Interview: Denise Nouvion of Memoryhouse

Memoryhouse is a darling dream-pop duo from Ontario, Canada consisting of Evan Abeele and Denise Nouvion. They recently signed on with SubPop Records and released their first venture with the label this past February, a wonderful LP entitled The Slideshow Effect. Evan is also a producer (he has produced all of Memoryhouse’s releases). Denise is a photographer, Memoryhouse imagery and artful displays just some of her canvassed outlets. Memoryhouse had to cancel a handful of dates on this tour in April because much of their equipment was stolen mid-tour, so I was ecstatic to see them, bounced back and sounding as pristine as ever at The End in Nashville, TN last Tuesday night. I was even more happy to ask Denise a few curious questions afterward.

TST: Ok, Denise, so here’s my first question: who wrote your bio?

Denise Nouvion: Who wrote our bio. It was like a mix between, I think, a writer and then Evan wrote part of it.

TST: Right. Yeah, I know that Evan’s written on the blog, and that he’s a really good writer, so I was just curious about that.

DN: He is a really good writer. He’s an English major. He was in the middle of doing a Master’s when we started taking time off to do music.

TST: Very cool. You guys talk about your hometown – pronounce it for me…

DN: Guelph [she pronounces it ‘Gwe’lf’], not ‘Ge’lf;’ everyone says ‘Gelf.’

TST: Thanks for that. I think it’s really cool that you mention that in your bio, because I think it’s awesome when people mention where they’re actually from. Like, I have a big stig against bands saying, ‘yeah, we’re from Brooklyn,’ when they’ve only lived there for a year… especially if they moved from Wisconsin or something.

DN: Yes! That’s like people around Toronto. There’s such a greater Toronto area where people always say they’re from Toronto. Any major city, that’s just kind of how it is, right? You’re from New York or wherever – you always just take the bigger town. But Guelph, especially, is kind of known as a music town.

TST: So that’s important to you?

DN: Yeah, it is.

TST: And I think it really comes across in the music, and in the message [the bio]. So here’s my controversial point. What is your take on Arcade Fire, because they’re from Guelph, too, right?

DN: They are partially from Guelph, yeah, good note. Umm, we absolutely adore them, especially Evan. We kind of grew up watching them go from a two-piece to a three-piece to, like, an entire band. Being from Guelph, or being from that area, it’s interesting when you see a band like that come from something very small and very local and grow into a larger scene and really collecting – especially in Montreal, where they’re partially from as well – that kind of attention. And they played – well, they’re playing this year – Hillside Festival, which is kind of where they gain that very local fan base. And they kind of gained notoriety from that in the past.

TST: So do you think there are any pretentions in their music since they’re become famous?

DN: Not at all.

TST: Do you think that [the fame] influences, in any way, the fact that their music has become more polished?

DN: Polished? Not at all. I think any musician, they’re always trying to get to their core… to strip away all the things that are, you know, excess to their music. And I think Arcade Fire is a really good example of a band that came in very extraordinary, and they have kind of like an orchestra, right? And, especially as they progressed towards their own, they simplified, in a way – they became more pop. I think we followed, in a way, where we had very – in a way – distorted music, and we definitely wanted to find what was at our basis of Memoryhouse. So we kind of simplified more, and we became more pop.

TST: Yeah, but I don’t think they became more pop and…

DN: You don’t think so?!

TST: I think you guys still have an experimental element…

DN: We do –

TST: That is a definitive of your sound.

DN: Definitely.

TST: Which leads into my next question. When you and Evan [Abeele, the other half of Memoryhouse] recorded the new record – Evan produced the new record, right?

DN: Yep, him and our friend Barzin.

TST: Were you signed before you started working on the record?

DN: Yes, before we started.

TST: Did it have any impact? Like, did they try to push any producers on you or did you have any stipulations?

DN: Not at all. They were just like, ‘Have some money; do whatever you want.’

TST: Really?!

DN: Yes! SubPop is amazing. They’ll let you do whatever you want to do. So, yes, we definitely wanted to go in that direction. Uhm, if we didn’t have the money it would probably sound a little more lo-fi than it is but, either way, we wanted it to sound more organic.

TST: It does. It sounds ‘still Memoryhouse’ but a little bit less electro, I guess. Now, I know you guys have done a lot of stuff with the bass player – what’s his name?

DN: Barzin Hassani.

TST: Right. So does he tour with you sometimes or how does that work?

