Memoryhouse is the duo of Evan Abeele and Denise Nouvion. They’ve just released the Virginia Woolf/Max Richter-influenced EP, The Years, and have recently completed their top secretly titled full-length debut. (At least too top secret to divulge its name during this interview). The pair creates hushed pop songs that are always smarter than your average Top-40 tunes. Nouvion, who began her career as a photographer, is becoming more and more comfortable every day in her role as a lead singer. Additionally, the classical music-influenced Abeele brings a kind of minimalist flavor to Memoryhouse’s unique sound.
Stereo Subversion caught up with the Canadian act while they were in Brooklyn, NY. This meant the group spent their day off in New York City, on September 11, 2011, during one of the biggest American memorial days in recent memory. “We had thought about going to the memorial,” comments Abeele, “but we were kind of intimidated because we don’t know the subway lines that well.”
The ability to navigate big city public trains – especially one of the world’s biggest city subway systems — has never been a prerequisite to creating adventurous music. Therefore, what the act lacks in a sense of adventure when it comes to exploring tour-stop city streets, it more than makes up for with ever-surprising pop music. Every seasoned New Yorker may be able to ride the city subway system blindfolded, but it’s safe to wager that this same citizen cannot write James Joyce-inspired pop music the way Memoryhouse can. So there!
SSv: I read that you’re a photographer, so I wanted to find out if photography came first, and then music, or is that you started as a photographer and then you just branched out into music. How did that all happen?
Denise Nouvion: I definitely started as a photographer. I guess when we first did our Years EP — Evan especially — we were kind of intending on using photographs as a kind of home base aesthetic choice to help write the Years. Since then, it’s definitely played a similar part. I guess we start with photos that we kind of want to write around as well. I guess it’s kind of like just an aesthetic grounding, not specifically writing about in songs, but it definitely plays into how we think about, I guess, the mood of songs.
This is my first venture into singing. The first time I ever sang, I guess, was a couple of months before we recorded Years. Evan forced me into it.
SSv: Have you always been a singer?
Denise: No, actually. This is my first venture into singing. [Laughs] The first time I ever sang, I guess, was a couple of months before we recorded Years. Evan forced me into it. [Laughs] It’s been weird because I’ve never been a performer. So it’s been very weird going from having actually nothing to do with music at all, to becoming a musician. [Laughs]
SSv: To be a photographer, you’re not the focus. You’re sort of the eye. And now you’re the focus. That’s like switching roles, isn’t it?
Denise: Um, yeah, I guess if you say it like that then maybe. It’s similar. I find when me and Evan are talking about writing music or mixing music or something like that, I’ll compare the studio to photography. There’s definitely a lot of things that connect the two. Again, like aesthetic when you’re talking about, like, a clean sound and a dirty image, it’s like they’re very similar. Yeah, but I guess it’s like that. You’re definitely not the focus.
SSv: How do you go about writing songs? Do you collaborate? Do you do your part and he does his part? What is the usual procedure to write a song?
Denise: Usually, Evan will have beds and he’ll write the foundation of the song and then he’ll show me it. We’ll come together and we’ll write the melody. And then we’ll sit down and do a hardcore lyric writing process, which is probably takes longest. Generally, I just collaborate on melodies and lyrics and then we’ll just discuss what needs to be added.
SSv: Your music has been described many different ways: As dream pop, chillwave, lo-fi, indie, electronic. Which of those phrases best describe your music, and if not those, what term best describes your music?
Evan Abeele: I think it should be none of those. They’re all such broad terms that mean different things to different people. I generally try to think of our music as just pop music. I think that we’re just very heavily influenced by pop music, from just about every era. So I think that I tend to prefer it as pop music because it can encompass a lot of things and it’s not gonna kind of leave us in a position where our sound is particularly pigeonholed. Does that make sense?
SSv: Yeah. You’ve been called a neo-classical composer, and I’m always concerned when I see “neo” in front of something. Do you have any classical training?
Abeele: I do, yeah. I generally think the “neo” thing is sort of a Matrix reference or something. [Laughs] I guess when people think about what neo-classical music is, I think that… I guess it shares certain principles with minimalism. It’s not so much particularly Baroque arrangements, but rather about stripping things down to their core and making things a bit more intimate and more spacious I guess. I guess that’s what people tend to see as neo-classical. But I’ve definitely never thought of myself as a neo-classical composer.
SSv: I don’t know much about Max Richter, but it’s been said that your group name is a tribute to that German composer. What can you tell me about him and his influence on your music?
Abeele: I think with him, again as Denise was discussing aesthetics, there are aesthetics that we definitely want to implement in our own image and sound. I think that Max Richter’s compositions on Memoryhouse convey a sense of melancholy and a sense of intimacy, relating to one’s childhood or just the memories of things you’ve moved on from. I guess it all was just a sort of serendipitous union of ideas that because we were reading a lot of Virginia Woolf at the time, which is what a lot of the Years material references. To the Lighthouse is a Virginia Woolf novel.
I guess in particular I was reading her essay A Room of One’s Own. So I had very specific images of rooms and how they’ve come to define your life up to this point. So I think it was just a marriage of ideas stemming from Max Richter’s classical pieces, kind of cut and pasted with Virginia Woolf’s writings and ideas. We definitely stemmed beyond that, but it was definitely somewhat of a thesis idea for us, I guess.
SSv: Let me ask you, since literature has a big impact on what you end up writing and recording, if you were to record music today, what literary influences might have an impact on the songs?
Abeele: Well, we just finished recording our LP, our long player, and James Joyce is definitely there as a big influence, particularly his short story The Dead was something that I tend to ground a lot of my ideas on. And to be honest with you, I’ve always been a big David Foster Wallace fan, and so I’ve been reflecting on some of his materials and we do reference David Foster Wallace a couple times on the album throughout some of the songs, as we do with Richter.
The first song on the LP has a big Max Richter shadow, just to kind of bring things full circle with that idea. Because not a lot of people can place Max Richter to us — a lot of people don’t really know that Memoryhouse comes from him.
SSv: What’s the new album called?
Abeele: Ah, we can’t really talk about that. We can’t really discuss much about the new album, including the title, unfortunately. A lot of people are asking us.