By Melody Berger for Tom Tom Magazine Photos: Bek Andersen | Styling: Aubrey Closson | Hair: Julianne Laney | Makeup: Jessica Plummer | Makeup Assistant: Shaun Gibson | Photography Assistant: Shen Williams-Cohen
Annie Hart, Heather D’Angelo, and Erika Forster (pictured above from left to right) have been producing dreamy fantasy synthpop since the mid aughts in their magical band Au Revoir Simone. All three play vintage 80s keyboards, sing, compose beats, and occasionally take on other instrumental duties along the way. They’ve collaborated with the French band Air and The Smith’s Johnny Marr, toured with We Are Scientists, become a favorite of David Lynch and brought music and good cheer to the four corners of the globe.
Their new album, Move in Spectrums, is the first recording venture for the trio in four years and it is well worth the wait. The ladies return to the project with the maturity and focus that only time and perspective can give. Spectrums has bold, forward momentum and a pumped up danceable quality that is a departure from their earlier wistful tones. They’re no longer blowing digital pixie dust in the air, but shooting laser beams from the hip.
Full Disclosure: Heather and I were part of the same group of nerdy, awkward girls in Middle School and High School so I’m liable to be a fan of anything she’s doing. But luckily for me, ARS is fantastic.
Let’s talk about your beats. Originally Heather was the drum machine programmer, but now you’re all playing a part in that? Heather D’Angelo: It was always kind of collaborative I’d say. But I was the operator. When Erika first told me about this club she had- a band of girls going over to her apartment and drinking tea after work and playing vintage keyboards – I thought, ok, I’ll bring over my keyboard. I had a Casio. But when I got there I realized that they needed someone to just press the buttons on the drum machine. So, it started out as more of a necessity: these girls need beats! I can do this, I have hands! And then it got crazy with tons of vintage drum machines on stage. I looked kind of like a telephone operator.
But when it came down to recording, that’s when we all started weighing in on the beats. Once you’re in the studio you get to the point where you’re really evaluating songs. You know, this is what we’ve done in previous spaces, but is it what we want to record? That’s when Annie and Erika would start saying things like: we need a different kick drum, we need a better snare. Maybe we should have a drop out here.
Annie Hart: I remember that happening with ‘Violent Yet Flammable World,’ a song on our second album.
H: Yeah! Which is a beat I copied from Bjork.
A: Flammable was revolutionary because it was the first time that, in addition to programming the sections of the songs, we could also program the sounds for each section of the songs. And it was rudimentary because we were young and we didn’t really know what we were doing. But I think it’s escalated now. We do a lot of stuff on our iphones now too.
H: And some live drumming.
A: One of my favorite songs drum-wise from this album is ‘The Lead is Galloping.’ We tried like twenty million beats and then we went with this reggae beat from a Yamaha that we actually used on our first record. Then I would drum on top of it at a kit. Once it was all recorded we brought it to this guy Michael Beharie from the band Tezeo.
Erika Forster: He helped us take it from a toy landscape to more of a hip hop landscape. You know how some people are like, you should only have one or two huge sounds in a beat? He was like, just have them all be huge.
What’s it like composing with the iphone app? E: When I started writing my own beats the iphone app completely changed my life, because it’s visual. I was never a trained drummer, so if I had a beat in my head, I couldn’t play it on the kit, and I couldn’t sing it because everything is happening simultaneously. The app allowed me to sketch things out and translate what I was hearing. It was a lot of trial and error for me.
A: When I compose on the train I use the app without headphones. I was incredibly inspired by teaching kids music. I showed them the idrum app and they wouldn’t even listen, they’d just be like ‘this is a pretty picture!” And I thought, “well, that’s gonna sound like shit!” And then I’d listen to it and be like, whoa!
In the music video for your song ‘Crazy’ you re-created the Scorsese film After Hours and acted out all the parts yourselves. I just watched After Hours for the first time, and it’s actually creepy awesome how some of the shots in your video are right on. Although, for me, it was like ‘ooh, that’s just like the Crazy video!” A: Ha! Hopefully everyone will have that experience.
E: They were meticulous. It was so fun to show up to the locations and see how they were completely changed to look like scenes from the movie. The diner scene was filmed at this Polish restaurant in Greenpoint that I’m very familiar with, but we walked in and they had done it up. It looked completely different. A couple of people walked by and said ‘oh my god, they’re redoing After Hours!” They could tell just from the set and from what we were wearing.
It was cool to see a girl band reenacting a movie that some might argue is misogynist. A: That’s interesting because Heather has been bringing that up. It does have the stereotype, which is funny because we’re referencing it in the song, of women being crazy. However, other than the waitress character who is totally, inexplicably nutso… other than her, the other women, like Marcy and the Sculptress, they have agency. They have some semblance of power. So I’m not entirely sure if it’s misogynistic. Because I think Paul the male character is also portrayed as weird.
E and H: Yeah!
E: You never think, oh, poor Paul.
A: Towards the end of the movie when he’s complaining about his night I want to say, you’re just tired- can you please have a snack and go home and take a nap? So, yes, there is that crazy girl stereotype but you also think he’s unreasonably upset too.
E: I think the movie just creates this overarching bizarro world.
When I first heard the song I assumed it was a cover. Not just because you would expect a band of dudes to be singing a song with the chorus “oooh, you girls, you drive me crazy!” But also because it’s one of those great catchy songs where you feel like you’ve already heard it before. Oh, I know this song, I love this song! E: That is such an amazing compliment!
