An Intimate Conversation with Evan Abeele

Ever since a few influential blogs plucked Toronto’s Memoryhouse from obscurity earlier this year, the duo has maintained a frenetic schedule, hopping overseas to tour, being commissioned for remixes, recording a follow-up to their excellent Years EP and a tour-released ambient LP, co-headlining a stateside run with Twin Sister, and fielding interview requests from lowly music writers. Originally a bedroom-tracked collaboration between composition student Evan Abeele and visual artist Denise Nouvion, theirs is a tale steeped in modern technology, though their minimal pop aesthetic and classical influences infer a sense of groundedness, as if the surge of attention could rise and fall without them reading too much into the change either way. Music writers have done their best to classify them as “dream pop”, “glo fi”, or “chillwave” (given the ambient influence, “soundscape pop” works better for me), but Memoryhouse ultimately escapes easy description. Their live set in Nashville earlier this week, at the same time gauzy and riff-y, was proof that not only are they solid players, they’re capable of surprising you, too.

As they battled the inevitable traffic of the D.C. Corridor last Friday afternoon, I had the chance to speak with Abeele over the phone about their myriad of influences, sudden blog popularity, future ambitions, and the new LP they’re still writing and refining. Oh, he used the word memetic, too, which kind of blew my mind.

You and Denise have added a third member to the live iteration of Memoryhouse. Are there plans to involve other members in future recordings?

Absolutely. Our live guitarist [Ed: Adrien Vieni] played on our new single, which is the first song we did in an actual studio, so that’s exciting. And eventually we’re going to expand into a a full band, including a drummer. Right now, things are moving at a glacial pace due to monetary constraints, but we’re going to move forward with the live show, taking it to the point where it’s all a very organic process on stage and less reliant on drum machines.

Is the new full-length finished?

It isn’t. We went into the studio right before we left for a European tour in June to record a new single for a label [Ed: Suicide Squeeze] and, like I said, it’s really cool because we were in a real studio, which was housed in a church. It was really great to have all that space and get a hi-fi recording out of it. We’re really excited for everyone to hear the song.

When can we expect for something to be released?

The single should be out in September.

Are there any live drums on the recording?

Yeah, it’s going to have live drums and a nice violin arrangement. It’s going to be really different for us. But, again, I’m excited because we’re moving our sound forward to a more organic space.

Do you see your classical influences and background as a composition student playing into the evolution of Memoryhouse?

Absolutely. When we were doing our first recording, we were limited to what could be accomplished in a bedroom studio, which is a very primitive set-up. We had to make a lot of compromises with our sound, so now that we’re at the point where we’re recording in a real studio and have a bigger budget to record, we get to be truer to our selves and our artistic vision. There’s no more compromising on guitar tones, and we’re using strings instead of synthesizers. It’s really exciting because this is how I always wanted to convey this project. Now, we get to ease into that kind of sound more gracefully, rather than forcing it from the start. It’s been a learning experience.

There aren’t many artists putting vocals on modern classical records.

Yeah. We played with Efterklang, who have a very progressive sound, in London and it was so wonderful hearing them especially now that Peter Broderick has been added to their live band. Just hearing their singer [Ed: Caspar Clausen] on top of that style was really refreshing, actually. I think that adding voices is an interesting way to explore the boundaries of what modern classical music can be.

Did you or Denise play in any other bands before Memoryhouse?

I’ve been composing music for about ten years, but I’ve never really played in anything resembling a band. I’ve performed live by myself with basically just a loop pedal, but nothing like pop music. It’s been an adjustment for both of us. Denise sang on a few studio albums before, but she was never really a dedicated singer. The way the two of us fell into these roles as pop songwriters is interesting, but it feels somewhat natural to us at this point.

Where you’re from in Ontario — Guelph — is fairly close to the US border. Growing up, did you travel much to the States to go to shows?

Not really. Speaking for myself, I really loved my hometown growing up. Guelph has a really, really strong musical community, and some influential bands have come from there. One of our favorite bands is Constantines, who were a big inspiration for me growing up because they sang about the type of things I could really relate to. They were bored with their suburban, college lives, so they made this fierce punk rock music, which really spoke to me. I’ve always had an appreciation for that style of music and the music coming out of my community, which, oddly I’m now detached from, but it definitely played a role in my development.

