Striking and complex, there is something quite dark about Daughter’s debut album If You Leave. Initially the bedroom project of Elena Tonra, the sound has matured over the last year to an atmospheric crescendo with the addition of guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella. Acoustic sat down with two thirds of the band, Elena and Igor, to see how things are progressing and talk about the upcoming album, released this March via 4AD.
Daughter has evolved considerably over time, how has the transition from a solo artist to a band been?
E: It’s been relatively quick. The project as Daughter has been around for about two years now. I didn’t really want to play solo any more and I’d met Igor at music college so it happened quite naturally. I asked him to play a few shows, then we started playing together and we did an EP. We knew Remi from college and we knew already that we loved how he plays drums.
I: I think we are still learning to work together. It’s not a given. Things are constantly changing and we’re still adapting. We’re still figuring out everything.
E: The very first songs on His Young Heart EP was material that I’d written solo and we’ve developed that to a fuller sound. To start off with we weren’t really writing together, whereas now we do all the music together. There is only so far you can get to with your own brain and it’s really nice to let other people in – Igor’s got quite a large brain in there.
If You Leave is set for release in March. How was the process of recording it?
I: It was good, but it was pretty painful. We basically started writing in January and then we had a whole year. We suddenly got loads of opportunities, like playing two gigs in the US and some in Europe, so we were constantly swapping between one week of recording and two weeks of touring. It was on and off. It was very disjointed and that means a lot of file transferring! It wasn’t completely focused but the line throughout was, “Let’s just get this album done!” Now it’s done we get to fully immerse ourselves in the live thing.
E: Being in the studio was enjoyable but we were burning the candle at both ends in a way. We definitely spent longer in the studio than we should have. We did a lot of lock-ins where we spent 24 hours in there and then we’d still be asking for more time. The engineer would be like, “I’ve just got to go home, I really want to go home!” I think I went a bit insane but it was very enjoyable as well. You learn a lot from recording and it gives you completely different skills to playing live. You really have to think about stuff in a different way. Whereas live is a performance, with recording you are listening and making everything fit together well.
What can people expect from the album, and are there any surprises?
I: We reckon it’s a bit different. We definitely tried to further what we had started exploring on the Wild Youth EP. There is a bit more aggression to it. It’s a bit darker I think and a bit spiteful in a way. We were trying to explore those ethereal sounds we started exploring with the EPs.
Originally you were once a pure folk band and it’s got heavier on the album. How would you define your sound?
I: I think the folk thing comes from Elena’s background, when it was just her and an acoustic guitar. It was always the aim to have those song elements in there. It’s always really hard to define genres but it’s a mixture between songwriting and ambient music.
E: It’s definitely not hip-hop!
Elena, your lyrics are quite narrative on the album. Are you retelling personal experiences or do those lyrics come from somewhere else?
E: A lot of it is personal experience. Not word for word accounts of what’s happened to me, just some songs spring from certain emotions. I find writing in a certain frame of mind really interesting. ‘Smother’ was written in a really weird time to be honest. Basically, they are from personal experience but not literal all the time.
You are just about to embark on a UK tour throughout April, are you looking forward to being on the road?
E: Definitely, it’s been a nice break but I can’t wait to sing live again. I massively enjoy it, in a way. We’ve never really had the chance to explore a lot of the cities we go to as one day you are here and next day you’re there. That’s always a bit of a shame but you can never space it out so you have one gig every three days.
Is there anywhere in particular you are looking forward to playing?
I: All of them! We tried to make sure we play special venues so playing quite a few churches and music halls, which should be really good. There are a few places we’ve played before as support acts and we’re now headlining such as Norwich Arts Centre. We’ve played an awesome gig there before…
E: With Ben Francis Leftwich!
I: …and then we’re going back to Holy Trinity Church which was maybe the first place we ever played outside of London. Churches have such great acoustics. For our sound engineer it is a nightmare because it’s so uncontrollable live, but he has to accept it and go along with it! For us, it’s so enveloping and immersive.