DN: He has in the past. He probably will in the future, too, he just… we went from a two-piece to a three-piece to a five-piece, then we came back to a three-piece. We found that the three-piece has something about it live, so we stuck with that. But sometimes we do a five-piece, in which case he plays bass.

TST: Does it make a big difference, as far as production for the new record? Did he specifically play bass, or did he have another role?

DN: He didn’t actually play anything on the record. He just plays bass sometimes live with us. It was our first record that we really wanted someone else, on the outside, to come in and introduce us to the idea of ‘actually recording’ and not ‘bedroom recording.’ So, yeah, he was a great friend and a big help for Evan.

TST: Awesome. Here’s another thing I want to address. You get compared to Beach House a lot, which may or may not be a good thing. But I wonder if you’ve listened to the new Beach House record that came out today [Bloom]?

DN: Ahh, I listened to it like a week ago, actually. SubPop sent it to us.

TST: So do you get pre-releases of all the SubPop records?

DN: Yeah, the ones we want, yeah [laughing].

TST: Have you discovered new bands on the label that you like that you didn’t know about before.

DN: Oh yeah, totally. Uhm… Father John Misty is the only record we listen to in the car. We actually asked for the Beach House record and they gave us like a file of CDs, and that was one of them.

TST: Well I was curious about that. I know you get pre-releases.

DN: Oh yeah, they just hand us CD’s. They’re great about that.

TST: That’s good. Okay, next, I was really curious about your photography, so I went to your Etsy page and saw that you have a hold on there because you’re on tour.

DN: Yeah, I’m on vacation [laughs].

TST: So are you carrying a lot of photography with you? Are you selling any on tour?

DN: You know what, I was. I had a big basket of photographs and we lost it on tour. I lost like all the photos, so I haven’t done that in a long time because it was really hard… because I lost like hundreds of dollars of prints. So I do it on Etsy, per order. I’m more interested in working on new stuff. Selling is just kind of like, ‘I’m not home; I might as well sell prints.’

TST: Are you doing new stuff, or are you just doing this intermittent of touring.

DN: Yeah, I’m always taking photos [very enthusiastically]. It is very based on where I am and what I’m doing. I do it very casually. But, yeah, I’m always taking photos so there’ll be new ones eventually. I’ve been on tour for about three months now, so I haven’t really done anything for a while. I haven’t been home; I have a computer, but it [touring] kind of limits me.

TST: Did you have any photos that got stolen when Memoryhouse got robbed.

DN: My camera was with me, so no. And the photos were lost before that, so no, no, not technically. But that was a little ugly bummer either way.

TST: Do you have any leads on that?

DN: Not at all, actually. The way that works is very hopeless for finding your gear again. But we did get a lot of donations, which helped us buy new gear.

TST: Besides financially, did it have a musical impact? I mean, obviously, you have to reprogram shit when you get new gear.

DN: We did. I mean, after it happened we had to basically drive back to Canada and stay and recoup and, at that point, we were like, ‘Should we continue the tour?’ It was very heartbreaking, in a way. Is it really worth it to continue? Can I actually, emotionally, continue? And, you know, at the end of the day, the donations and fan support really helped us to say, ‘You know what, it’s worth it to continue. We should continue.’ But it was very heartbreaking and very morale-breaking.

TST: How many more dates are left on this tour?

DN: Five.

Evan Abeele [joining the table and jumping in]: Six.

DN: Five dates.

TST: Can I ask you a technical question, Evan, since you’re here?

EA: Yeah, sure!

TST: What was different about recording The Slideshow Effect than the previous stuff that you’ve done? What made it more organic? Also, I feel like sometimes I hear more instrumentation in this record that’s not prevalent in previous Memoryhouse songs.

EA: Well, after being in a band for two years, I think that we just knew who we were. You have to really become yourself, as a band. Like, in the beginning, you don’t really have a template that really defines your voice. I think that after two years of touring we know more about who we are as individuals and songwriters. And so we took that knowledge with us to the studio and we tried to be very concise. And I think the transparency in the record – that lack of noise or lo-fi-ness – was just us trying to say that we don’t want to hide anymore.

TST: Very well put. I have one final question, and it’s a bad one. Why didn’t Memoryhouse tour through Atlanta on this tour? Did you have a bad experience last time?

EA: No, Atlanta’s always been good to us. It’s all random. It’s all about what makes sense with where you are. But yeah, we’ve played Atlanta twice.

TST: Do you have anything to add about the new record or the tour?

DN: Buuuuuy iiittttt!

And you can do so, HERE.

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