INTERVIEW: Memoryhouse (CMW 2011)

Life can blow up in your face. Sometimes it occurs in an orderly fashion; if you’re lucky it happens when you least expect it. For Guelph musicians MEMORYHOUSE, signing to Sub Pop Records and being invited to perform at this year’s Canadian Music Week presented them a realistic choice in life. Their decision? Songwriter Evan Abeele noted the group plan to ride the spontaneity and make personal connections with fans, even if it means being another Canadian success story.

What was life like for you two the beginning of last year?

I think it was pretty normal. We were going to school and were about to release our first EP which we completed during the Christmas break before.
Seeing the band develop from a creative photography project, are you kind of taken aback from everything that’s happened in the past 12 months?

Yes, it’s very strange to see how fast everything has moved from doing something relatively left-field like drone music to the pop music it has become. I think it was a very natural transition for us. We always wanted it to be this way but lacked the confidence to achieve it initially.
Describe the moment in which you found out you were about to sign to Seattle’s Sub Pop Records.

It was very surreal from the moment Sub Pop first reached out to us and the ensuing period in which we developed our contract with them. I remember losing a lot of sleep over it – in a good way. We were so excited at the possibility of working with them and just how much potential can be realized when you have such a renowned label backing you. It’s something I’ve dreamed about for the past ten years, and in knowing that it was happening, the exact way I hoped it would, was shocking and even a little sad in a bittersweet way.
How does it feel to be on a label with acts like Fleet Foxes and Foals?

Well, I think it makes us want to step up our game! I think the potential of working with Sub Pop – even before we officially signed with them – made us a lot more focused. All of a sudden it felt like there was a new, more definite sense of purpose to our work and I really thrived on it from a songwriting perspective.

We managed to do something somewhat atypical for Canadian musicians in that we made our voice heard online.. ”

Coming from Guelph, Memoryhouse already has an international following; how has that affected you a personal level?

I think we try not to let it affect us on too much of a personal level, in the sense that I don’t want that to go to our heads or anything. I think aside from a greater sense of focus, it has led us to ask more questions about ourselves and how we relate to people. I think Memoryhouse is lucky in that our audience tends to draw a personal connection to the music we make.

I always want to be able to sustain this kind of everyday “relatability” without it feeling staid or predictable. I think it’s made me look at things from angles I had at once not considered.
Has the city of Guelph had an influence on your music at all?

I think so. I mean, when Denise and I met at a concert in Guelph, there was a very strong and diverse music scene in the city. Guelph’s annual Hillside Festival can be considered as somewhat of love letter to its music scene and hippies.
Are you prepared to become the face of the city?

Ah, I’m not sure. We don’t have a very established presence here. I think we’ve always been outsiders somewhat. I think it would be weirdly ironic if we were to become the face of the city.
Has the recent exposure translated to excitement at all since you’re scheduled for both CMW and South By Southwest this month?

We are trying to be cautiously optimistic. It is in my nature to approach these performances with an unflinching serious personality, but I think our band kind of levels me out. We have been operating as a four piece for a few months with Warren from Foxes in Fiction and Daniel Gray from Mount Pleasant Sympathy Orchestra and we all have a very natural chemistry that makes being in a band more comfortable for me.

It’s difficult because these CMW/SXSW performances are our first public performances so we aren’t the quite the well-oiled machine I’m hoping we will be someday. I do think it will bring a sense of spontaneity and excitement to our performances though.

Have you acknowledged that you’ve become a new role model for young Canadian musicians?

Not yet. I think we managed to do something somewhat atypical for Canadian musicians in that we made our voice heard online. That’s fairly standard for many places, but a lot of Canadian success stories revolve around cutting your teeth on an extensive tour circuit. I think for people like us, who at the time were far too introverted, we’re not able to do that. It’s important to know that there isn’t one way of accomplishing something and you can forge your own path, in some sense.
As the two of you are fascinated by images and the abstract, how is that going to transfer over to your artwork for albums and vinyl in the future?

I think there is a more stark simplicity to our recent artistic choices. With the original artwork for The Years, as well as the Lately, and Caregiver 7″ singles, we tended to focus more on creating a mood, whereas now we’ve become more focused on selecting images that are going to convey more about who we are and what we are trying to say with our music. We want our artwork to represent who we are as songwriters and how it connects to our music.
Have any ideas for the cover of Memoryhouse’s debut?

We do; we actually settled on an image fairly early in the writing process and it helped give me some perspective regarding how I want to frame the music on the LP. I don’t really want to give away too much, but I guess it relates to our band name in a lot of ways. There has been a lot of emphasis on nostalgia and this abstract idea of remembering something, even if the memory isn’t yours, and I feel that it says a lot about where society’s collective head space is at these days. So I guess you could say the image tries to consider why we seem to be doing this. It’s a little sweet, and a little sad.

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