E: It’s also unbelievable that the tour has sold out. We weren’t expecting it at all. Even when we were choosing venues, I wasn’t sure if we’d even manage this. It’s just crazy.
Do you feel more pressure in your performances at larger venues such as Hackney Empire?
E: There is definitely pressure. I feel pressure even with small venues. I’m very nervous.
I: There is always pressure at every live show I think.
E: I was particularly stressed out about Hackney. It’s a weird balance between excitement mixed with sheer fear. I balance the two out! It was the anticipation and because we had some new songs ready to be played for the first time… that made it worse.
In addition to the upcoming UK dates, you signed with Glassnotes in America earlier this year and did a leg of US dates…
I: It was amazing. It was the first time we’d made it out of New York to play and we got such a great reception. There were a few good shows and they are so much more responsive than a lot of other crowds. Slightly rowdy, but in a really nice way in between songs. It was really cool to get that and to be automatically more comfortable.
As part of that US trip you performed on David Letterman, how was that?
E: It was totally bizarre. We’ve seen a bit of Letterman as we usually go on YouTube to watch the bands, but we don’t really watch the actual show. It was our first TV thing as well and TV is weird. We didn’t really want to do it at first as it could have been a baptism of fire but I’m really glad we did it.
I: I was really happy with it and I’m the most critical out of us three!
Ben Howard also asked you to tour with him in 2011 when you first started out. Did you enjoy touring with him? He’s a favourite of ours…
E: It was the first time we’d been introduced to that size crowd. The venues he was playing were way bigger than we’d ever done before.
I: It was kind of the same for him though! It was the first time he was headlining. He was really kind to us. He took us on tour in November 2011 and he took us on his dates for free. We were so grateful to him for helping us.
E: We met him through Communion Records. We knew his music and we’d met in person but it was great to get to do that November trip because we didn’t know him very well.
I: First time I met him was in Shepherd’s Bush at a joint gig with Matthew and the Atlas and we opened for them. We met him again at Bestival at the bandstand where he was playing – he got totally mobbed!
On your website you have a ‘freespace’ area where people can download your material for remixes. Do you like hearing different versions of your work?
E: We really like the idea of people being able to play around with music in that way. We always say it’s like recycling – people taking bits of different tracks making something new. It’s a very interesting thing. It’s going to be really exciting for us in a selfish way.
I: I can understand why some artists would be quite controlling about their stuff and not make it accessible but at the end of the day music is such a way of giving something. We’re open to anything. I think it would be too bad to close yourselves to some things.
With the tour, have you put songwriting on the back burner or are you still writing?
I: You need to get into that zone where you feel that what you are doing is genuinely what you want to do musically. It’s hard to sometimes get to that place, but when you do you’re on a roll. I definitely feel we’re still coming out of that.
E: We’re not the kind of band who can write on the bus. Method-wise, it’s more difficult on the road. Though I am constantly thinking about new stuff and think now this album is completed I’ll want to write more stuff.
I: All the writing stems from Elena. Sometimes it comes from what I do and she bounces off that, but generally it starts with her. It needs to come from that place. From then on we work on arrangements with Remi.
So what happens after the tour and the album release?
I: We’re going to try to play more festivals. We’re also going to go back to the US as the album comes out there later in the year. We’ll definitely be going to Europe, maybe Australia and Japan, fingers crossed!
E: I really like playing festivals but I’m not so good at the camping. I think we have only camped once. I never really went to festivals before we were in a band.
I: That’s not me, that is just her! We’ve been confirmed for End of the Road, Field Day and we’ll be at Primavera.
Looking back on the last year, it’s been a crazy one for you all. What has been your biggest highlight?
E: Even though it’s really boring, I think finishing the album was my highlight as it was definitely an achievement for us.
I: We played this festival in Holland, which is on an island, and the only way to get there is by boat. They got us a water taxi and the comedian Reggie Watts was there. He’s a really funny guy and we got to have a private gig for like two hours with him. That was great!
Daughter’s If You Leave is available now via 4AD.