Heart, that was recorded in a bedroom and it was very much just a few mics, a few guitars and that was it. It was more to showcase the songs and Elena’s voice. The second one, that’s where Remi really became more active in the creation of the EP. We went into a proper studio that time with a producer, Ian Grimble, and we spent a lot of time working on those four tracks. We were way more careful than we were with the album in a way! We wanted to make a statement because we thought we might have been slightly misunderstood with the EP. People were calling us folk.

Kara: You recorded the album in a piecemeal form and when we last spoke, you’d worked with Rodhaidh McDonald, but you also brought Jolyon Thomas into the mix. He has worked with M83 and Maps and I wondered what textures he brought in. Igor, you had produced one of the EPs?

Igor: Exactly, the second one I just did more additional production. But on the album, I did cover quite a bit of the production. Rodhaidh came, we had three weeks with him where he worked on creative mixing and additional production. When we did th last interview, we had reached a point where we could finish and deliver the album, but it just didn’t feel right. We weren’t ready. So we got put in touch with Ken Thomas who mixed the album and Ken referred us to his son Jolyon. We re-recorded three songs in a more live setting — “Youth,” “Shallows” and “Tomorrow" — the three songs we’d played live before, were a bit more rehearsed and ready to be played as a band.

Kara: “Youth” was the only song to make the leap from an EP to the final album. Why?

Remi Aguilella: It was a song that definitely connected at our live shows. Again, “Tomorrow” and “Shallows” are also songs that we played before live [and hadn’t been released] but it felt right to put those three songs on the record. There’s a couple of other songs that could have made it, older songs, but didn’t feel right.

Igor: “Youth” felt like it really went well with the feeling of loneliness that Elena wanted to express in the record. At some point we thought of bringing in the EP version, just remixing it, but we tried that and it didn’t feel right at all. So that’s where we re-recorded it and sonically, it felt like it was really fitting the rest of the record.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ajTlcrx9PE]

Kara: You did a cover of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” for BBC Radio 1. Such an inspired cover! Were you asked to do that or was it something you were being very cheeky about doing.

Remi: It was a choice. The day it came out, we began listening to it.

Igor: It came out a bit later in the Europe than it did in the US. Like three or four days before we played the cover.

Remi: We knew we had to do a cover for that particular session and we just didn’t know what song to choose. The day before the session was the only time we could rehearse it. We tried it, it seemed to work fine for us, so we tried it.

Igor: We were quite happy with it, actually. We’d only had one day to get something together. For the live [covers], it needs to be relevant to Radio 1 and playlisted, and that seemed, for us, one of the best choices out of the songs available to cover.

Kara: Is there any temptation to record it as a B-side? There have been so many YouTube hits of it.

Igor: I think we’d need Daft Punk’s approval for that! But maybe we’ll play it live, we don’t know.

Remi: Haven’t really thought about it!

Igor: We didn’t expect this reaction at all. It’s been amazing. Most people seem to be really liking it. Never say never.

Kara: Looking ahead, you’re playing Latitude, you’re playing Glastonbury. Massive festivals. Massive crowds. Yet the music is so intimate and what Elena is singing about is so raw. Have you adjusted your live shows to accommodate that?

Igor: Having played a few festivals last year and playing big stages at those festivals, we seem to have found some form of balance. Obviously, you work on set lists and stuff, take out a few songs that might be too long, but in general, it’s all worked out quite naturally. It’s great to have a bit of rowdyness that you do with bigger crowds. It goes with the vibe of the festivals. But we’ve just done a European tour and our own headline shows and we played a few big venues. Somehow, it seems to work. It is weird, though, to play to 800 people and everyone being dead silent.

But I think it’s thanks to Elena’s lyrics. This form of intimacy that is created every night … we’ve also brought in a fourth musician to play with us to play the the new songs. We make him play keyboads. Anything we need him to play, he plays! It’s such a fine line. It’s quite difficult to walk that walk, in away. To get it to work. There are times that we feel quite vulnerable on stage — I’m talking for myself now — but if you look at our setting and songs, [we wonder] if it’s going to work with this crowd tonight?

Kara: You’re going to be opening for Sigur Rós on some dates. That’s a band that has a similar aesthetic as you; an intimate, but expansive sound that draws the crowd together. Do you think what you discover live will inform the next album?

Igor: I think so. For example, we haven’t really taken that consciously into consideration, but we were playing festivals, going back to London and recording for two weeks, and then going back on tour, and then going back to record. So, in a way, that informs how you’re going to think about the song and record. At the same time, we were in a bubble. So that’s why when we came back from tour, we had to come down a bit from the whole high that you get when you’re on tour. Again, be a bit more introspective.

Remi: At the same time, most of the songs were not written on the road. So you get this balance of playing a big stage in front of a lot of people, and at the same time, going back home and working on the songs. So, again, you’re back in your small room. You’ll get that weird balance between playing a song that was written in a small room, for yourself, and then playing it in front of a lot of people who obviously came for that sound. Sigur Rós and Bon Iver have made it work.

Kara: Can you tell me a little about the evolution of “Tomorrow,” a song you’d been doing live for a while?

Igor: Elena completely wrote that song by herself ages ago. That’s the first song that we began playing as a three-piece. Funny enough, that’s a song that Elena wrote and for a project in music school, she used it. That’s where we both met Remi, Elena and me, because he was drumming for our school project.

Kara: Your songwriting class. Igor: Yeah, it was like an arranging thing and that’s where Remi came into the equation.

Kara: So this song has a lot of resonance in the history of Daughter.

Remi: For sure!

Igor: Again, it fits the whole aethetic of loneliness and being worried about loneliness really well.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hg5rJii7WDY]

Kara: The three of you bring so much to the process of Daughter, but Elena is the one who writes the lyrics. And she goes to a very dark place sometimes. Does she really need a break and to get away from everyone to write?  

Igor: Yeah. Definitely. Elena really needs to go into what she calls her “dark room” and lay down her thoughts into some form of song. That gets worked on later, but the lyrics often come quite early and remain unchanged throughout the whole process of building a song.

Kara: So you’ll build the song around the lyrics? Or does it work in tandem?

Igor: Often, yes. On the album, the process started changing, but very often that’s how it works. I reckon, at least for us and for most bands where the singer has something to say, it really needs to start from there or it doesn’t work. Having worked with Elena quite closely, you can bring her a chord progression but if it doesn’t inspire her or bring anything to her, it doesn’t work.

Remi: You can’t force it. Igor: You can work for months on that but it’s never going to feel as genuine and honest as [when] Elena brings it first. Again, the process is changing and there’s not rule to it.

Kara: Is she a slow writer or write quite quickly, in a fit of inspiration?

Igor: It’s very sporadic. It’s definitely fits of inspiration. It just happens like that. The lyrics just arrive and they don’t change. That’s what I find amazing. It’s just there. It’s really strange; it’s like a painter would paint a painting once and he’d done. He’s not going to rework it or change it. Obviously, sometimes, there’s a slight tweak. But it’s great because it means that that there’s not that much self-consciousness which makes it so much more honest.