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Memoryhouse: Jazz Hand Flailing in the Bitter Wind

24 October 2011

Last year, Canadian-based duo of Evan Abeele and Denise Nouvion, who operate under the name Memoryhouse, quietly released a digital EP entitled The Years. Many people (myself included) were quite captivated with the dreamy melodies found within those four songs; as delicate as gossamer, as heavenly as Ambrosia, yet worldy enough to be slightly psychedelic, it became a record that withstood incessant multiple listens. It was no surprise, then, that venerable label Sub Pop signed the duo.

Signing with an important label like Sub Pop, however, means that the band will have to move from the bedroom and into the public sphere. Like many bedroom acts, this has not been without its share of challenges. According to Evan Abeele, simply performing live has proven to be challenging. “Denise and I are very introverted. We aren’t entertainers by nature so we almost have to play a character on-stage in order to summon the courage and perform night after night. We’re growing into it though. We’ve been touring our album’s songs for a while and the way we perform them live has definitely influenced how they turned out in the studio.”

Aside from touring, the band has been putting the finishing touches on its proper debut album. “I guess the biggest challenge is that there are a lot of melodic elements and textures weaving in and out of the recorded songs, and it’s always a challenge to make that fit a modest band arrangement where we don’t have seven guitarists on hand. I think it’s made us more economical. One of the things I really enjoyed about recording the album is that we really pulled back the use of space and texture and really injected the songs with a more visceral sound, which is obviously something that tends to get elevated in a live performance. Denise and I split the songwriting credits, and we split arrangement credits with our drummer, Daniel Gray, who did some absolutely incredible percussion arrangements on our album.”

About that new album…Abeele won’t really give up much information, keeping the shroud of mystery. “I’m not sure what I can divulge at this point. There’s live drumming on every song. It’s a very guitar-heavy album, which I’m excited about. There are a few weird surprises that I don’t think people would anticipate from us but came across incredibly well in the studio. Denise’s voice is really brilliant on it. I feel that with this album we really hunkered down and wrote very specifically for her voice, which definitely has a sort of country twang to it.”

Quiet America from Memoryhouse on Vimeo.

In considering their debut for the label, though, a lingering thought occurs. Why would a band rerecord most of its already-well-received debut EP, when they have an opportunity to present newer material to a wider audience?

Apparently, this has been a question that Abeele has thought about: “I think it’s only natural for people who have established some kind of connection, or affectation towards our original version of The Years to find a degree of fault with the very idea of re-assessing and re-releasing the material. The whole aesthetic behind the perceived George Lucas-ing of one’s artistic accomplishment is almost always going to come under a certain level of scrutiny and distrust. However, where Memoryhouse is concerned, the comparison is not really applicable, at least not entirely. We didn’t make American Graffitti after all! [George Lucas did, stay with me here]. We needed to get our feet wet; back in the day, one would call that a demo tape. You commit a few roughed-up demos to tape (or floppy disk, or whatever) and you send it out to labels, maybe even tour it, in some vain attempt to engage with, well…something.

“It doesn’t really work that way anymore, and of course, I really can’t complain about it because what I had always considered a demo tape (in a manner of speaking) ended up establishing itself as, well…something. Perhaps it wasn’t the thing I thought it would be, but a thing nonetheless. A thing among things. Now, would I press my demo tape to CD and vinyl and release it worldwide? Well, no, who would? Not to reiterate a needless tirade, but bands do need time to develop and grow into themselves, and the internet is, well, the internet; you know what that does to bands, especially the young ones. All we are are a porous mass of influences and delirious passions, unfocused, and unadorned with the specific kind of knowledge and experience it takes to navigate this constantly evolving industry. This version of The Years we have just released is the sound of Memoryhouse so far. A retrospective replete with the sounds that we’ve come to be known for, in a focused, and most importantly listenable package (spoiler alert, the more lo-fi EP would sound horrible on any format but computer speakers). The emphasis shouldn’t be placed on rewriting this, or rerecording that, for as you said, it was minimal, because that wasn’t really the point. These are the sounds we’ve gradually grown into, but just a hint at the sound of what we’ll become. We’re playing the long game with our career, and that isn’t going to be the most immediately satisfying thing, especially with the accelerated life cycle of bands these days, but I feel lucky that we’ve been able to take our time and calmly assess who we are, and why we write the songs that we do, and I guarantee that it will come across on our album.”

“In short, there really isn’t a rubric for this type of endeavor anymore. That era has long since passed. The best you can hope to do is march onwards, jazz hands flailing in the bitter wind.”