How would you say you’re detached from the community?

I don’t think people in the community really get the music we’re making, which is very far outside the sound of the community and basically the sound of Canada. So, we really have no presence in our hometown or in Canada, really. It’s a stark contrast to what our reception has been like in Europe and even in the United States, where people have been very welcoming and very appreciative of what we’re doing.

You two are seemingly inspired by visual mediums almost as much as musical ones. Who are some of your favorite photographers or filmmakers?

As far as photographers go, I have to say Minor White because I wrote a song about him for our new photobook project [Ed: Choir of Empty Rooms], which we’re selling on tour. The book comes with an ambient record that has a song called “Minor White.” Speaking of filmmakers, I really like Godard. I really like Fellini. Basically, I really like the new wave, which is the safe answer that everyone says [laughs].

Are you interested in scoring film?

Absolutely. I really, really want to get into that, actually. We’re going to be working on a project with a filmmaker named Weston Currie, who directed a few of Grouper‘s latest videos, which are just gorgeous. He has a new film called Congress that features new music from Grouper, Mount Eerie, and us, which we’re really looking forward to. It’s really big for us because it’s something we’ve always dreamed of doing, so it should be a fun pursuit.

Tell me more about the Choir of Empty Rooms project. Are there plans to press the record for a wider audience?

It’s really a breakdown of Memoryhouse’s core elements. It features Denise’s original photography and my ambient music. For now, we just want to keep it limited to a tour-only release because it’s really just something to commemorate our first tour. We liked this idea of going back to the very core roots of our existence as Memoryhouse.

As a student, was it hard to keep up with the sudden attention Memoryhouse initially received? Are you more settled into the hectic pace now?

It was extremely unnerving, to be honest. We really weren’t prepared for it. I guess few bands can prepare for it in this day and age because it moves so fast and constantly that, as soon as you realize you’re in it, you’re already a month into a tour.

I think we’re starting to cope a bit better now, but it was hard to immediately turn Memoryhouse, which was born out of a bedroom recording, into a live entity. It’s also been difficult because the audience already has certain conceptions of how we should sound live. When we were approaching the task of translating Memoryhouse on record to Memoryhouse live, we knew we could either copy exactly what was on the record, which would be somewhat mundane, or completely rearrange the songs to make it a more engaging live concert. We’re pretty satisfied with where we are now, though there’s always room to improve. Considering we’d never played any shows and then left for a big European tour, followed by a big American tour, I think we’ve handled it somewhat gracefully [laughs].

Was the attention so abrupt that you two had to take time off from work?

Thankfully for us, we’re both students and finished out the school year. Four days after that, we went on the road and haven’t really had the chance to go back yet. But it’s been a really fun experience. I mean, most people’s summer jobs consist of working in the grocery store or working a desk job, while we get to tour the world. We’re very appreciative of that.

Are there plans to go back to school?

There’s definitely a plan to go back to school, not only for the education but for the sense of stability it provides us to create music. Playing live is great, but our true passion is composing, and I think that we want to give a greater focus to that. We definitely enjoy touring and do plan to tour again, but we’re going to take some time off to make sure we take a very measured approach to recording the LP, which is going to happen as soon as we get home from tour.

You mentioned in a recent interview that you two are big fans of Virginia Woolf and that her writing informed some of Denise’s lyrics on The Years. Is literature more of a peripheral influence on Memoryhouse or is it more central than that, similar to how film affects your work?

Literature has a huge influence on us. In a way, it somewhat grounds our ideas and gives us a conceptual flow to our songs. Not that they’re particularly conceptual songs, but having a sense of where the songs are and where we need to take them is important, to ground them in some kind of diction to keep our ideas afloat. With literature, we try to translate our memetic reaction to that medium into music, which is what we did on songs like “To the Lighthouse” and “Waves”. The same goes for “Sleep Patterns”, which references Woolf.


Follow Consequence