DAUGHTER, the London-based minimalist trio, return to Liverpool for an O2 Academy show on 22nd January. We spoke with drummer Remi Aguilella ahead of their 2016 tour to discuss live preparation and the creative process behind the bands’ new album Not To Disappear.
Almost three years since playing the revered rafters of the Anglican Cathedral, DAUGHTER, the London-based trio of vocalist and guitarist Elena Tonra, Swiss-born guitarist Igor Haefeli and French drummer and percussionist Remi Aguilella, are returning to Liverpool in support of ruminative new album Not To Disappear. The second album from the minimalistic indie folk trio, the release builds on the intricate dynamics that won them critical acclaim on 2013’s debut If You Leave. Though Tonra’s delicate vocal delivering anguished words still fuses seamlessly with Haefeli’s tight, melodic guitar and Aguilella’s rolling drums, the sound of their follow-up record feels infinitely richer.
We caught up with drummer Aguilella mid-preparation for their January 2016 tour to discuss the ideas behind the new album and the band’s creative process,. “We want to be in the best shape possible so we can give each show our best. We’re just getting back into rehearsals and we want to perform in a way that ensures that people will feel a connection with the new songs,” Aguilella offers. That connection is an integral part of Daughter’s appeal. Primary songwriter Elena Tonra has that rare skill of taking deeply personal experiences and transforming them into themes that chime with their listeners. Aguilella agrees: “With Elena’s lyrics, there’s this honesty in the sense that everything she writes is genuine. And I think that’s one of the reasons why people do find such a connection with the music. There are universal themes in there that people really do seem to be able to relate to.” And perhaps no more so than on the incredibly moving, desperately sad video for Doing The Right Thing, which details the devastating effects of dementia on an entire family.
Aguilella explains that the video came about through their previous work with filmmakers and artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, a duo noted for their work with Nick Cave, Gil Scott-Heron and Tindersticks. “Ian and Jane have a friend called Stuart Evers, who is a short-story director, and he took the lyrics and used them to come up with the video. I was away when it was being made and so the first time I saw it, it was pretty much the final version. As I began to watch it, I started crying in the editing room.” He continues: “There are people in my family who have been affected by dementia. It’s a difficult subject, and Elena’s also seen first-hand the effect it can have on families. It’s a subject that people tend to avoid, but I feel it’s good to get it out there and talk about these things.”
So is there an overarching theme to be found on the forthcoming album Not To Disappear or is it a collection of musical vignettes? For Aguilella the answer isn’t that simple: “Elena writes about deeply personal matters – I’d say in the vast majority of the songs we’ve recorded, I haven’t known exactly what she’s singing about. And because her lyrics are so personal, I don’t really want to ask her specifically. Which I think works well because people can take what they want from the songs, put their own interpretations on them, and relate them to their own lives. Even when we’re playing them live, Elena might sing the lyric in a different way, which leads me to reinterpret the song. I’ll follow her on the drums, doing something a little different rather than playing the same thing every time.”
Though Aguilella comes from a classical and jazz background, his ability to adapt his drumming to suit different atmospherics of songs has translated well into his work with Daughter. The band formed when Tonra, who had initially started Daughter as a solo project, began dating another like-minded musician, guitarist Igor Haefeli. Aguilella joined on drums and the critical response to the band’s self-released EPs and debut album seemed to take them all by surprise. “We were really delighted at how well received the debut album was, we’d expanded our sound and loved what we were doing, but we felt really lucky to have got such a great reception. Hopefully it’ll be the same for this album.”
Permeated by embittered and empowering lyrics met with hauntingly atmospheric instrumentation, Not To Disappear is an emotionally unshackled offering. Borderline brutal in places lyrically, the themes of loss, alienation and loneliness seem to run through it. Alone/With You and No Care stand out as highlights: resonant and emphatic, their wounding lyrics give way to showcase Haefeli’s majestic guitar lines, and Aguilella’s unflinchingly red-blooded drumming. The album’s evidently an emotive piece of work, so did they approach writing it any differently to their previous output?
“Not really, it always been the same, a song by song process. Elena will come in with the lyrics and the melody and we’ll all try them out. So when Elena wrote Doing The Right Thing she already had the whole guitar riff and when we rehearsed it together it all fell into place. Then there are others that take longer. There’s a song called Numbers, which Elena and Igor had worked on, but I wasn’t that happy with how it was going. I took it away to work on and scrapped everything bar the vocals that Elena had recorded. I came up with a new drumbeat, and changed the structure.”
The recording process saw the band head to New York to work alongside Nicolas Vernhes, the stateside producer known for his work with Animal Collective and The War On Drugs. “It was great; Nicolas’ input was fascinating, showing us different ways of doing things,” Aguilella enthuses. “On the previous album and EPs, we tried to record live, which didn’t always work. So it was great to have the time to demo the tunes, work out how we wanted the album to sound, and take probably more songs than we needed into the studio, and then learn from Nicolas’ expertise too.”
Returning to Liverpool’s O2 Academy in January, Aguilella reminds himself what it was like to play in the Anglican Cathedral in 2013: “It was a very scary but beautiful moment. The Cathedral is the sort of building that makes you thankful that you get the chance to play in such amazing spaces – we were blown away. We’ve since played at Radio City Music Hall in New York, which was like, wow! But the Anglican was one of the first where I thought, ‘This is crazy, I’m playing here and people are actually paying to see us.’ We’ll look forward to coming back to Liverpool and hope people enjoy the album, fingers crossed… not that I’m superstitious.”
Playing a venue that’s much less sacred, but charming in its own way, can we expect any debauched antics from the trio? “There’s certainly not going to be any outrageous rock ‘n’ roll behaviour going on,” laughs Aguilella. “To be quite honest, I’m a big fan of water, y’know, it tastes pretty good. A few years ago I used to take gin and tonic on stage but after a while I realised that I was enjoying the tonic more than the gin… I guess we’re not exactly party people, as you can probably gather from our music.”
Words: Andy VonPip / thevpme.com
Daughter play the O2 Academy on 22nd January. Their new album Not To Disappear is released on 15th January via 4AD.