Memoryhouse’s Evan Abeele didn’t really plan for any of this. So what if his hometown of Guelph, Ontario, had produced the likes of Canadian powerhouses Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene? He was perfectly content as a classical composer. That is, until he met photographer Denise Nouvion at a concert.
That’s when everything changed.
Their friendship evolved into an artistic collaboration of sights and sounds, with each one of the pair contributing from their particular area of expertise. Before long, their project was becoming more and more bandlike and Sub Pop Records came calling.
After touring on an EP, the pair released its first full length, The Slideshow Effect, last month. A dreamy mixture of orchestration and hypnotic vocals, Memoryhouse seems to have realized their potential and have plenty of options for where they can take it.
In preparation for their Saturday night appearance at Soda Bar, I spoke with Abeele from his hometown (while he was making lunch and before he and Nouvion headed to Toronto for band rehearsal) about the new album, the transition from art project to band and what the future holds for their new endeavor.
Scott McDonald: Are you guys still a two-piece when you play live?
Evan Abeele: We have a full band now. Our drummer is incredibly talented. He played on our record, and we have him when we play live. Sometimes we have a bassist when he’s available, but we do a lot as a three-piece. Denise plays keyboards and sings, and I play guitar and some piano.
SM: It sounds like it’s been fun in the studio, but it has to be great to expand and get it out live.
EA: Absolutely. With our initial recordings, we did it all by ourselves in a little home setup, but when we started touring, we really started to understand the value of working with other musicians that you have really good chemistry with, and we wanted to bring that into the studio when we recorded. So, for the first time, the songs on the new record were road-tested with a full band. It was great, so we definitely brought it back into the studio when we made the album.
SM: Do you think that will change things moving forward?
EA: Definitely. The record we just made was done completely live. There was only something like 30 seconds worth of electronics on that first song as kind of a nod to our past sound. But aside from that, I’d say that about 80 percent of the record was recorded live off the floor. I did play the lion’s share of the instruments on the album, and it was all done live. It was a very light process, and there wasn’t any crazy, spooky electronics going on.
SM: Do you remember the point at which you wanted to take the project on as a full-time gig?
EA: Sure. But it took a lot of convincing for Denise. I had to really push it because she had never sung publicly before. I mean, she had probably only sung for me twice or something when I became totally enamored with her voice. It’s just such so cool. We started with me just messing around with an acoustic guitar and she sang over the top of it. I saw something there that in my 10 years of composing music I hadn’t been able to explore before by myself. It came together pretty organically, it was a matter of us having chemistry together and moving slowly, but it was nice and came together well.
SM: Before this, were you envisioning a career in orchestral compositions?
EA: Absolutely. Pretty much most of everything that I had done prior to Memoryhouse was in the neo-classical genre -- piano and strings -- and I’d always loved the idea of doing a soundtrack to a film but never had any contacts or resources to make that happen. It was definitely a really big jump, but I really liked the idea of being able to reach a bigger audience. I think something like that is hard to resist. It’s kind of easy to make fun of bands that are so far-reaching, but there’s also something pretty magical about that.
SM: Has it been a challenge to go from a basically polite society of classical music to the noisy -- and many times drunk -- world of rock clubs?
EA: It is in the sense that Denise and I are very introverted people. We’re not really outgoing, and we don’t have a particular swagger about us. For a long time, we were very unassuming onstage, and I think we’re really trying to loosen up now. As we’ve gone through the process of being a live band, we’ve definitely gotten more comfortable, but it’s an adjustment and something that neither of us had ever experienced before. It takes a certain amount of time to get acclimated to the environment in which you’re playing.
SM: Your music has a palpable cinematic feel. Do you compose in any kind of visual way?
EA: Definitely. I think we’re a very visual band, and Denise should get a lot of credit for that. She’s both a photographer and a cinematographer, so she’s incredibly great at capturing a moment that we can embody in a song. I think it’s a vessel for what she wants to convey, and it’s an interesting dynamic that we have. We always try to encapsulate a certain visual aspect to the music we’re making.
SM: I’ve never seen one of your shows. Do you have an outside visual component to it?
EA: We do. And we’ve collaborated with a director in the past. We put together this really beautiful collage of images from old movies, but it’s not so much just an array of clips, it’s an actual original composition based on the old film Black Narcissus. We project that onto us as we’re performing. Putting the moving images on us while we’re playing is a little different, but it’s been pretty well received. I think that people like that we’re paying attention to that aspect of our music, and we’re able to translate the visual component of it. It makes it more visceral in the live setting.
SM: Beyond the tour, what’s next for the band?
EA: That’s a good question. I took a four- or five-month break after recording our album just to get my head out of the clouds a bit. I had just been playing so many instruments and working for hours and hours every day. But we started writing again recently, and I’m not sure where it will take us. We’re just not going to rush it and try to keep the trend going. We’re definitely going to make the next step the right one.