H: Thank you!
So, who are the girls driving you crazy? H: When I went back to Columbia full time it was basically because my advisor was like, enough of this bullshit. You can’t keep going to school for a semester and then leaving for tour for two years and then coming back for another semester. You need to graduate, you need to do a thesis, you need to stay here and finish what you started. When I went back we were kind of on hiatus. We had just finished Still Night and I was so completely pleased with that album. I was just like, we’ve done it! We’ve achieved what I wanted to do! I really liked that album so much. I just felt at peace with everything, and I wasn’t sure if we had another album in us. What could we do, we had three frikkin’ keyboard albums. How many more keyboard albums could we make? We have these self-imposed limitations. So I went back to school and gave it 110% and really got my head completely in the science world and tried not to think about music. And then there was this moment of ‘I just can’t quit you! I miss those girls and I miss making music with them and I do have another album in me and I’m not finished!’ I think the ‘girls you drive me crazy’ part was very much about that.
I’d really like to talk about the evolution of your music and your brand, so to speak. A: I think in the early days of the band I was incredibly focused on our photos and image not just being sex appeal. I wanted to be a musician, not just a young girl in a skimpy outfit- that’s been done. It was very reactionary. Now we’re at the stage where we don’t just think about how people perceive us, but we think about, well, how do we want to be perceived. It’s giving us a more positive spin on where we’re going.
You’re more in control of the direction. E: It was weird. Before, we were part of this stereotypical way of being. We stood out by just being how everyone was in our neighborhood. I didn’t realize we were making so many choices at the time. But now, looking back, we were definitely making choices.
You mentioned at the photo-shoot that it wasn’t a conscious choice to all have the same length hair, the same color hair, you weren’t trying to look like each other. And I was like, really?? E: No, really! We are not the type of people who would ever decide how we look based on what someone else is doing. We all just happen to look good with bangs.
H: We all just have really weird foreheads.
A: Even when I had a shaved head I had bangs.
You had a shaved head? A: For years. Between the ages of 17 to 21. But I always had bangs.
E: People yell ‘bannnngs!’ at our shows.
A: It’s funny, we do really spend a lot of time talking about our bangs and how our bangs are different.
H: What is your bang experience?
Annie, what’s it like touring with a little one at home? A: Truth be told, if I didn’t have such a supportive family and husband I don’t think I could do it. I really feel for single moms… people who are working all day long and then coming home to kids at night. I am a single mom for like a month at a time and I’m bat shit crazy.
So, tour has actually been a lot easier for me because it’s a lot easier than raising a child. But there are times that I just miss him so so so much.
H: Whenever she says something like that it makes me not want to have children…
A: This is going to sound bad, but it’s kind of like being broken down to the lowest of the low. Not sleeping for weeks, with puke all over you, and you’re like, augh, I’m starving! It can only go up from there. And then you’re met with a love you can’t even describe…
You sound like someone being broken down in a torture situation. ‘Today they finally gave me a loaf of bread!’ H: And then you fall in love with your captor.
A: Stockholm Syndrome!! I have Stockholm Syndrome! He finally stopped crying, my life is amazing!
Let’s talk about Girl Crisis.
There are quite a few videos of you online with a whole bunch of ladies singing, but it doesn’t seem to be a real band?
E: It doesn’t happen anymore, but it was a moving collective that Caroline (Palochek of Chairlift) and Elizabeth (Harper, Class Actress) put together. They’d ask who can make it on this date? And if one person couldn’t but everyone else could we’d meet anyway.
H: I missed a lot of them because of school. Every time they’d get together I’d be like, nooo, another one gone!
Girl crisis, indeed!
E: Every video just came from one full day of arriving, learning whatever song we wanted to cover, working out the arrangement, filming it three times on a super 8 and then going home. It was never anything more than that. When you’re a freelance musician it’s hard to say, I’m going to take a whole day to hang out with people! You want to feel like you’re working.
Why/How have you not done a glam rock, David Bowie, silver spangly spacesuits sci-fi adventure music video yet, and can you please do that for ‘More Than?’ Because I see the whole thing in my head. Vividly. A: Done.
E: I’m so happy you get that visual, that’s totally what we were going for.
H: You see our music the way we do.
You mentioned the stereotypical look of your old neighborhood before. How else did living in Williamsburg influence your artistic growth? E: People love to hate on hipsters and the whole Williamsburg scene. But for me it was a godsend. I went my whole life just being a total outsider. I had friends, I was social, I wasn’t alone but I never found my clique, people who had the same interests as me. A friend of mine moved to Williamsburg in ’99 and when I came to visit him I was like, this is where I want to be. Where people are creating things and being weirdos publicly. That’s what I want in my life. I feel like the spirit where all of that came from was beautiful and it changed my life.
Which is nice to hear because it’s so easy to disparage hipsters because no one identifies as one! Who exactly are the hipsters? A: I feel like in the beginning it was a pejorative term for ‘hipper than thou.’ I’m a hip-ster because I’m doing cooler things than you. And then it morphed into describing the stereotype of anyone who lived in Williamsburg.
E: As if Williamsburg was super judgmental. And really it was like, we’re just a bunch of shy freaks who just want to do weird things all the time. We’re not judging you.
A: I don’t know. I definitely felt judged.
H: It was me, I was judging you.