you resource for all things shoegaze & dream pop.

04 August 2011

Interview: Anna Bouchard and Darren Emanuel of Drowner.

Drowner, a duo based in Houston, Texas, put out an amazingly beautiful 5-track self titled EP in June of 2011 and soon they will release a new single and b-side. As soon as I started listening to any of these songs, I instantly fell in love with them: Anna Bouchard "That Angelic Voice" and Darren Emanuel "Shoegaze Sonic Heaven Guitar." Darren also does the bass and drums and produces for them. Every song I have heard from them so far has been very well crafted and with gorgeous lyrics. You will find yourself addicted and humming them, even when you don't know you are. Interview by: Rob Turner.


How and when was the band formed (past bands)?

DARREN: I was doing a project called Swimming In for a few years and had started playing with a certain kind of guitar sound there; you can hear it in the Swimming In instrumental "Drive" a bit. I was writing songs for what I thought would be the next Swimming In project, but they weren't sounding like any of those songs, so I decided to try working with a
different vocalist and lyricist on a new project.

I worked on the guitar sound a lot more and collaborated with my friend Scott Gordon on a trip hop/shoegaze fusion called Apples to Earth. But all the while I was writing songs that sounded very shoegaze. I worked over the summer of 2010 with a few different singers but nothing quite clicked. I happened to mention this to Anna, who I have known for a long time, and she listened
to some of the demos and immediately wrote some great stuff, and we started sending tracks back and forth.

Can you tell us what the band has been working on and what you've got forthcoming in the near future (new releases, tour, etc)?

ANNA: As you may already know, we released our 5 song debut E.P., entitled Drowner EP, in early June of this year, and we have been hard at work ever since, with a video out and one on the way and a number of additional songs written and tracked so far. As a matter of fact, we have a new mid-summer single (and B-side) coming out within the next few weeks, so look for that.

Do you consider Drowner's music to be part of the current shoegaze/dream pop scene, or any scene? Defining one's sound by genre can be tiresome, but do you feel that the band identifies closely with any genre? How do you feel about genres in music, in a general sense?

ANNA: Well, our reception within the shoegaze/dream pop scene has been nothing short of amazing. So we have a lot of filial affection for everyone working hard to make great music -- and to bring that music to others –- from within in it. That said, we have always considered ourselves to be a shoegaze/dream pop and postrock inspired rock band. We’re a bit outside the fold of any strict genre definitions, and we’re okay with that. As it turns out, we seem to appeal to a somewhat broader base of listeners, some of whom don’t have any idea what “shoegaze” is,
until we turn them on to it.

DARREN: I do think that genre can be a problem when it limits your creativity, when you try to reach beyond it, and I think that’s a challenge that a lot of artists come up against.

What do you think of modern shoegaze/dream pop/psychedelia artists, any

ANNA: I think there is a tremendous amount of vitality, and some really amazing music being made, in the current shoegaze scene. There’s always that question floating around: Are the new crop of shoegaze bands as good as the originals? Which is more pure? Classic or current? We were having an interesting discussion the other night with friends about whether Nugaze is a revival of a past scene, or is it an extension of an “incomplete project” within music, one that was to some extent subverted by the rise of grunge? In other words: Did shoegaze ever really go away? It’s really exciting to feel -- long after the commercialization of “alternative rock” has permanently altered the indie music landscape -- that there is a remnant, an outpost, of great, underground music, where the values have not changed, but have remained the same. Deepened, even. So we have a lot of love and respect for our compeers, even those who
might throw down with a more “classically shoegaze” sound than ours: Sleepover Disaster, Moonbell, Malory, The Fauns, Tears Run Rings {etc.}

DARREN: Yeah, Malory, Trespassers William, the Sleepover Disaster, M83 and Daniel Land in the newer vein, and Catherine Wheel, Curve, early Verve, Ride and Straitjacket Fits in the classic vein.

What is the most important piece of gear for your sound? Any particular guitars/pedals/amps that you prefer?

DARREN: The most important part seems to be the recording rig but I am partial to my RE201 Space Echo and we use it on guitar, on vocals andeven during mixing. I also lovebringing out the Wurlitzer piano. You only hear it on "Never Go Away" but it's awesome. It's a '68 200A and I'd swear it has a soul. We use a lot of Fender stuff, especially the cabinet I play through and a newish Strat. My signal path changes from song to song but it always seems to have the 201
in there. I also use an old Rockman distortion unit on the reverb. I love the sound of distorted reverb. I also run guitar through a hardware vocoder, for an extra layer of noise sometimes.

How do you feel about the state of the music industry today? There is no
doubt a massive change underway; how do you see it and do you feel it’s
positive at all?

ANNA: For my part, I have a strong sense of hope and really positive feelings about the directions that music marketing, for instance, is heading. First of all, not only is it unbelievably satisfying to live and make music at a time when the barriers to producing a great record are so
low (which frees a lot of resources for the more creative aspects of music-making), but you can also interface –- really communicate and share –- so directly with fans now. I find the personal connection to the people who love our music to be a particularly strong motivator, to wake up each day and create new, even more beautiful or meaningful songs.

DARREN:It's a great time to be making music. Collaboration is so much easier, self-release is commonplace. It's also great to be part of a community that supports the artists and buys the music, which is still an important part of making it all possible.

When it comes to label releases versus DIY/bandcamp and the like, what is
your stance, if any?

DARREN: We use Bandcamp and I have to say the implementation is fantastic for fan and artist. The tracking of interest in your release is nearly real time and available anytime you want to check it. It's also empowering for a band to be able to write and record a song on Tuesday and get paid for that song on Wednesday. I think that a mainstream audience is not quite aware of what Bandcamp is, and certainly using i-Tunes and other online vendors is necessary
and fine, but there is nowhere near the artist control or immediacy to any of the other services. With that said, we are still interested in talking to labels about certain format releases, CD and vinyl, for instance.

Do you prefer vinyl, CD, cassette tape or mp3 format when listening to
music? Do you have any strong feelings toward any of them?

DARREN: I do still have some vinyl but nothing beats the convenience of a 320k mp3. There are some bands I would rather hear on vinyl though. Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk is one of my favorites so I'll always keep a turntable around to listen to that, a few jazz classics and a smattering of recent releases.

ANNA: I’m not sure. If I had an mp3 player in my car, if probably go “all in” on mp3s! And, seriously, I hadn’t thought about hearing Drowner on cassette, but now my interest is peaked! I want to love “everything on vinyl” as a principle, and I think it’s still important to release on
vinyl, if you can. But -- and this sounds shameful -- I can’t remember the last time I played a vinyl record, though I still own a few I can’t seem to let go of.

What artists (musicians or otherwise) have most influenced your work?

Siouxie Sioux, Toni Halliday of Curve and (interestingly) Michael Stipe OF R.E.M. are my three main influences as a vocalist and lyricist. Oh, and Bjork! Bjork is a miracle.

Robert Smith, REM, Talk Talk (especially Tim Friese-Greene), Robin Guthrie, Jonsi, Catherine Wheel, Mogwai and early Verve.

Can you tell us a little about what you are currently into (books, films,
art, bands, etc)?

ANNA: Well, I am really into a couple of vocalists right now: Anna-Lynne Williams, who works as Lotte Kestner, and Stella Tran, who I’m excited to hear is working with Airiel again. And I’m reading a sensational book – can’t put it down – a series of conversations between Martin Scorsese and Richard Schickel, entitled Conversations with Scorsese. Art-wise, I am really delving into Georges Rouault’s depictions of Christ and the conceptual and photographic work of Nikita Gale. As for film, I have a perennial fascination with movies that depict the early modern South. So, I recently enjoyed Cool Hand Luke.

DARREN: I just finished "The Blank Slate" by Pinker and it was eye-opening and brilliant! In film, I recently took in the latest Malick film, "Tree of Life," and it was very challenging in terms of story, but the imagery was breathtaking. I'm a longtime fan of Cy Twombly and am sad to hear of his passing. Living in Houston is an embarrassment of riches for art lovers and especially fans of Twombly; he will be missed. The bands I've been listening to lately include Daysleepers, Hammock, SPC ECO, Airiel and Crocodiles. The most recent music from Filmschool and High Violets gets a lot of play at my house, too.

If you had to choose one Drowner track that was the ultimate definition of
your sound, which would it be and why?

ANNA: That would be hard to say at this point; we are still exploring and refining our sound. But, so far, I feel like either Point Dume or Chime might sum up what we do best today: lush harmonies, dense lyrical content, with thunderous rock guitars swirling in an oceanic bed of
reverb, punctuated by ringing, almost clarion bell sounds.

DARREN: Hopefully we haven't written it yet but I'm partial to an untitled track we will be releasing later this month.

Can you tell us a little about the band’s song writing process?

DARREN: Some of the songs were written with Anna and me in the studio, and all of them went through changes during the final tracking. One of the luxuries of a home-based studio is the time you can spend reworking a song. Anna is pretty well kitted at her home studio now, so we can ftp files back and forth and get all the way through the demo process before meeting in my studio to do the finals. It's a great process, but I look forward to more writing "in the room," because the results are a little bit different -- especially the arrangements, which are easier that way.

ANNA: For me, the writing experience almost always begins with listening really deeply to these tracks from Darren, which are either nearly finished or are in an initial state of definiteness -- so that I can hear where he is going, musically-speaking -- and then letting impressions form. Sometimes, those impressions will yield stand-alone verses –- a poem, if you will, that I later edit to suit the dictates of phrasing.

But, truthfully, the more we work together, the more that fully-realized sentiments and images seem to develop from within my subconscious that are so tightly integrated with the instrumentation, they seem to share the same will.

What is the band’s goal for 2011?

ANNA: Honestly, to continue to dive ever more deeply into our sound and to bring that sound to as many people as possible.

DARREN: I need to clean my studio.

What is your philosophy (on life), if any, that you live by?

ANNA: I try to live out the words of St. Therese of Lisieux: Love is EVERYTHING.

DARREN: Go. Do. Be.

Drowner BandCamp
Drowner iTunes